The 18-year-old rapper better known as Justin Caver backed out of a challenge to take on Weaver’s Chris English on the basketball court and turned back to what he’s best at — rocking the microphone.
Caver, a recent Oxford High graduate, has combined his appreciation for athletics with his ability to rap about almost anything.
The result has been carefully crafted verses highlighting the skills of the area’s top high school athletes set to the instrumentals of today’s most popular artists.
“I was talking to Chris English, and we were talking about playing one-on-one or something and he was like, ‘If I beat you, you gotta say my name in a song,’” Caver said.
The game never happened.
“It was before I even got a chance to play him one-on-one,” Caver said. “As soon as he said it, I was like ‘Aww, I’m just finna go ahead and do this now.’ It was such a good idea because I ain’t never heard anybody do that — make songs about local athletes and just push it. As soon as he said that, I just went ahead and recorded it.”
So far, Caver has provided the soundtrack to the success of English, who was a first-team choice to The Star’s Class 3A All-Calhoun county basketball team as a freshman last season, Anniston all-state running back Troymaine Pope and big-time Oxford football recruits Kwon Alexander and Trae Elston.
At 1:30 a.m. on a given weekday, especially in an area like Anniston (not particularly known for its nightlife), most people are deep in the realms of R.E.M. sleep.
But it was about that time when Caver posted his song about Alexander on Facebook. Even in the still of the night, people were willing to take a listen. “I’d say within an hour it had like 50 something ‘likes’,” Caver said.
What makes his offerings unique, aside from the novelty of the idea, is that he doesn’t simply rap about athletes. He raps as if he’s them. He goes in over Wiz Khalifah’s “Black and Yellow,” a fitting selection that matches Oxford’s school colors. He takes you inside the mind of a player such as Alexander, rated as the nation’s top outside linebacker by ESPN, when he’s in pursuit of a ball-carrier. “Hit the hole and get hit like a baseball/Knock his head off now he won’t need no Tylenol,” Caver raps.
Caver’s approach on the mic is always full of bravado and equally as brilliant.
“Everybody was like, ‘Oh, my God. How did you think of this?’” Caver said. “It sounds like you’re on the field.”
And of course, his friends appreciated his audio homage to them.
“We were just laughing about it,” Pope said before a preseason practice. “We’re together all the time. I’m going to listen to it before every game.”
Elston and Alexander were Caver’s classmates at Oxford; English and Caver have a big-brother, little-brother relationship; and he’s been cool with Pope since middle school.
That’s right around the time he began to dabble with rapping.
“I got put on punishment for my grades one time. My mom kept me in the house for two months,” Caver said. “That’s when I started writing my rhymes down because I didn’t want to forget them. I noticed that I was pretty good. So, I started writing more and more and got a whole notebook full of rhymes.”
Sports were never really Caver’s thing.
“I never had the drive to do it, but I always looked at it and said, ‘Man, I can do that’,” he said.
Using his artistic ability to honor the athletic accomplishments of others was the next best thing. After all, it’s the energy pregame music provides that often helps players get in the right frame of mind to go hard on the field. It’s a synergy that can’t be denied.
“The thing about this is that I know they’re going to be listening to me before they play a game,” Caver said. “Kwon already told me he’s going to listen to it before every game. That’s what makes it even better to know that I influenced them and they influenced me. If Troymaine goes out and scores three or four touchdowns or Kwon makes 18 tackles, I can say, in some way, that I influenced that.”
Caver’s discography includes more than 100 songs. He released “House Party,” a mixtape he recorded with former Anniston football standout Jeremy Davis AKA Yung Jainky, at the end of July. He’s shot and released his own music videos and served as an opening act for bigger-named artists.
Now, Caver’s preparing to release “The Heisman Speech,” a free album on which he’ll be working with local talent Londn Blue, Te-zo, Lukas Payne, T.P. Player and Eskay. Caver’s aiming for a mid-fall release date, right in the thick of football season.
“I just graduated from high school, and I’m going to into college,” Caver said, explaining the album’s concept. “The highest honor you can get in college, athletically anyway, is The Heisman Trophy. I’m just preparing my speech before I get there.
It’s going to be arena music, stuff that people can listen to, to get them amped before they play.”
Caver is aware of the limitations placed on him by his location. He can’t simply play club dates or showcases where music industry executives will be present and build his buzz from there. However, that’s something that someone with old-school ingenuity and new-school technology can overcome.
“There’s no other way,” said Josh King, founder and CEO of Fly Publicity, a public relations firm based in Atlanta, of the necessity of up-and-coming artists to market their music digitally. “It’s the only way to get your music to everyone who needs to hear it.”
King’s company represents rap trio Travis Porter and R&B singer Sammie among others.
King said record labels aren’t simply seeking talent anymore. They prefer to partner with artists who’ve already started a movement where they are, come alongside them and use the label’s resources to push them to a national and international audience. The most popular example of that model might be teen pop singer Justin Bieber, who was discovered through a homemade video on YouTube.
Caver hopes to one day earn a living through his music. But he isn’t putting all his eggs in that basket. He plans to enroll in school to become an audio engineer.
He’s received inquiries to pen songs about other local athletes, some of whom he’s never even seen play. “I was like, ‘Do you have a highlight tape I can see?” he said. He intends to oblige his budding fan base as well as record fight songs for local high schools like the one he did for Oxford called “Go Big O” and see if they’ll play it at games.
Blowing up in the rap game from this area is a long shot. But it’s one he’s willing to take. Remember, this is the same guy, who was about to challenge an all-county hooper to a game of one-on-one, even though he’s never played organized ball.
“It’s hard coming from here because you’re going to be underestimated. If you’re from Atlanta or New York, those are such big cities that they can push you and make your music known,” Caver said. “You don’t have to have the whole state. All you need is that city or town. Here (in Alabama) you need the whole state behind you. If I can get a school, that could turn into a community, which could turn into a city, which could turn into the state. We could go a long way with that.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.
Here are links to his high school sports-related songs.
@openflamez or checkout his Facebook page.