Local hip hop artist Tyler Best “YTDoDat” speaks about his musical aspirations with the same kind of rapid-fire ease that drives his music. He talks with poetic confidence, and just like his lyrics, he peppers his speech with playful jibes at himself and life in general.
Sure, the 31-year-old father of two takes his music incredibly seriously, but he also enjoys himself while doing it.
YTDoDat, whose rap name comes from a friend’s play on his nickname “YT”, began rapping when he was a student at Soquel High, back when the Santa Cruz hip hop scene was only just beginning to emerge.
“We were just getting started back then," he said. "And the whole scene was something that people weren’t sure about yet. You know what you do when you go to a rock show, you know what you do when you go see a reggae show. People weren’t sure what to do when they would go see a white boy rap.”
The hip hop scene in Santa Cruz has changed a lot since then—in a good way—and it was the first thing that YTDoDat noticed when he started producing music again in 2009, after leaving the music scene in 2003 and taking a several year hiatus from hip hop.
“I never stopped writing. I continued to rap, I continued to freestyle with the homies, but I stopped pushing the music and trying to make albums and doing shows, because I got a regular job and I was making good money. I basically lost my spirit for it, just seeing everyone doing it for free, nobody was making any money,” said YTDoDat whose priorities changed completely in order to support himself and his family.
The beginning days of local hip hop were a struggle, not just for YTDoDat, who remembers artists struggling to sell their CDs out of the back of their cars in a time before the self promotional tools of Youtube and Facebook.
“At that time it wasn’t all about love and everybody working with each other and just pumping out the greatest music. There was a ton of hatred, and there was a lot more competition,” said YTDoDat.
The local hip hop scene has changed a lot since then, and YTDoDat’s reintroduction into it in 2009 was a refreshing one. It began when he ran into an old Soquel High friend and fellow hip hop artist and producer Mac Jar, who gave YTDoDat a CD he had recently made.
“When I listened to it I was like blown away because they had come so far, and I was like, 'This is fun to listen to, I would totally buy this,'” said YTDoDat.
Coincidentally, YTDoDat and Mac Jar realized they were living across the street from each other about a week later, and YTDoDat began writing and recording with Mac Jar and Monik Ape of Landslide Entertainment, whose studio was also home base for Chris Rene’s Love Life posse.
By now, a new phenomenon was already feeding the hip hop scene: a newfound respect and supportiveness between artists. YTDoDat acknowledges that Rene’s recent success on the X-Factor has brought notoriety to the some 150 rappers of “the 831” as he calls is.
“It made everybody push harder. It made everybody realize that anything is possible. And there’s no reason to give up your dream,” said YTDoDat.
Fellow local rapper, Mike Ross “Ross Rock,” puts it like this: “The Santa Cruz hip hop scene is a lot more united than it has been in years. I’m seeing a lot more evolution and progression when it comes to people’s production and lyrical content.”
Ross Rock is the rapper who taught YTDoDat what a bar is and how to properly count them when he was 18. He also taught YTDoDat how to spit double time rap, (also called chopping) which is a form of extremely fast rapping characteristic of Ross Rock’s music, and which occasionally ignites YTDoDat’s rhymes as well. YTDoDat calls Ross Rock his mentor, but the respect is mutual: Ross Rock calls YTDoDat "a dedicated father who puts in time to pursue his dream in hip hop with the ability to go with it. A lot of people either have one or the other but Tyler YTDoDat Best has both."
The Catalyst Atrium and the Blue Lagoon are frequent venues for local hip hop artists like YTDoDat, whose last performance at the Atrium discharged a passionate flow of concise, well-annunciated rhymes into the audience.
“I’m cursed with every verse, but I'm still flippin ‘em well. Hailin’ from the holy cross but they still given me hell,” he rapped in his euphonious voice.
YTDoDat said his first and foremost objective of his songs is to wake people up. He raps about real life and tries to remind people to question everything. But his rhymes also draw on an undeniable love he has for Santa Cruz, from West Cliff, to East Cliff, to the Land of Medicine Buddha, and he does his fair share of representing.
He equates Santa Cruz to the island on the TV series “Lost.”
“Santa Cruz has got this weird pull on it. The people that it wants to be there it keeps there, and the people that it doesn’t want to be there it lets them go. And if it wants you there and you try to leave, you’ll be coming back shortly,” said YTDoDat.
It's a “pull” that YTDoDat agrees is especially felt by artists.
“Santa Cruz is a breeding ground for artistic inspiration, no matter what your art is,” he said.
YTDoDat may have tried to leave Santa Cruz before, and he may have checked out of the hip hop scene for a while, but he'll never be able to leave for long. He's back with a vengeance and the artistic inspiration is flowing freely.
“I’m looking up to everybody and I’m catching up to everybody. And I just need to let the music speak for itself,” he said.
You can find YTDoDat on Facebook and hear his tracks at http://www.reverbnation.com/ytdodat
YTDoDat performs Friay night at the Blue Lagoon at 10 p.m., in a show presented by Phil Atkinson, and on Saturday at the Bargetto Winery. Saturday’s show is “Ross Rock’s Birthday Bash” which is hosted by Addam Antium and presented by the Fire Cherry Alliance. The show starts at 6 p.m. and features Ross Rock with Gas Pedal, YTDoDat ft. Krazy K, Alwa Gordon, S.C.U.M., Fury, Monikape and Mac Jar.