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03.09.11

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Phaedra
Photograph by Alexander Richter
TIMES SQUARED: Being a father 'makes me work that much harder,' Gigz says.

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Meet Roach Gigz, hip-hop's half-Nicaraguan hope

By Rachel Dovey


It's Monday at 4pm, and Roach Gigz is rapping down Folsom Street. He punctuates each verse with a raised hand and shuffles forward, singing: "If my liquor was some candy I would have a sweet tooth / And I don't see proof that they eat cheese poofs."

The 22-year-old rapper is filming the video for "This Is RB2," a song from his latest mixtape, Roachy Balboa 2. His friend and sometimes producer Young Remedy holds the camera and laptop playing his beats, but Remedy is in a wheelchair, so I'm pulling him backward down the street in time with Gigz' calculated steps. Old ladies, businessmen and toddlers in Hello Kitty gear step aside to watch this strange parade, taking quizzical note of the pale, skinny guy who might just be hip-hop's next big thing.

Gigz isn't rapping when we meet earlier that day; he's watching the Travel Channel. After showing me into the Oakland apartment he shares with his girlfriend and nine-month-old son, he sits on the couch and points to the television. "I want to be just like Anthony Bourdain when I grow up," he says, as the chef searches a Moroccan bazaar for sheep heads. "I think that's a cool job—to travel and have someone else pay for it."

He's no Bourdain, but Gigz is starting to get around. He's just returned home from New York and is about to tour the Bay Area, playing the Phoenix Theatre in Petaluma on March 10 and 11. He's unsigned and has yet to release a studio album, but with spots on the KMEL Freshmen 10 list and MTV2, his hype is clearly growing. It's no accident—with verses touching on everything from addiction to buck teeth, the witty rapper skewers self-seriousness and still forces his listeners to think.

Gigz is small and lean, with a thin black mustache and arched eyebrows. He's wearing jeans, a California beanie and a green jacket that covers his tattoo sleeves. His apartment, in Oakland's San Antonio district, is a brown building amid faded Victorians and graffiti-covered warehouses; posters of Mac Dre, Bob Marley and The Godfather adorn its walls. Gigz has converted a small back room into a studio, where he writes whenever he can.

"As long as he doesn't distract me," Gigz says, nodding affectionately toward his son Orlandito, or "Dito," who's just crawled into the room. Gigz never knew his own father, who was a Nicaraguan and supporter of the Sandinista National Liberation Front during the country's Contra and Sandinista war. In the late 1980s, his American mother returned to San Francisco from Nicaragua to give birth to her son, naming him Orlando Campbell.

Gigz began rapping in high school after becoming involved with the East Bay nonprofit Youth Radio. He's since released three mixtapes under his current moniker, the latest of which explores everything from cough syrup to police brutality.

When Gigz talks about the fatal shooting of unarmed Oakland civilian Oscar Grant, his body becomes rigid and he jumps up from the couch. "I'm not a political rapper; I just had a strong connection to that," he says of the protests that ensued, which he both samples and raps about on "The Moment." "I've had guns put on me, like multiple times. I've been on the floor and looked back up and seen an officer with a gun not knowing what to do."

Gigz won't go into detail about these events, but he talks about getting pulled over and being falsely accused of carrying a gun himself. "It was when I was younger, and wilder than I am now, and it wasn't always for no reason," he admits. "But they just feel the need to control people with guns every time."

Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the Roachy Balboa 2 spectrum, Gigz raps about two ladies named "Codina" and "Dextrolina" on "Syrup Thighs." "I drink her with my Sprite / I'm thinking that she might / Make me fall into a coma / I'm dope for her aroma," he rhymes to tinny beats.

He shows evidence that this song is confessional, saying he blacked out once from a combination of syrup and pills in L.A. On our drive into San Francisco, he drinks something that he says "isn't water" from a plastic bottle. But even "Syrup Thighs" isn't completely flippant, with Gigz mentioning his father's absence and desire to do better by his son.

I ask the new father how his son has affected his career. "It's beautiful," he responds, "but it makes me realize I have to work that much harder, because I have no other options. I want to make his life as good as possible." He stretches his arms out and looks around the room: "I don't want to live here forever."

Back on Folsom, Gigz has finished walking. He's arrived at his destination, a bright purple Victorian decorated with a mural of the universe. Remedy continues to film as Gigz ascends the purple steps and sits next to fellow rapper and lifelong friend Cheese. The two gesture and continue to sing: "Sometimes I feel cursed / But I know people have it worse."

The three planned every step of this video beforehand, with Remedy taking the artistic lead. A young African-American man in his early 20s, Remedy wears a Blue Jays baseball cap and sports a gold grill. He was wounded by a gunshot in ninth grade, and ended up in the wheelchair he uses now.

The producer has decided he should pan up at the end of the song, to get a fuller view of the house. "They're gonna think there's some deeper meaning to it," he smiled earlier to Gigz.

The plastic bottle slips as they pass it, and the rappers lunge to grab it. Framed by the building's purple pillars, lace curtains and, on the bottom floor, unicorn-themed stained glass, they continue the song, chanting: "Roach went and had a baby . . . With no hesitation / I would die for him / As far as I can see the limit is the sky for him / So I love and provide for him."

Gigz chants along with the song coming from Remedy's laptop: "Hey, I was gonna keep going but I can't think of a better way to end that." Remedy pans up at the universe mural on the house, without any deeper meaning. Finally Gigz declares: "That's a motherfucking wrap!"

Roach Gigz performs with Too Short Thursday and Friday, March 10-11, at the Phoenix Theatre. 201 E. Washington St., Petaluma. 8pm. $25. 707.762.3565.


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