Too Young, Too Soon: Remembering E-Dubble
Like Charlie Parker, he was 34, crazy young. Many are. Hank Williams was 29, Otis Redding, 26, half the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 27. Tupac, 25. Buddy Holly, 22. Unlike a lot of them, his death had nothing to do with the lifestyle, his volatility, with burning bright and living hard.
Not that he didn’t burn bright and live hard. Oh, he did, he did. But like a giant in a fairy tale, he was felled by the tiniest of foes. A microorganism. An infection. An underlying condition. And perhaps the paradoxical fragility that comes from being so much bigger than our mortal infrastructure was designed to support.
He was a paradox in many ways, even an oxymoron: a legendary secret, a subterranean star, with his millions of downloads and zillions of fans and gigatons of talent, zero name recognition and exactly one appearance in the mainstream media. A profile written by a hopelessly unqualified journalist, in my single foray into music writing. If my inexperience showed, so did my awe. If most of E-dubble’s true believers were fifteen-year-old boys, at least one was a post-menopausal Deadhead.
When my son Vince came back to Baltimore after graduating from music school in New Orleans, he got a job up at Guitar Center on Joppa Road. An entrepreneur at heart, Vince never really took to working for the man, nor lasted that long at any day job, though the pizza place in Glen Rock that hired him illegally when he was twelve was an exception.
One afternoon he was hiding out in the studio surreptitiously making beats on the demo MPC when a towering young man in a Phillies ball cap appeared in the doorway of the store carrying a pile of expensive music gear. He had an almost visible aura of intensity. Vince stepped out onto the showroom floor.
Turned out his customer was Evan Wallace, aka E-dubble, a 6’10” rapper originally from Philly, lately of Hampden, and he had just released an album called Reset. On November 6, 2012, Reset had debuted at #8 on iTunes hip-hop list and was a “heatseeker” on the Billboard chart, and E-dub was getting ready to tour behind it. He decided he needed a new microphone, so packed up his old gear for trade-in and headed up to the Guitar Center.
Actually, though, he already had an ideal setup for what he was doing, and rather than take his money, Vince proved it to him. He ushered him into a listening room, hooked up a demo comparing several other brands, and re-sold him on the benefits of what he already owned. Then the two stayed in the room for the rest of the day, listening to each other’s beats.
Within a week, Vince was fired from Guitar Center, and E-dub was rehearsing with Vince’s band.
That was four and a half years ago. During that time, many things happened. New songs, new albums, new collaborations and new directions. Live shows with 27 Lights at the 8×10 in Federal Hill, everybody’s parents running tabs. Shoestring tours in a broken-down van. Bar fights. Lawsuits. Break-ups. New loves. Photo shoot, green room, showcase, music video. A communal house full of musicians in Pikesville. A rough patch. Back to Philly. Parents, sisters, little nieces and nephews. A puppy to keep his golden retriever Lewis company: Clark, of course. @edubhiphop. 50K on Twitter, 130K on Facebook. Still no press.
Last month, Vince, now in grad school in New York, went to visit E-dub in Philly. Vince played reggae organ on a new rap. E-dub recorded remix vocals for one of Vince’s songs. They tracked a raucous cover of Johnny Cash’s Big River. They worked hard, they drank beer, Evan’s girlfriend came over and cooked dinner.
A few days later, Evan went to the hospital. For weeks, we could get little information, but what there was contained phrases like “medically-induced coma” and “life support.” We sent flowers, but I don’t think he ever saw them. On February 13th, we received word of his death.
No, I’m not a music writer, and it’s not easy for me to explain what I loved about these songs. Because he wrestled so directly with identity and ambition, with what it meant to be him, constantly retelling his biography and his formation as an artist, he made it perfectly clear that a rapper is both a memoirist and a poet. He had a personal mythology, he had charms against despair, he had an idiosyncratic and somewhat mysterious set of metaphors: the reset button, the gray scale, the two-tone rebel, black paisley. Mr. Sunshine, Mr. Rainstorm, meet me in the conference room, we got to brainstorm. He had the rapper’s linguistic agility, the clever samples and references and rhymes, and he had a work ethic undimmed by his play ethic. One year he wrote a new song every Friday, and never slowed down all that much from there. A musician can leave us a lot in a short life, though it’s never enough. I always thought he would write something besides rap songs someday. A memoir, I was hoping.
I feel the loss as a fan, as a friend, as a mother, as a fellow wordsmith and swimmer in the pool of the English language. He was not afraid to write about death. It was all through his work. I only wish we could hear what he would say now.
Through all the good things, and all the hardships
And all the times that we thought that we lost it
We hold our heads high, and keep our chins up
Cause when we die, well, at least we did something
We went for broke when we found a cause
We took the path that they said was wrong
So when that song plays, you know where you were
The day we live for. The day the truth worked.
Work, work. Yeah the truth works
At the very same time, yeah, the truth hurts
Been taught our whole lives just to shoot first
I’mma keep living ’til they put me in that new hearse
-From Coming of Age
University of Baltimore Professor Marion Winik is the author of First Comes Love, The Glen Rock Book of the Dead and other books. She is the host of The Weekly Reader on WYPR. To sign up for her monthly email, go to marionwinik.com.