When Gregory A. Caldwell — better known to Capital Region hip-hop fans as Fitted — lost his high school’s talent show as a sophomore, he knew he needed to step up his game.
The show at Columbia High School in East Greenbush, an “American Idol”-styled affair dubbed “Columbia Idol,” was Caldwell’s first time onstage. He rapped original lyrics over the Ludicris song “Southern Hospitality” in front of the entire school, to less-than-enthusiastic results.
“After losing — it’s hard to lose as a 10th-grader in front of your whole school, friends, teammates,” he said recently from a coffee shop in Albany. “I felt like I had something to prove. Not to mention, I think I got a few boos, too. And I think that’ll motivate anybody to be better the next time they get on the main stage.”
The show certainly motivated Caldwell, originally from West Palm Beach, Fla. By the next year, he was giving out his first homemade mix tape, “The Unspoken Truth,” between classes, working with fellow Albany rapper David Harris, aka Champ, in his home studio.
opening for Lil’ Kim
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Northern Lights, 1208 Route 146, Clifton Park
How Much: $28 (door); $25 (advance)
More Info: 371-0012, www.northernlightslive.com
Today, he has four other albums and mix tapes under his belt, including his new eight-song EP “Between Now and Forever,” released last year, and this year’s new mix tape “Vacant Thoughts.”
Over the years, the 24-year-old Caldwell has opened local shows for Wu-Tang Clan, Big Sean and Roscoe Dash. In March of this year, he hooked up with The Nappy Roots to do a remix of his own track “Counting Sheep” and co-headline a show at Northern Lights. He is continuing to rack up high-profile shows — on Saturday he will open up for Lil’ Kim at Northern Lights.
In the future, Caldwell will be opening for DMX at a yet-to-be announced show in June. He’s also booking a tour for fall, and is in a contest to play a date on the Vans Warped Tour.
“Anybody who’s somebody as far as the hip-hop scene up here, they already know who I am as of a year-and-a-half ago,” he said. “So it’s kind of one of those things — we’ll call them, see if they can get me on something, and if me and Dennis [Smith, manager with AudioGnar] agree on it, then it’s a go; if not, it’s not a go.”
Caldwell has always been a music fan. His first, and to this day his biggest influence, is Michael Jackson. “I always practiced his moves,” he said. “I actually started out rapping over Michael Jackson beats, believe it or not.”
In high school, he was heavily involved with basketball, but he ended up quitting the team in his senior year because of disagreements with the coaches. As he puts it, “failing so many times at so many things” pushed him to devote even more energy to his music.
“I really only had music as a fallback, so just experiences from basketball, that kind of pushed me,” he said. “I was like, I’m gonna do this because I can control being an independent musician. You can’t control high school, you can’t control what your coach is gonna do, you can’t control what your teammates are gonna do.”
Other musical influences include Jay-Z, Linkin Park and Gym Class Heroes. The rock and alternative influences come out in Caldwell’s beats and hooks — the songs on “Between Now and Forever” meld hardcore hip-hop edginess to melodic, rock-inspired backing tracks.
“That stuff really interests me, fusing hip-hop and rock together,” he said. “Some tracks that I do are typical hip-hop, but it’s still with my own twist on things. But I’m really into the whole alternative side of things. It’s different — I like it, it’s me.”
He started out rapping over other artists’ tracks and industry-created beats before hooking up with Harris, who had a Pro Tools setup. His first official release other than a mix tape was the 2007 EP “Through My Eyes.” That album as well as “Between Now and Forever” are both available on iTunes and through the Fitted website, www.fittedonline.com.
Lyrically, Caldwell focuses on the personal. Although he appreciates some of the lighter, more dance-oriented hip-hop that often dominates mainstream rap songs, he doesn’t relate to it.
“If you listen to a lot of my music, it always has a message. And it’s kind of, it’s more or less confrontational, but not necessarily in a bad way,” he said. “Because a lot of my music that I’m doing right now is events about promoters that jerked me around, relationships that have gone bad, family members dying. It sounds like a lot of depressing stuff, but you know, it’s true.
“I really like people to feel where I’m coming from, so it causes me to say that those edgy lyrics make those edgy hooks,” Caldwell added.