"And even though I sound different, you can motherfuckin bet this: I'm repping this for Houston, Texas." — Marcus Manchild
Twenty-two-year-old Marcus Manchild's career is accelerating quickly, only a few years after he got started as a rapper. Manchild is the marquee artist of AMG, a Houston-based record label that also houses Killa Kyleon. He recently toured nationally as part of the Smoker's Only event, a 30+ city bonanza headlined by Method Man, Big K.R.I.T. and Curren$y. He's performing this March at SXSW. And he has several music projects already set for 2012, with guest features including Bun B, Curren$y and more.
Only a few years ago, the rapper was leading a very different life. "I had gotten kicked off the basketball team at school," says Manchild, sitting in a studio that looks like it's in the middle of being either built or pulled apart, remembering his time at Westside High School. "I thought about playing college ball, but I got into a fight and that was enough. After that, I dropped out. That was 2007."
He was young, black and had a limited education; his world had shrunk considerably. He was becoming a statistic, maybe even a cautionary tale. So he started to rap.
Freestyling is something seemingly everyone in Houston tries at least a couple of times; it's almost a rite of passage. Manchild was no different. He'd played around with the idea before, at school or on the bus or with friends, just for fun.
"I was really bad when I started rapping," laughs Manchild, "but I felt like I could do it."
Things moved slowly in the beginning, until they started moving quickly — or, more specifically, until he started talking quickly.
See, with rap, Manchild does a lot of things well. He has a solid ear for beats, he can build a proper chorus, he even looks the part (handsome, athletic build, cargo shorts, etc). But he does one thing better than all but maybe a handful of people on the planet: speed-rap. He raps how Adrian Peterson runs in the open field or how Kim Kardashian dates professional athletes: fast and ferociously.
"It happened by accident," says Manchild. "I was playing around on this record called 'Bottoms Up' and was like, 'Ay...uh, I can rap fast."
It's more than just saying things fast, though. For example, talking fast is often just plain annoying. I mean, the guy from the Micro Machines commercial talked faster than anybody, and nobody was trying to sign him. You have to be able to sound natural doing so.
In February of 2010, a video of Manchild attacking Chris Brown's ultra-hit "Look at Me Now" began to circulate the Internet. "Look at Me Now" is a brilliant song, most famous because Busta Rhymes atomized everything on it with a speed-of-light verse. Manchild is just as quick. In the first three seconds of the video, he says more than 20 words. It only gets smoother and faster from there, eventually becoming a lustrous, unwrinkled rush of words sprinting forward.
The video seems to have served two purposes: First, it showed that Manchild's buzz was beginning to reach influential ears (it's preceded by a clip of Lupe Fiasco name-checking him during a radio interview). Second, it crystallized the notion that he was a top-notch speedster, capable of matching just about anyone in a verbal footrace.
We asked Bun B about Manchild's potential as a breakout star. His response: "In my humble, [he's] a rap force to be reckoned with."
Houston has long been caricatured as the city of slow, its rappers as verbally and aesthetically indolent. Manchild, of course, doesn't fit the stereotype. But that doesn't stop him from taking his hometown's part.
Last year, A$AP Rocky, a rapper from New York, birthplace of condescension to Southern rap's slow-motion charm, released a song called "Purple Swag" that appropriated Houston culture wholesale. It caught fire, was relentlessly praised for its ingenuity, and eventually helped earn Rocky and his mates a $3 million advance from a major record label.
Off the record, several Houston rappers were indignant, citing hypocrisy. Some even argued that A$AP had turned the style into a novelty act, a regionalized minstrel show of sorts. But the only rapper to respond officially was Manchild, who recorded his own version of the song, buttressed by clips of Pimp C's world-class shit-talking "I'm from Texas" speech.
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Though Manchild is the antithesis of the Southern rap persona, his message was essentially what local guys have been shouting for decades: Respect us, bitch.
This year, Manchild will release his new tapes — he's currently pushing "We Wrong," a melodic blitz that features Slim Thug — and go on tour again. And later this month, he'll be featured in XXL, not to mention a number of blogs.
He's sitting at the precipice of local fame, eyeing national acclaim from there.
"I think we can all make that push," says Manchild. "We can be out there. I don't worry about that. I'm just having fun. That lane's open right now. We got some surprises. It's gon' be some live shit."