Being King of the Mountain for F.O.E. means setting his sights outside of Denver
Ask F.O.E. to describe himself in three words and you may find yourself surprised. Cool, determined, focused — these are all adjectives that elude him. No, F.O.E.'s answer is simple and to the point: fucking rock star.
"How many people do you know that says "sex, drugs and rap?" he asks, a hint of laughter in his voice before turning serious again. "I want to appeal to everybody. I don't even do music for Colorado; I do music for the world."
Driven by this outlook, the animated, Mohawk-sporting rapper stands out on stage while performing songs like "The Box" or "Tick Tock." F.O.E. (Father of Enemies) is a boundless ball of energy that hip-hop fans can't help but keep their eyes on. And this same vision keeps him from conforming to traditional hip-hop sounds, inspiring him instead to break out and "sing" on tracks like "Heartbeat," off of his latest project, F.O.E. and DJ AWhat Present: The Format. Even more significant, this notion has made him break away from some of his old circles to fully embrace his art. "I want people to understand," he stresses, "that I don't want to be regular."
F.O.E. and DJ AWhat CD-release party and toy drive for the Gathering Place, with Karma, Haven, 3 the Hardway, Myrical Child and more, 8 p.m. Friday, December 11, Walnut Room, 3131 Walnut Street, $9, 303-292-0529.
Born and raised in Park Hill, a division of the city known for both its gang violence and its uncanny sense of community, F.O.E. (born Bobby Rogers) says his experiences weren't that different from anyone else's in the neighborhood. But even if his childhood wasn't anything extraordinary, though, he always was. He got into a little bit of trouble here and there and admits that he was kicked out of high school twice. Unlike too many of his old friends, though, he remained focused in spite of his slightly wayward spirit, and graduated from high school a year early with a 3.8 GPA.
"My mama always, always told me that I better graduate high school," he remembers. "As a kid, I was kind of a badass, but I did everything I was supposed to do. I led the life that I was raised around. I was around a lot of hood niggaz and gang members, but I made it."
F.O.E.'s genuine infatuation with music played no small part in his success. At home, the classic sounds of Patti LaBelle, Luther Vandross and Marvin Gaye flowed freely, mingling with the sounds of some of his favorite rappers: Tupac, Scarface and Dr. Dre. The merger unwittingly gave him a deeper understanding and appreciation for what music could be. It wasn't long before he started wanting to make his own, and at only eight years old, he wrote his first rap, with the help of an older cousin.
"We had a family reunion at my grandma's house, and my cousin took us in the room and wrote a rap," he recalls with a chuckle. "We all did our little part; it was like a mini-concert. That was the shit to me. Plus I love attention anyway, so that's what got me going."
From there, F.O.E. started writing rhymes more regularly and spitting them to his cousin for approval. One of his first real performances was in a church, when he was only fourteen. "It didn't go too well," he confesses. "Don't ask why we performed in a church. But it was funny, it was an experience."
Not long after, the MC joined his first group. While his association with the crew kept him regularly involved in the music that he loved so much, it still wasn't enough. "During the time that I was in the group, we didn't do shit," he admits, adding that he eventually kept a full-time gig as a graphic designer at an adult toy catalogue in addition to his music. "We did shows, but we never put out any projects. Then, when we finally put out one project, in '01, the group broke up."
Temporarily frustrated at not doing music, it wasn't much later that F.O.E. found another outlet to release his pent-up creativity and hooked up with a longtime friend, producer 800 the Jewel. They put out a promo CD in 2003, and, caught up in the momentum of actually putting out music, F.O.E. released another project around 2005 with Joe Thunder, titled Drama King. He followed that one up with King of the Mountain in 2008, which was his first real solo venture, featuring all original music. A coming-out party of sorts, King of the Mountain helped introduce him to an entirely new audience.
"I sat down with myself and noticed I was dealing with the same circles I had been dealing with my whole life," he says. "I had to start working with other people, and once I branched out, it helped me out. I had to stop just performing at the Crystal Ball and places like that."
Impassioned by his buzz, he quickly released Return of the Drama King earlier this year, capitalizing on his newfound exposure. Now, with The Format, his latest effort, F.O.E. has come full circle, both personally and musically. "I'm letting people know that I'm musical with this project," he contends. "The beats are so different from what I'm used to that I had to use a different approach. I'm letting people see a different side of me."
Flexing his pen game, F.O.E. gives listeners a glimpse into the complex simplicity that makes up his sound and vision. From the relationship-driven "Brand New," about a guy who falls in love with an aloof woman and eventually stalks her, to "Heartbeat," which he declares is his "ballad to music," the album exposes a side of F.O.E. that fans haven't had a chance to see. Nevertheless, he's confident that they'll get where he's going.
"A lot of artists aren't paying attention to the actual music they're putting out," he says, clearly annoyed. "They just want to make that one hit that's going to make the club crack or get people dancing. I don't even listen to music anymore; it sucks to me."
Instead of complaining, he's determined to do something about the void, no matter what urban radio says, or plays. "There are plenty of radios in the world," he shrugs, adding that he doesn't understand why local artists only focus on Denver radio. "If we're not getting bumped in Denver, it doesn't mean we can't get bumped in Atlanta, or New York, or Springs."
At the end of the day, he's all about realizing his worldwide vision by any means necessary. "I just want to perform and get out to the masses as much as I can," he offers. "That's my idea of success. I want to perform everywhere."
Rock star, indeed.
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