His debut album is named after the Whittier neighborhood in south Minneapolis where he grew up and still lives. It was only by coincidence, though, that Haphduzn wound up getting a big career boost from two of his current neighbors.
On track to perform in front of more Minnesota hip-hop fans in the next three months than most local rappers did in the past three years, the real-life Jordan Wallingford owes his first neighborly thank-you to one of Minneapolis’ rising young producers/beatmakers, Dimitry Killstorm (né Dimitry Bernstein), who lives just up the street and became his chief collaborator. They’re co-workers, too.
“We’re around each other a lot,” Haphduzn said, “which helps when you’re trying to create something great. We don’t have to wait long to bounce ideas off each other.”
The other neighbor of note was Rhymesayers staffer Kevin Beacham, who started spinning Haphduzn’s tracks last summer on his Saturday-night “Redefinition Radio” on 89.3 the Current. That’s how yours truly and many others first got turned onto him (I tweeted my love for his single “Brand New Nostalgia” without even knowing he was local). Beacham also introduced Haphduzn’s music to our most famous local rapper, Slug.
Thanks to Slug, Haphduzn is now set for a major coming-out this week on Atmosphere’s third annual, five-city Welcome to Minnesota Tour — the same opening slot that helped Prof and MaLLy break big the past two years. He will then open Prof’s sold-out April 12 gig at First Avenue, and he’s a clear contender for a newbie slot at the Soundset festival in May. Not to mention, he and Dimitry have their own release show March 22 at the Nomad Pub.
“We’re ready for all this,” Haphduzn asserted during rehearsals at Atmosphere’s practice space last week. Admitting he’s older, at 31, than your average budding rapper, he added, “It’s been a long time coming, but it definitely turned out well as timing goes.”
His stage name is a play on his native area code (612), but it could also apply to his height, 6 ½ feet. His long arms are heavily tattooed, and — something you’ll learn when you listen to his record, “Whittier Alliance” — his past is equally spotty.
He was convicted of aggravated robbery at 18 and spent a year in the Hennepin County Workhouse, the same year he became a father (his second son was born in 2011). His own dad died of an overdose at age 18. Jordan continued to struggle with his addictions until he was 25, around the time he started competing in the Twin Cities Battle League and honing the rap skills he had fostered since high school.
“I had to be pretty tough growing up and got into a lot of fights, because I wasn’t black enough for the black kids or white enough for the whites,” said Wallingford, who is mixed-race. “But I was always kind of more an artistic kid.”
He was primarily raised by his grandmother, whose photo as a young woman graces the cover of “Whittier Alliance,” an album full of songs about his jagged youth and family drama. The song “Had My Doubts” features a violent incident from his childhood so dark he wasn’t willing to talk about it. But he also raps about the escapism and entrapments he encountered on the streets as a kid, and the music that provided some salvation.
“Brand New Nostalgia” is a what-goes-around-comes-around ode to old-school hip-hop, which fits well with the retro and soulful flavor of Dimitry’s production. “Lost in Translation” pays homage to classic gangsta rap while bragging of a fresh Haphduzn identity: “I don’t rock skinny jeans or Gazelles / New dudes do ’cuz it seems it’ll sell / That kind of [stuff] I don’t need to excel.”
“I’m not really a rapper who raps about rapping,” Haphduzn explained, “but this record is based on my neighborhood and my upbringing, and that was a huge part of it.”
As for why he decided to name it “Whittier Alliance,” he simply said, “I’m proud of where I come from.” Speaking specifically of the neighborhood, he said, “It was pretty rough when I was growing up, but now it’s a little more arty and blended. I like it.”
It sounded like he also could have been talking about himself.