Words by Rachel Campbell
If you scan through my iPod, you are going to be faced with about 95 percent rock, alternative and indie. The other 5 percent consists of Ke$ha, one-hit radio wonders and various artists that have caught my attention over the years. Chris Webby falls into that 5 percent.
Webby is a rapper from Norwalk, Connecticut, and officially my first, true hip-hop show. I say “officially” because I saw Paul Wall on the 2007 Honda Civic Tour where he opened for Fall Out Boy, but the only thing I recall was an awkward rendition of his cameo from “Grillz” by Nelly. It clearly did not leave a lasting impression on me, but Chris Webby was certainly different.
Webby performed at the Grog Shop on April 22 with several local opening acts. I’ve gone to the Grog Shop numerous times (for artists like New Found Glory or Craig Owens), so I was both in and out of my element when I stood in the venue awaiting Webby’s performance.
Although my iPod may not reflect it, I appreciate all kinds of music especially if the artist can put on a good show. The art of commanding a room no matter the size is something to be recognized. Webby truly commanded the room despite rapping to a venue that was only one-third full.
Webby may be a hip-hop artist, but his roots are in rock, which is also something to be appreciated. His father, David, is a guitar player who has traveled to various shows to perform with him. His father raised him on artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones and Bob Marley. He says this has given him “a deep appreciation for music,” and he still listens to classic rock and reggae just as much as he does hip-hop. Why did Webby decide to pick up a microphone instead of a guitar?
“If you want to get down to brass tacks of really why I rap, I’ve always been a witty conversation[al]ist, so I’m just saying that it came [as] second nature,” Webby explains after his show at the Grog Shop. Despite his way with words, this was not the true reason Webby began rapping — an art he has been perfecting for 14 years. He cites being surrounded by music for most of his life as a major influence. He took piano lessons and played cello in fifth grade because he had to learn a stringed instrument. Neither one stuck. Webby did what a number of middle school students do as they begin to grow up: he rebelled.
“Being a sixth grader, as anyone can understand, you’re trying to rebel. Music was pushed on me because of [my dad], so the creative aspect of life was always encouraged,” he says. “I wanted to find the best way to do what was encouraged, but at the same time piss my parents off, so hip-hop worked out pretty well.”
Webby said that his parents were not pleased during the first few years of his rapping venture, but they eventually came around. They realized his love for it, and that he “was really getting good at it” after the first show they attended ended up being sold out. Webby’s mother has even gone so far as to cook up some meals for his tours.
“My mom, she’s an Italian woman, so she makes a lot of food; she caters for me and my friends when we need it,” he says. “[When] we are about to go on a little run, like right now, she [makes] a bunch of sandwiches, [and] when we get back from a long run, she’ll make sure she has a homemade pizza ready.”
Webby is not the only one on tour who gets to enjoy his mother’s home cooking. In addition to various appearances by his father, he also has the assistance of drummer Ryan Sasloe and DJ Semi on his current “Bars On Me” Tour.
Webby and DJ Semi both started their respective crafts about 14 years ago, but they only recently began working together. They were both at a meeting that neither wanted to attend, so they wandered outside to smoke a cigarette together. Webby had been looking for a new DJ at the time, and decided to check him out. “He can scratch like a [expletive], man,” Webby said. “That’s something a lot of [disc jockeys] cant do. There’s a lot of DJs who get paid a lot of money to show up to a club and just play, and that’s some [expletive]. Just like there’s a lot of [expletive] rappers who are paid to go up on stage and ad lib, so it’s kind of the same thing. He’s actually a thoroughbred, good DJ.”
Both DJ Semi and Webby are from Connecticut and have big things planned for the future of the music scene there. DJ Semi said that the music in that area is “budding [and] flourishing right now,” something he largely attributes to Webby.
“My man right here, Webby, kicked open the doors for a lot of people, so if you’re from Connecticut, and you’re rapping and you [have] a buzz, push a little bit harder because the door is open,” he says.
In addition to the music scene, Webby takes pride in his state and region. Because of this, recent tragedies such as the Boston Marathon bombings and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings have really struck a chord with him. His father is originally from Wooster, Mass., which is an hour west of Boston, and his aunt worked at Sandy Hook.
“It’s almost [expletive] commonplace for something like that to happen, which is [expletive] up,” Webby said. “We’re almost immune to it at this point, but the Sandy Hook thing was on another level. It doesn’t matter that I’m from Connecticut. Everybody has their own conspiracies. Everyone has their own thoughts, but at the end of the day somebody walked into a kindergarten — a [expletive] elementary school — and shot up little kids. That’s not cool.”
It was this belief that drove Webby to partner with fellow Connecticut artist OnCue to put together a track in remembrance of those affected by what happened in Newtown, Conn. “Home” was released on YouTube and iTunes a week after the tragedy. Webby said it would not have mattered where the tragedy had occurred, but the fact that it did happen in his figurative backyard was even more inspiration to use his voice in a positive light, as it mentions in the song and in person after Webby’s Grog Shop show.
“As a Connecticut artist, as one of the very few, some would say, in recent days, the only to be really representing where I’m from. I mean, I have the state tattooed across my chest. I have my area code tattooed across my ribs. I represent where I’m from because there’s not that many people to represent for us.” Webby is all about representing different things whether it’s his state, or remembering those mentioned in “Home.” It was no surprise he also dedicated an entire track to a friend who passed away in October 2011. “Fragile Lives” was produced by DJ Semi who took the beat from a song by The Offspring, and got it back to Webby in less than a week. From there, Webby wrote the whole song in one sitting.
“A week and a half after my buddy passed, [DJ Semi and I] were driving to a show, [and] I just happened to be on my iPod, flipping through [The Offspring’s Americana, and] I played “The Kids Aren’t Alright,” and that chorus, for what I was going through, struck such a chord.”
Although Webby has tackled quite a few serious issues, most of his songs tackle what he refers to as “the givens: drugs, alcohol and women,” DJ Semi pointed out after the show. Thankfully, “if those aren’t your things, he delivers it to you in a relatable fashion.”
Webby also discusses his “everyday struggles,” which may not be what people expect. “I come from humble beginnings,” he says. “This is the story that a lot of people can relate to, man. I didn’t grow up poor, but I didn’t grow up rich, and there’s a lot of people who are in that middle territory that can relate to this.”