It's difficult to find an artist who can be classified as the "complete package," with a true talent, a unique voice, and a firm grasp of the world around them. It's even more uncommon when that artist is a rapper from Connecticut. Let's face it, CT is not exactly a hip-hop mecca. Despite the ever-changing landscape of hip-hop, the general population seems to be stuck in an era where drug dealers and big gold chains were synonymous with rap. The truth is, a younger, much more dynamic generation of rappers is coming to the forefront, and Hartford's Dylan Arcelli, aka D-Celli, arrives at the perfect time to catch that wave.
These days, the new school brings with it a certain air of honesty and emotion. Everyone has their own style and approach, and rappers no longer feel the need to fabricate a background to get noticed on a large scale. D-Celli, set to release his third mixtape, "Do or Die Music: The Difference," on April 18, has been garnering buzz for his skill as both a rapper and a spoken-word poet. Born in Newton, N.J., Dylan moved to Connecticut when he was 4 years old. In May 2010, he was named Connecticut's #1 Youth Slam Poet, earning him the opportunity to perform in front of hip-hop greats like Common and Talib Kweli. That's when D-Celli began to see hip-hop as a more realistic path for the future.
Last month, I saw him perform at Sully's Pub in Hartford, and he possessed both mainstream and underground qualities. The hardest thing to do as a young up and comer is to get people to listen. Success in hip-hop hinges on reputation, and before you have one, it's near impossible to grab a mic and command the attention of a room. D-Celli was the feature performer at Sully's, and after an extended intro, he took over the stage and the crowd in one sweep. He kicked things off with "The Love of the Hustle Pt. 1," a single off his upcoming album. The track showcases his knack for wordplay and lyricism with lines like this: "Be warned I perform, their heads down 'cause they hear me / Hands up 'cause they feel me / Haters gone 'cause they fear me — / Apparently, transparency's got 'em to think clearly."
The title track off "Do or Die Music: The Difference" showcases a different side of D-Celli. Growing up in a single-parent household, he's always felt an especially strong bond with his mother. Recently, D-Celli spoke with the Advocate, where he described the relationship as difficult through much of his high school years. "If we were a married couple, we would have gotten divorced. It wasn't good," says D-Celli. "But now we don't live together and I've seriously grown to appreciate a lot of the values my mom instilled in me. Appreciation is truly the best word for it."
Artistic talent can be measured by an artist's ability to reach within himself and turn painful memories into expressions of beauty and hope. In this area, D-Celli is as good as they come. He can discuss deeply personal issues with the general public, and weave these intimate thoughts into a complex rhyme scheme with a smooth, laid-back flow. He finds ways to deliver emotionally charged stories as succinct, meaningful soundbites. For example, Dylan's grandfather has always served as the biggest male role model in his life. Despite never outwardly expressing his disappointment, it is evident that he has some negative feelings towards the path his grandson has chosen. D-Celli sums up the strained relationship in a few, short bars. "Started playing football so he would love me more / Now he ain't looking too good / I wanna see Grampa, but I'm busy in the hood."
I asked D-Celli what he felt was the most important message to get out to the fans. He said, "In music people say you need to be different. Me, I can't be anything but myself; and over the years I've found that's the greatest difference of all. That is the difference."