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The Third: Rap For The People

Written by on November 30, 2022

Activist-turned-rapper The Third is passionate about empowering the underrepresented and telling the story of his community.

South Side Chicago rapper The Third began his journey of using his voice to advocate for change as an activist, coordinating protests and community events around Chicago as a Black Lives Matter CHI Youth organizer in 2015. Now, he still uses his voice and love for words to advocate for the underrepresented — but through a musical lens as a “Raptivist.”

Photo Courtesy of Jack Dombro

From a young age, The Third tagged along with his father to open mics and poetry performances — where he was introduced to the impact of writing, poetry and great artists who would become extremely influential to his own sound. One artist was his mentor, and honorary uncle, award-winning poet Geoffrey “Dr. Groove” Watts, who would often perform with The Third’s father. 

“Dr. Groove was one of the first great poets and storytellers I ever met,” The Third recalled. “I listened intently to the way Groove and my father would tell stories and use their words to uplift, enlighten, and weave through English.”

Photo Courtesy of Jack Dombro

Years later, this early-onset love of words carries over into The Third’s music, using each lyric of his songs to paint intricate pictures. Though he notes his sound has improved since his debut release in 2019, his musical identity has always been centered on words and highlighting his community — showcased by his latest EP Colored. His activist background makes him no stranger to using his platform to uplift voices of those around him.

“I have a larger platform I can use to immortalize the stories of Black people all around me through music,” he explained. 

After his single “Soul Factor (Purple)” featured in Vocalo’s “In Rotation” playlist for October, we heard from The Third about collaborating with Eric Tre’von and Pivot Gang’s Frsh Waters on the track, overcoming writer’s block, his childhood around the poetry scene and new music to come.

Tell us a little bit about your story. How did you get started performing and rapping?

I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. My dad was an active poet in the city when I was young; running around to open mics and shows with some of the greatest writers and authors of our time. He would often take me with him and that’s mostly where my love for writing and performance came from. Being extremely inspired by him and his close friends like Avery R. Young, Tara Betts and Doctor Groove, they became a family that helped form my idea of high quality writing as an artform.

Where in Chicago are you from? How do your Chicago roots influence your artistic practices, if at all?

I was born and raised in the Chatham neighborhood. When I was really young I was introduced to Common, specifically a song called “The Corner” featuring The Last Poets, produced by Kanye West. The music video took place just two blocks away from the school I grew up at, in the Bronzeville area right under the Green Line. Seeing these two (South Side) legends collaborate to paint a picture about the place we grew up in, what they see and what they want to see in the community was inspiring. I decided then that I want to use my art and my platform to talk about my surroundings and touch on real down-to-earth subjects.

Can you talk a bit about your mentor, Geoffrey “Dr. Groove” Watts? How did you meet, and how has he had an impact on your identity as an artist?

Dr. Groove was one of the first great poets and storytellers I ever met. He’s been in my life for as long as I could remember as an honorary uncle. I remember being as young as 5 years old reciting lines from his poems I’d hear from his latest performance and ones before. I listened intently to the way Groove and my father would tell stories and use their words to uplift, enlighten and weave through English.

Your track “Soul Factor (Purple),” featured in our “In Rotation” playlist for October, has a great soul vibe to it. Can you tell us about the story behind this song? How did you get connected with Eric Tre’von and Frsh Waters for this track? 

I grew up in church, I’ve played the piano since I was 9, been in choir, even directed the choir before. Ever since I started my own journey in music, I’ve always been heavily influenced by the gospel music I grew up with. I had the idea for the song in November 2019. 

As soon as I heard the beat, I immediately imagined a well-placed “CHUUUUUUUCH” at the beginning of the song and instantly knew to text Frsh. We met up at the studio not too long after and I only had a written verse, no demo. I tried to explain the idea of the song with way too many words, and he cut me off: “Yo, you don’t gotta do all the talking church, just play the song, if I feel, Imma know.” Eventually, Frsh, Eric and I all ended up in the studio together, talking about self development and progress. I left the session early to host the open mic at YOUmedia, came back two hours later to a stellar hook written and performed by Eric, followed by a hard-hitting sixteen from the West Side poet… and an infamous “CHUUUUUUCH.”

Are there any specific messages in your music you hope listeners will pick up on? 

For the past two years, I’ve been really zoning in on the idea of self-development through struggle. The idea that a lot of my progress and improvement as a person has happened, and can continue to happen, through heavy trial and wearing down of my spirit has been a hard concept to grasp. But I want people to understand that a lot of the obstacles and hardships that they face, as difficult and discouraging as they can be, are catalysts for growth and progression.

In what ways do you feel your musical style has most evolved from your first to your second EP?

As cringy as it is to listen to Cursive, I think it was so important for that project to drop because it let me know what to do and not to do for The Director’s Cut. I think I’ve always been very selective with my word choice when it came to writing my verses, but I truly believe I enhanced the intention behind my songs. My themes and concepts for songs and projects are so much more focused and detailed, where my listeners can follow and feel every single line and path of thought, and I love that.

In your Instagram bio you describe yourself as a “Raptivist.” How do you go about combining activism and rap?

I started off in activism before I took music on as a career. As one of the first Black BLM CHI Youth organizers in 2015, I would help coordinate actions, protests and community service events all over the city. I enjoyed being able to speak on the behalf of a lot of the under-represented folks that looked like me through my activism. Now, having the platform I have as “The Third,” I have a larger platform I can use to immortalize the stories of Black people all around me through music and truly push the agenda for the advancement of my people through verse.

Photo Courtesy of Jack Dombro

How do you overcome writer’s block? What’s one piece of advice about writing you wish you had learned earlier?

I’ve been writing every day since I was 11 years old. Writer’s block was never too much of a problem for me, until the pandemic started. After the first announcement of the pandemic, I went a solid three months without getting a single line to stay. I learned that the best way to get through what I was going through was to keep living. Three things I wish I knew earlier that keep me creative now are these: Travel, read and listen to good music. Traveling doesn’t have to be overseas or across the country, it can be the bus ride downtown. I’ve written some of my best songs and verses on the 6 bus and the Green Line. I always knew how inspirational a good book could be, but had no idea how rejuvenating it could be in the middle of the creative process. The same way people say “You are the company that you keep” is the same way your quality of music will reflect the type of music that you listen to the most.

Who are some other Chicago-based poets you think everyone should know about, and why?

One of my favorite poets I love reading and listening to is Nué. Nué is a poet from the South Side of Chicago who recently released her book Waning. Ever since I met them when they were competing in Louder Than A Bomb, I’ve always been a fan of their word choice and the imagery they used to tell stories.

Raych Jackson has been another one of my favorite poets to see create. Her latest book Even The Saints Audition is a masterful collection of poems about Blackness, church culture and the reclamation of the body.

What should listeners be on the lookout for — any upcoming performances in the works?

I’m officially in album mode, as of two weeks ago. I’ve been in the studio a lot lately and what we’ve been making has been really exciting me. I plan on slowly rolling out a single in the next month or so. Performances are all tentative right now, but you can definitely tune in to my new lyric breakdown video series “What He Say?!?” on YouTube.

Keep up with The Third on Instagram, and stream his music on Spotify below.

Interview by Joshua X. Miller

Written introduction by Joshua X. Miller and Morgan Ciocca

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