When I lived there, I saw a dead person after he was shot," recalls Catch Lungs of living in Phoenix as a kid. "There was blood dripping all over. I was a kid, and seeing a dead body like that up close was crazy. It was a weird perception to see that in the streets. A lot of different things changed for me after that. It was a changing point, for sure. I didn't know then, but looking back, I was completely changed."
Imagine so. Seeing that sort of thing would be life-changing for any boy, much less one from the quiet confines of western Colorado. Born John Morse, the MC better known these days as Catch Lungs spent the early years of his life in Grand Junction around his grandfather -- who he says had the biggest impact on his young life -- before being whisked away to Gunnison with his mother, thanks to an ongoing conflict between his parents.
"My mom didn't wanna see him," Catch explains of his father, "so she moved away with me. My dad got into drugs, and it was even more reason not to see him. We moved to Gunnison -- I don't know why. That's where my stepdad came into play, and he's been around ever since I was five. His dad lived in Phoenix, and we moved there for a while; I lived there from second grade to fifth grade."
Catch LungsCD-release party, with Elzhi, Guilty Simpson, One Be Lo and the Food Chain, 8 p.m. March 4, Marquis Theater, 2009 Larimer Street, $10, 866-468-7621.
After four years in Phoenix, the family moved back to Marble, Colorado, which, as Catch recalls, only had a population of 200 or so at the time -- not exactly a hot spot for a budding football sensation. "It was totally different for me, because I was a superstar at football," he remembers. "We had gone undefeated for like two seasons, and then we moved to this place where there was no sports at all. I played basketball for like six hours a day, with nothing else to do."
Catch eventually became disillusioned with playing sports altogether and took up other hobbies instead. "I started getting into skating and felt like I had better friends after that," he says. "I got more into playing the guitar, and I got so much better. I was in a blues band for a while, and I would write a bit here and there."
The transition to making music was a natural one for Catch. When he was a child, his stepfather hosted a reggae radio show, and hip-hop was always a major focal point in his home. Catch cut his teeth on albums like The Chronic and Illmatic; at age four, in fact, he could recite all the words to the Nas classic. So by the time he began trying his hand at music, he was already consumed with it, hosting his own radio show and receiving high-school English credit for writing raps.
"I just got really good at it, and me and my friends would freestyle on the radio," he says. "I had the late-night show, and we'd play unedited music from 11 p.m. until whenever we wanted, because there was no show after us until the morning. We'd freestyle for like two or three hours."
By this time, Catch was living in Carbondale and kicking around with the cats from Akomplice. It was then that he really began to hone his freestyle skills and refine his new craft. Through his association with Akomplice, he met an aspiring MC from Denver who later took him under his wing.
"Carbondale was a big part of where I started freestyling a lot and getting better at it," says Catch. "The dudes from Akomplice opened my mind to a lot to new things. At the time, Akomplice sponsored SP Double, and that's how I met him. We had a really good connection, and he had my back on everything 100 percent. We became really good friends, and right out of high school, I moved in with SP, like two weeks after I graduated. He was 23 or 24 and I was eighteen, and it was on."
Upon moving to Denver, a young, eager and enthusiastic Catch Lungs joined the Boostwell crew. He was immediately excited to work on any and all projects. With that sort of excitement comes the typical hunger to put out newer and better material at a much faster rate. Buoyed by the buzz Boostwell was generating, it was only natural for him to expand into more solo projects. "At that point I wasn't really releasing stuff," he explains. "I was just doing the group stuff. I wanted to do my own thing and started working on my solo raps, and that was all the Food for the Famished stuff. It was recorded all at PJ's house."
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"PJ" is Paul Padilla, aka Flawless of the Fresh Breath Committee. After meeting at a concert, the two developed a friendship and began working on music together. "We started and just made some tracks together," Catch says. "We were really comfortable and thought each other was ill. I was driving like three to four times to Flawless's house. I was the most dedicated ever. I was writing choruses and singing choruses, and so we were like, 'Let's do it.'"
Around that time, everybody in Boostwell was doing their own thing, which eventually led to the crew's breakup. That's when Catch joined forces with Flawless, Purpose, Fo Chief, Kontrast, DJ Skip Ripkin and Hi-Res and formed the Fresh Breath Committee, an outfit that quickly made its way to the forefront. "I kind of feel like we all have different views on life," says Catch, "but we mesh really well, and we're good brothers."
But Breath isn't the only thing Fresh about Catch these days. In the process of working with the Committee and focusing on his solo career, the MC has gained an entirely fresh outlook on life -- and an unexpected one, at that. "I took a 180 from not believing in God to completely believing in God," he declares. "I don't believe in organized religion at all. I was against God for a long time because my dad was addicted to meth and then he got saved. I shouldn't have been mad, but I was mad at God, because why didn't he do it for his family or let me save him? I've finally accepted the Lord into my life and the universe."
Catch credits this newfound faith and understanding for leading him to where he is now. Fresh off tour with One Be Lo and on the brink of releasing his debut full-length, Awake in a Dream (with features from Guilty Simpson, Elzhi and the always enigmatic Blu), the 21-year-old rapper is on top of his game -- a game in which the main constant has been change.