Concert preview: Local rapper Vada deals with his past and loss of mentee Ty're King

Joel Oliphint

Even though 13-year-old Ty're King was shot and killed by police in Olde Towne East last month, sometimes, when Vada talks about him, he slips into the present tense.

"[King] is the type of kid where, when he gets in trouble, he'll smile. He'll joke and laugh," said the 33-year-old rapper, who works with kids at the Central Community House in Olde Towne East and mentored King a few years ago while working with some of King's friends from Champion Middle School. But then the sadness sets in and the past tense returns.

"He would laugh and joke about being in trouble as if he knew that one day he would have to take life more serious, like, 'Mr. Vada, chill out. I'm just a kid.' It was funny to him," Vada said recently outside an Olde Towne East warehouse full of art projects and Volkswagen buses. "I just kept thinking about that over and over again."

On Friday, Sept. 30, Vada and his friend, Ohio Student Association organizer James Hayes, put on a Free the People concert at the corner of East Capital and South 18th streets, the spot of King's memorial. Vada, who performed alongside Bruce Slaughter, Nes Wordz, Correy Parks, Jai Carey and others, felt compelled to do something in response to King's death.

"Ty're was a goofy kid. Sometimes, he'll push your limits," said Vada, who stressed the importance of not sugar-coating a person's life after the fact. "You have black leaders in our community who try to sell this narrative, like Trayvon Martin (a 17-year-old who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, in 2012) was just this angel kid. 'All he wanted was some Skittles.' But that hurts us, too, because the point is, he was a kid, and he didn't get to grow up. Even if he was doing things he didn't have any business doing, he didn't get a chance to redeem himself as an adult."

"Most kids you meet are gonna get on your nerves," Vada continued. "They're gonna do bad things. The unfortunate thing about that is, kids in different environments, they get to be bad, and it's a phase and they grow up. A lot of the kids in our community, they don't get that chance. They're just bad like all regular kids are, but the sad part is, Ty're didn't get to grow up. He didn't get to stop being mischievous."

Vada has his own mischievous past. Growing up with a mother addicted to drugs, he later sold drugs on the street himself. But as Vada's profile as a rapper grew - first as part of Fly Union, then as L.E. for the Uncool, then King Vada - he shied away from talking about the not-so-flattering parts of his past.

"There's a lot of rappers whose subject matter is about things they've never done in their life, like selling drugs and having guns - glamorizing this street persona," said Vada, who performs at the Basement on Tuesday, Oct. 11 with Gosh Pith and Fluffer. "I never was one of those rappers. But in my real life, Iwas what they rap about."

It wasn't until 2013'sMURDRxFLWR$ - a cinematic record that showcases Vada's casual flow, singular tone and a latent intensity bubbling just below the surface - that Vada mentioned his nefarious youth.

"I wish I never ever sold that woman crack / Her little girl was so beautiful, I take it back," Vada rhymes on leadoff track "The Gli$tening."

The lyric refers to a moment in his early 20s when Vada (who dropped the "King" and now goes by the name he was born with) decided to stop dealing for good. A woman came up to him on the street with her daughter. "I just snapped," he said. "I yelled at her and told her she's never gonna get what she came for from me. I told everybody not to [sell to her] because I'd seen that little girl - the prettiest little girl in the whole world. And that was it. Cold turkey. I had product left, and I sold it back to my connect. I even had a gun at that time. I sold my gun."

Vada's newest single, the Rashad-produced "Money Fhone," is fromTwenties Go for Nix, an EP he'll release later this fall. The single is a "dope boy song," Vada said, but it's just a starting point. The rest of the EP will follow Vada's evolution as a person, from a struggling kid to someone who helps other kids and is a father to a 7-year-old.

Conversations with his son have taken on more weight since the death of King. "It's sad that I have to have these talks with him, like, 'Look man, the way things are right now, you have to take life more serious a lot earlier," he said.

Vada's familial roots also give him a unique perspective on the Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter racial discussions taking place in the larger culture. "My grandmother is a little white lady who raised generations of black people. I love her more than anybody on this planet," Vada said. "And she knows when she walks out of the house, she has a different privilege than her family does. It's the reality. To say, 'All lives matter,' OK, but there's no 13-year-old white kids being shot. You can't find them. But there's a lot of white 13-year-olds with BB guns."

The Basement

7:30 p.m. Tuesday,

Oct. 11

391 Neil Ave.,

Arena District

ALSO PLAYING: Gosh Pith, Fluffer