Rapper Halfdeaf turns tough times into hip-hop fodder
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It says a lot about how tough things have been of late for Tyler McClure, the local rapper known as Halfdeaf, that his biggest personal acquisition recently is a pop-up camper.
He won’t be using it for recreation, though. He’ll be living in it, at least until he gets on firmer footing, and if that sounds like hard times, it beats where he was not so long ago.
“I was living in my Honda Accord for a while, but man, the cops (crack down) on you when you’re sleeping in your car, because they always think you’re drunk or something,” McClure told The Daily Times this week. “That’s only true half the time. So last year, I went and bought this four-person tent, and it’s served me so well.”
A native of Sevierville who spent his high school years at both Sevier County High and Gatlinburg-Pittman, McClure attended the University of Tennessee for three weeks before dropping out to pursue a living through certain illicit methods. He had always been involved in music, occupying first-chair trumpet in his high school bands since he was a sophomore. His uncle, in fact, is well-known and respected local musician Todd Steed of Smokin’ Dave and the Premo Dopes, Apelife and Todd Steed and the Suns of Phere.
With that sort of talent in the family, McClure often felt like he had a lot to prove, and his early experiences in the Knoxville music scene served only to further his cynicism. He cut what he describes as a “sad little rock album” and distributed it around town but couldn’t get anyone to bite.
“I never really felt like part of The Pilot Light cult, and I didn’t know the right people, so after trying and trying to get gigs, back in 2000 or 2001, I just shut it off and quit,” he said.
Five years ago, he became a father, around the same time his outside-the-law activities came to an end. Moving back in with his folks, he got a job as the night auditor of a Sevier County hotel, a post he held for two years until being laid off. After that, things spiraled downhill quickly: He was denied unemployment benefits, his child support payments were in arrears and he was facing jail time.
“So I bought a tent and a couple of pillows, took my dog and went on the lam,” he said. “I stole a lot of gas and went up to the National Park with my acoustic guitar and would sit around and play Neutral Milk Hotel and Smokin’ Dave songs. I went off the grid and grew a long beard and started writing some autobiographical songs about being broke and sad.”
He remain convinced that he had what it takes to be a musician, and the more shows by local artists he took in, the more jaded he became. Around that time, two things happened that would change his sense of direction: He discovered hip-hop in a way he hadn’t listened to it before, and a friend set him up with a couple of computer programs that allowed him to make music.
Inspired by the Polish electronic artist Bogdan Raczynski, who’s collaborated with Bjork (Raczynski actually sent McClure a response to a fan letter once, telling him not to stop creating), he began tinkering with beats per minute and churning out one breakcore album after another. Friends eventually suggested rapping over some of his beats, and he was introduced to the Magic Hu$tle collective, a group of hip-hop artists that includes Dopplegangsta and LiL iFFy.
And then he went to jail for the child support issue.
“When I got out, it was on like Donkey Kong,” he said. “I knew if I could put up with those toothless, tattooed meth junkies, I could handle anything.”
He’s working on completing a full-length concept album called “Zombie Problems,” about the undead apocalypse; he’s put up a dozen EPs and albums on his Bandcamp site as free downloads; and he’s become an integral part of Magic Hu$tle. He’s working for Domino’s as a manager, has found a new home of sorts in the aforementioned pop-up camper; he has a new girlfriend and a new purpose, he feels.
“I cannot impart to you enough how flattering it is for these guys (in Magic Hu$tle) to (care), to put time on what I’m doing, to put their voices on it,” he said. “They’ve given me brotherhood, camaraderie and damn good advice — and I don’t mind taking their advice because I respect what they do. And even Todd heard what I was doing and told me to keep going.
“Praise? From Todd Steed? Hell yeah, man. I am gonna keep going.”