D.U.E.C.E. loses everything but finds himself with ‘2outh City’
The South Side rapper’s new album is out digitally now
Entering into 2020, rapper Tim Dysart, who records and performs as D.U.E.C.E. (Dream Under Every Circumstance Existing), felt as if things in his life were finally coming together. He had a new job, a place to stay and he had started to rediscover a passion for music after feeling burned out from the art form for much of the previous year.
“And then it all started to fall apart,” Dysart said recently by phone. “The pandemic hit and I lost my job. The house we were renting ended up getting sold. And all of that culminated in a day [in July] where one of my childhood friends got murdered in the morning, and then my grandfather died later that evening. I was like, man, I’ve just gotta get out of here. I gotta go. I gotta do something.”
In the midst of this tumult, Dysart hopped on a bus, decamping to Morehead, Kentucky, in August where he holed up with producers Jess So Icey and Colt G., determined, he said, “to write myself out of that rut.”
These late-summer sessions form the backbone of the new D.U.E.C.E. EP, 2outh City, released last week, on which Dysart recalls the months he spent sleeping on the floor of his grandfather’s house after he moved back to Columbus after college, the gentrification that has crept into his South Side neighborhood (and which was behind the sale that led to the rapper getting booted from his rental last year) and the sense that he had entered into a transitory stage. “Do you got a plan?” he asks repeatedly on one track, the question coming across as though it were directed inward as part of an ongoing self-interrogation.
“It definitely is a project about becoming. … Almost a coming of age story, or finally stepping into my own, whether it's within my own family or in my community,” Dysart said. “You know, just kind of taking my stance and putting my feet in the dirt and saying, ‘This is where I stand.’ That's really what the project is all about.”
Throughout, Dysart, 27, also espouses a blue-collar philosophy, dropping verses in which he describes his approach to rap as akin to holding down a 9-to-5, a workmanlike attitude he traced in part to his warehouse employee father. “I can remember parts of my life not too long ago where he was working 15-hour shifts, seven days straight, and I know that sounds ridiculous, but he would literally sleep in his car on his lunch break,” said Dysart, whose mother remained at home caring for the rapper and his nine siblings. “One of my homies was just telling me, ‘D.U.E.C.E., man, nobody works like you in terms of how you attack your craft.’ And I definitely get that from my dad, where I see him get up every day and go to work. That’s how I go at it.”
This dedication to his art has allowed Dysart to progress rapidly after getting a late start in music. A former athlete, Dysart didn’t really begin to pursue music full time until he decided to quit the football team the summer before his senior year at Morehead State University. “I got to camp and I was like, I can’t do this anymore,” said Dysart, who started dabbling in music during his freshman year at the school. “I’d spent my whole summer at Rehab Tavern rapping, so I’d already made up my mind that I was going to go full steam with the music.”
Growing up, Dysart’s father would play records by the likes of Public Enemy and LL Cool J, artists who helped shape the development of his cadence, rhythm and flow. Meanwhile, rappers like Chance the Rapper and Childish Gambino informed his approach to songwriting, with verses centered on more common, everyday experiences. “They just seemed like regular guys, so it was like maybe I can do this,” Dysart said.
Dysart recommitted to this more intensely personal approach with 2outh City, which takes its name from the South Side neighborhood in which he’s lived a majority of his life — “I’ve always said that the South Side is a city within itself,” he said — and which started to take root in the months following the death of his grandfather.
“He was such a big inspiration because he was so supportive of me when I was getting my start [in music],” said Dysart, who added that he initially experienced few therapeutic benefits from telling his story on record but has more recently started to reap the rewards. “Even though I had finished the project I had low-key decided I wasn’t going to release it. … Every time I listened to the record, it was a struggle, and I'd think of my grandfather and I'd think of what I’ve lost. But, gradually, it’s helped me realize that for all the material things I’ve lost, I’ve gained perspective. So, yeah, it’s been therapeutic, but maybe not the straight-line process some people might expect.”