In the world of rap and hip-hop, aliases are de rigueur. When asked, however, most rappers will reveal their given names. Jay-Z is really Shawn Carter. Slick Rick's mama called him Ricky Walters.
It's a different story for San Francisco underground hero TopR, who rolls into Denver this weekend to perform and participate in a panel discussion as part of Street-2-Screen, the annual celebration of graffiti culture sponsored by Kaffeine Buzz. With five albums and fifteen years in the game, the rapper is only just beginning to achieve notoriety outside of his adopted City by the Bay.
Thanks to a deal with 2b1 Records, his latest album, The Marathon of Shame, will be his first to receive distribution outside of San Francisco, where TopR — aka Top Ramen — has long been a local favorite. With block-rocking beats, thuggish flow and lyrics that waver drunkenly between bar-room bravado and closing-time self-doubt, Marathon might just be the record that brings TopR the recognition he deserves. But that doesn't mean he's about to sacrifice his anonymity.
"I don't really give my name out," he says, his previously jovial voice turning deadly serious. "It has to do with my graffiti," he explains, "and also with being a runaway kid. You never give your real name."
As a teenager, TopR left his parents' home in Santa Cruz, California, and lived most of the next fifteen years on the street, painting graffiti and honing his skills as a battle rapper. Though he's achieved some degree of regional success and is no longer homeless, the impact of spending half his life in poverty and struggle can be heard in some of Marathon's vitriolic lyrics.
"I've always been kind of a cynical dude, but now I'm completely consumed with cynicism," the thirty-year-old MC admits. "It just seems like there's no fucking hope."
This sense of hopelessness led to the new album's title, a play on the "walk of shame" we've all done after a one-night stand. "I've been doing the walk of shame for so long," says TopR, "that it feels like a marathon."
All that could change with the rapper's powerful new album and heightened profile. "It seems like there's new life breathed into my career now," he admits. "Maybe I can crank out another one."