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Rapper returns to his roots for inspiration

Nathan Baker • Feb 18, 2019 at 4:00 PM

Johnson City rapper Deshawn White is looking for his second wind.

He enjoyed decent regional popularity a decade ago, but then lost focus on his music career after a drug arrest. Now, with a renewed energy brought by rediscovering his center, White has released two new singles he’s proud of and expects to drop four more tracks on an upcoming EP.

White grew up in Johnson City’s Carver housing projects, at a time he calls “the dark ages.” His family was poor, and he was exposed to drug and gang culture.

“Music was a way for me to express my pain,” he said. “It started out when I was a kid writing poems about my environment, the violence and the gangs. I recorded my first song on a karaoke machine when I was 12.”

White and others around him realized his talent, and as he honed his craft, he gained popularity as Science Hill High School’s resident rapper. The school started using his music at sports events, he was asked to open for major musical acts performing in the area and he had a single in regular rotation on a couple of local radio stations.

A few years later, an arrest for conspiracy to distribute marijuana turned his upward trajectory into a downward slide. Though he wasn’t convicted of the crime, White decided to put his career on hold to find himself by reconnecting with the people who had supported him in his life.

He rediscovered purpose in his life at church, where he said he realized he had to put his God-given talent for music to good use by giving others encouragement.

“The more people I meet, the more I see that so many people are hopeless,” he said. “They may have a ton of money, fame, but they aren’t happy, they’re still searching. We have to find a greater purpose than just money or cars.”

For White, making music is a spiritual experience. He’ll listen to beat track after beat track until one starts speaking to him in a language only he understands. Soon, a melody or a chorus forms in his head. Not long after, words and verses begin pouring out of him.

At one of the lowest points of his life, he said he was blocking that flow of music trying to pour out of him. His own doubts were blocking the way and holding him back, as it seemed none of his work was good enough. He’d scrap an entire new verse he’d written the day before because it didn’t seem good enough.

He was sitting in one place and spinning his wheels.

“I talked with my now-manager, and he said this is a gift that’s been given to me, this is a calling,” White said. “I have to be responsible with it, but I don’t have to be perfect. I accepted that my perfection is going to come through Jesus Christ. I can never make that perfect song, I can’t live in the shadow of perfectionism.”

When White learned how to give up the chase for perfectionism and turned over control of his tracks to his producers, his flow started again.

The logjam was broken, and he started putting out new music.

Now, two singles, “Power Trippin’” and “Dance Party,” are out, and more are soon to follow.

Though he’s lived outside the area for a while, White returned to Johnson City, to his roots, to shoot a music video for “Power Trippin’.”

White said he wanted to come back to familiar surroundings, to the places that played important parts in his early life, to illustrate the song.

“All of that was very intentional,” he said. “I spent a lot of time downtown, at Capones, at Second Level, that was my old stomping grounds. I thought it was fitting to take it back to where it all started and shoot a video in that area.”

White’s new music is available on most streaming services. For more information, visit www.iamdeshawnwhite.com.

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