Intersecting lives: Maine rappers have each other’s back while struggling for breaks and second chances

0

The music business is a world of shameless hustle, fleeting fame, thrilling success and humbling abandonment. No problem. That’s what Thommy Abate’s life has always been.

From rags to riches, back to rags, and optimistically looking at riches again, Thommy is back on the pop rap scene with his Internet single and video, “I Don’t Want to Grow Up.” During the past week, Thommy has made a ripple on Amazon.com, on iTunes and, of course, on YouTube.

Originally from Massachusetts and claiming Portland as his home, high-school dropout Thommy made it to Hollywood and New York several years ago as a rapper with the Artist Direct record label.

He had a small role in “Waist Deep” — a 2006 action film about two guys on the road, eluding police as they rob banks — after the owner of Artist Direct dropped his music interests and went into film.

Thommy used to go by the name Poverty. He rhymed about his days bouncing around the country, finding his mother in Maine only to be left behind when she was arrested for fraud. Poverty turned his experiences into an image and sound that took him a long way from poverty.

While Thommy was living the good life on the East and West Coasts and being courted by music and film producers, Jeremy Greene, of Waterville, another aspiring pop singer who was working at Burger King, tried to track him down. Greene was hoping to break into the music business.

Now the roles have reversed.

Last summer, Greene made a notorious splash assuming the role of music producer on “Living Lohan,” a reality TV show about Lindsay Lohan’s younger sister Ali. This summer, Greene signed with Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy record label. That was about the time that Greene got a call from Thommy. In between performing dates on the current Justin Bieber tour, Greene said he took time to help Thommy record his new material.

“We met when he was poppin’ and I was an unknown artist,” said Greene, who still lives in Maine, although no longer in Waterville. “I tracked him down to ask if he could get my songs on the radio. He was all Hollywood at the time. Right now, Thommy’s trying to relaunch his career.”

And that’s when Greene launched into his self-promotion of tour dates, new albums and new videos. A quick look at comments posted on his Facebook page and posted on previous online interviews and articles reveals that Greene has stepped on a few toes and perhaps pulled a few hustles himself.

“There are a lot of people out there who say things about me,” said Greene, who shared that his high-school friends have told him they can’t believe he isn’t sharing his success with them.

Dave Gutter, vocalist and lead guitar player for Rustic Overtones, a staple of Maine music for the past 15 years or so, knows that sharing success is crucial and puts events into perspective.

Gutter first discovered Thommy at an open mic gig when Thommy was living in a homeless shelter on Oxford Street in Portland. Gutter tracked Thommy down at the Preble Street Soup Kitchen and invited him to live in his basement.

“Being from here,” said Gutter, “It’s like when one of us does well, we all do well.”

Gutter said Thommy’s quirky personality was tough to take at first, but he knew there was something special about him.

“My girlfriend at the time was worried about how much he was going to eat, so for weeks I fed him Easter candy,” said Gutter. “But here was this kid who had something. I wanted to steal some of that hunger I heard in his music.”

Over time, the two musicians grew close.

Thommy thought he had found his guardian angel. “What was really tripping me out was that I looked at (Gutter) like he was a rich guy,” Thommy said. “I thought, I’m going to get food and a place to live to just rhyme.”

Thommy, who said he’s now 27 but could be 32 depending on which publicity bio you read, kept in touch with Gutter while he was living the fast life between Hollywood and New York.

When he got the call from his sister several years ago telling him that his mother was found dead in a “dive hotel,” Thommy said he couldn’t write about anything except death. And no one wanted to hear rap about his mother’s death.

He returned to Maine to live in another basement. He was working at 7-11, and started writing rhymes again.

“I was tired of the dark songs,” Thommy said. “I wanted to write music that was fun.”

On the surface, “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” sounds like a ‘tween anthem rebelling against responsibility and authority with a catchy bubblegum sound. But listen a little deeper and you hear someone who never got to be a child, someone who wants to eat ice cream and stay up late. Innocent enough, but there’s the verse about a stepfather he hates and memories of being called stupid. Sadly, it’s a very happy song that many ‘tweens and teens can relate to today.

“With music, you express who you actually are,” said Thommy. “With acting, you get to be anybody you wish you were.”

It’s hard to tell who the real Poverty or Thommy is — but he does have a flair, a style and a natural rap that makes you want to listen and find out.

Gutter and Graham Isaacson of Wayne have been tirelessly promoting Thommy’s new song in hopes of landing another record deal.

“Some people love that hustle,” Isaacson said. “Some people hate it. But it’s all about weaving a network and hoping that someone notices.”

Advertisement