July 14th, 2011
In a land of palm trees and lots and lots of rain, Big Island resident Casey Espejo stands out. The power and influence of hip-hop music stretches all the way to Hilo, where the 23-year old Hilo High School graduate is trying to make a name for himself with his new EP, "Hawaii Five-0."
"My first intoduction to hip-hop in general was my neighbor," Espejo said by telephone from Hilo earlier this week. "I was, like, nine years old and he used to breakdance, so he'd be listening to a lot of electro-funk. I got into it … (and) they started letting me into clubs, because I was breakdancing."
He got into crafting rhymes at the age of 13, and two years later he had his first MC battle win under his belt. The win also secured him a recording deal, which led to the release of a single, "808 to the NYC."
Espejo cites mainstream rappers Joe Budden and Jay-Z along with underground artists Toxic and Abyss as some of the major influences on his music career; his bio also lists Juelz Santana, Lil' Wayne and Kanye West as other artists he looks up to. He's also attended the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Arizona to learn the technical side of engineering tracks for the music industry.
"This is my dream," he said. "Ever since I was 15, I've never stopped. People thought I was nuts, coming out of Hilo, Hawaii, talking about how I wanted to do this an make it a career.
"I have two albums that I finished in the past three years. And then there's the actual release of 'Hawaii Five-0,' which came out earlier this year."
Espejo's latest EP contains eight tracks, which feature guest appearances by national recording artist Bun B along with rappers Shady Ray and Busy Signal. It also features production by Salaam Remi, Johnny Juliano, and Espejo himself. Offered as a free download, "Hawaii Five-0" is available exclusively via Espejo's website, www.musicbycasey.com. He describes the sound as "Island Urban Music," and credits his east coast-based management team for helping to get his career to the next level. Over the recent Fourth of July weekend, his single, "My Money," was the featured "Jam of the Week" on MTV's nationally-syndicated radio broadcast, "MTV Jams."
"The Internet is a huge help. … We run this whole business on the Internet," he said. "It still kind of blows my mind. … I'm starting to realize there's a lot of work left to be done. I find myself in the studio constantly.
"Now that this happened, it's given me the fire, the push to make me go even harder and put that extra boost in it."
Espejo said that while he hopes to make the move to Oahu soon, his goal is to remain a Hawaii-based artist while building his fan base in other markets.
"I'm looking to make a move to Oahu eventually … to get the backing from where it's needed," he said. "Hilo can only supply so many hip-hop heads."
Jason Genegabus is Entertainment Editor/Online at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and has covered the local nightlife, music, bar and entertainment scenes since 2001. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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