Darius McCall, a.k.a. Prinz-D, calls himself “The First Deaf Rapper.”
D.C.-based hip-hop artist Darius McCall — a.k.a. Prinz-D — refers to himself as a "lone wolf." Not only is he fiercely independent in work and life, but also as a rapper, he has something that sets him apart from other MCs: Prinz-D is deaf.
"[The loss in] my right ear is profound," he explains. "The left ear is severe, which means I can hear a lot better than the right ear."
That's why he's been marketing himself as "The First Deaf Rapper." His upcoming album is called First Deaf Rapper: Volume Three.
"There's other rappers, like deaf rappers, who might have gotten signed to a record deal," he says. "But they weren't recording artists. They had somebody rapping for them, and they were singing."
But 27-year-old Prinz-D, a graduate of Gallaudet University, does both.
"When I go on stage I still want to at least show that I'm still involved in my culture," he says. "Ninety-five percent of my friends are deaf. But I go on stage, and I wouldn't expect too much of a deaf crowd if they haven't heard about the show. So I go on the mic and I do my thing."
"But the problem is I'm just like any other person. So I said, 'All right. Let me do this in sign language.' But I can't [rap quickly] and then try and sign; it'd be so complicated! So instead I rap in a more simple way. Easy to follow, but at the same time, I can sign it better, and make a huger [sic] impact."
Prinz-D has performed for both hearing and deaf audiences during his career, and says there's quite a contrast between the two experiences.
"Hearing impaired audiences don't care about the vocals," he says. "What they want to see is just a visual art, a lot of movement. It's almost like it has to be theatrical for them so they can understand it. And that's the big difference.
"But deaf people need to have heavier bass so they can at least feel like they're hearing it. I've noticed that deaf artists use TV screens to have the lyrics up. But that's a distraction, because they're looking at the lyrics and they're supposed to be looking at the signing."
Music difficult for the young and deaf
Prinz-D says he's always been a music fan, but as a youngster in Birmingham, Ala., he had trouble with most songs.
"I couldn't understand them, so I kind of distanced myself from them," he says.
But when he discovered rap, it was like he'd entered a whole new world.
"I could understand it!" he says. "They were talking! It was easy to catch. And the beats were banging, too."
Prinz-D says he didn't start recording his own music in high school, because he attended a deaf school, and "felt embarrassed to say anything about music because I didn't know if I could do it. I didn't think that was something deaf people could do."
After graduating high school and enrolling at Gallaudet University, Prinz-D says he gained more confidence. He took up summer jobs so he'd have money for studio time, but as he began recording, he says he was still embarrassed.
"I would hear everybody else on the radio [and think] 'I'm not hot like that. Something's missing,'" he recalls. "And then after a while, a hearing person was very honest and open about it and said, 'You need to be more clear; you're not enunciating right. You need to have more clarity in your lyrics.'
"I was like, 'That's why I was too ashamed to show my stuff to other people.' And then I started working on that."
Enjoying music for its own sake
Nowadays, Prinz-D is taking a standard stage speech class, which certainly helps. But he says if he removes his hearing aids, he'll sound "like I got pudding in my mouth." That's why he records his music with his hearing aids in.
Prinz-D released his first album, Southern Comfort in 2005. He released The First Deaf Rapper: Volume 1 in 2011, and then Volume 2 this year. Volume 3 is scheduled for release this winter. But although Prinz-D originally called himself "The First Deaf Rapper," he says now he wants to be known more as just a great rapper.
"I want everyone to understand that I want to be appreciated for the music," he says. "Not because I'm deaf. Tamika Catchings plays for the WNBA; she's deaf, but nobody treated her like she was.
"I just want to be treated as an equal. There's so much [sic] people that want to do this kind of thing but are hearing impaired, [so] they think that it cannot be done. They think that they odds are against them. It's not. It's what you make of it."
[Music: "You Were My Everything ft. Sho'Roc" by Prinz-D from The First Deaf Rapper: Vol. 1]