Five Minutes on SiriusXM's Sway in the Morning Gave the World a Beginner's Course on 19-Year-Old Ezzy. Now He's Looking to Graduate

Five Minutes on SiriusXM's
Sway in the Morning Gave the World a Beginner's Course on 19-Year-Old Ezzy. Now He's Looking to Graduate
Photo by Emanuel Wallace

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click to enlarge Five Minutes on SiriusXM's
Sway in the Morning Gave the World a Beginner's Course on 19-Year-Old Ezzy. Now He's Looking to Graduate
Photo by Emanuel Wallace

At the time of this writing, the video of Walker's tantalizing performance on Sway sits at just over a million views on YouTube, more than a recent Meek Mill freestyle session on the same show. Walker spazzed out for five minutes straight over Future's "F**k Up Some Commas" beat, and spent the final minute rapping a cappella. As he finished his last line, Calloway leaned back in his chair, his hand over his mouth in a flimsy attempt to contain his bewilderment.

"It was half written and half off the top," Walker says of his freestyle. "I appreciate the fact that it was a slower beat because it actually gave me time to think about stuff and put the pieces to the puzzle."

The feedback was instant and overwhelming. Of the 10 calls Calloway took on-air following Walker's freestyle, nine of them were effusive in their praise for Walker. A few weeks later, while at South by Southwest, Walker was video-chatted by a member of Kendrick Lamar's management team just to tell Walker how good he was.

His performance was posted on national hip-hop blogs like Uproxx's Smoking Section, as well as on the infamous World Star Hip-Hop, to which Walker posted a Facebook link with the caption, "Look mama, I made it to World Star."

"I knew whatever he was going to do, it was going to get a lot of attention," his mother, Miranda, says. "All it takes is for people to listen to him and they are floored, not just by his ability, but by what he's saying. It was a big moment."

Walker's performance was a summation of what those familiar with his music, like his mother, see in him. It's a perfectly blended mixture of clever wordplay ("Like Nicolas Cage I'm on fire/So I would never need a Ghost Rider (writer)"), complex rhyme schemes and an uncanny ability to speak on his life experiences with the foresight of a man in his 30s.

"When he was young, his subjects (in his music), no one could really relate to it unless you were a young kid," Infante says. "Now that he's older, he's speaking on subjects that we all can relate to. That part of his music is really making people pay attention."

It should come as no surprise, then, that the 19-year-old born on Cleveland's eastside is something of an old soul. When he began rapping at age 12, Walker had already been through some shit.

His parents divorced when he was young, leading Walker to live in Ohio, North Carolina and Florida all before the age of 10. Though his folks would ultimately reunite and marry, the trouble kept coming: His mother developed breast cancer in 2010. She beat that diagnosis in just nine months, but that's the type of emotional baggage that can weigh on a kid, especially one as close to his mom as Walker is.

"It was only him and me up until he was 11 (when his first brother was born)," Miranda says. "His dad was certainly in our lives, but as far as me having to share my time, that really didn't have to happen until he was 11 years old. So we had a very close relationship, and that foundation has helped us keep that going."

That closeness has allowed Miranda and Walker to maintain a fruitful business relationship on top of the usual mother-son dynamic, though Miranda says her son certainly tested her patience during his early teen years. Still, she persevered, paying for studio equipment and driving Walker to his shows, then bringing Morales on to help when her fight against breast cancer zapped her of her energy.

"Nobody can match what my mom has done for me," Walker says. "She does stuff that moms don't have to do. Her support and how she helps out is next level."

It's one thing to go through hardships, and another thing completely to posses the ability to tell that story with your music. Walker credits his obsession with reading as the catalyst for his lyrical prowess.

"I used to read a lot, until they made Instagram," Walker says with a laugh. "I was reading when I was 3 or 4. My mom would read me Dr. Seuss and I would always buy stuff from book fairs at school. It's how I'm able to talk and just communicate (with my music)."

click to enlarge Five Minutes on SiriusXM's
Sway in the Morning Gave the World a Beginner's Course on 19-Year-Old Ezzy. Now He's Looking to Graduate
Photo by Emanuel Wallace
Despite his newfound fame, Walker only has two "official" projects to his name. There's a mixtape that he put out when he was 14 and an LP he dropped two years later. He's still, by all accounts, fighting for recognition, pushed forward by the momentum of his appearance on Calloway's show.

"Ezzy is a talented artist who has a very raw and pure ability to rap, and he's proven time and again that, if nothing else, he can downright spit," says Zach Frydenlund, a music writer for Complex. "But the (challenge will be the) transition from youthful, teenage rapper to going forward into his later years and developing as an artist."

Walker does have a few big performances under his belt, acting as one of the openers for Drake in 2012 and playing this year to a big crowd at 13Fest, the ongoing concert series held every year at Ohio University. He's also been known to pop up at other artists' shows just to observe, like when he was spotted at a recent rapper ILoveMakonnen show at the Grog Shop, rapping along to every single word. Despite the almost palpable urgency to capitalize on an opening in an industry where rappers come and go as quickly as a Kanye West smile, Miranda and Morales remain patient.

"It's always a pivotal moment," Morales says. "It's like continuously climbing a ladder. In this industry you never want to plateau. But we're very patient people. We're not racing against time. A lot of people feel like we have a small window. We feel like we have a wide-open window."

"It was that moment to get us to that next level," Miranda says of her son's performance on Sway. "Now we're going to have to seize that next moment. When will that happen? We don't know. But we're prepared and we'll be ready for it."

While Walker and his team wait for the next time to pounce on the music side of things, they continue to make moves elsewhere. Walker just finished up filming for The Land, the story of four skateboarding kids in Cleveland who get caught up selling drugs to try and better themselves; it will debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Walker has grown close to the cast and says he's been told his performance has been good despite this being his first true acting experience. He shot scenes for a month and, after some brief down time, will ship off to New York City to start working on his music again.

"It's happening now," Infante says of Ezzy's climb to national recognition. "He's really working hard to make sure people don't forget about him. His interview on Sway was no fluke. Somebody's going to be knocking on the door soon."

But Walker isn't sure he'll answer. Though record labels may come calling, Walker and his team plan on remaining independent for the foreseeable future.

When a window opens up, especially in the music industry, you only have so much time before it slams shut and you're left trying to figure out how to pry it open again. Despite the message of patience from Walker's team, there's no rest in sight for the Cleveland native.

On the day we interviewed him, Walker performed a brief five-minute set at the Cleveland Latino Arts and Culture Celebration. The crowd was largely unfamiliar with his work, but during his three-song set his energy and talent were such that they couldn't help but vibe along with him. Bigger crowds and more rabid fans are the goal, though Walker says he's starting to get recognized more and more on the street. But for now, the work continues.

"We're still building, man," Walker says. "I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing and keep making sure I'm always prepared for more opportunities to come."

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