Tay Roc calls himself Dracula, but he is much more like the man-child turned vigilante, Batman.
Sure Dracula, the Transylvanian Count from Bram Stoker’s book, is a fearsome night-dweller who attacks, marks and provides cultish rebirth in the dark spaces of vampirism —and that sh*t is hard on its own — but Roc is not any of that.
The symbolism of dominance that Prince of the Night manifests has epic overtones … rings bells …still despite the colloquial association of his Cave Gang, the bats, and his history of calling himself that … the mythology of the Stoker’s monster does not easily mesh with the actual mythology and lore of the man-child, Tay Roc who is now the face of URL.
The idea that Batman is a better association for the Maryland star is rooted in some deep psychological babble that would probably bore the hell out of his fans.
But if anyone does a quick overview of the complicated life of Bruce Wayne and juxtapose it to Donté Richardson’s, it would not take the average mind long to see how the natural men (Wayne/Richardson) struggle to subdue their alter-egos (Batman/Tay Roc). Daily, the two face the pressures of competing with their ginormous second-selves — fighting to see who will emerge as the dominant voice that they hear or that the world sees. Who do you want to win, Batman or Bruce Wayne?
Tay Roc or Donté Richardson …
More people know what Batman values more than they even care about what Bruce believes is important … And when it comes to rapper Tay Roc … well, fans could care less about his truth. They want the rapper that arguably is one of the best rappers in the world.
As Batman pushes to be greater than the billionaire Bruce Wayne, the double life of Tay Roc many times suppresses Donté Richardson’s need to be civilian.
It is hard because Donté is actually heroic, doing the things that Black men are supposed to garner respect and valor. But in the comic book of his life’s legacy, fans decide whom they want to read. Over and over again, they choose the Gun Bar King over the father, the son, the friend. More interested in wins, than the fact that his teenage daughter is an accomplished and published author. They care more about the rumors than the fact that gives back to his community. But perhaps in reading both, there is a chance to reconcile the man and the artist.
The Birth of Tay Roc: The Origin Story
Like Bruce Wayne, Tay Roc had to be a man before his time. He went from spitting rhymes to feed his need for competition, to strive for greatness so that he could feed his family.
“I have always been a fan of Hip-Hop. As a kid, I watched and listened to Jay-Z, all of Roc-A-Fella, the Lox, Wu-Tang, and Dipset. That’s how I started rapping. But I have always been a competitive person with anything I did so rapping was just one of those things I was competitive with. I always jumped into cyphers and took over. That’s how I started battling.”
“I started battling at a very young age, like 14 or 15. My first on-camera battle inside of a barbershop was when I was 16. That’s when leagues in Maryland started to form (around 2004). We would travel from town to town, go to different counties. We would meet up in football fields, basketball courts, parties, and just rap. This is during the time when battle rap was just for the love of it. This was when you knew who the hottest rappers were. Back then, it was like a secret society, before battle rap was what it is now. This was before we could have fans and get all these YouTube views. It was behind closed doors and it was really cool to do. We never knew who the rappers would be, so it was like nothing personal. Never any type of name flips. The art has evolved so much, now we are able to feed our families off of this and travel.”
It has changed. When you think of Tay Roc, it is hard to imagine that at 32, he predates the YouTube era. It is hard to consider that the same story of street corner rhyming that makes up the origin story of vet rappers like Cassidy, Rakim, Roxanne Shanté, and Big Daddy Kane also applies to him. But as a teen, far too young to go anywhere by himself, he pushed his way into the circle scruffy-big-hat-wearing and determined to spit his bars.
“The first time I saw a SMACK DVD, I was like 16 or 17 years old. It changed my life seeing it. Where I am from, I just thought that it was just ‘me.’ There were people I was battling … I just was passed them. I was way ahead of my time. I was too good for the people I was battling. So when SMACK DVD came out and I actually saw T-Rex and saw Murda Mook, I was like ‘hold on! there are other people in this world like me.’ The Philly battle rappers also let me know that there are other battle rappers. At 17, I had never been out of my state. Then after a while, I just got a call to come up there (NYC). My life changed. I’ve been with battle rap ever since.”
At 17, the average teenager is thinking about prom. They are dreaming about college or the next basketball game at their local high school. But all of a sudden, Donté’s fun hobbies started to look like an obsession, one that didn’t make sense. The reality is Donté’s Baltimore County was similar to that of the HBO hit series, *The Wire*. While he was not directly in the City of Baltimore, it is not hard to believe that a man-child in a household considering the economic condition of the community would be required to hold his weight with either an after-school job or if we are being real, hustling. Donté, like Bruce Wayne who basically had to become his own man before he was legal, did nothing that the average teen around him was doing.
“I didn’t graduate from school because I dropped out. I could have graduated. I dropped out because I was having a kid and school wasn’t getting me money. I had to straight go get a job and start my life. It wasn’t like I was in school and couldn’t do it and I just gave up. I was a senior when I stopped going to school. I never failed or anything. I was supposed to graduate in 2006.”
The snapshot was clear: Baltimore ranked in 2005, 87 out of the 100 largest U.S. cities in terms of median household income. Approximately 2 in 10 Baltimore City residents lived below the poverty line (22.9 percent) and approximately 4 in 10 families with children live below 150 percent of the poverty line (39.5 percent).
So the introduction to out of state battle rap was particularly stressful for Donté, even as it was exhilarating for Tay Roc.
“My big moments in New York were battling in the Lion’s Den, before SMACK. I was about 19. Loaded Lux was the first one to reach out to me and bring me to New York. My first battle in New York was with Charlie Clips. That’s how Smack found me. I took a year off. At that time, I was literally just waiting for calls to get a battle. It was even like we were battling for money. It was a competition. Everybody was doing it for the love and nobody was getting paid at the time. I sat back for the whole year and then SMACK/URL started when I was 20. I was just watching it unfold. I saw T-Rex and all of the new faces that I had never seen before like Tsunami Surf and Hitman, Hollow da Don and K-Shine. I just felt like I had to be a part of this world and I didn’t know how to reach out to any of them. But getting that call from Smack was something that changed my life. I couldn’t even believe that they reached out to me. I was super ready to go. It didn’t matter who they gave me. I was ready.”
Tay Roc was ready, brave, and focused. But Baltimore and the pressures of family and life tugged at Donté’s heart.
“It was very hard for me because, at the time, battle rap wasn’t paying me. I just knew that I wanted to do this more than anything, more than even traditional work. It was hard to figure it out but I put my all into this every time. I feel like it figured itself out. Once Smack started paying people for battles, that changed it from just being a hobby. Now it has become a job.”
“Now, I am like, is it a job? Because it is something that we love to do. I am always going to give my all to this. If this would all fall to the ground, I would still want to do something for this. I would still want to be a part of this and wouldn’t stop trying to create my bars. I would still try and find someone on the same page as me.”
“It is crazy to me, my path. It could be a movie. Now I am damn near at the top of the company. They give me freedom and I am allowed to do a lot that others are not. I earned that and even in that, I go by the rules. They pay me and I do my job. I don’t come to work and go to the bathroom and wait for my time and clock out of work. No, I do my work. The organization respects me for that. I think that is how all these battlers should do.”
“Also, I never left. I never took my brand to any other place. That’s also what made me big in the URL. The fact that all my fans can find all my content in one place. If the URL channel was to vanish, I would vanish. My work would be gone. That’s like huge to me. You have 30 battlers (I can’t even tell you how many) and all of them have been to every battle league in America. I am the only one that stayed home. The only three other places I have been to are Queen of The Ring, Bull Pen, and UW, and all of those are URL family/ affiliated.”
Interestingly, Roc exists in that weird gap between the old school age and the new generation. His age aligns him with the second and third wave of battlers, but he can trace his steps directly behind those who are considered the best in the industry, an industry that he miraculously found himself in as a teenager from the beginning. And like most young people watching from up close, he has clocked the shift in culture.
“It is a crazy world now because a lot of battlers aren’t in it for the love. They are like ‘wait, people are getting paid? I wanna be a battle rapper now.’ They want to battle rap, to get money and that is not what it was in the beginning.”
The Face of URL
By 2016, it is accepted that Tay Roc is the face of the URL. But many wonder why. Even more, they don’t care, they just want to knock him down. But his loyalty to the brand remains unmatched, but the same work ethic that got him from Maryland to the big stage still prevails.
“I am always in a creative mood. Just not to lose my spot, I stay on top of the new guys. I stay on top of what they are doing in the battle world. They keep me motivated (at least the ones I think are good) and that is how I am able to come up with new styles and evolve in this.”
While he is the face of URL, depending on whom you talk to, he sometimes is underrated and slept on. People push a narrative that he is mostly gas and that if Smack White wasn’t calling him his “Number One Gunner,” we would not be as successful. It is almost as they forget that he is a lyricist of the finest caliber and a leader extraordinaire. Cave Gang harbors emcees like Chef Trez, Ave, Brizz Rawsteen, Chess, Bad Newz, and Burke Bucs.
“Even though I am the face, I do feel like I am underrated. At the same time, I feel like there are way more that are also underrated. Other battlers should be in a better position than they are in. Some battlers can get through four rounds (not just three) flawlessly. Full rounds of material and not cause any problems. Keep the positive energy here, but some battlers can’t do that. And the battlers that do keep the positive energy, they don’t get the look that they deserve. They get pushed onto the back burner.”
“It is like battler rap has changed from a lyrical thing to a character thing.”
That statement stands alone. As the face and as a stake-holder in the culture/ URL brand, it is blurry who cares more about a certain professional and moral compass —Code of Honor— for the artists: Tay Roc or Donté. The double consciousness is sickening and troublesome and beautiful all the same time, birthing the genius that gave us the safety belt/ stabbing bar from a previous NOME.
“As long as I continue to do me, the world is going to love me. The battle rap world has changed so much, I am also changing. I go through so much in life and it is not just battle rap. It is hard for me to just keep my composure sometimes. I am just a regular person. And regardless of the celebrity, my battle rap career gets me, I still go through regular people sh*t. When I am at these events and we are going back and forth with battlers, it is not just me but everyone (all of my peers) are going through their own thing. Yes, we come in with chips on our shoulders, and we might be getting into it with each other, it shouldn’t be happening. I learned that. I can’t bring my whole problems and just share them at work. If I am stressed out about some other stuff, I can’t take it out on a battler because he said I was trash.”
The assessment is remarkable. But just hearing his story, makes it impossible to say that he is “regular.” He grew up in battle rap. He has had more years as Tay Roc than he has had years not being Tay Roc. Other emcees went on to college or have made battle rap a second career. But Donté did not have those necessary experiences that would help him gain certain social skills needed to always navigate home, work, friendships, work friendships, commerce, personal investments, trust, elevation, loyalty and etc. It would be ridiculous to totally absolve him from the street culture of Maryland (and his second home NYC) that he raps about — he knows something — but the expectation to always be optimal without the experience of outside things is selfish and unfair. Still, between the two personas, the loving father and son and the vicious battle rapper and crew leader, he makes it work.
That is where Smack comes in as a big brother, mentor, and boss.
“It took a couple of battles for him to really notice me but then he saw that I was serious and not choking. He is not stumbling. Then he reached to me and told me that he respected me strictly for that. He would say, ‘Bruh, every time you come you come 100%. I haven’t seen any bullsh*t from you. You are not in different leagues. I like your style.’”
“The fact that the creator of the league came to me and personally told me that he respects what I am doing, made me turn it up another notch. And then from there, it went from him respecting me to ‘Yo, that’s my gunner! Can’t nobody beat him.’ I feel like that made a lot of the battlers mad because I am not even from New York City. There are plenty of other battlers that he could have picked. That made me super special. I was the first one he ever said that about. That made me feel like I always had a title to live up to. I have to keep my performance at an all-time high. I got to come on 10. Smack doesn’t expect nothing else from me.”
WITHOUT DONTÉ THERE IS NO TAY ROC
“A lot of stuff in life is just common sense. I don’t watch a lot of TVs but I am into documentaries. I am into nature and the history channel. I am into a lot of sh*t and it informs what I do. I don’t think I need to be in school to learn. You can get on YouTube to learn whatever. I just watched Jeff Epstein’s documentary. I enjoy learning about political and historical figures that I never knew about because I wasn’t paying attention in school. ‘Cause I was writing raps in the back of the class.”
“I am a cat person. I love the big cats and if I were to look at myself like one, I would consider how I ambush my opponents. I am going to prey on my opponent (wait in the bushes and when it is time to get him, I am going to get him.) I don’t want to be seen and talk a lot of sh*t.”
NOME is a trademark franchise for URL. The Night of Main Events continues to push the envelope with match-ups that are guaranteed to impress fans. It can be considered the Olympics of Battle Rap. And Tay Roc may have been on more NOMES than any other battler associated with the league: He was on NOME I (O-Red), IV (Charlie Clips), V (Tsu Surf), VI (Rum Nitty), VII (Chess) and VIII (Goodz).
“NOME represents a shift in the culture. After that card happens, the ranks change. Whoever is on that card, all of the top names have to have their best performances. Whoever doesn’t do good, they are at the bottom of that ranking.”
“Daylyt is one of those names that anybody should worry about. At the end of the day, he has a high lyrical ability. He is also very different than any of us. He doesn’t rap like any of us. Everybody has me as the underdog. People are again, underestimating me. I actually feel like that’s f*cked up for Daylyt. All the pressure is on him to do some super amazing stuff, that I don’t think he can pull out. People are expecting him to 3-0 me. There has not been anybody to just 3-0 me. So when I come in there and I win two of the rounds, then what?”
That competitive edge has not left him. He still has the hunger that he had when he sat on his mother’s couch like a teenager waiting for someone to call him for a battle, to do the thing he loves most in the world.
The artist, whether we are addressing the man or the rapper, says that this NOME feels different. Battle rap as the world has known it thus far has changed and this is the first attempt to get back normalcy. It will be epic — possibly seismically allowing another evolution to transpire. No matter what, the kid from Maryland is ready. His bat signal beaming high and he got 3 solid rounds of fire to compete with.