SATURDAY | MAY 28
After decades of disregard from the music industry, Detroit street rap is rightfully in the spotlight. New listeners have quickly realized what local fans have known for years: Icewear Vezzo is a living legend. A rapper, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and father who went from illicit hustles to creating legitimate businesses and charities, he is the D’s Bill Gates.
Vezzo’s raw and passionate raps have captivated the city since 2013’s The Clarity, but he now has fans worldwide. Projects like Clarity 6 (2018) and Robbin Season 2 (2020) are full of entrepreneurial game and street gospel, lessons learned from jumping off the porch early and finally landing in the booth. In his verses, Vezzo weighs grim street realities against the gains he’s made since pioneering the sound of contemporary Detroit rap. Though he’s largely responsible for the trend of recording short, high-energy songs with clipped cadences and no hook, Vezzo has continued to evolve and improve each year.
Rich Off Pints (2021) is another elevation, one that reminds listeners why he earned the nickname “Drank God.” Backed by dark, thumping production, Vezzo chronicles the painful risks and hardwon rewards of hustling. He once again offers the blueprint for those searching for a way out of the trenches. “It’s raw and real music. Gritty and gutter,” Vezzo says. “It’s what the people want and need to hear.”
Vezzo was born in Minneapolis, MN, but he’s forever a child of Six Mile. In his section of Detroit, residents forged deep bonds collectively withstanding the ills brought on by governmental neglect. Vezzo’s mother and step-father, like many parents, worked minimum wage jobs. The scarcity of well-paying employment and resultant financial insecurity led many of Vezzo’s peers to drug dealing. “The problems in our neighborhood come from a lack of opportunity and understanding,” Vezzo explains. “There’s only so much you can do with $10/hr.”
An honor student until he dropped out of high school, Vezzo ultimately spent more time studying the hustlers in his neighborhood. He graduated from selling weed in his early teens to moving pints of codeine cough syrup in his early 20’s, the sales soundtracked by Detroit street rappers like Eastside Cheddar Boyz, Blade Icewood, and Big Herk.
Inspired by his predecessors, Vezzo eventually began recording songs that would wind up on his debut, The Clarity.
After doing time, Vezzo attempted to make a clean break from street life. He funneled rap money into businesses, dropping several mixtapes a year while running a restaurant, a carwash, and a medical marijauana dispensary.
Though local DJ Ill Will blasted his music from projects like Clarity 4: I Can’t Fall Off (2015) from strip club speakers, the pressure of all Vezzo’s endeavors weighed on him. He prayed for God to ease his burden. When he was indicted for constructive gun possession, his prayers were cruelly answered.
The prison sentences effectively ended Vezzo’s businesses and stalled his musical career. Fortunately, Vezzo’s manager kept his name alive by compiling and releasing projects while he was inside. When Vezzo was free, he signed with Motown for Clarity 6. During his brief time with the label, he learned the industry's inner workings and decided to return to releasing music independently. “If you do things your way, you’re going to lose friends, family, love, and a lot of shit, but you’re not going to lose your self-esteem, your pride, and your faith in yourself. Now that I did things my way, I believe in myself way more.”
Vezzo’s self-belief has yielded innumerable professional and communal dividends. Each recent independent project finds a wider audience. In addition to owning his own label, Iced Up Records, Vezzo has founded Iced Up Film and Iced up Realty, which offers affordable housing in his hometown. The philanthropic efforts he began nearly a decade ago now include annual school supply giveaways, homeless shelter donations, providing Thanksgiving meals for local families, and a youth mentorship program with a local church. Most of those charitable contributions are realized through Detroit Rappers Organization, a community outreach program spearheaded by Vezzo’s mother.
Though rap remains Vezzo’s true passion, he’s also re-entering the business arena. After years of moving juice, he’ll soon be selling real juice along with his wife at their organic juice bar, Fresh & Pressed. “I’ll go dead broke before I sell anything illegal again,” Vezzo says. With more music like Rich Off Pints on the way, more anthems for enterprising hood stars, he’ll never have to worry about that day.