Alpoko Don: Front Porch Rhymes
By Eric Tullis
Southern author Ashley Warlick once described Greenville, S.C. as “a place that’s thought very carefully about itself and how it wants to grow…It’s not a throwback or theme park; it’s not quaint or cute. It’s just where we all want to go whenever we have the chance.” Her Greenville is a place “rich in dogwoods and azaleas, in shade” where kids “win national awards for their portfolios and become Presidential Scholars.”
Greenville rapper Alpoko Don, aka Randrickas Young, isn’t one of those kids. On the song “Sideways,” he portrays the town in a drastically different way: “I’m dirty/ Movin’ coke though the turnpike/ These niggas call me Michael Jackson ‘cause they know the Don turn white/ I live the goon’s life and move it to moonlight…/ Greenville, yeah we grindin ‘round here/ Sittinsideways with guns the size of dinosaurs…” On one hand, Warlick is right —there’s nothing cute about this city. On the other hand, given what Alpoko Don tells us, it’s not exactly the relocation destination Warlick describes. That shouldn’t prevent anyone from visiting. The city has protected its tourist attractions and kept danger away from its Victorian houses and art museums. But it can’t do much to quell the street reports bleeding from low-income areas like West Greenville’s Freetown community, where Alpoko Don was raised.
Now, by way of the Internet, the rapper may have added another tourist attraction — his front porch. Earlier this year, he began uploading videos of himself singing and rapping while sitting outside of his home, pounding makeshift, lunchroom table beats onto his wooden, front-porch railing. After these videos went viral, his viewers convinced him to turn those songs into bonafide studio recordings. He made six of them available as streams on his website, then made an official video for another song called “Get My Paypa Dog.”
In one episode, he flips the melody for Patti LaBelle’s “If You Asked Me To” into his own patio thumper, “Married to the Game,” outlining both the rewarding and painful realities of Greenville’s rap-or-die lifestyle. At age 30, Alpoko Don is long past the days of making beats on high school lunchroom tables. But he says that he learned a lot of it in West Greenville’s Antioch Baptist Church, where his interest in music peaked when he was 13. Today, that church influence adheres to a winsome, Mel Waiters-esque blues creativity, mixed with what would happen if a more agitated Scarface refit either Nappy Roots or Field Mob with goon experience. “I really got my swag after I got out of prison,” he says of his drug-related, eight-year prison stay that’s documented in the autobiographical music video “All I Know.” “I don’t even make songs, I make movies,” he adds. Mostly he scores these movies with rough-stroke details.
The first half of Don’s rap name is his own mangled mispronunciation and homage to the infamous Acapulco Gold cannabis strain. The second half is a shortened version of his original name, Dondada — a longtime moniker that his record label, Kidfire Entertainment, forced him to drop after learning that someone else had legally claimed it. He had to give up his name, and similarly, he might even consider trading in a rap career for a more behind-the-scenes position as a songwriter or ghostwriter.
“Some of the hardest rappers that people are hearing now are coming to me, but I have to say what I need to say before I focus on that,” he says. “But I’m about to put a whole new twist on whoever I’m behind.”
Alpoko Don asserts that he’s a “complete artist,” and just recently, he avoided another eight-year prison stay over criminal charges that he refuses to discuss in detail. Sure, future Greenville visitors will have a chance to see every attraction that the city’s visitors bureau suggests. But by the time they get there, Alpoko Don’s reputation might make his front porch a landmark in its own right.