It's a Sunday morning in 1995, and 7-year-old Matt Bostick is sweating it out on a basketball court in the Accabee neighborhood in North Charleston, testing his budding rap skills against boys twice his age.
He's sweating because he ran here in his church suit, sneaking out the back of Noah's Ark Baptist Church and bounding past the cemetery. The other kids look down at him, check out his suit, and dub him Lil' Righchus.
At age 23, Bostick has dropped the Lil', but he still goes by Righchus when he takes to the microphone, spitting rhymes with all the well-spoken swagger and rich allusion of a Lowcountry Kanye. People hear his name and mistake him for a gospel rapper all the time, until they hear his lyrics, which wouldn't cut the mustard in any Christian bookstore. But "music is two steps from religion," Bostick says, and he spent enough time in the little white chapel on Keever Street to pepper his songs with references to Jesus and Judas, God and the Devil.
"Now he needs a new escape, something he can cop, / Satan in the form of a small rock," Bostick raps on "Mussolini," the opening track to his latest mixtape, Black Cradles. Growing up in Accabee, near the southern end of Rivers Avenue in the Neck, he saw people dealing crack cocaine before he knew what it was, and then he saw some of his friends getting hooked. At age 19, while he was starting in the journalism program at the University of South Carolina Upstate, one of his friends back home was starting a 35-year prison sentence for murder.
"It was a pretty rough place, and I think my upbringing is what saved me from that," Bostick says. "I think art school was really what pulled me away from it, because going there was like a whole new world for me. I met people who were doing things I would never have gotten exposed to had I not gone to art school."
Bostick spent his high school years at Charleston County School of the Arts, where he was accepted into the theater program. It was there that he met Max Berry, a fellow theater student from West Ashley who was a year ahead of him.
"He was this funny little Jewish kid, man," Bostick recalls.
"He was the black version of me," Berry replies.
Berry produces most of Righchus' beats these days, and it's no accident: Bostick and Berry saw from the start that they had a lot in common, including an early love for the R&B music of Temptations singer David Ruffin and, later on, a taste for sushi and girls ("He gets more of both," quips Berry).
Rapper and producer are sitting side by side in Berry's bedroom in a '60s-era split-level house on James Island, which Berry rents with two roommates while pursuing an MBA at the College of Charleston. Half of the room is starkly minimalist, with a frameless bed, an Xbox 360 and TV on top of a dresser, and a USC flag on an otherwise blank white wall. The other half is loaded up with studio equipment he has acquired over the years. It's where he creates his beats, and on the latest mixtape, he drew from sources as diverse as the spiritual "Changed Mah Name" (as performed in Hustle & Flow), guitar solos by Holy City Hooligans frontman Ben Fagan, and improvisations by local saxophonist Ian Sanchez.
Berry was interested in music when he got to School of the Arts, but he didn't have an instrument until he accidentally got placed in a class called Music Technology. In a room full of computers, he learned the basics of the music editing software Reason, and soon he was hooked, spending hours crafting the beats for his buddy to rap over. "I don't think at any other high school in the state you could do that," Berry says.
Later, in 2008, Bostick started coming back home from college to act as rapping frontman for an alt-rock group called Lip Service, with Berry on DJ duty. Bostick remembers the band's first show, at Charleston Beer Works on King Street before a crowd of about 75 people. "The whole band got real drunk. I ended up standing on top of tables," he says. "It was a wild show. We thought we were rock stars already."
When the band broke up, Bostick and Berry kept collaborating under the Righchus banner, and they booked shows and frat parties in Charleston, Columbia, and Charlotte. They shot a music video for the song "Ridin'" in 2009 that got play on BET, and they opened for national acts including Wiz Khalifa, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and J. Cole.
From the start, Righchus' biggest promoter was Berry's father, Jeffery Berry. "I consider both of those boys my sons," the elder Berry says. "I tell everybody that I ever talk to, and I go out promoting them all the time." Berry, the owner of Tropical Tan on Calhoun Street, has been to every one of their shows, and he has put up his own money for promotions. He's even been known to get out of his car at stoplights and hand free demo CDs to strangers blasting rap music. "They just need that one little push, that one little break. I mean, they opened up for Wiz Khalifa, and I was so unimpressed with him."
The two men in the bedroom studio gladly call Jeffery Berry their dad. "With someone like that behind you, you just don't want to fail," Bostick says.
The Black Cradles mixtape, released as a free download via LiveMixtapes.com, features plenty of boasting on Bostick's part, although it is toned down from 2011's much-lauded Sweetgrass & Supras, and more creative. "That cold flow's so Gretsky / It's just me and two lesbies / I coach both of them lil' devils / I feel like Krzyzewski / Got your girl, we home alone / Bitch, I'm Joe Pesci," he raps on the party-king track "Bossin'."
"A lot of people think I'm bragging, but we really run our own shit here. Like, all this stuff, he bought," Bostick says, gesturing toward Berry's recording gear.
But for all his braggadocio, Bostick is not afraid to be vulnerable at the mic. "Couple months since my people got divorced, / And it's messin' with me of course, / All this yellin' got me hoarse," he raps on "Still Ridin'," flowing over a beat by guest producer Clams Casino featuring Imogen Heap vocals. And it's true, his folks did split up recently. "I'm an adult, so it's not affecting me like I'm sad, but it's just — it's kind of weird, it's just awkward," Bostick says. "You know, I love both of my parents, but it's just kind of weird when you always want to see your family do good, and you kind of become that center point trying to make sure everyone's happy. It takes a lot of energy out of you."
Later on "Still Ridin'," he makes a painful confession: "I vividly remember when they killed my homie Mike / Coincidentally I was tryin' to be with Britt that same night / And I couldn't play my part / I couldn't play my role / Now the guilt that I live with slowly eatin' at my soul." During his junior year of college, one of Bostick's Accabee friends invited him back home for the weekend, but he decided to stay in Spartanburg with a girl. That weekend, his friend was gunned down, and he tortured himself with the question of what he could have done to save him if he'd been at his side. His parents tried to tell him he would have probably been killed, too.
There is a lot of Bostick on Black Cradles, and a lot of Accabee.
"There's other rappers in Hollywood who fabricate these stories and this vision of what it is there, and they show the glory of selling drugs," he says. "They show jewelry and cars, women, all that cash, all that stuff, and that all does come with it at some point. But they don't show, like, there's a lot of tragedy in it. There's a lot of misfortune — tons of it."
And those black cradles he's referring to in the mixtape title? They come in all forms, but Accabee was one of them in Bostick's life. These days he's living off of Dorchester Road with his mother. He's been working as a supply tech at the Medical University of South Carolina, but he's taking a few months off to focus on the music before seeking out medical distribution work in Atlanta or Charlotte. "I didn't want to go too deep with it, but ... these are the things I see," he says. "This is like the cradle, and I'm trying to get out of it. I think everybody's trying to get out of it, and whatever wars they're fighting within themselves or outside themselves, you're just always trying to get out of it."
If you listen to Righchus' latest mixtape, Black Cradles, you'll hear no shortage of pop-culture references. Here's a small sampling of the names he throws into the mix: Mitt Romney, the San Antonio Spurs, Vin Diesel, Tekken, the Nintendo 64 Rumble Pak, ThunderCats, Louis XVIII, Julius Caesar and Brutus, Jesus and Judas, David Ruffin, Sonny Liston, Confucius, Rubik's Cube, Wesley Snipes, and Lisa McDowell from Coming to America.
You'll also catch plenty of references to Charleston and to Accabee, the neighborhood near North Charleston's southern end where Righchus grew up. Here are a few:
• "And I'm looking for my future standing on my granny's porch, / but these Accabee skies tend to keep me from the source" ("Still Ridin'")
• "Bitch I'm bossin', / Money, doin' kickflips, Eric Koston, / And that 843 in me, yeah, bitch, I'm Charleston" ("Bossin'")
• "I'm from the city where they carry a weapon or two / My old girl left and asked me why I won't leave the Chuck / I said, 'I can't, boo, I got some more reppin' to do'" ("Sanctuary")
• "What you know about Port City? / 'Round here I'm Tony Stark / And that phony talk don't get money / 'Til you fake niggas use real words / At the bottom of the map from the South of the Cack where the niggas stay shootin' like Spielberg" ("Look Out Below")