As someone who doesn't know much about or particularly cares for rap or hip-hop, I have to admit I was dreading writing this article. I also had no clue what to expect when I called up Infamous over the weekend. The guy who answered the phone didn't sound like a rapper, and was surprisingly friendly and well-spoken. After we'd hung up, I realized I'd let stereotypes cloud my judgment, the same stereotypes that Travis Young -- A.K.A. Infamous -- has had to fight all his life.
Young is a rapper from Enid, Oklahoma whose mother and stepfather are both police officers. As you might imagine, that combination has gotten him more than his share of flak. But after six years in the music business and a less than ideal childhood, Young is used to it.
He grew up with an abusive father and parents who fought often, he said. The violence at home led Young's mother to a career as a cop, and to a relationship with a man her son now considers more of a dad than his biological father. Young didn't hear from his real dad for years, but said he turned up once his son started making a name for himself with his music. But by then, Young had a new name -- one that could have just as easily been used to describe his troubled father.
"A friend was introducing me to some people," he said. "He was like 'You don't know this guy? Oh man ... He's infamous!'"
Young said the name stuck, mostly because it was true.
"I was always in and out of trouble," he said, "But never really in trouble."
Young went to college for three years, but his heart was never really in it. Looking for a way to express himself, he started making beats and bits of music for other people, but at some point decided he could do just as good a job -- if not better -- performing his own songs. Touring followed, sometimes for up to 45 days at a time.
"It was hard at first, but it's gotten easier," he said of having to be away from his wife and two kids for so long. "My schedule now actually allows me to be with the kids more than I would be if I worked a normal job."
Now based in Stillwater, Young is equally comfortable on stage or in his role as househusband. "My wife sends me on errands," he said with a laugh.
The other important woman in Young's life is his manager, Sunshine.
She's responsible for taking Young's career as Infamous to a new level -- getting a distribution deal with Universal Records and shopping him around to other labels. But Young doesn't care if he never gets signed.
"I also do booking for clubs in Oklahoma City and sell plenty of my own CDs," he said. "I do music full time now. It pays the bills."
And with collaborations under his belt with big-name artists such as The Game and T-Pain, the bills are getting easier to pay.
"I know a lady who knows The Game's father," Young said. "And I knew a guy who was working with T-Pain on a movie. He had a song they weren't going to use, so they let me work on it."
Young had to pay to use the track, and had to send it back after he'd worked on it to make sure T-Pain approved. He did, and the song "Curious" wound up on Infamous' last album The Days of Infamy.
When I talked to him, Young listed Ice Cube and Tech Nine among his main influences. But I wanted to know what message he hopes to get across in his songs.
"A lot of my music is for outcasts or people who've been through hard times," he said. "I'll occasionally have hateful tracks, but I mostly want to bring people together and say 'We all go through this. It's gonna be alright.'"
He's also not happy about the direction hip-hop is going.
"People say it's not about anything anymore," he said. "I'm not gonna bitch about it, though. I'm gonna try to fix it."
Young isn't a typical musician. He doesn't really play any instruments -- "I dabble on keyboards," he said -- but he is a lyricist and performer who values the honesty and excitement of live music and takes pride in putting on an interesting show.
"I've got a live drummer and a hype man who sometimes wears a monkey suit," he said. "We're gonna have him start a show dressed in an 'F*** Infamous' T-shirt, and by the end of the show, he'll be my biggest fan."
While he works on his next (and still untitled) "big record," Young plans to release a number of EPs -- each in a different style. At 10 tracks, the first of those, "The Come Up," is almost a full-length album.
"I had so many songs and I liked them all, so I just put them all on there," he said.
It's an interesting listen from an equally interesting guy who is -- as his EP title suggests -- coming up quickly in the world of hip-hop and rap.
The release party is this Friday, Dec. 3 at Bob's. The big bill includes performances by Josh Sallee, Frost Byte, Game Warden and C-Rob. Infamous should start around 10pm, and fans 21 and over can catch a second performance later at Pink at 18th and Boston. Infamous takes the stage there at 1am. Tickets for the all-ages show at Bob's are $10 in advance or $15 at the door.
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