In Central Booking, Young Moose only gets two calls a day.
I am sitting in the adjunct office of Coppin State University on the phone with the 21-year-old Baltimore street-rap phenomenon born Kevron Evans, using up one of those calls.
His girlfriend, Nicole Jones, a criminal justice major at Coppin, is with me. Moose is on the speakerphone. Currently, his song 'Dumb Dumb' plays on Baltimore rap and R&B station 92Q. The video for his song 'Posted' has received hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube since it was first released in December of last year. Local rap impresario and former Def Jam A&R man Tony Austin has signed Young Moose to his label, Austin Music Group.
Moose tells me he's been rapping since he was a child: "I started rapping when I was 8 years old. My grandma died and I made a song about it. I spit it to my father and he said it's good so I kept goin' with that."
In August, after substantial buzz over the previous few months, thanks to 'Posted' and the release of his free download mixtape 'O.T.M. 2' in June, Young Moose was scheduled, along with Lor Scoota, another up-and-coming Baltimore rapper thanks to his street hit 'Bird Flu' (see No Trivia) to perform with Lil Boosie at the Arena.
Moose says the drugs found on July 25 weren't his. "Yes, I've broken the law before but that's my past," he tells me. "I'm not a drug dealer. I make music that represents the people where I come from."
After posting bail the day of the show, he was immediately brought in on a probation charge again, stemming partly from music videos, which Moose's lawyer Richard Woods says were recorded long before Moose was on probation. A YouTube description for 'Posted' notes that the video was uploaded on Dec. 18, 2013. 'It's in Me' on Jan. 25, 2014.
The video for 'Posted' depicts what goes on in any impoverished Baltimore neighborhood with the cinematic flair of hood flicks like "Paid In Full." It's thoughtfully shot and executed and feels more like a short film than just another rap video. To many people, what Moose does isn't art at all, though; it's just evidence. Cops never fucked with David Simon while he was filming "the Wire" and dudes who rock out at The Crown perform heroin ballets weekly, but Moose can't do the same? Martin Scorsese can but Moose can't? Can you not be an artist if you've dealt heroin? If you're a felon? If you've owned guns? So now being black and from the ghetto exempts you from artistic expression?
Moose and I are both storytellers who are lucky enough to deliver the human side of our Baltimore to the world. When The Sun wrote a piece about Moose, Justin Fenton, one of the story's writers, asked me to comment. My words, about the authenticity of Baltimore music, didn't come across the way I intended them. I wasn't saying that his video should count as probable cause, but was making the same point that Moose made: His music, in representing the people where he comes from, is authentic. It does not mean that it is a documentary or should be used as evidence. Those in power are most comfortable when attacking the poor and underrepresented, and they don't want impoverished black kids to flourish in anything, especially the arts.
Young Moose was brought to me by a seventh grader named Nick I met while working at Friendship Academy, a charter school in the Canton area. "I'm telling you Watkins," he said, "ask anybody from anywhere DDH, projects, new homes, Westside or wadevea! Moose! Moose is that! He better than Boosie, Jeezy, everybody! Moose dummy!"
I was excited to hear that he hailed from my side of town. I'm also from DDH—Down Da Hill, the east side of Baltimore near Hopkins Hospital and composed of every block past Eager Street to where Highlandtown begins. A few underground acts, such as Widge, the Low Boyz, and the late Tom Tom and Lil Boonie, emerged from our section of the city but never with this much excitement.
I decided to gauge Moose's buzz with a class I was teaching.
"Who ya'll listening to? Music wise?" I asked a class full of middle schoolers. They all answered, "O.T.M. 2, O.T.M. 2, O.T.M. 2!" I had to check Young Moose's mixtape, "Out the Mud 2," released for free download in June. I downloaded the tape at school and bumped it on my way home from work and was hooked. He was making references to neighborhoods that I know. Neighborhoods that I've been through, telling raw stories that are both native to Baltimoreans and universal.
Moose is heavily inspired by Lil Boosie, The Hot Boyz, and some other out-of-town acts, but he still maintains his 410 swag. He rocks Prada shoes and films on Monument Street. He's in Tru's and New Balance with designer belts posted on vacants and in between alleys spitting real raps while big-ass rats leap over his feet. Moose doesn't act like he's from any other place in the world but East Baltimore and it bleeds through in every song.
It's the stories in these songs that represent the people where he came from that gives Moose a much greater range than an ordinary street rapper. "The Wire" brilliantly displayed the balance between police, dealers, politicians, reporters, and junkies and how their worlds collide through the eyes of David Simon and Ed Burns. Moose comes with a fresh perspective from a completely different reality; however, he is equally brilliant and can capture the same world through a lens that has never been seen before. There aren't many writers coming from DDH and that's evident when seeing the clueless response to his music.
Almost two months after the Lil Boosie show, which he was unable to play because of his arrest, Moose is still locked up.
"I look up to Boosie as a rapper and that was a big night for me," he says of the timing of the raid. "The biggest in my career so far. I was fucked up because how they going to go let them take my shine like that. It really was really sick."
I asked Moose to tell me about his experience with Detective Hersl.
Detective Hersl has cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in police brutality suits, as shown by a series of Baltimore Sun Investigates articles on dirty cops. And yet he's still working the streets.
Moose says again that, like me, he used to deal, but doesn't anymore. And though the tales of drug-dealing such as 'Posted' are powerful, it's the songs that take us on a personal journey that give Moose his range and impact. 'My Bitch Geeking' deals with insecurities in intimate relationships.
On his heartfelt track 'Breathe (RIP)' we learn that his girlfriend birthed a stillborn baby. Moose raps about how the doctors ignored her pain and kept her waiting for a prolonged period of time. The mistreatment of Nicole caused him to flip out on security guards. "I'm wilin' out, the security/ I ain't got patience!" Moose pulls the lyrics straight from the bottom of his stomach, every line hits like Tyson in '89: "I hear his voice saying daddy I'm still with you/ I'm breaking down junior every time I see your picture."
He ends with a message to his late son saying that he loves him so much; that he'd kill himself to give him a chance at life.
"You tell him about that song?" says Moose to Nicole; you can hear a crowd of people in the yard behind him. "That's the real story about our son."
Nicole tells me, "'Breathe' is my favorite track on the album. It's a very special song to us. Kevron was going to be a great dad and we were equally devastated by this tragedy. The song brought us closer together."
"I just focus on life, real life, a lot of people don't focus on life, they just be on some dumb shit," Moose says. "Most of it was about my life and some is about my homeboy's life. It's easy to me. It's my gift."