Richmond-born rapper Locksmith has been cutting his teeth since the turn of the millennium.
The half-black, half-Persian lyricist spent the better part of a decade on the freestyle scene and performing in a duo. That veteran experience set the stage for the release of his first two solo albums in the last 16 months, rendering Locksmith — born Davood Asgari — ready to tackle bigger benchmarks ahead.
A pivotal moment for the Oakland-based emcee: his first headlining show in the Bay Area, Thursday, July 9, at the Brick and Mortar. The show marks the beginning of live support dates for his recently dropped sophomore record Lofty Goals.
[jump] “I don’t have no schedule. My only pressure is me,” Locksmith says, sitting in a park outside the Grant Lake Theatre. It’s “what I want to do.”
His debut record A Thousand Cuts was about struggle, but Lofty Goals is more about the light at the end of that struggle, which is why he was so eager to release his follow-up effort.
“This album is the beginning of me spreading my wings,” he says. The key difference in the short time between the two studio albums is simply “confidence.”
He’s very proud of his first solo work because it taught him to be meticulous about producing his vision, to the point where he only recorded the exact amount of songs on A Thousand Cuts (not a thousand). The most acclaimed track, “Hardest Song Ever,” deals with a story that is “200 percent” personal about being molested as a child.
“I hope it can inspire somebody,” the 37-year-old says. “I wish I could be unselfish,” but, “I did it because — therapeutic — I had to do it. I had to put it out.”
Locksmith picked up the confidence heard on Lofty Goals from performing his previous album live. He grappled with anxieties — worried performing such intensely personal songs might lose crowds expecting something standard. It wasn’t until he opened for T-Pain that he conceded if he believed in the song enough to record it, the same should go for performing it.
“Those moments who make you who you are,” he says. “It’s triumphant.”
While working on Lofty Goals, response to A Thousand Cuts reverberated in Australia so much so that Locksmith was able to do his first headlining tour across that continent. It’s startling he headlined the other side of the world before doing it in home Bay Area venues.
“To see fans, people actually know the words to my songs, that was the first time — I’ve seen it in little pockets here — but to go out [to Australia] and people know word for word whole songs, requesting songs, it was surreal,” he says.
For Lofty Goals, he believes he’s set his foundation touring with more established acts like Zion-I and Murs, and people will keep spreading the word and showing up while he moves up to the higher end of the bill.
From the affirmative melody on “For Now” to the unforgiving wordplay on “10KONDRMS” to the straight banger “Blinded,” Locksmith’s artistic advancement on his second solo record is cohesive and comprehensive. He sees Lofty Goals’ release and this San Francisco headlining gig as the intersection for the next step in his career, where his lyricism will receive more acknowledgements alongside hip-hop notables.
“Right now as an independent artist that’s what I have to my benefit, to really be able to see how people connect,” he says. “Talk to people at shows, see how it effects them.”
Locksmith hasn’t written down a verse in roughly 15 years. While earning his degree in African-American studies at UC Berkeley, he began rapping at a friend’s makeshift studio near San Francisco State. He loved writing lyrics but he didn’t like the way his handwriting looked. One day, he forgot his notebook and realized he could write verbally with even more intensity.
From there on, he relied on passion in the moment to get his words out in the world. He first reached national prominence on MTV’s freestyle rap battles circa 2003. By the start of this decade, his former rap partner quit the game to return to UC Berkeley for post-graduate studies, so he teamed up with Ski Beatz, who was a producer on Jay-Z’s debut album Reasonable Doubt, for a collaboration album dubbed Embedded. That prompted the difficult decision to leave behind a secure and rewarding day job he held for a decade mentoring local kids to be a full-time solo artist.
He did it because nowadays rap is for everyone, and he’s absolutely certain it’s for him.
“I’m sorry, you can’t just keep it — keep it in the hood no more, keep it to the younger people,” Locksmith said. “Music is music and if it’s an art form like we say it is, it’s grown.”
Danny Acosta is a freelance writer that has contributed to VICE Sports, FOX Sports and Maxim Magazine, among others. He can be heard weekly on the Sirius XM Fight Club (Sirius XM 92) and other Sirius XM combat sports programming. Follow him on Twitter @acostaislegend