Some rappers cultivate larger-than-life personalities that come on like outsized comic book characters. Others, like local MC Yungg Soja, embrace the everyday, filling their rhymes with blue-collar tales of hardship, tenacity and hope. Take the song “Illa Life,” for one, where the rapper daydreams about rocking a packed arena while banging out his household chores.
“I wanted people to relate to the music instead of taking the commercial [approach] and saying, ‘I’m a champ,’” said Soja, born Joe McCaskill 25 years ago on the East Side of Columbus, in a recent interview. “That way they feel me all the way.”
This focus on the real carries through every detail of Soja’s music, and he has a knack for instilling his slice-of-life vignettes with big-picture concepts. “Illa Life,” for example, touches on childhood daydreams, but it’s also about a mother who provided a life for her children that allowed them the freedom to daydream, which sadly isn’t the case for everyone. Another song “Shoelaces,” which appeared on his most recent mixtape (I Am Klasic: Volume 1,) takes a simple, everyday act — making sure your shoelaces are tied — and transforms it into a treatise on ignoring those doubters who try to knock you off course.
Soja received his first exposure to hip-hop at 8-years-old via the video for Busta Rhymes’ “Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check,” and spent his earliest years mimicking the breathless pace of rappers like Rhymes, Twista and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. He’d typically spend his free time jotting down verses in his ever-present notebook (even today he favors a pad and pen to more commonly embraced electronic means), though he was too introverted to actually perform any of his songs for an audience.
This changed in 7th grade when a fellow student goaded him into rapping for a crowd, saying, “I always see you writing over there!”
“He busted me out, and that was the last thing I wanted since I was still the quiet-type then,” Soja said. “But once I did it and people liked it I started rapping more and writing more and just kept going and going. Now it’s all I do.”
These days, the former-introvert considers the live show the most essential part of his growing repertoire, and he said his full personality will be on display when he hits the stage at Brothers Drake for the Jae Esquire mixtape release show on Friday, Oct. 19.
“The only way to get to know me is if you see me live,” he said. “Everything comes out in those 15 [to] 20 minutes I’m onstage.”
Photos by Meghan Ralston