How does one go from doing a freestyle riff on Eminem’s “Rap God” to having his own million-view videos and having his songs and message broken down and analyzed by spiritual and other experts?
Well, for St John’s Nova Scotia-born Daniel Nwosu, better known as Dax, there’s a lot more to the journey than those two points. There’s his high school and college basketball career, for one. His sports involvement has been a bumpy road, but it was the torturous ride that led – ironically – to his musical emergence.
He was playing Division I ball in the US on a scholarship, when coaching changes and other vicissitudes led him to move to Kansas, having transferred to Wichita on a lesser scholarship. While there, he took a job as an overnight janitor in the Arts Department.
But he had always written, and it was a poem, written on the way to a game, that essentially launched him into the music sphere. That turned into motivational speaking, then to rapping.
But he’s no longer walking around shouting “Eminem text me, Dre come sign me.” Today, he’s a fully independent artist, one with something to say, and increasingly folks of all stripes are paying attention. Tracks like ” My Last Words” and “Joker” are racking up multi-million views on YouTube as well as on other social media platforms.
But it’s “Dear God” that is arguably creating the most stir, for the lyrics as well a for the video, in which the artist re-enacts part of Jesus’ Way of the Cross. But faint-hearted holier-than thou types need not apply; the song is a searing yet strangely hopeful examination of weighty matters: the power of faith vs the persistence of evil and hypocrisy; the need for the presence of God and the ability to feel said presence.
As said, its heavy stuff, but its delivered in up-to-the-moment hip-hop aggression that also hearkens back to the hardcore classic phrasings of DMX and the aforementioned Eminem. Does he see a disparity between heavenly longing and hip-hop language? “No, everyone really comes to spirituality from their own place, and also everyone has moments when they question their faith, but I’m still a believer and the song (Dear God) is just a way of me looking into my faith, but still coming out a believer.”
Other spiritually centered tracks include “Book of Revelations” and the aforementioned “My Last Words” which explores what one might say if one is suddenly faced with the real possibility of imminent death. But there’s other things on his mind. “She Cheated Again” is self-explanatory (well….kind of) and there’s “I Can’t Breathe” a track dating from 2019 but the title line of which has been given greater urgency with the police killing of George Floyd.
In this charged social moment, Dax acknowledges that music still has the power to speak to and move people politically, the way it did more than a generation ago, but also cautions, “there are so much more music and more artists now, and not many artists pushing music with meaning…..I’m trying to sustain a movement, but not so much by being overtly political….I’m trying first of all to spread positivity and help people feel empowered.”
Even today, the one-time motivational speaker says he sees his songs as poems, and while he doesn’t count himself a success in sheer monetary terms, he does, he says, have the freedom to pursue his career independently (own production and promotion) and he’s applying the lessons of an athlete – persistence, consistency, confidence – to go the distance in entertainment.
That “distance” has not yet encompassed Jamaica, but Dax is, understandably, a huge fan of the culture, and does see himself here soon. Given our conflicted journeys with the prophetic and the profane, he should feel right at home.