derek 32zero
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derek 32zero

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"Local rapper releases first solo album"

By day, Derek Scott works as a security guard at a Chesapeake middle school, herding tweens.

In the evening, Scott sheds his guard garb and his last name, transforming himself into a high-energy hip-hop performer. He calls himself Derek 32zero.

He's flown low on the local music radar for about 10 years. But recently he finished his first solo album, and it was probably worth the wait.

That's because, without so much as a song on the radio, Derek managed to land a big producer and cameos from celebrity musicians on his album.

"A Piece of the Action" was produced by the somewhat reclusive music wizard Nottz, whose unmarked studio in Norfolk routinely has greats including Busta Rhymes and Snoop sliding through town on the down low to work with him.

"Piece" also finds Derek 32zero rapping with some established, if underground, deities of the R&B and hip-hop worlds, including soul singer Bilal, often in demand for collaborations by everyone from Jay-Z to Erykah Badu, and Jean Grae, a celebrated emcee who's something like the female Mos Def.

And all of this star power on an album by a guy who calls himself "the poor man's Black Thought," a reference to the master of ceremonies from the group The Roots.

Derek is a 1994 graduate of Indian River High School in Chesapeake. He attended the University of South Carolina and came back to Virginia after he graduated in 1999. In Richmond, and as part of a group called Ugly People (an acronym, he said, that means either U Gotta Love Yourself or Understand God Loves You), he performed at open mics and shows. In time, buzz built, and his group opened for The Roots, the acclaimed hip-hop act that's now the house band on NBC's "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon."

Derek added 32zero to his name because it was the first few digits of his phone number.

In 2004 he returned to Hampton Roads. Then on his own as a solo artist, he did more open mics around town, especially The Fuzz Band's Fuzzy Wednesdays show, but became dismayed at how the music had changed over the years.

"The music has been dumbed down a lot," he said. "One time I was trying to give someone some of my music, and he said, 'Do I have to think?' And it's like, 'When did you stop thinking?' "

"Piece" shows that cleverness. Songs like "Rollover Minutes" put double-entendres in place of tired sex jokes. Energizing beats contrast with the fast-paced lyrics, which makes it a rewarding challenge to unwrap what's being said in many of his album's songs.

His journey to cutting the album started after one open-mic night at the now-closed Relative Theory Records shop on Granby Street in Norfolk. Derek was getting a slice of pizza downstairs when someone was rapping - in the knocking sense, mind you - on the window. It was Nottz, who remembered seeing Derek at another open mic years ago.

Nottz, just on the cusp then of working with people including Dr. Dre and celebrated producer J Dilla, invited Derek to his studio. They clicked, and over the course of a year, Derek got free studio time and attention that today would likely cost tens of thousands of dollars. And as Nottz's high-profile clients stopped through his studio to drop vocals or just hang out, Derek struck up relationships with them and got them to contribute to his project.

"I think I represent something different," Derek said of why he thinks Nottz worked with him.

Nottz couldn't be reached for this story, but he deals with a lot of rappers who might be pegged as tough or "gangsta." Derek, who arrived at a recent interview carrying Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers," is anything but a thug type.

"I'm more of what you'd call a conscious rapper - people put me in that category, and it's OK. But sometimes I hate saying my music is 'hip-hop' because people think that's all you know. They'd never think that about a soul singer or a concert pianist."

Derek is 33 and lives in Portsmouth now. He's finishing a master's degree in school counseling at Norfolk State University, which falls in line with his family traditions: Both his parents are educators, and his mother recently became an ordained minister.

He's looking to market his CD to see where it goes, but he's not pressed to become the new Common or anything. He doesn't have a MySpace page or a Web site. He's been known to hand his CD to friends off his index finger, not in a jewel case. For him, artistic purity is paramount. Business, not so much.

"The ideal career would be like Bill Withers. He got on around 30, recorded for eight years and then walked away. He's living a normal life, but people still love his music."
- Malcom Venable - The Virginian Pilot


Still working on that hot first release.



Currently at a loss for words...