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Scene & HEARD

Boston rapper Avenue finds his path

Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

Out of a handful of tracks he shared with the Globe, two songs from Boston rapper Avenue’s upcoming release, “The Chandelier View,” stand out. The first is “Silent Prayer,” a reference to the line “every night I would pray that my father would be let out of prison by the time I was 8.” Over a wistful beat, the 23-year old South End native meditates on growing up around gang culture, with a thoughtful detachment from the gritty details. The other, “Kid With the Half Moon Haircut,” finds him entrenched in them, tracing his path from high school honor student and promising basketball player to the song’s eponymous hustler, “out in front of the liquor store with the who’s-whos.”

Taken together, the two tracks reveal deeply personal aspects of Avenue’s life, but not necessarily ones unique to him. His story — a promising young man grappling with the ubiquitous presence of drug dealing and neighborhood rivalries — is a familiar one among his peers, making his articulate and nuanced voice all the more vital.


“ ‘Silent Prayer’ is the observation, and ‘The Kid With the Half Moon Haircut’ is the actual action,” explains Avenue, sitting in the living room of the Dorchester apartment he shares with his cousin, his girlfriend, and their 9-month-old son, Avery. “At first, you are seeing all of this stuff but you are not involved and don’t understand it, you’re just looking out your window. Then you start coming of age, and you start to become what you are seeing. And you have friends, they don’t mean no harm, they may do things for you and they look at it as them looking out for you, but it’s not really the case. It’s like a whole transition. I went through that.”

From Nas through Kendrick Lamar, hip-hop has long been a stage for portraying the urban coming-of-age experience, and Avenue has much to draw from. He remembers visiting his father at South Bay Correctional Facility when he was 4, while at home his mother raised him and his sister on her own. As a teen at Cathedral High, a Catholic prep school, he was exceptional, an honor roll student and captain of the state championship-winning basketball team. Outside of school, once the season ended, he was just like many of his friends and peers; eager for independence and drawn toward the street life by forces he didn’t completely understand.


“You don’t see hustling as anything wrong, it’s just normal,” says Avenue. “I grew up in a gang culture, being surrounded and then involved in it. We look at it as we’re protecting our communities sometimes. It’s a weird thing, like a Robin Hood complex. If somebody comes down and is shooting at somebody, we feel we need to stand up and protect what is of our community.”

The two sides of his life would intersect during a brief stint at Merrimack College, where he had a chance to continue playing basketball and further his education. But he struggled to adapt and shake some bad habits, culminating in his expulsion for peddling marijuana on campus.

“When people from the hood go to college, you feel like you are right there, like you almost made it and you just gotta finish,” says Avenue. “I was disappointed in myself. I asked myself what can I do to utilize my time and energy in a positive way. That’s when I started to focus on music.”


Building on his lifelong love of poetry and music, he began studying classic albums by Nas, Jay Z, and Lauryn Hill, records that he had heard long before but that took on a deeper meaning after his own experiences. His 2012 debut release, “Words Speak Life,” echoed those influences on tracks like “Forced My Hand” and “Speak My Mind,” speaking about his life decisions with honesty and perspective.

For “The Chandelier View,” he worked closely with producer HiFadility to further explore the underlying concepts that conditioned their feelings.

“It was a lot more conversation than music-making,” says the producer, who hosted Avenue at his house on weekends while they made the album. “It was a lot of talking and us developing a mutual understanding of the world as we see it and then integrating it.”

In addressing his past openly in his music, Avenue says he’s been able to find small but important opportunities to connect with people from neighborhoods who, in other circumstances, might be enemies.

“I’ve been able to bridge certain gaps for certain things,” he says. “I’ve bumped into people [from different neighborhoods]. It’s a mutual respect thing. I don’t have a bad name in the streets, and the music is genuine. They know it’s real, so they appreciate that.”

Not all of “The Chandelier View” is so heavy, though; Avenue’s blissfully stoned collaboration with Michael Christmas, goofy as it is, is just as sincere as “Silent Prayer.” Future records might explore life away from the streets, perhaps his new role as a father. Regardless whether he’s ruminating on the good, the bad, or somewhere in between, for Avenue, it just has to be honest.


“My father is my biggest fan,” he says. “He loves my music. When I did my first tape, I put together a show in Revere. I’m performing onstage and I look and see that he’s crying. He can pinpoint certain things in the music that he knows are true. That’s the best part.”


Engineer, producer, and DJ Young Guru was a guest lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last week, stopping in to discuss his work with Jay Z, Kanye West, and others, as well as his thoughts on topics ranging from technology to music publishing. . . . Millyz prepared for the release of his new project, “Sped,” with a listening party at Laced Boston on Tuesday. The autobiographical album explores his experience growing up with behavioral and learning issues in the public school system.

Martín Caballero can be reached at caballeroglobe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @_el_caballero.