Prinz-D the First Deaf Rapper. All photos by Erik Tanner
I don't know why it's still so shocking for people to accept that deaf kids are into music too. I recently attended a spring formal at Gallaudet University—a private school for the deaf and hard of hearing in Washington, DC—and there was a full-on dance party going on. The room was stuffed with pulsating human bodies, although the floor was a bit brighter than most. Students were excitedly waving their hands in one anothers’ faces. Each person was having a unique aural experience—some appreciating the high frequencies, others the low tones, and several nothing more than the vibrations.
The night’s DJ segment quieted and the stage cleared for a handsome young man in all white—Darius McCall, a.k.a. Prinz-D—coolly holding the mic to his side. As the vibrations ignited, he translated what he rapped into American Sign Language, wading through throngs of folks absolutely losing it.
Prinz-D started rapping when he was nine. Curling red A's tattoo both arms, homages to his home state of Alabama. He's profoundly deaf in both ears and calls his hearing aid his "bread and butter... without it, I'm toast." A few weeks ago I hit him up on Gchat to talk about his career, dating, couchsurfing, and the intensely dark imagery in his videos.
VICE: You call yourself "The First Deaf Rapper." It's evident that your deafness is a huge part of your artistic identity. What challenges have you experienced in the entertainment industry that might be unique to the deaf community?
Prinz-D: Trying not to use sign language on every shot in a video shoot! The majority of my audience is deaf, and I have to sign for them or they lose interest. So I try to keep it hearing or mainstream and add splotches of signing here and there to show where I came from.
I just watched your videos for "You Were My Everything" and "Me Crazie." They're kind of dark.
I envisioned them that way. These are what I was feeling at the time. I'm past that, but I was looking for controversial videos to do, and it was set up right. Plus, I was trying to make a story about them. These feelings were authentic; they just never materialized.
What kind of feelings?
How can [a woman] not want go out with me? That and I'm struggling to make ends meet with the kind of career I'm pursuing.
How is money right now for you?
I'm making enough to record and live and go to acting classes. Plus I'm saving while applying for Juilliard and Yale School of Drama. Acting is a platform for my rapping. I eventually planned to make my rap gigs a one-man show thing, to tackle both worlds. Once I become a rich and famous actor, I can use the leverage to further my musical goals. You know, like Jamie Foxx or Will Smith.
What would you say you rap about the most? I know love is a big one.
Love is one, and how I'm deaf. Some of my songs are like, "So what? I bet I can rap better than you. I bet I can work harder than you." Plus real-life stories related to my life and what I was going through this past year.
I bet being a deaf rapper must motivate you to work your ass off.
I've always wanted to be first. I want to be the first deaf guy to win a Tony, first deaf guy to win an Oscar, the first deaf guy to win a Grammy. Even if it takes me 20 years, I'll never give up. I've even been homeless to avoid paying rent. I sacrificed having children and a girlfriend to pursue these dreams. It's a lonely life. But at the end of the day, I overcome it because each day I am spending more than eight hours working on my craft, in spite of these sacrifices.
Are you homeless right now?
No. I've got some friends who are supporting me, letting me crash with them rent-free. People see me getting up at 4 AM, working consistently.
Last time we hung out, we stayed up late smoking weed in your kitchen. You told me you liked writing smoke songs. Is that still something you're working on?
I have to be careful with that from a business standpoint. Most of my fans are deaf, and in that community, it's helpful to be a role model. I think I may have turned some deaf kids off, so I've probably missed out on gig opportunities.
How does that impact the way you construct your image?
I'm still smoking! But you know, I'm trying to be a more approachable artist and not stereotypical.
What would you say the split is between your audience, hearing vs. deaf?
I'd say about 80 to 20, deaf to hearing.
Cool. What's up with your new album? Tell me about it.
First Deaf Rapper: Volume 3 is going to be a great album because my enunciation is where I need it to be. I'm talking with more substance now. The beats are better and from what I've been hearing from people that have heard it, it's by far the best I've ever done. I am excited about it—however, I can't release it this fall. I'll wait until around the holidays.
What do you want people to know about your career, your passion, your life?
I want people to know that there is no excuse regardless of your disability or your limitations. You choose to become successful and to think like a champion. It all comes down to asking yourself how good you want to be. Once you answer that question, visualize the end result of what you're trying to accomplish. And to all you record label execs, if you're reading this article, please give me a chance and sign me. I'm tired of waiting on the bench while these other guys are getting their chance.
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