Random banter about Schweppes ginger ale, fortune cookies, balled-up pieces of paper napkin, shorts with the crotch safety-pinned together, a man named Lorenzo and my mom’s ride (my car was in the garage and I was seriously driving around in my mom’s ride). This is how I spent a recent hour and a half with Ryan “Spose” Peters of Wells, who has an odd fascination with Rob Caldwell of WSCH’s 207.
“I just love Rob Caldwell, I think he’s a pimp,” said Peters. “I see him on TV and he’s the man. I’m jealous of his awesomeness. Lee Nelson’s a pimp, too.”
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly heard the 24-year-old rapper’s humorous and catchy song “I’m Awesome” from his self-produced EP “We Smoked It All” playing in heavy rotation on WCYY and WJBQ. And that song led to Peters — who’s been spitting rhymes since high school — signing a contract with major recording label Universal Republic.
The initial shock of getting that deal is beginning to wear off, and Peters says that he’s just been taking it all one step at a time. He says he hadn’t aspired to be signed by a major label; he had just wanted to make rap songs that were respected and have fun with it. Knowing what pressures and changes lie ahead of him, he says it would drive him crazy to think about the entire scope of things too long.
“I’ll freak out,” said Peters. “I know that it’s not going to be easy and it’s going to require sacrifice and hard work. If I were to get wrapped up in the bigger picture of it I would go nuts, so I’m trying to just focus on one moment at a time.”
The versatility of the artists on Universal Republic — Amy Winehouse, Godsmack, India Arie, Anberlin, Tori Amos and Flobots — gives him reassurance he will maintain creative freedom. During a recent trip to New York City, Peters says he saw the motivation and drive the label has in promoting its artists, and thinks it’s a good thing.
His Spose persona came about during his junior year in high school, and by the time he started college everything he did was in line with that style. Peters describes what he does as a kind of dark social commentary.
“I started doing rap songs on the second floor of my mom’s house,” said Peters. “We (friends) made like three full albums in high school to get (it) out of our systems. Kind of goofy stuff, but having fun with it and honing our skills.”
The beat for “I’m Awesome” was laid down on a keyboard Peters borrowed from his grandfather. Looking up major chord progressions online, he says he taught himself how to play, carefully selecting more upbeat combinations to set the tone for the song’s humor.
“I think it works for the song, because if they (listeners) thought I was serious it would be half of what it is,” said Peters.
The infectious song, which offers up self-deprecating humor poking fun at Peters’ lack of friends, casual drug use, social life, date-ability and even musical talent, was written over the course of three months this summer. The chorus of the song, which contains adult language, was written in about five minutes, and he says he rewrote most verses several times before the song was finished.
“I’m a big revisionist, and I wrote that second verse about eight times,” said Peters.
Pleasing everyone is not something he says he’s trying to do. Peters wants people to have fun with his music, but he also says he wants hip hop fans to get the same joy out of his lyrics that he does with his favorite artists.
“I know reality, so what I’m rapping about isn’t some glorified, different world,” said Peters. “If people take it (lyrics) out of context and make it like that’s all I’m about, then they’re missing the picture.”
Peters spontaneously riffed rhymes off the top of his head, afterward explaining why his never-ending collection of words is essential to his craft. Utilizing pop culture can be tricky, said Peters. Knowing what’s in or what will be recognized can separate a catchy song from a forgotten one. Lyrics like “suit untailored, ringtone Taylor Swift, can’t tweet up on my Twitter” have a window of usability; after awhile the effectiveness isn’t as strong, and Peters says knowing that is half the battle.
Another song, the title of which can’t be printed in a family newspaper, has the lyrics “Back when I was sipping Sunny D watching Harry and the Hendersons,”and references Oshkosh and Dimetapp, all of which, Peters says, sets a scene, so people can picture a specific time.
“It’s a quick-changing world and I have a good hold on reality and pop culture,” said Peters.
“I’m Awesome” is getting airplay all over the country, and reactions to it vary from loathing to loving. Peters thinks the extremes are great.
“If half the people in the United States hate this song and want me to die, and half the people in the U.S. like the song — that’s what, 125 million people? Jackpot,” said Peters.
He says he gets the dislike and it’s to be expected. He’s developing thick skin and preparing for the worst, because he says that for every person who doesn’t like him or his music, there are others who love it, and that makes it worth it.
“Millions of people think wrestling sucks. Millions of people think NASCAR is trash. And millions of people think Taylor Swift sings the same song every song and doesn’t deserve her success. Millions of people think Justin Timberlake is the guy from N’Sync,” said Peters. “Those people work so hard and are so busy that they don’t have time to think of stuff like that; they don’t have time to worry about people hating them, because they’re too busy trying to get to the next level. And that’s what I want to do.”
His pre-show ritual used to be to stress out over every detail to the point where, he says, he couldn’t enjoy the show. Peters says he’s looking forward to being able to enjoy his performances more now that the burdens of promoting, organizing and the like are someone else’s responsibility.
His goal, Peters says, isn’t to be on TV or the radio, but to be respected. He doesn’t want to compromise his control or his personal life either. Celebrity Fit Club and being homeless are two things he says he hopes to avoid down the road. For now he’s enjoying himself.
“Nothing will match the excitement of my song being on the Top 5 at 5 on WCYY,” said Peters. “Everything that has happened since then is like a whirlwind.”