My first introduction to rap music from D.C. was in 2007 with Tabi Bonney’s “The Pocket”, which, if anything, turned me away more than intrigued me. However, it did make me want to see if there was some music coming from The District that I’d actually like. Wale’s mixtapes Hate Is The New Love and 100 Miles And Running became mainstays in my iPod Classic. Rappers like Phil Ade pretty much followed his mold and I began to think that D.C. was only going to offer backpack raps—a space that was already occupied by Lupe Fiasco for me and much different than the Three 6 Mafia and Project Pat I came up listening to. But over the past few years with Fat Trel gaining more recognition and Shy Glizzy’s song “Awwsome” gaining traction, the street narrative of D.C. is starting to come to the forefront. A lesser known rising street artist out of D.C. is Lightshow, from the Southeast quadrant of the city. He’s worked with Glizzy, members of Fat Trel’s Slutty Boyz and was featured on Wale’s “Georgetown Press”, from his 2012 mixtape, Folarin. A la Meek Mill, his raps are fueled by his near-yelling delivery and his content often touches on the struggles of street life while presenting an existential outlook on the choices that people make in the streets. Before he took the stage at D.C. station WPGC 95.5’s Birthday Bash, I talked to him on our way to the Howard Theatre about what fuels his music and how he feels about the cultural changes that D.C. is undergoing.
True Laurels: Tabi Bonney and Wale started were the first rap artists out of D.C. that I knew about but recently there have been more street artists surfacing like you, Fat Trel and Shy Glizzy. Which group is a more fitting representation of D.C.’s identity?
Lightshow: D.C. is changing a lot but you still see more people drawn to the street aspect of the city because that’s what we come from. D.C. is a real turned up city, well the underground. So street music is gonna resonate with people. They can listen to us and say, “Oh, I ride past this street,” or “I’ve been through situations like that.” When you start at new school you still go sit with the people you relate with the most. So we’re in the same school as those other guys but the fans are more at our table.
A recurring theme in your music is survival. Did dedicating yourself to music help you survive and get out of shaky situations?
Lightshow: Hell yeah. It’s been a lot of times when I’m doing something music related like being in the studio, performing, or just trying to stay focused and something fucked up will happen to someone I’m close with. I just think that could’ve been me. Music saved me a lot of times.
Towards the end of “Regardless” you take time out to tell kids “Fuck the street shit, stay in school.” Are you aiming to use the voice you’re granted through rap to be a mentor, as well?
Lightshow: I feel like I have to be both—a mentor and a rapper. It’s not even up to me. It’s responsibility. When you first start it’s all about “You, you, you.” My music is about me but I can’t just go to the studio and make a 100 songs. I wish I could, but it has to come from a real place and an honest place. People will always be able to relate to honesty. I have a pretty good following on social media and it’s kids included in that, it’s mothers in that, adults. I gotta be mindful of what I say. If I stand for something as a person, then I have to stand for that in my music. It can’t be two separate people.
You spoke on how much D.C. is changing. Do you see that change as a negative effect on your community and your own personal growth?
Lightshow: I don’t know if I look at it as negative. I just look at it as them trying to modernize the most powerful city in the world. Things have to change and this process has been going on for a long time now. Things are moving in a good direction. I like seeing these big buildings and condos popping up. It motivates me to step the level of my hustle up. Back in the day you could hustle and get you a nice apartment and you’d be good. Now I can say I want me a condo with a rooftop terrace and a pool.
Who are the unsung heroes in the streets of D.C.?
Lightshow: I gotta give a lot of thanks to a group of guys called the Real Live Gangstas. The music they made was so street conscious. It made me wanna get my morals and principles in order. Their music made me want to become a man’s man. Even though their music was harsh, it was real. They told you every side of the coin. Growing up without a father, I was looking for that street knowledge from older guys and they changed my life. I saw that it’s a thinking man’s game. So learning from them, how could I not assume the responsibility of a teacher or mentor? It’d be impossible.
There’s a sense of existentialism in your music where you repeatedly bring up the choices that people have and how they shape the outcome of one’s life. Is that an ideology you eventually adopted or is that how you’ve always viewed the world?
Lightshow: It’s not really an ideology I picked up but I always think back to a school I went to in Southeast D.C. where a lot of my teachers were white. I had one teacher named Mr. Ben who taught me how to play chess. I always think back to how they were so much harder on us than they had to be but it made me realize that not knowing is not an excuse. Knowledge is free. You have to know what’s going on. Read up on your rights and find out what your purpose is out here. All the hours we have in this world, you gotta really work to get what you want.
How does the music you’re working on now differ from what’s been heard from you so far?
Lightshow: The music that I’m working on right now is all centered around what I’m learning. I make songs whenever I get new information. It’s not specific to the streets either. It could be about girls, myself, anything. I’m always gonna talk about whatever I see. I always want my shit to be relatable. I don’t pull this shit out of nowhere. The streets are so fucked up right now because everybody is misguided. You got rappers who aren’t even living what they’re rapping about but people will follow them and do what their songs say; it’s reckless.
Follow Lightshow on Twitter: @Lightshow10thPL