BARD KNOCKS: “I couldn’t catch a break,” says Amadeus. “Always had to fight my way out of the gutter with the attitude that I will cut you off at the knees if you get in my way.”
There’s nothing lamer than articles that lead with cheap metaphors inspired by an artist’s stage name (i.e., Britney Spears is like a dagger to the heart!; The Police are arresting!). But I can’t avoid this one: when Amadeus the Stampede rushes, get the fuck out of the way.
From his days in the Metco program — which, in Fresh Air Fund fashion, buses inner-city students to schools in glistening suburbs — to his summers on Cape Cod and multiple psychiatric-ward stints, Amadeus (who comes to the Middle East next Thursday) has been surrounded by degeneracy. “Even when I went down to North Carolina — when my brother was dying from AIDS — I lived on the roughest street in my city,” says Stampede, hardly a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air type of transplant. “I couldn’t catch a break — always had to fight my way out of the gutter with the attitude that I will cut you off at the knees if you get in my way.”
I meet up with Amadeus at Sonsie on Newbury — a place, as it turns out, that he frequented after signing his first deal, in 2002. The situation yielded little more than a little-heard debut, but he earned enough from the rich white-boy investors for an occasional chic dining experience — even if his rhymes were contractually bound to their defunct imprint, Rapture, until this year. He couldn’t legally drop a proper release under his new management (Boston rap promotion juggernaut Leedz Edutainment), yet beginning in 2005 Amadeus cranked out four mixtapes in as many years.
The first, his Mindfuck Mixtape, was crudely engineered but vital as ever — a project he threw together in just 10 hours. His efforts got more polished with a Born Losers disc alongside his accomplice Skinny Cavallo — a South Shore native whom Amadeus starting rapping with in high school — and last year’s Ultimate High, which foreshadowed his slide away from traditional Golden Era flavor and into contemporary oceans. Although he still waved his confident leather gruff across 16-bar verses on every track, Amadeus spit atop an adventurous and eclectic mash of synthetic meat and boom-bap potatoes.
Outside Sonsie, enjoying a cigarette, he approaches a group of frat boys with his latest autobiography, House of Broken Mirrors, which doesn’t drop till this week — though he’s already sold about 150 units of hand-to-hand. It’s not an unusual practice for rappers to sling music on the corner, but when it comes to hustling discs — at least in Boston — Amadeus is one of the most ambitious cats pumping. Of course, there’s the added fear factor that might compel middle-aged Back Bay Caucasians to buy copies for their nieces and nephews. “I started off pushing,” says Amadeus, “and once a pusher — always a pusher.”
Although he’s just now becoming known as a solo artist outside Boston, these are relatively good days for Amadeus. Even before he went to prison for a year in 1997 for slicing someone’s face in a Hyannis brawl, there was usually mayhem right around the corner.
“I was always a wild kid,” he says about the six years he spent through 10th grade riding buses two hours each way to Hingham schools. “A lot of other kids in Metco would come home and have to be inside when the street lights came on — that wasn’t me. My mom was out a lot working and doing gang-peace work — I was witnessing shootouts and having gang bangs in my bedroom.”
In 2002, Amadeus was diagnosed with schizophrenia — a disorder that drives much of his creativity, and that has gotten him institutionalized more than once. Only recently did he find an effective medical regimen. Between unsupportive associates, who insisted that he had nothing to worry about, and the pocket full of blow and dough from his day job, he often abandoned his anti-psychotic diet, self-medicating with fistfuls of painkillers and more than three grams of coke a day. It’s a cliché for artists to claim they rhyme for catharsis, but in his case it makes some sense.
“People should try exposing themselves to the world — and standing naked on this filthy place that we call Earth. I come from the same place you come from. It’s all about knowing who you are. When I was writing this album, I was disgusted with myself, not just because of the way I was living, but because I just had a son and a girl and a nice place and I was still caught up. House of Broken Mirrors is all about smashing that negative image.”
AMADEUS THE STAMPEDE + GREATER GOOD + HEDDSHOTTS + SKINNY CAVALLO | Middle East upstairs, 472 Mass Ave, Cambridge | May 28 at 9 pm | $13 | 617.864.EAST or www.mideastclub.com