These pieces originally appeared in Side by Side Magazine.
Defcee is an excellent rapper. He’s such a good storyteller and sensitive soul that his words and presence would do well to be on any stage in this world. Attendees would experience a soulful vision of hip-hop dripping with knowledge and good humor. But what about his classrooms: the Chicago school kids who need Adam, their teacher? What about the Adam that needs those kids? The further you get into Damn Near Grown (2015) you get the sense of a vivid, aching world with Levin’s huge, overflowing heart reaching out to bring it all in. Any ceremony he masters isn’t just better because Adam is such a gifted speaker, it’s because he’s an even better listener.
Def is funny too. Sometimes, such as on “Timeless,” he’s tearing apart other rappers. But his battle raps here are more riffs on the culture than anyone in particular, which gives the song a freewheeling joy. You’re ‘on the outside looking in like Dule Hill on the Cosbys;’ when Defcee imagines putting on Gucci goggles he compares himself to Horace Grant and then, with an implied and hilarious sigh, Luc Longley. Def is self-deprecating in a way that reveals itself as legitimately dangerous on “alter(ed) ego” but the production is hot so who cares? Def soars over jazzy boom bap, reminding us what it’s all about in the first place.
I meet Defcee at Young Chicago Authors, a mecca for art kids in the city. Before I can do anything, Toaster shouts at me from across the room to settle a disagreement. He and a kid, probably 17 or 18, are arguing about Lupe Fiasco’s sophomore album The Cool. A class just got out: chairs are everywhere, hip-hop is playing, there’s teenagers chatting, young adults, mentors, and everyone is there to rap. Adam Levin, aka Defcee, is the teacher in the room.
Our interview takes place in December shortly after the release of the Timeless maxi-single, where Defcee captures the complexity of his own heroes.
Timeless starts off with “Forty II” highlighting Defcee’s history as a raucous battle rap emcee. This time he’s subverting it though, roasting himself just as much in the process. It’s all about the line. The mix of dedication to craft and self-sacrifice is a defining characteristic of the Damn Near Grown (DNG) rapper. He’s only 24, but an elder statesman of his scene. Maybe it’s his influences.
“Wu-Tang is part of the bedrock, obviously. Jay, Nas.” Levin pauses to think. “Scarface.” Defcee has always had an affinity for rappers who popped in a bygone era. He keeps the energy alive, bringing East Coast lyricism to Saba’s jazzy trap beats and pairing Chance the Rapper references with Horace Grant jokes. Then, when his old soul is bare on Timeless’ last half, he searches openly for himself through tragic observation and magical realism.
“Purplewatersugardrank,” the first single for Def’s long-awaited DNG project features half of PIVOT Gang, Noname, and Bay Area word wizard Benjamin Earl Turner. Though Timeless is all about a solo journey through Adam’s world, Defcee’s rap family is large.
And though Defcee has only a handful of projects to his name as a solo artist, he is always working on just as many projects as he has released. Grand Total, an EP project with the aforementioned Ben Turner followed DNG‘s release late last year. Following those two are a “love” project Hell of a Drug, and a “drug” project named Adderall Adam. Adam Levin is all of these things: a legendary MC, a tender love poet, an overprescribed Surburban kid, and he is damn near…