Izm White (aka Hayden Laybourn) has been immersed in the local hip-hop scene since the mid-'90s, when he first started heading down from the Western Slope to Denver to compete in MC battles and attend shows. During that time, he's had some ups and downs, including releasing multiple albums, taking trips to Europe and doing a stint in prison. Through it all, Izm has continued to build his name and has grown wise in the game, which has changed dramatically over the past two decades.
Izm is a self-made visionary. Witty and charismatic, the avid hip-hop devotee hails from what might seem at first like one of the most unlikely of spots for hip-hop in in the state -- the Aspen area -- but in his mind, Colorado's the place to be. "People want to live here," he declares. "It is the best state in the country. We have good air, good marijuana, and so a lot of young people with money are coming out here."
Music captured his attention early on, and his interest eventually led him to school in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2001, where he studied audio engineering at the Center for Digital Imaging and Sound. Izm says he wanted to learn how to record better and work around the studio, skills that would help him along in his aspiring career as an MC. The lack of access to quality studios he experienced in the late '90s drove him to learn the tools of the trade. "Just the whole learning process, how sound travels," he says. "I was learning how to make music as clean and nice-sounding to the ear as possible."
After finishing his studies in Canada, Izm headed back home, where he began working on his artistry. He established Ryme Kryme Family with Creepy Loc, released Bulletproof Love in 2004, and began flooding the Front Range with music. He hustled over 10,000 units, an aspect of the game Izm says has changed since those days.
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"The mixtape and hustle game was different," he recalls. "A lot of people were in the street. You used to have physicals, advertising and posters, not really your Instagram followers or Facebook followers. People don't really put out mixtapes in the streets like that anymore. It's a digital game. They can manipulate the game more, and, not to mention, every day there are more rappers."
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After dropping Bulletproof Love, Izm made his way out to Europe, via Switzerland, to work with a rapper out of Cincinnati named Main Flow from the group MOOD. During his trip, he landed in the hospital in France with a bleeding ulcer. "I literally had to make them let me out," he remembers, "because I had another show to do on the fifth day."
Determined to establish himself as an artist, he continued to soak up the game. In 2006, he released I-70 Traffic, but soon after, he and many of his RKF labelmates ran into legal troubles, which threatened to stall any momentum he'd been building up. Indicted for being part of an organized drug ring, Izm landed in prison, but being a first-time offender, he was able to get a lighter sentence, which allowed him to keep his company afloat.
Despite all the obstacles, Izm soldiered on and went on to release five albums, including Colorado Crack in 2007, Mr. Rocky Mountains and The Heart of CO in 2008, More Bars More Places in 2009 and his latest solo project, Cloud Surfing, in 2011. During that time, Izm has fostered some pivotal relationships with acts like Mobb Deep and Ghostface, among others, whom he met in Aspen during the past few years. Izm credits the fortuitous friendships to being genuine about his passion for music and professionalism.
"I'm about putting myself out there," he says. "I am a real person, and I like real people. I like the quality and the shit I'm on. So I just put myself in situations where I meet new people and be professional about it, and we can really help each other. I try to go to as many events as I can and put 110 percent effort into my brand."
The effort is clearly paying off. Izm has some new tracks in the works, including a pair due on his forthcoming album, Wildlife, featuring Ghostface and Prodigy of Mobb Deep. Keep an eye out for that, and in the meantime, check out "They Say Yeah" below.
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