Central Arkansas venues have a full week of commemorative events planned
"I was always called a weirdo," Adrian Tillman, aka 607, said. "I was always too hood for the weird people. and I was always too weird for the hood people."
That's as good a manifesto as any for 607's new album, "Nerd from the Hood," released on Halloween, the 39th album since 2000 for the most prolific (and many would argue the best) rapper in Little Rock. The 17 tracks — available for download (for free or pay what you want) at 607's bandcamp page, iam607.com — are punchy, literate and stylistically diverse. The most provocative song, "Kill Crooked Cops" is highly topical (more on that in a minute) but the album as a whole keeps circling back to the personal. Exploring questions of identity is rich ground for an artist as singular as 607.
"I always give people glimpses at me and who I am, but I wanted to give them a more in-depth look at how I perceive myself, and what I think my role is in society and people like me," Tillman said.
On the album's title track, he raps, "Some of y'all don't understand my energy/I told the hood it couldn't have my identity."
His experiences growing up poor, Tillman said, are a vital and important part of who he is, but don't define him. "I wanted to shed light on people like me," he said. "People who are from the hood but we're not necessarily gangsters. We're still heavy... . After music started selling millions of copies and the corporations got ahold of it, they really started only pushing urban people to be one thing. Like you need to be a gangster to have music out or you need to do this to have music out. The more eclectic people started getting neglected."
This album, and the entire career of 607, might be thought of as a primal scream against being one thing. As Tillman yells repeatedly on "Nerd from the Hood," "You can't put me in a box!"
He picks up musical styles and personas as the the mood strikes him. This is the guy who once "outsourced" himself, as he put it, travelling across the world to bring rap music to Russia. The guy who took a break from dominating the hip-hop nightlife to learn violin and cello. He raps "if I'm going to have dinner with God/I have to have breakfast with astronauts" and "I need a hearse for all the people I'm about to murder" on the same song, and both lines seem perfect and inevitable. They are both unmistakably him.
It's tempting to think of him as self-consciously iconoclastic, but it seems more like he simply has a contrary nature that pushes his art in unpredictable, and often glorious, ways. "If music starts getting too serious then I'm going to be that guy making ridiculous music," he said. "Everything has a place and a role. I'm all about balance, making sure everybody knows that rap music is not one thing. When I see that the balance is off, I know I'm an artist and I want to try to supply that balance."
Tillman is even resistant to labels he gives himself, like, well, "nerd from the hood."
"What I'm trying to do by calling myself that is I'm trying to put myself in a package that people can digest," he said. "People are not ready to process ... that's what racism and prejudice is all about ... people are not ready to process complex personalities. I'm trying to put it in a package for them so they can understand it."