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“We’re at a true crossroads for D.C. rap!,” Kingpen Slim says. “No disrespect to anyone out there making some of these records that are popular right now, but can everything not just be an Atlanta-style trap record?!?!?”
On an overcast Saturday afternoon in January, there was Kingpen Slim, the affable 34-year-old native of the Adams Morgan, posted in the corner at the bar of Shaw’s Calabash Teahouse and Cafe. The rapper, born Julian Jones, is comfortably clad in a custom black Kingpen Slim sweatshirt, black sweatpants, and black-and-white sneakers—sticking out amongst the ankh and holistic healing crowd. But that’s the thing about Slim: his ability to fit in anywhere. It is what’s allowed him to have had a long career while putting him at the forefront of rap in a rapidly gentrifying D.C.
“Baseball! I played baseball,” Slim exhorts to nobody in particular. “I went to School Without Walls for high school, and when I went to Frendly in middle school, we used to walk through Dupont Circle to get to Georgetown when it was at its gay peak! I mean, wow. I saw things I couldn’t un-see. I had Latino friends, too, you know. I knew a lot of the guys and girls involved in the riots and gangs in the early ’90s (specifically a riot in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood in 1991). I mean, I even saw REVERSE racism when I was in the classroom. I had a white friend in high school, man. He took a lot of shit from black people. I took all of those experiences in stride, though. As much as it’s crazy to see where D.C. is headed, it was differently just as amazing back in the day.”
That’s one of the joys of talking to the artist: There’s a seamless quality to him that bridges with his music, namely Life After Doubt, his late 2016 album that has just received a deluxe re-release across all streaming and digital purchase platforms. There’s a video for album single “D’Mons” that has accompanied the album’s resurfacing. With an album whose title includes the words “Life After,” and a single that includes the “D’” combination of letters and punctuation, it’s very clear that Slim wants to evoke the era of 1996, a time when Notorious B.I.G.’s posthumous album Life After Death and Jay Z’s debut album Reasonable Doubt set a high standard of excellence for rap, specifically soul-inspired rap that narrates gritty urban realities.
Slim reveals a frank honesty about his desires as an artist when asked about the new album’s two decades-old inspirations. “I’m really rapping on Life After Doubt,” he says. “It’s a very important album because I want to influence the creative direction of where D.C. rap is headed. I’m a veteran D.C. rapper, but I’m not, like, old. I released my first project, The Beam Up, in 2009, and people still talk about it to this day. So that’s why there’s the allusions to Jay and Biggie, because Life After Death and Reasonable Doubt are the types of timeless records I’ve always, and am still, trying to make. I want all rappers, not just D.C. rappers, to try to make records that are always relevant.”
But of all the songs on Life After Doubt, he spotlights one in particular, “Go-Go Story,” as being the most emblematic of a specific art of timelessness that he’d like to see be associated with D.C. rap. “The city’s transient and the traditions are fading,” Slim notes. “Kids in D.C. don’t even like go-go anymore! It hurts me! Everything that I am… fashion, music, everything… even learning how to rap, came from the go-go. I didn’t even know that there were rap songs. I thought that rap songs were just versions of go-go songs that already existed. Seriously! I swear to God. Backyard Band used to do Onyx’s ‘Throw Ya Gunz’ in 1995, and when I saw the video for the song, I was like, ‘Oh wow, they’re doing Backyard’s song!’ I was so ignorant.”
Contemplating the future, Kingpen Slim is incredibly excited, though, and has appreciably ostentatious plans. “I’m glad that I’ve been able to stick around, and I’m hopeful to be around, and impacting this community, even longer,” he says. “I want to represent a sense of pride in both the legacy and future of the Nation’s Capital. I want people who are new to the city to feel the same way we who were raised here used to feel when we would stand up a little straighter and speak up a little louder when people asked where we were from. D.C.’s been wonderful, but it’s about to be incredible, man. Like, for instance, Uptown, Northwest, where I’m from. Kalorama’s going to have The Obamas, Trump, Jared Kushner, and me!”