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Phyzikal: Motivating the Summit City
By Sean Smith
Fort Wayne Reader
When Jermaine Williams was growing up on the south side of Fort Wayne, he had big dreams. He hoped to become a successful rapper and overcome his rough childhood. Williams, who is better known in the music world as Phyzikal, took the first big step toward fulfilling that dream when he signed a contract with Def Jam Records in October of last year.
From a very young age, Williams was interested in music. He says his mother was very supportive. "When I was seven years old, my mom would always encourage me to rap for her friends. She would bring people from the club back to the house for an afterparty. When she would bring everybody together, she would have me perform. That would help me build up my confidence."
Soon after that, his home life became unstable. "My mom was involved with the streets and she was an addict," Williams explains. It was especially tough on him, since he was becoming involved with HHN Records, an independent label. "My grandma had custody at the time and she had final say so. She wouldn't let me participate. She didn't really believe in the rap scene. In her eyes, she thought it was going to hurt me more than help me."
Williams kept pursuing his goal, but things started to change in the late '90s. "There was a big crack epidemic, due to Detroit coming into Fort Wayne. I was witnessing it coming up, to where I could be involved."
Williams' grandma wanted to protect her grandson. She decided to move him far away from the temptations of the streets and she chose Kentucky. "I stayed in Kentucky for two years. It was a whole different experience. I witnessed racism differently. It wasn't really me. It wasn't urban enough for me to do what I had the passion for."
After staying there for a few years, Williams moved to the east side of Detroit and lived with his older sister. He was happy to be there, since it would be a good place to pursue his music. But sadly, things didn't go the way he had hoped and he was soon headed back down south. "My sister needed me to pick up my nieces from school. It was a long walk and I ended up taking a stolen car. So, my grandma thought it was best that I go back to Kentucky."
Williams wasn't there long before learning that his mom was doing better. He moved back to Fort Wayne when he was 16. "Now, everybody that I was involved with in Fort Wayne was older. You see that they grew up a little bit faster, 'cause they've just been stuck in the streets."
One thing that hadn't changed was Williams' reputation for rapping. "I'd always been known for rapping from the time I was in school. That's how I really built my name, from freestyle and word of mouth. So, when I came back, a lot of people knew about me."
In 2002, Williams' rap group, Colossal Villains, met Corey Lamb, who owned Seven Layer Records. They signed a contract with the label and began working on an album. Soon after, Lamb moved to Atlanta. "Then, everybody started slacking at the label and there was tension, so we fell out with Lamb for a short time. We weren't moving as fast as we wanted to. So, we did an album without Seven Layers. We actually pushed thousands and thousands of CDs."
Williams says after the album slowed down, he was lured back to the streets. "I was drug affiliated from a young age and my last completed grade was 9th grade. So, I stepped into the dope game to try and put some money towards music and I was raided over on Pittsburgh Street. They locked me up until I was 18." It was while in prison that Williams made two important decisions. He created his own record label, Ghetto Confinement Entertainment, which he would use to release his rhymes that contained everything he was feeling and going through while locked up. "I always found a way to get a pencil to my cell and write. When I wrote them, I wrote them. You can tell by the lyrical content."
After he was released, Williams met Fred Rogers, a man who took a real interest in his talent and helped to keep him on the right track. "He told me that if I got back with my homies, I would end up back in prison. So, Fred helped me with the label and not too long after that, he introduced me to Will Chavis who had a lot of connections in the industry. He was working with Daddy Yankee and Echo, who won a Latin Grammy."
Williams split his time between Atlanta, Georgia and Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is where he did some work with Daddy Yankee and Echo, but he soon realized that he wasn't going to get the attention he wanted for his own music there. So, he moved back to Atlanta permanently and hooked up with Jazze Pha. "We became good friends and did eight to ten songs. Since I've been here, I've made more progress than ever. "That progress includes a hit song played on Atlanta radio by DJ Greg Street and meetings with Clive Davis at BMG and Jimmy Iovine at Interscope.
But it was the meeting with L.A. Reid in New York late last year that secured his deal with Def Jam, the successful label that was founded in 1984 by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin. This puts Williams right alongside label mates Mariah Carey, Kanye West and Jay-Z, just to name a few.
Chavis, Williams' Def Jam rep, says that he knew something was happening as soon as the meeting with Reid ended. "He performed and then lawyers showed up. L.A. wanted to do the paperwork right then. We didn't leave until he signed. We had to cancel our flight and they put us up in their hotel. I knew that they were very interested."
Chavis says that is rare. Just like Williams. "He is going to be a superstar. He's one of the most lyrical guys out there and very versatile. He can talk about anything and appeal to the north, south and midwest. He wrote a pop song for a girl group on Def Jam. He studies, mixes and records his music. He creates his own beats. He's special. Jazze Pha would tell you that. He's one of the rare ones."
For now, Williams has two main goals: finishing his debut album, which could be out as early as this September, and helping to build up the city of Fort Wayne. "Who Let Them Girls In is the first single. So, make sure to request that on the radio," reminds Williams, "We're gonna do a video after 400 or 500 spins. If Fort Wayne supports the record more than Atlanta, I'm gonna shoot it in Fort Wayne."
"He wants to give back and put Fort Wayne on the map," Chavis adds. "He wants to find talent. They don't have the radio support. You never hear their music and he's trying to give them visibility. He wants to do stuff for kids and give out shoes and books."
Williams is expected to be a very high profile artist and not just within the music world. The very same night he signed with Def Jam, he also met with Time magazine and Boost Mobile. His lawyers also represent P. Diddy and Usher. So, we can expect some big things. "My biggest goal," Williams reveals, "is to go after some endorsement deals and do for Fort Wayne what Nelly did for St. Louis. I'm trying to put my city on and help build Fort Wayne. If I can do it, anybody can do it. I came from the struggle. My thing is not to street brag, but to motivate my city."