"I remember hopping out the car and just praying to God to please help me," says Innerstate Ike, recounting a fateful night almost six years ago when he was shot while sitting at a stoplight in Capitol Hill. "I looked on the other side, and Cac was on the ground calling for help. Before I knew it, I blacked out."
Just a few hours earlier, Ike and his best friend, Colfax Cac, had set out on the town armed with CDs and some merch that they were hoping to sell to raise funds for autism (Cac's son is autistic). It was September 2005, and the two were headed for 3Deep's annual Black Party at Club Safari. The evening couldn't have been more perfect: A boss-like celebration was had by Ike and his crew, and the room was packed wall-to-wall with everyone hoping to see or be seen, from NBA players to street heavies and everyone in between. The mood was festive and light.
"It was a huge party," Ike remembers. "Every street star you could imagine was there. Everyone was having a great night. We didn't have no visual enemies or anything like that. We were partying and enjoying the company of everyone around us."
When the club let out, around 2 a.m., Ike and his friends headed to their cars separately, with plans to reconnect a short time later at a Waffle House. "Usually," Ike points out, "we follow each other everywhere we go, but for some reason that night, we decided to go separately."
Still high off the evening's good vibes, Ike, Cac and another friend, Analyzer Slim, headed east on Tenth Avenue with some friends convoying behind in another car. The couple who was following them, however, got into an argument and ended up pulling over, leaving Ike and the other guys to continue on their own. Ike's crew came to a stop at Tenth and Grant, at a stoplight that seemed to take an extra long time go from red to green.
"The light took like five to ten minutes to change," Ike recalls. "I mean, a really long time. We felt like something was different, but it had been a good night, so we didn't pay it any attention. We were bumping the album me and Cac were about to release in two weeks, Batman and Robin. So we were at the red light feeling ourselves, listening to our record, thinking everything was fine."
All of a sudden, a car crept up to the passenger side, and its occupants began firing into Ike's car with an automatic weapon. "It could have been more than seventeen shots, to tell you the truth," Ike allows. "At the time, though, all I heard was the gunshots, and I got hit three times. Cac got shot four times."
Cac later died from his wounds, while Ike was admitted to Denver Health. When he regained consciousness, it took him a day or two to realize where he was and what had happened. The first person Ike saw at the hospital was his mom. She helped him piece together the events.
"I had tubes in my nose," he recalls. "I was on a respirator. I couldn't talk. I couldn't eat. They told me I was gonna be a paraplegic, but they didn't know for how long it would be, because I didn't have any feeling from the waist down."
Understandably, Ike's family held off breaking the news of Cac's death to him right away. "My body was going through so much trauma that they couldn't even tell me in the beginning," says Ike. "I didn't find out he passed until two weeks later. I couldn't really absorb it at first. It's still hard to absorb."
With so much to process, losing his best friend and the use of his legs, rap was the furthest thing from Ike's mind. After spending about three months at Craig Hospital rehabilitating and learning the new ways he'd have to take care of himself and become strong, Ike finally returned home to a newly built studio from his mom and uncle.
"We didn't know who shot us," says Ike, "so my family was really iffy about friends and who I was around. There were no suspects, so my family wasn't real secure about me. I wasn't really feeling music, but the studio was there, so I would play beats and mess around with music."
Music had already played an influential role in Ike's life. Born Michael Hope, Ike lived in Park Hill for a short time before moving to Montbello in third grade. Ike's mother raised a total of thirteen kids, having taken in the children of siblings who were struggling with crack addiction. "With there being so many kids, everybody was always into something," notes Ike. "My older cousin, she used to rap, and I really looked up to her. She really liked Salt-n-Pepa. One day when I was in the fifth grade, she wrote me a rap to take to school for show and tell."
Recalling the moment with fondness, he recites a few lines from the verse, which was all about staying in school: "My name is Michael Hope, and I don't smoke dope..." Ike laughs as he recalls that particular memory, and says, with loving admiration, that his cousin was his motivation and one of the first people who believed in his craft.
After years of encouragement and prodding throughout his high school years, Ike's writing transitioned from clever, fictional accounts to real tried-and-true experiences that he brought to life with words and rhymes. The fundamentals of hustling and street life often exaggerated by many on wax are not mere glorifications in the life of Innerstate Ike. For him, rapping was a hobby secondary to the hustling that helped provide for his family.
"I was just rapping because I liked to do it," he says. "I was doing that to put food on the table, because I didn't come from too much. I had to get a lot for myself, and hustling was the way to do it."
Flipping his experience as a hustler into an album titled The Young Bank Teller — a throw to how much cash was passing through the seventeen-year-old's hands in the late '90s — the blossoming MC recorded and mixed all eighteen songs on the album, and the streets loved it. By 2005, when he was shot and Cac was killed, the two were already well on their way to becoming legends on the streets.
"We had a double disc already recorded and ready to come out," Ike points out. "It affected the community and the families, too. They were rooting for us before we got shot, so after it happened, people were on our side, and we were really like underdogs. They were paying attention and wanted to see what was next. The whole 'hood knew Cac, so when he died, everybody was rooting for the music to continue."
As he continued to recover, with a tracheal tube freshly removed from his neck, Ike recorded his first song. But he wasn't satisfied with the way he sounded, because his voice wasn't the same. Encouraged by his friends, who said the new gravel and grit made him sound "more beastly," Ike released his first project after the shooting, a mixtape with DJ Ktone titled Bricks, Super Bads and Duffle Bags.
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With the ongoing support of his family and encouragement of friends like Ktone ("He just kept telling me, we gotta keep pushing and keep going. He believed in me, and that really motivated me to keep on"), Ike has gone on to release more than thirty mixtapes and albums. They include Faith Moves Mountains, a testament to his relationship with God since the shooting — and different from everything else he put out, as it contains no cursing — and Apple Sauce to a Boss, Bananas to a Gorilla. With the music acting as therapy and an outlet for expression while he was on the mend, Ike became rejuvenated, and his voice returned in full force.
Ike's latest effort, Moolah Music, is his best work to date. Ike says it's the culmination of all his hard work over the years, the struggle, the tragedy and the triumph. Co-hosted by Ktone with DJ Top Shelf, Moolah Music is indeed the sum of all the parts in Ike's career.
"Now that I'm using rap instead of hustling, the streets embrace me for the music and for what I've been through," he says. "People know my story, and they know I'm a concrete guy. Everything I say is real because I lived it.
"I just feel like when they see you and they hear what you're saying and they know that you're just a solid guy — when the people see that and they can feel that — they'll vouch for you," Ike concludes. "They've seen my struggle from when I was in the streets, and they know my family's been on dope, and my best friend died, and that I got shot up, and that I still came out of the hospital six months later and put out so many projects. People respect that."