Normally, superheroes don't retire. They disappear or go underground until the next great adventure arises. It's happening on the big screen this week when Spider-Man makes his return. And it's happening on a Queen City stage, when Charlotte's veteran, cutthroat rhyme-expert Supastition returns to the rap world after a two-year hiatus.
KAM, NOT NEWTON: Supastition
In hip-hop, hyperbole rules, and Supastition styled his decade-long career with super-powered blitzkriegs of profound punch lines and cannonball consciousness, enough to build an underground mythology akin to that of a superhero. Then, in April 2010, he'd had enough of the travails of a highly regarded, but lowly rewarded, rap king and announced his indefinite retirement. It didn't last long.
"I didn't realize that there was a void until after the first year and a half. I had a decent job and I was working every day and I was cool," he says. "I was Peter Parker."
Actually, he was Kam Moye, his government name. "Then, one day I was sitting at my job and some dude was listening to hip-hop on either Pandora or Slacker and he looked over at me and said, 'Oh shit!' and asked if it were me. I was hoping it had said Supastition, but it said Kam Moye, so I had to admit that it was me."
Although he's back to rapping as Supastition — and performs at the Crown Station Pub on July 7 — he recorded a 2010 album, Splitting Image, under Kam Moye, due to the mature tone and departure from his normal onslaught of spitfire, battle-ready songs. It was a transformative decision that, along with some health problems and dissatisfaction with the music industry, led to his retirement that same year.
Eight years earlier, on his debut album, 7 Years of Bad Luck, the Greenville, N.C., native rapped on the song "Da Waiting Period," "So every night I'm calling from Carolina to Michigan/ Saying I'm givin' up rap cause ain't nobody listening." But people were listening, which is what led to label deals for his three LPs — in addition to 7 Years, there was Chain Letters, released in 2005, and Splitting Image. His EPs include The Deadline (2004), Leave of Absence (2007) and Self-Centered (2008). That doesn't count the nearly 100 guest verses he's done alongside artists including KRS-One; his worldwide touring and a show-stopping performance among hip-hop's elite on the 10-year anniversary special of WNYU 89.1 FM's "Halftime Show" in 2008.
During the radio station cipher, Supastition declared, "They tried to write me off as another punch line Canibus/ One-time amateur/ Sunshine Anderson/ Unsigned 'Bama nigga" — in retort to hip-hop's snobbery toward Southern-bred "lyrical" rappers.
As ill-tempered as Supastition's technique can get at times, the charm is in his ability to be both abrasive and embracing. This is hardly new ground in hip-hop, but recently, it's been made commercially viable with the signing of the four-man wrecking-crew Slaughterhouse to Eminem's Shady Records.
Now 35, Supastition believes he and other boom-bap-generation N.C. rap acts like Little Brother had to go through the grinder so newer acts like J. Cole could be respected as successful Southern rappers who don't necessarily have a Southern sound.
"I feel like we were the first people to sit in at the restaurant, like during the civil rights movement," he says jokingly. "We got stoned for it, or whatever, but there's a lot of good music coming out right now."
He has seen personal rewards for all of the fighting he did for fellow N.C. rappers. That, coupled with a recent call from a past collaborator — former Jedi Mind Tricks producer Stoupe — to record what Supastition calls a "Prince Paul-type" concept album has revved up his interest in recording again professionally.
"I got that feeling back after recording with him. There's been other little things too, like certain people telling me that I'm meant to rap," Supastition says. "At the end of the day, I used to come home, and just like someone who just got out of prison, it took me a while to adjust and figure out what normal people do. I wasn't used to having free time on my hands. I didn't realize how much the void had impacted me."
Eventually, Supastition posted on Facebook that a show in either Raleigh or Charlotte "needs to happen." The feedback resulted in him and the Charlotte-based promoters of the "Southern.Fresh.Intelligent." live series agreeing to book shows in both cities, followed by one in Ontario, Canada, alongside Detroit rhyme-slinger Elzhi.
In addition to the concept album with Stoupe, he'll also release Culture Shock, a new solo LP that includes production from N.C. beat-brewers D.R. and Khrysis, as well as contributions from California producer Veterano.
"If I could do it all over again, I probably would have just quit and not announced it. If I faded into oblivion, people probably wouldn't have given a damn. But people made a big deal out it when I announced [the retirement]," Supastition says. "There's an ugly statue at the airport of Charlotte of Mecklenburg. Nobody ever pays it any mind, but the day that somebody takes it away, everybody is going to make a big deal out of it."
Ironically, Supastition was unaware Charlotte Douglas International Airport officials are, in fact, planning to move the Queen Charlotte statue from her perch to a different location within the airport, in an effort to increase the statue's visibility. Yes, some folks will notice it's gone, but it's doubtful anyone will go looking for it.
While, for the past two years, Supastition's followers have been looking for him. In rap years, that's a long time — but enough time for this hero to reboot, make new moves and reinvent himself in a creative space, perched up high where he can guard the world of rhymes once again.
Supastition with Mr. Invisible. July 7. 10 p.m. $5. Crown Station Pub, 1425 Elizabeth Ave. www.crownstationpub.com.