"I'm generally a pretty quiet person."
Coming from David Johnson, 28, who has battled through speech issues since childhood and goes by the name the Quiet Dude (T.Q.D.), this isn't the most surprising self-description. However, add in the fact that T.Q.D. is a local MC set to release his third studio album, "Taketh Away," this week, and suddenly the dots become a little harder to connect.
Hailing from Bloomington, where he began rapping in the late '90s, T.Q.D. was fascinated by hip-hop lyricists and was inspired to give rap a shot after hearing gangsta rap pioneer Kool G Rap. It wasn't G Rap's jarring street image or "mafioso rap" that drew T.Q.D., but a connection he heard through the rapper's enunciation.
"I don't know how familiar you are with his catalog, but he definitely has a pretty noticeable lisp," he said. "I grew up with a bunch of speech problems."
Those issues were tied to a heavy lisp Johnson spoke with as a child. Although he worked on and gradually overcame the impediment, he didn't consider getting rid of it a necessary step when he began to rap. "Everyone has to become comfortable with their own voice," he said.
The speech problem is hinted at in T.Q.D.'s stage name (which replaced the equally sheepish Reserved, his first rap alias), but it doesn't distract from his music and is rarely noticeable in his delivery.
While the impetus to step behind the mike came from G Rap, T.Q.D. said he identifies more with the direct lyrical style of De La Soul. Although T.Q.D.'s recent songs have lightened up a bit compared with older lyrics that he described as "cryptic," almost all of "Taketh Away" addresses topics from love to day-to-day struggles in a serious tone. Lines such as "Plain to me, we all can see/ Pretty exterior within she bleeds," from his favorite new track, "Audio Problems," capture the candid attitude present throughout the album.
For his first album, "Not Yet," T.Q.D. recorded with Doomtree members P.O.S. and Cecil Otter, an experience that continues to affect his work. Otter "probably gave me my best advice," he said, recounting how the local star suggested that as a relative unknown, T.Q.D. should shorten his tracks to get his message across more quickly. "I've kind of taken that to heart." He has been encouraged by the success of his former collaborators and hopes to build on that with his newest effort.
The CD release party for "Taketh Away" takes place Friday at Hell's Kitchen. "I'm probably more excited than I've ever been," T.Q.D. said, largely because it's been three years since his last album. Assuming his enthusiasm translates to his performance, T.Q.D. is becoming anything but a quiet dude.
- Jesse Mandell-McClinton is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune