A weird phenomenon about being locked up in prison that many people probably fail to realize is how many people you meet in the clink-clink. They’re not all bad either. About a year ago, I wrote about one of my friends who got out and has turned into somewhat of a success story, holding down a self-sustaining job as an artist. Last May, a buddy named SunBlaze got out the damn slam can up in Riverview where we were at for a little spell. I only got to know SunBlaze for the last three or four months of my bid, but since we were neighbors we got to know each other pretty well and learned we had similar tastes in music.
A lotta dudes in prison are rappers, but I don’t pay them much mind. I don’t even pay myself much mind, but with the case of Blaze I had a feeling that he was serious bizness—the way he kept to himself, quietly writing and not talking a lotta shit like lotsa dudes do. Anyhow, he got out last May, and has been doing very well, holding down a job, following the rules, and putting out new music. So I decided to interview him.
VICE: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
SunBlaze: I was born and raised in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn… Growing up in a household that was musically diverse, I learned to appreciate all kinds of good music, but there was something about hip-hop that kept my ears open. I listened to Wu Tang, Mobb Deep, Gangstarr, and pretty much anything that the stations were playing. My neighbors and cousins were bumping the hip-hop hits at all times.
When did you realize that you wanted to pursue music professionally?
I was always rappin’ in ciphers just for fun, but I started getting serious once I realized that I could rap, and was actually doper than most the people around me. In 2004, I put out my first mixtape, The Shining, so I’ve been doing it for a while now.
You obviously had a setback getting locked up. You getting bitter at all that time you’ve spent grinding and not getting the recognition you deserve?
Not really. At this point in the game I choose to go underground. The rap shit on corporate radio doesn’t seem real to me. Of course, I’d like to have more people exposed to my music, but that’s why I’m working on my next project now. I’ve got five or six albums and mixtapes floating around and a few more coming out this year.
What’d you get locked up for, if you don’t mind me asking?
Man, some dumb shit I’ve been kicking myself in the ass for. Everything was cool, I had a good job, music was going well, and me and some friends decided to rob someone for cash with a stun gun back in ’08. In ’09, I copped out to three and a half years and did three.
Stick-up kid look what you done did! Got sent up for a three and a half bid…
Prison sucks, it really does, but I took it as an experience and always keep in mind those thoughts of being locked up before I go out and do something stupid. I was young and ignorant, but when you’re out in the streets playing with fire, sooner or later that fire is gonna get back at you and burn hard. I don't regret it, it made me wise and it made me the man that I am today. I no longer look for crime as a form of amusement, I have a good job, and I focus on my truest passion—hip-hop.
I can say overall that prison time has been a huge waste for me, but all the hours I spent writing definitely developed something in me, and I imagine the same happened with you spending all that time with your pen and your pad.
Definitely. A three-year stretch gave me a lot to think about and goals to lock down. Since I’ve been home, I’ve released two mixtapes, done plenty of shows and open mics, been on a few radio shows, and I’m working on future projects as well. I’m focused to just do the right thing and move forward with this music thing and main thing of all... stayin’ outta prison!
SunBlaze and I are currently in the studio working on a track called “Un Bicho Gordo.” Stay Tuned. Check out his music here and here. He is a lyrical monster with a very original New York street sound.
Bert Burykill is the pseudonym of our prison correspondent, who has spent time in a number of prisons in New York State. He tweets here.
Previously: Addiction Isn’t a Disease, I’m Just a Dick