2014-06-06 / People

Raw talent

South Portland sophomore makes his mark in rap music
By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — For Dylan Rottkov, words are music.

But the 15-year-old, who performs under the name Dylan Raw, or D-Raw, is not depending on talent alone to fulfill his dream of becoming an international rap sensation. Recently, Rottkov, a sophomore at South Portland High School, has turned to promoting concerts, advancing his career by working behind the scenes as well as at the mic.

In April, Rottkov staged a show at The Big Easy in Portland, luring Sony Music recording artist Hi-Rez for a stop on his national tour.

A veteran of more than 20 concerts in the last three years, Rottkov was somewhat stymied by a modern reality of the music industry. Most often, he had to pay a fee, upwards of $200, for the privilege of going on as an opening act for a major performer. It’s a price most new artists are willing to pay in order to gain exposure, but Rottkov, a natural entrepreneur, had other ideas.

“I was like, hold on, this isn’t that hard. I know some venues. I can organize a show and have people pay me to open,” he said. “Why pay people when I can be paid and be in charge of everything?”

Rottkov ended up selling 128 tickets for the show, about half of The Big Easy’s standing capacity of 245. It was enough to clear a small profit, while advancing Rottkov’s career.

“When Hi-Rez came out, it got really tight. He put on a great show for the fans,” said Rottkov. “He was also nice enough to stay and sign autographs and meet the fans, and to do a song with me for my next single.”

Lyrical prodigy

Rottkov began his music career at age 9 by “rap battling” during the summer at the South Portland Boys and Girls Club.

“That’s when two rappers just write rhymes and go at each other,” said Rottkov. “I had always been a huge fan of rap music and I couldn’t not rap. It just draws my attention. Most people think of rap as the gangsta stuff that’s demeaning to women, but the stuff I listen to is very conscientious and has a lot of meaningful substance, where rappers talk about their lives. That’s the kind of stuff I listen to and the kind of music I make.”

But most kids never make the transition from rap fan to professional rap artist, especially not in South Portland, which is hardly a hotbed of the rap industry. That’s where local taxpayers come in. While in middle school, Rottkov took his schoolissued laptop and, using an app called Garage Band, began to record his original lyrics over beats and samples of other artists. Posting those songs to the website ReverbNation.com led to an invite to perform as part of a local showcase staged by Earth Entertainment, a Cleveland, Ohio, company that promotes hip hop and rap concerts nationwide.

Rottkov credits his schoolmates with playing and replaying his songs, pushing him up to 15th on ReverbNation’s local charts.

“I think they contacted everybody who was in the Top 30 at that time,” said Rottkov.

Even so, at just 12 years old, Rottkov was the youngest performer by far at the show, held July 31, 2011, at The Big Easy.

“The place was packed,” recalled Rottkov. “There were 200-plus people there. That show really changed my life. Since then I’ve had way bigger shows than that, but every day I think of that show. I had no idea what to do, but when I walked out on stage, it was like magic. The whole crowd was vibing with me.”

“He’s a brilliant, genius writer,” said Rottkov’s father, an adjunct professor at Southern Maine Community College with a master’s degree in communication, who knows a thing or two about wordsmithing. “I think he has great potential. Some of his rhyme schemes and references are way out there for his age.”

Following his debut performance, Rottkov has hooked up with Chad Gray of Scarborough, who performs under the name LOC D.A.B. Gray first came to Maine from Connecticut to play college basketball at Husson and Thomas colleges. But in 2006 he began to make music, eventually forming Get*Um Gang, a stable of local rappers, singers, photographers, videographers, investors and consultants – all working toward the goal of making it in the music industry.

Rottkov became a fan of LOC D.A.B and contacted Gray through Facebook, leading to an invite to record in his Scarborough studio.

“He was pretty persistent,” said Gray, with a laugh. “Eventually, I let him in the studio and he recorded like, seven or eight songs in, like, an hour. After that I was, like, I think you’ve got something.

“It was the first time I recorded into an actual mic,” says Rottkov, who now points to Gray as his musical mentor. “As soon as we started working we knew we were going to be doing it together for a long time, because we just clicked.”

“He has a real raw talent,” said Gray. “He’s got a creative ability that’s something you don’t find too much in someone his age. I think Dylan’s strength is the way he writes his music, the creativity of his rhymes, and the perspective he writes from. He can write a 16-bar verse in 15 minutes and it will be quality. He is talented.”

After taking Rottkov under his wing, the first thing Gray did was make the youngster ditch his original stage name, “White Tiger.”

“He was like, we can’t keep that, that’s trash,” says Rottkov. “It was like, an African-American calling himself Black Hockey Player. You don’t want to identify yourself by your race. It doesn’t make sense to separate yourself like that.”

Since joining Get*Um Gang, Rottkov’s career has taken off, although he admits it has been a struggle to transition into a serious artist from what amounted to a novelty act as “the cute little kid who could rap.”

“I’ve been trying to get away from the Disney Channel stuff, into FOX,” he says, by way of metaphor. “It took a while. There was about a year and a half where I was really trying to figure out what kind of artist I want to be. I want to make music that touches lives.”

Since his first performance, Rottkov has released three mixed tapes of different songs, issued as free downloads on the website datpiff.com, where he’s had more than 15,000 downloads.

Currently, Rottkov is working with Gray on an album with original music to match his lyrics. Of 12 planned for the debut release, three songs are complete.

Rottkov is known for his music around South Portland High School, but says with humility, “Everybody knows I rap, but I’m not like revered or anything like that.”

That’s good, said his father, who also works as an educational technician at the school and has encouraged Rottkov to leave his rap persona on stage.

“It’s a concern I have about him going forward, given the image of rap and hip hop, with the violence and the shootings and the drugs, the whole attitude,” says Richard Rottkov. “I’m don’t know how ethical the whole industry is, I’m just a concerned parent.

“Still, I think he has his head on straight, in terms of his future. He’s knows it’s a longshot to make it in the music industry,” said Richard Rottkov.

A three-sport athlete and self-described “gym rat,” Rottkov said he “definitely” plans to go on to college. The fall back position will be a career teaching history, a subject he loves, and hopefully coaching basketball and football. However, right now, Rottkov says he dedicates “all my free time” to music.

“It takes a little luck to make it in the music industry,” he said, “but it also takes a lot of money and a lot of work. Musicians who make it work harder than anyone.”

If that’s true, Rottkov would seem to have a better-than-average shot at stardom.

“To me, the thing I like about it is the storytelling,” he says of rap. “I never get bored. There’s never a day when I come home from school and take a nap.”

Rottkov will perform Thursday, June 5, headlining with LOC D.A.B. at Shenanigan’s in Augusta. Tickets can be purchased by emailing dylanrawmusic@gmail.com.

After that, Rottkov is working on putting together his second concert as a promoter, to be held in November.

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