This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.
On a steamy, sun-splashed late Saturday afternoon in late Spring—in the Northern Liberties section of the City of Brotherly Love—we are gathered around an outdoor table, underneath sets of raised train tracks, outside a neighborhood dive called The El Bar. It would still be eleven days before Summer 2017 was scheduled to officially begin, and ten days before the music world mourned the premature passing of legendary emcee Prodigy of Mobb Deep.
Sitting across the table are Teef and Big Cuz, each engaged in a “Citywide Special” salute: clinking shots of cheap whisky in one hand before throwing that back, then washing it down with a long swig of domestic canned beer in the other. It’s a combination that, at the cost of good taste, costs just $3.50, making it the best bang-for-your-buck buzz you can find in Philly. “To E-Dubb,” goes the shared toast prior to the proceedings. This in tribute to a far less storied artist in the annals of rap history to pass in 2017 than Prodigy, but a younger peer much more central to this pair’s own shared story and friendship: Evan Sewell Wallace aka “E-Dubble”.
They first met E-Dubble a few years ago, just a few blocks away, at a local live music venue and bar called The Fire. It was there that a Philadelphia-raised, Wissahickon High School basketball center, twenty-turned-early-thirtysomething rapper named E-Dubble could often be found. He would cast a large shadow via his considerably large frame, while seated at the corner of The Fire’s bar in between sets, or lurking outside in the shadows by the steps outside the venue, painstakingly penning new rhymes, into one of the notebooks that he carried around with him at all times.
E-Dubble garnered a degree of underground hip-hop fame earlier in the decade, via his year-long “Freestyle Friday” series, in which he released a new addition to the series every Friday, for 53 straight weeks from February 5th 2010 to January 28th 2011. The series spawned songs like “Let Me Oh (Freestyle Friday #9),” which have now racked up nearly 14 million views on YouTube.
The “Freestyle Friday” series also helped him use that following to help build his independent Black Paisley Records label, which he used to release a plethora of singles and mixtapes, an EP and two studio albums, over the course of his too-short life and career. His last album, Two Tone Rebel, dropped in the Fall of 2016, with a follow-up Two Tone Rebel II, planned for release in the Spring of 2017.
Tragically, E-Dubble did not make it to see this Spring. He went from tweeting out an invite to fans to a Two Tone Rebel video shoot at The Fire on January 13, to posting an Instagram update from a hospital bed after falling ill from a rare virus a week later, then fighting for his life over the following weeks in a hospital, before passing away on Valentine’s Day.
Big Cuz is one of The Fire’s longest tenured figures in the venue’s local rap scene. He’s been coming down to The Fire to promote parties, rock open-mics, perform and host rap shows since 2002. In addition to recording his own rap projects, he’s also growing his #MostSleptOn mixtape DJ series, while recently beginning to branch out into broadcasting locally on Philly FM radio. He’s the type of dude who knows everybody in the Philly underground, who his neighbor-turned-friend-and-now-roommate Teef explains, “always ends up hosting, even if he’s not hosting.”
While still wrestling with the still-fresh shock of E-Dubble’s untimely demise, Cuz fondly reflects back on his friend and occasional musical co-conspirator: “My first thought when I met him at The Fire was ‘GODDAMN, YOU BIG AS SHIT!,’” a sudden feeling Big Cuz recalls with a laugh, “I think that might’ve been the first thing I said to him, too! E-Dubb was cool, laid back. He didn’t really traverse around town too much. He pretty much would just go to The Fire, but once in a while we’d come over here too. He was actually the first one who put us on to Citywides.”
Latifius White, aka Latifius Maximus III, aka “Teef”, is a Willingboro, NJ-bred, Philadelphia-based rap artist. He’s the third generation of his family to record and perform music professionally. It’s a calling that he does not enter into lightly. Long before his friendship with Big Cuz, then later E-Dubble were forged at The Fire by proximity and shared interests, Teef, an Air Force veteran, was literally forging things in fire for a living as a welder—a skilled trade he still plies whenever he needs to make ends meet when rap can’t cover it. Despite growing up on rapping for fun as a teen, he was hesitant to actually try doing it for real, because the lofty standard set by his forbearers was not one he felt he could rise to by rapping.
Teef’s grandfather, Fats Domino, is a pioneering music legend and member of the first class inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. His mother, Karen Domino White, was a popular Gospel artist recording for Priority Records and executive produced by Black Market Records owner and Brotha Lynch Hung producer Cedric Singleton in the mid-‘90s, while Priority was putting out many profane, multi-platinum, rap classics via their Death Row and No Limit subsidiaries.
When speaking on his familial musical heritage, Teef explains humbly, yet matter-of-factly. “I was raised around music,” he recalls. “I played piano and tenor saxophone growing up. I didn’t really get the gall to get up there and say I’m a rapper until like two years ago. It took me awhile. My mother is a gospel-singer, with a seven-octave range. I was just rapping, you know? So, I didn’t think about stepping out there like that. It basically took me getting laid off from my job at some point, but having just enough money saved up to be able to say ‘fuck it’ and give it a go.”
It was that decision that led to Teef, who’d been promoting R&B shows and parties locally for years, to finally booking his first show at The Fire, where he shared the stage with E-Dubble, Big Cuz and DJ Wrecka. The friendship between these two roommates and their new gentle-giant friend, with the rhyme books, record label, production/songwriting chops and high-end home recording studio, all bloomed from there, with a deep love of hip-hop being the foundation they could collectively build upon. Before long they were supporting each other, both on and off-stage, ripping shows and cutting one-off teasers like “All the Way Up (215 Remix)” last year, while formulating more ambitious plans for the future.
Teef: “We’ve got mad stories—together and one-on-one with E Dubb. He was a good brother down the block, you know? Definitely had some plans ahead, and we’re certainly still feeling the loss of a good friend. I can only wonder what could have truly grown from the three of us, seems like we had barely even scratched the surface.”
Big Cuz: “The whole thing with E-Dubb, was that we were supposed to have a really big Summer. He was gonna drop the two projects (Two Tone Rebel and Two Tone Rebel II), and then we were gonna set up a tour. So, like, we woulda been on tour right now…he always had tracks on deck, he had the studio. He was always trying to get it right, sending tracks. “Me and Teef, we’re hustling right now, trying to fill it up, because we got plans, fuck that, we got shit to do.”
After a couple of hours spent chopping it up at El Bar—walking the backstreets of Northern Liberties to avoid the police, fire truck, and ambulance-draped scene due to an overturned vehicle in the middle of Frankford & Girard, stopping at a local pizza joint for a slice, then making the trek over to Big Cuz and Teef’s apartment which houses their makeshift studio—day has now officially turned to night. We make tentative plans to get up again, for a show at The Fire, with an open invitation from both to peep a recording session in action whenever Teef is a little less exhausted, following two straight days and nights of ripping and running.
“Works for me,” comes my reply, while busy trying to keep my own head together, on the way to cover the Camp Lo & Friends show, taking place later a little further down the street at Johnny Brenda’s, before having to drive myself home in the wee hours, then be up in a suit, ready to deliver some words on mic to the group gathered at my own childhood friend’s memorial service later on that morning.
Guess that’s how life, love, or music work. All plans are subject to change, in the blink of an eye, at any given time. While sometimes when you lose a partner, some part of that part two that they’d been planning but never got to do, lives on through you.
E-Dubble, Rest in Peace.
Best of luck, Cuz & Teef.
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