A pensive Gypsy — one half of local Hip Hop duo The Rizewelz — chuckles briefly when asked if he's paid the cost to be the boss in Cincinnati's Rap game.
"Those are your words," he says. "It's however you wanna spin it."
But, really, it's just my phrasing. Gypsy makes no bones about it: He and his partner MC, Eriee, not only have the most potential of any independent rappers in the city, but they're also the hardest-hitting. "The best, hands down," is verbatim, if a trusty notebook serves.
"You can sit and say you're the best all day long, but not many people can get up and prove it on a stage like we can," Gypsy says.
Apart from a little random bickering amongst unsigned musicians, fightin' words are a rarity in this long-beefless music town. You'd never hear an Alternative rocker or a bluesman make such sweepingly self-assured claims. But then, those scenes enjoy relative comfort and acceptance.
Rappers like The Rizewelz are hungrier, fighting tooth and nail for accolades that don't come with the inevitable "Oh, you sound like Eminem!" qualifier.
"It's not the easiest place to start something new," Gypsy says of Cincinnati's hit-or-miss tastes. "You have to work that much harder."
He won't deny, though, that he and his partner have enjoyed unique success in the Tristate. Pigeonholing is common, especially for Hip Hop performers, who tend to stick to easier-won fan bases in areas they know. But The Rizewelz, due to uncanny word-of-mouth and niche association, have shared stages with unlikely fellow misfits — Indie bands, arty noise projects and the like.
The Rizewelz's earliest release, The First Incident, could have been their last. (Gypsy lives in Dayton, while Eriee calls Cincinnati home.) If it weren't for the intense working relationship the two built in college, their "hiatus" from 2000 to 2005 might have been the end.
Fortunately, they picked up like they'd never left it, offering Kids From the Casket last year, and proving that the bond is as tight as ever. Gypsy jokingly refers to Eriee as "a Caucasian Lauryn Hill" — a reference to his dual ability to spit rhymes with muscular confidence and belt out Gospel-rooted melodies.
The duo's exposure to a wide spectrum of musical influence is one reason for what Gypsy says will be next on the musical horizon: a fusion of their current street style mixed with the European, Electronic twist recently purveyed by major artists like Timbaland.
"It's not here yet, and people won't get it right away, but eventually that's the direction you're gonna see us take," says Gypsy.
Taking their specially blended creations overseas will be another logical progression for the group, they say.
Although Casket is thematically straightforward, its messages — hard-knock, everyman accounts and some humor — are neatly encapsulated in songs that dodge artfully between sequenced, zigzagging orations and catchy, unexpected sampling (like using Billy Joel's "I'm Moving Out" on the title track). Though the opportunity for irony exists, the duo claims no funny business in ripping '80s Rock — another song takes a hook from Journey's "Don't Stop Believing."
Gypsy says of the sample, "It's just a song about working some 9-to-5 bullshit and keeping a dream in your back pocket. That's something we can all relate to."
(Don't worry — the group has been assured that said use won't prompt lawsuits until they're "selling enough records to matter," at which point they'll be happy to cough up the dough.)
Gypsy, ever cognizant of what his music is and where it is headed, calls the group's new ventures a departure from what they've done.
"We had some stuff we needed to get off our chest on the last record," he says. "But this next one will be a lot more fun. More upbeat, less preachy."
With some recent help onstage from local DJ John Blaze (and offstage from respected producer Larry Gates), The Rizewelz's next level is just a beat away.
For more on THE RIZEWELZ, check myspace.com/therizewelz2.