As part of The Baltimore Sun's Fall Arts Guide, reporters and critics picked 10 up-and-comers whose names you should get to know. See the full list here.
Wordsmith, 36, rapper
When Wordsmith, the Mount Vernon-based artist born Anthony Parker, began writing rhymes, they were filled with four-letter words.
"My mouth was terrible," Wordsmith said from a seat inside a favorite hangout, City Café.
Years later, he chalks up certain word choices to immaturity. But the father of two has steadily built a career where he sidesteps curse words completely.
"I got to this point ... where I was like, 'Why am I even cursing in my music? What is it really saying?'" he said. "It made me a better songwriter when I stopped."
A son of an Army colonel, Wordsmith was born in Germany and grew up in eight states. For the past 15 years, he has called Baltimore home. He's released a handful of projects (most recently 2015's "Apt. 507"), played festivals like Light City and licensed his work for national advertisements and TV shows.
"My life is very fast-paced, and I like to live that way," he said.
As he eyes a fall date for his next album, "Perspective Jukebox," Wordsmith aims to prove that rap has room for an independent-yet-commercially viable artist concerned with uplifting others. The new material, like the police brutality-focused "The Statement," addresses current headlines in a package that pulls from modern rap, pop and even electronic dance music.
"It's a very commercial project," he said. "But every record is still about something."
Jerome Smith, who produces under the name JS aka The Best in Prince George's County, has worked with Wordsmith since 2011, including on the rapper's new project. He believes Wordsmith can reach a wide audience.
"He's just a diverse artist," Smith said. "His music is clean, and he can perform it with kids, adults, grandparents, teenagers. The message in his music is universal."
Life, to Wordsmith, is about productivity ("I don't waste time with sleep"). But perhaps most central to his approach is to stand out while others try to fit in. Growing up, he recorded hours of "Yo! MTV Raps," and fell in love with a culture that celebrated individualism and friendly competition. He believes those elements are lacking now.
"Let's get back to challenging ourselves as hip-hop artists," Wordsmith said. "Let's turn the eardrums again and get people back to saying, 'That was a hot record' more than they're saying, 'That was a hot verse' or 'I just like the beat.'"
Wordsmith — who tours with a three-piece band — is eyeing a 35-date tour that will take him to India and Africa. (He's used to touring — in 2015, Wordsmith performed for U.S. service members in Kuwait, Africa and the United Arab Emirates.)
He also plans collaborative concerts at home with Concert Artists of Baltimore in early 2017. As is his wont, he's looking to change notions of what rap is and can be.
"We're doing it not just for the music aspect but for the community outreach. It's to bring the different races of Baltimore together out here," he said. "Come to support me, and in the process, hopefully open your ears and be like, 'Man, this was really beautiful.'"