I can distinctly recall hearing a funny sound coming from my radio in the fall of 1979. WKLR was the station to listen to back then, known for its legendary radio personality “Charlie Chuck” Welch. However, this sound was different and would shape my foundation. It was “Rappers Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang: a 15-minute single. Yes, 15 minutes! Rap music became my poetry. It was no longer about rhyming but rapping. I would recruit my neighbor Kenny Mack, my partner in crime, to practice days on end to become an MC (Master of Ceremony)!
Each turning point in my young life would factor into becoming an MC. I penned my first poem at Scott High School during my sophomore English class in 1980. In front of Gregory Gipson’s house, Mark Lee, Kenny Mack, Hillard (Beanie) Grier and I would snap and tell epic “yo momma jokes” on the corner of Fulton and Kenilworth. OG’s (Original Gangsters) would stop by and give props to those who were hot that night.
My Junior year of ’81, I took the bold step of asking my mom if I could have a house party. This was not something that you just asked Pastor Dorothy Jean Willis, a staple in the faith community and the most praying woman I have ever known. To my surprise, she said yes, and I spent the remainder of the week putting together a guest list and reminding my super popular sister, Shelly Bush, to tell her friends.
That hot night in August, the stars aligned. It seemed like the entire Junior and Senior class from Scott High School showed up! 256 Kenilworth was jumping! As the night went on and without a soul knowing, I plotted the perfect moment to bust a rhyme. Grabbing the attention of the crowd and without a mic, I led a freestyle rap that caught my classmates by surprise. I shouted out their names and what they were wearing, feeding off the energy of the crowd. The house party idea was a hit, and to this day, I still cannot believe that my mom said yes!
Eric Jackson hailed from the McClinton Nunn Homes on Nebraska Street. During this time rappers were popping up from across the projects. Eric went by the moniker of “D.J.E.” I would go on to call him “Doc D.J. Throw” ‘cause every time I saw him; he was ready to throw down! Eric had the quickest hands on the crossfader and crates of music that went on forever.
By now, I had literally rapped every day for what seemed like a lifetime, but the writing was on the wall: you need a day job. My world collided with that of Thomas Boyce who rapped under the name of “MC TMT” which stood for “Too Much Tawm.” Thomas was much younger than me and hailed from the same westside neighborhood on Elliott Street. Our job was working with supervisors from the city of Toledo to cut and maintain empty lots. The work was taxing at times and the heat unforgiving.
However, it was during down time and lunch that we would entertain the masses. Sometimes this would happen across the street at Inez Nash Park. Not much work got done some days, and even less on “freestyle Fridays,” which was payday. Thomas was raw and I respected his flow. As our friendship grew, I took him under my wing and helped him with his cadence to ensure that his freestyle skills were up to snuff.
Our first live performance as Partners in Rhyme was at the Portside Festival (87-88) Marketplace, now the location of Imagination Station. The music was intoxicating that Saturday night as the ride was filled with both laughter and silence. In the nervousness of it all, we would bend the wrong corner on Michigan Street and pass the Main Library once again (downtown Toledo was notorious for its one-way streets). Finally, we arrived at our destination. In my head, I ran through lyrics that had become permanently tattooed in my thoughts. Edgar Jacobs, a neighborhood friend from the Westside was up first. E.J. and my cousin Richard Avery, then known as Richie Fresh, were next. Richie was new to the city but not the rap game and brought a certain je ne sais quoi to our crew. And finally, yours truly “D.S. David Sweet.” How I got that name was no thinking of my own. That stroke of genius goes to Kenny McClain, aka “Kenny Mack.” The instrumental to “Fresh is the Word” by Mantronix blasted through the speakers as E.J. and Richie Fresh rapped with precision and the crowd was into it. The predominantly Caucasian crowd looked on as Partners in Rhyme took over the stage. We knew that the crowd was blown away by our white lab coats sprayed with graffiti artwork that made us stand out even more. We each sported one red and one blue Florsheim’s leather slip-on with colorful matching shades that screamed “who are these cats?”
As the last to spit a rhyme, there was no stopping “D.S. David Sweet” from being introduced to the world. Feeding off the energy of the crowd, my rhymes flowed like street poetry building up to a climax that would be legendary. But then it happened: I somehow forgot every word I had written! Failure flashed through my mind! Quickly, I had to recover. This is where my legend was created: I went on to freestyle the entire verse! Calling out people in the crowd by what they had worn, right down to the color of a baby blanket wrapped around a child. I can clearly recall the crowd looking on in amazement. I remember fondly the young mom asking me after our performance, “how did you do that?” Finally, we were on the map!
This was 1989 and we went on to form the rap group, The Lexeus Crew, with Eric Jackson as our D.J., and Darwin Edwards, “The Devastating Beat Controller”, who researched music for us to sample. As a group, we cut our first single “Fresh M.C.” at Audiomatrix Studio in downtown Toledo, and then re-recorded it with a local popular producer named Tricky who had a studio in his home. The single featured Le’A, whose real name was Alice.
Eventually, word got out and we were invited to perform at a local union hall, in December of ’91. We got mad props for that performance. A representative from Luke Records, a record label formed in 1985 by Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew, was in town, looking for acts. Later in the week, at the Days Inn Hotel in East Toledo, we linked up with one of his opening acts. They were impressed by how good we were. After a quick phone call, we were told that the rep from Luke Records would be at a storefront on N. Detroit, but it simply was not meant to be. This storefront had no heat, in the middle January, and the D.J. set up, which consisted of one cordless microphone, had no batteries. Both weary and defeated, we had had enough.
As fate would have it, I did pick up the mic again, only this time as a poet. I attended every reading on the poetry scene including the Oliver House, Barnes and Noble, the Peacock, church circuits and features at local events, quickly making a name for myself. And, as the stars lined up again, a type of spoken word called Slam Poetry would complement my style of poetry.
In December of 1999, I established Madd Poets Society, Inc. and slowly we morphed into an organization to help develop aspiring poets. By now, I was performing under the name of the “Storytella” and with this sudden fame I teamed up with a new group of poets, and we billed ourselves as “419”, named after our area code. The support and excitement around us were amazing and our group included Mary Ruffin “The Propeller,” Andre “Dre Day” Knighten, and Sandra (Harmony) Rivers (now Sandra Gill) and me. Around this time, I began meeting with a group of youth at the Kent Branch Library thanks in part to now retired Librarian, Mary Kinkus. I later began meeting with even larger groups of teens at Mott Branch Library.
That prophecy made by Rev. James Williams, back at my old church home, Tabernacle of Faith, would soon be realized. My voice was never just about me, but those who I came to know. I now have the distinction of going to work every day as a Teen Librarian Associate for the Toledo Lucas County Public Library, bending that same corner on Michigan Street each day, but only this time with a different purpose. Funny how life comes full circle. Right?
Contributor David Bush, a Teen Librarian Associate at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library, Public Speaker, Hip-Hop historian, Ordained Minister and Executive Director of the Madd Poets Society Inc. In 2007, he became the first poet in residence for the Toledo Lucas County Public Library. David has received countless awards and honors including the Top Role Model, Rickey Smiley award and most recent 2017 Soaring Phoenix Award. David is a husband and father of 4 beautiful adult children and 8 grandchildren. In his spare time, he enjoys reading a good book and discovering new music.