Little Rock-based rapper 607 probably seems like a conundrum, especially if you’ve never had the pleasure of getting to know him as a person and not just the hardest-working rapper in the history of Arkansas. His interviews in the mainstream media are limited mostly to quotes that don’t reveal much about the man, and most reviewers don’t know or care enough about his music or history to bother writing too much about either.
His quotes in many of these write-ups – typically delivered with no assistance or insight from the authors – kind of make him sound either conceited or weird. They are, I suppose, part of the character; perhaps they help drive curiosity for readers unfamiliar but interested in local rap. But for me, they’re frustrating.
That’s because I know this man. I have for a long time. And, for this website’s purposes at least, more importantly I know his music, or at least much of it. Based on that, I must tell you that if you appreciate rap as a form of modern poetry and blatantly honest commentary on the current conditions of both black culture and American society as a whole, then you do not want to miss 607’s latest album release show in Northwest Arkansas, happening Saturday, Sept. 30, at Stage Eighteen in downtown Fayetteville. Show starts at 9 pm, tickets are available in advance for $8 or $10 at the door. There are a couple of openers. Here’s a video mash-up of a couple of his songs from a few years ago:
Adrian Tillman, 607’s real name, and I first met 15-ish years ago when I was working at The Gypsy on Dickson Street. Tony Gray, aka DJ Shortfuze, was throwing these rap battle shows, featuring rappers from around the region and state. Tillman at the time was performing as half of a duo called Trauma Team.
[Side note: I’m from Little Rock, but I was pretty ignorant about the rap and hip-hop scene. I grew up with male relatives who blasted Eazy-E, Tupac, Dr. Dre and the like everytime they had access to a speaker and a tape deck. But I also grew up in a very religious, strict home; I was forbidden from attending any non-religious music events till I left home after high school (except for some bluegrass festivals when I was a kid, with my family). In Arkadelphia, where I spent my single college years, there weren’t exactly a lot of live music options, and zero rap or hip-hop shows to witness in person. The rest of my 20s I was doing the married-family life thing or living in Central Kentucky, where live music filled my weekend schedule but was primarily bluegrass and roots-rock. (If there was a rap scene there, I sure as hell couldn’t find it.)]
So the first rap battle show at The Gypsy was my first live rap or hip-hop show to attend. It made me a lifelong fan of good rap and especially battles.
The background beats and music were pretty good, but the freestyle battles, with rappers ad-libbing in perfectly poetic rhymes about everything from poverty and social injustices to the nerdy sneakers their competitor was wearing = Astonishing. As a writer I was in complete awe at their ability to not only compose meaningful lyrics – and on whatever topic was at hand at that moment – and on the fly? AND to make them rhyme? Simply. Unbelievable.
I don’t remember who officially won the rap-battle competition every time, but I am certain that Trauma Team, and Tillman in particular, won my brain. He was a rap powerhouse and a linguistic genius on stage even then. His rhymes either cracked me up or had me hollering “OH NO HE DIDN’T!” every single sentence he uttered. The hundreds of fans there for nearly every rap battle show we hosted at The Gypsy were right there with me. He was obviously a crowd favorite.
After the shows, I remember clearly how Tillman’s demeanor would change from “all business” to “all friendly” as he met audience members, joked with fellow rap battle competitors, and shot the shit with the bar staff. He was an amicable gentleman, with a vocabulary and a demeanor that commanded our respect and admiration.
Not long after, I learned he had already put out several albums as a solo rapper, under the moniker 607. I quit working at The Gypsy, other staff moved on, the rap battles ceased, the venue later changed hands and names, and I lost contact with Tillman for years. All the while, though, he was honing his craft and pumping out albums.
I guess it didn’t take but a few years for him to earn the title of “hardest-working rapper in Arkansas.” I heard stories during the mid-2000s about him constantly handing out his CDs on street corners in the River Market in downtown Little Rock to everyone who would take one. He performed frequently, but I wasn’t living down there at the time, so I didn’t see him perform live for several years.
By the time he was named the winner of the 2008 Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase, he had released like 29 albums. In eight years of working as a rapper: 29 full-length albums. Each a little different, but all with hard-hitting messages about everything from love, travel, human nature, his feelings about God, his feelings about life, and, yes, frequently also about the life of a Southern black man who faces challenges every day that white folks don’t even know about much less have to deal with.
About a year or two after that – following 607 travels and performances across Russia, Africa, and Asia – I started working at Stickyz Rock ‘N’ Roll Chicken Shack and Rev Room (publicity and website manager, etc.). Soon, I heard Tillman and his brother, Bobby – also a prolific rapper and lyricist and a great person – had teamed up in a new group called EarFear, and they had a new album and some videos they were soon to premiere at Stickyz. I, of course, eagerly looked forward to seeing my old pal and hearing his new music.
(To this day, their video “New Niggaz,” which they premiered that night at Stickyz, is my favorite rap/hip-hop video of all time. Watch it below:)
After that show at Stickyz, a few friends of mine and I ended up hanging out with the Tillman brothers and one of their friends. While my girlfriends and I sipped on adult beverages, smoked cigs and kept our buzz going, Adrian declined all our offers to share our drinks – and then whipped all our asses in a three-hour game of Scrabble. Pretty sure I laughed a lot that night; I’m certain I felt stupid even more. (As a journalist, it’s kinda difficult to be thrilled about such a thorough beating at Scrabble, ha ha.) After our resounding loss was over, just before the sun came up, they made sure we got home safely, as gentlemen do.
I moved northward again not too long after that. Since then, 607 has continued to pump out quality rap records. He has taken a few short breaks here and there, frustrated with the state of the industry and unwilling to compromise the quality of his messages in order to “fit in” with commercial rap so he could maybe sign with a label and make that money.
He’s been featured on numerous mainstream hip-hop and rap websites (who all praised his records), and was even included on a CNN series about black culture, with his music being portrayed as “everything that’s good about rap these days.”
Now, his 44th album is out – yes, I said 44 – and it’s gooood; it’s called “New Wave Arkansas.” It’s relatable. It’s accessible. It’s authentic. Its production is relatively simple, but appropriately so. You can understand the words, and when you listen, you aren’t forced to imagine a bunch of scantily dressed “backup dancers” hanging all over the star. (LOL.)
His lyrics don’t glorify violence; they demand justice (and judging from the lyrics, he doesn’t give a shit how it happens, as I imagine a lot of blacks in America feel).
He doesn’t boast about the typical rapper party life; he bemoans measuring up to the responsibilites of being a human, a black man, and a role model for younger rappers.
He doesn’t curse God or whomever you want to think of that may be calling the shots in this country and universe, nor does he curse any oppressors, real or perceived; instead, he asks, “Am I doing good enough? How can I do better? How can I be better?”
If all rappers were as honest, gifted, smart, kind, and, well, pure as 607, I think I’d go to a lot more rap shows.
Hope to see y’all Saturday night at Stage Eighteen.