October 2013 marked a tectonic shift in the life of local rapper Copywrite, born Peter Nelson on the city’s East Side 35 years ago. After getting pulled over and cited for driving while intoxicated — his fifth such conviction — the MC served time in lockup before being placed on probation scheduled to last until his 40th birthday. As part of his plea, he’s required to wear an alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelet, which he kept tucked under a striped sock during an early May interview Downtown.
Though sobriety was forced upon him by the courts, Copywrite is at peace with the outcome, saying the events of the last seven months have served as a much-needed wakeup call.
“For my personality type, the drugs and alcohol just don’t work. I’m an addict — I don’t know moderation,” he said. “I’ve only gotten in trouble and messed up opportunities on alcohol. Being that drunk or being blacked out, you’re missing out on life. I’ve done it long enough, and I’m over it.”
Cleaning up has coincided with something of a creative renaissance, and the rapper is currently gearing up for the late May/early June release of his new EP, Murderland, a choose-your-own-adventure style collaboration with D.C.-based producer Surock where the meaning can shift slightly depending on the order in which listeners play the tracks (think of it in terms of “Pulp Fiction,” where scenes can be played in differing orders to create new viewing experiences).
On past albums, Copywrite split his time between chest-thumping tracks designed to flaunt his verbal gymnastics and tear-jerking confessionals that doubled as a form of musical therapy (when he recorded “June,” a gut-punch of a tune that touches on the death of his parents and his family’s history with depression, he exited the booth with tears in his eyes). This time around, he’s finally letting his imagination run wild, filling his verses with lyrical flights of fancy that come on like deleted scenes from direct-to-video action flicks.
“I got stumped on one song … where we take a trip to Jamaica, and I didn’t know what to do with the second verse,” he said. “Then I said, ‘You know what? It’s fiction. I’m just going start snapping off gangsters’ arms like Steven Seagal. I don’t want it to be that close to reality, because what’s the fun in that?”
It’s a fitting exercise, considering music has functioned as a form of escape since Copywrite discovered the form as a teenager, absorbing songs from the likes of Beastie Boys, 2 Live Crew and De La Soul. Even so, the rapper said his most memorable musical moments still tend to be the most revealing.
“Usually the songs you’re scared of putting out are the ones that are best received,” he said. “I’ve had people tell me [my music] has helped them get over suicide attempts and deal with the loss of their parents. That, to me, is better than any song where I’m boasting about what I can do on the microphone.”
Photo by Meghan Ralston