The true stories of a rapper whose lungs collapse

July 27 - 2007


Last weekend I was writing answers to interview questions from TAXI is a company that recently helped me license my music and they are interviewing Skip-Dawg for their monthly publication called “Passenger Profile”. My answer to question #11 left me with a lot on my mind.

TAXI Question # 11: What musical accomplishment are you most proud of so far?

Skip-Dawg: “My recent album “We Will Rise” is thus far my proudest accomplishment. It came after a nearly two year hiatus from music during which I underwent two lung surgeries. I got severe nerve damage in my chest from the second lung surgery and I thought my career as a rapper was over. It took 18 months of physical therapy before I could get up on stage and even perform a single song. But from there, I kept getting stronger and better and if you listen to my album “We Will Rise” you can literally hear the whole story of what I went through play out.”

As I wrote my answer to this question, I began thinking of the night when I first performed after a very long break from music. The date was July 27th 2007, exactly two years ago today. It took until now, however, for me to realize that the circumstances surrounding that evening were more than remarkable.

I chose to make my music “comeback” at a local open mic night at Upper Darby’s 69th Street Lounge, one of the shadiest clubs I’ve ever been to. The 69th Street Lounge had formerly been a movie theatre that closed down when someone was stabbed to death, although I omitted that historical gem when I invited my friends to come see me perform.

Although I had undergone surgery on my right lung in December of 2005, it took until July 27th 2007 before I was strong enough to perform again. As I mentioned, I struggled through a long bout of physical therapy. I initially began physical therapy in the hopes of returning to a normal life – walking upright, sleeping lying down rather that sitting up, and driving again – three goals which took a disheartening six months to accomplish. As I got stronger though, I sensed I might someday be able to return to music. Over the course of the next year, I complemented my physical therapy with swimming, acupuncture, and weekly appointments with an Osteopath. During the final month of PT, my physical therapist Bryan O’Halloran had me train by rapping while running on the elliptical machine. I was seriously ready to perform and I had been looking forward to this night for a long time.

Around 8pm on the evening of July 27th 2007, Skip-Dawg was ready: Def Jam jeans, Sixers hat, striped arm band, and blazing red Puma sneakers. I was leaving my house en route to the event when I received a very, very sad text message from my friend Jerry Nicastro: “Dude, my dad died.”

Growing up, Jerry and I were on the same swimming and diving teams. We spent three to four hours a day training together, nearly 365 days a year, for over ten years. He was my best friend and his dad, Mr. Nicastro, needless to say was an important figure in my life. I rushed over to Jerry’s house and learned that Mr. Nicastro had died suddenly of a heart attack that afternoon. A crowd gathered on the Nicastro’s backyard porch and as the rain poured down we sat in shock thinking about Mr. Nicastro.

Around 10:30pm, non-family members were encouraged to clear out and give the Nicastro family some privacy after their long and painful day. I headed home and was pulling into my driveway when I remembered about the 69th Street Lounge event I had planned to go to. I didn’t feel like performing anymore, but I didn’t feel like being home alone either. I turned my car around and half-heartedly headed to the club. I arrived around 11pm and was the last person to sign up, which meant that I would be the last rapper to perform.

I performed around midnight and I only performed one song – “Come Along”. There were ten people left in the audience – 9 rappers from PickPocket Records and a producer named Beatgods. Beatgods was somewhat of a local hip-hop legend since he had recently been signed to Interscope Records as a producer. He liked my performance and agreed to work with me. In the coming months, Beatgods produced what became by far my strongest album “We Will Rise”. In the meantime, the rappers from PickPocket became among my most ardent supporters and today one of those guys – a rapper named E-Hos – has literally become the only reason I am able to continue to have a career as a performer. Because of my lung, I can’t perform long sets. Anytime I get hired to do a big show, E-Hos joins me on stage, takes over during my set, and allows me time to rest. These days, most of my show flyers read something like “Skip-Dawg and E-Hos Perform at The Gap” (no joke we are performing at the Gap on 8/20).

Anyway, that’s what happened two years ago today: On a night during which my best friend’s dad died, I staged an unlikely midnight musical comeback 18 months in the making at a shady club in Upper Darby PA, caught the attention of Interscope Records’ Beatgods, and met a rapper who became instrumental to my career.

I had planned to dedicate my performance to Mr. Nicastro that fateful night, but when I got up on stage my emotions of sadness ran too high to actually say the words. In my heart though, that one was for Pops Nicastro, and I hoped that he somehow knew.

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