Hip-hop is a dying genre – plagued with money hungry record executives and auto-tune pitch correctors. The rap game has slowly crept towards the pop median. The outpour of dreadful hip-hop joints made more for dance clubs than home stereos have turned the industry soft. Instead of spreading a message with depth, rappers resort to meaningless but catchy lyrics and metaphors.
Rodney Lucas is a breath of fresh air.
F. Stokes (his stage name) is a small artist in a big industry, but the dude has some serious soul. Raised by his mother, since his father is serving a lifetime prison sentence, Stokes has an intriguing story for those willing to listen. Raised in a one-bedroom shelter with his 5 other siblings; he resorted to hustling drugs and carrying heat to endure the streets. From cleaning bathrooms to washing dishes, Stokes cleaned up his life to pursue his dream of becoming a famous rapper. His message has depth and rarely touches on materialism, but instead attempts to define himself as a person.
“I was a victim of circumstance, but none of those situations define me as a man. What defines me as a man is that at any willing moment, I’m willing to go fucking homeless for this dream.” –Rodney Lucas
He breaks himself down through words; picking apart his insecurities and desires. Stokes is a wizard with his style, ranging from a dark poet to a buoyant head-banger.
Lyrically, Stokes is a genius. For the complexity of his words, he’s got a remarkably smooth flow. You can feel the pain in tracks like “Letter to Rihanna”, which ironically doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Rihanna, but with his insecurities as a black male.
“Manhood in question cuz’ every other black girl I walk past is yelling out fag. Because my style was more Grace Jones than for how many foxy browns I take home. Thinkin’ I was the ugly son cuz’ I couldn’t shoot a basketball or bust a gun”
Tragedy allows us to unveil cultural identities and break down characters. Few artists are comfortable enough to allow others to see their personality broken down to the core. Stokes attempts to do this, and actually does it quite well.
Perhaps the strongest feature of the spoken wordsmith is his live performances. The first time I saw F. Stokes live was about year ago in Madison. He was sporting jean shorts that were sloppily cut off below the knee, a skin-tight F. Stokes t-shirt from his merchandise table, and topped off with a miraculous mustache, in which could only be comparable to an early Tom Selleck.
I was intrigued from the get-go.
His energy was felt instantly, with his microphone cord jump-roping and unified hand claps. At one point Stokes hopped down from the stage so he could perform directly to audience members – improvising bars and hollering out instructions for the crowd to participate. I felt as if I was an integral piece to the concert, like I was partly responsible for the thumping pace of the speakers. Never before have I been so engaged at a live show.
He treated the audience of about 200 like we were his long-lost friends. “I appreciate all of you,” Stokes repeated continuously throughout the show.
“I appreciate my fans so much. When I’m on stage I don’t feel like they’re fans, I feel like they’re my friends. They literally help me pay my rent. These people are way more than consumers to me – they are family.” – Rodney Lucas
I urge any fan of hip-hop to explore beyond the laziness of the mainstream. Rarely do you find a rap artist with sophistication and depth comparable to F. Stokes. It won’t be long until the right person hears him spit a couple lines at a coffee shop, and Stokes will be on his way to bigger things. But for now, he’s just trying to raise enough money to get to the next coffee shop – so help him out.
F. Stokes will be at Ed’s Bar at 5PM this Saturday, as part of the wide range of great music coming to Winona for the Mid-West Music Festival. Wear some comfortable shoes, because you’ll be on your feet.