Photo: Michael Coleman

MC Bravado Raps for the Thinking Every Man

MC Bravado arrived in Austin for SXSW with one of the more compelling stories of all the artists pouring into the city for the biggest music industry event in the world.

Until just last year, Bravado was an English teacher in a Baltimore city school. After trying to break into the rap game while teaching kids their nouns and adverbs, Bravado realized he just couldn’t do both. He dropped the teacher job, landed a slot on the legendary Warped Tour and hit the road, selling smoothies on the side to make ends meet.

Today, Bravado’s rapping full-time and spending a lot of time in the studio, releasing last year’s critically-acclaimed “Like Water for Hangovers.” The hard work is paying off. The Charm City rapper is gaining notice in the hip-hop press and he scored a marquee Saturday evening slot at Mohawk nightclub’s hip-hop showcase at the SXSW festival.

We caught up with Bravado (real name Richard Croce) a few hours before his set.

On Tap: It’s cool that you spent some time as a teacher. Did your side gig as an MC help you win your students’ respect?
MC Bravado: Hip-Hop helped me bridge the gap with my students, both in terms of making it easier to engage and captivate them, but also in terms of showing tangible and meaningful academic connections to literary content. The idea is that one hand can wash the other and that putting real effort into being a better reader, writer and communicator will help you in whatever you do, entertainer or not.

OT: Was it a difficult choice to decide to leave teaching to pursue a dream with no guarantees?
MCB: I had an opportunity to go on Warped Tour this past summer. For the longest time I was thinking it through and straddling that line – do I want to go all in or not? Teaching is the kind of job where you need to give 110 percent. Music was pulling a lot of me and I said I’m not going to half-ass teaching.

OT: You came up in New York and earned your rep as a rapper there, then moved to Baltimore a few years ago. What was it like making that transition? How are the hip-hop scenes different?
MCB: I dove right into Baltimore scene. It’s wildly eclectic. The Baltimore scene coming from New York and what a lot of people would call the mecca, it was always highly competitive in the environment  in New York – the rap battle and freestyle rap culture. When I got to Baltimore and started doing more events down there like at the Bmore Beat Club, I didn’t get up there and freestyle the first night. I just wanted to sit up there and see who was formidable and who I had to worry about. With that, I learned the environment is wildly accepting and everybody supports everybody even if you’re a very different sub-genre. But I didn’t have to worry about outdoing anybody, that wasn’t the thing. That’s not to take anything away from the New York scene. But it was a pleasant surprise and they accepted me with open arms in a pretty short amount of time.

OT: For those who aren’t familiar with your body of work, how would you describe yourself as a rapper?
MCB: I consider myself what you would call bar-heavy, a lyricist type. I think I’m a story teller, and kind of like an every man. In my [songs] you’ll find the literary devices you learned in high school, internal rhyming, etc. It’s pretty complex – multi-syllabic and a lot of internal rhymes going on. That’s how I know to write. I try to say something prolific in a very simple way. I also want to combine it with more easily accessible gems. In today’s era, a lot of these artists want to look too cool for school all the time like they’re above everything or better than everything. I want people to see that it’s tough to do this on a shoestring budget, but you figure it out.

OT: What do you mean by that?
MCB: When I went out on tour this summer it wasn’t some glamorous thing. During the day I was slinging these push pops that were basically frozen smoothies and I’m working 10 hours in the heat and stopping only to perform. But it kept me on the RV all summer and allowed me to go on one of the most famous tours.

OT: One of the things I’ve really noticed in talking to all of the talented young artists here at SXSW is how hard you work! I’m really touched that you make so many sacrifices to share your art with us.
MCB: Thank you. Thank you. Sometimes, you see a friend getting married or paying off their mortgage, or doing X, Y or Z , and there is that small part of you that’s like “If I wasn’t doing this I’d have the ability to do that.” But I don’t believe in doing things just because society says your should. Do what you’re happy with.

OT: What else would you like our readers in DC, Baltimore – the DMV – to know about MC Bravado?
MCB: I want the DMV to know that I’m a rapper’s rapper with heart, who can be equal parts confident and vulnerable. The content is worth dissecting and getting to know. Hip-hop is poetry in its highest form and we need to uphold that standard more. Alongside the jewels, you will find relateable, every-man stories in plain sight. My music and live show are equal parts bard, rock star and regular guy, and I’ll never lose sight of that when we finally take this thing to the top.

To learn more about MC Bravado, follow him on Twitter.