West Philly rapper and producer Hezekiah Davis III - usually known to the hip-hop world as simply Hezekiah - has two sides, the first of which you can catch Feb. 24 at International House, when he screens his debut, self-directed short, Dreams Don't Chase Themselves.
His new album, also out Thursday, bears the same title. In both album (his first solo album since 2010's Conscious Porn) and film, Davis portrays a man of great depth and exquisitely expressed, socially aware goals. Tender and wise lyrics are married with soulful sounds.
"Yes, my music is definitely a reflection in the mirror of the whole Native Tongues crew," says Davis. He refers to the late-'80s/early-'90s hip-hop collective that included snarky and socially conscious rappers such as a Tribe Called Quest, Arrested Development, and KRS-One. "Like Q-Tip [of Tribe Called Quest] said, 'The job of resurrectors is to wake up the dead.' "
The other side, though? With producer Tone Whitfield, Davis, 42, created Johnny Popcorn, a hip-hop persona who is a cocksure, cartoonish, digital funkateer. He makes salty albums such as 2013's caustic The Crow. Johnny Popcorn's next album is expected later this year.
The Chester-born Davis has production credits that include Grand Agent, Zap Mama, Kindred the Family Soul, Bahamadia, and Chief Kamanchi. Then there are the songs he has written with and for his Germantown pal Bilal. "I met Bilal and [Whitfield] on separate occasions within the Philadelphia jam session scene . . . two years before Bilal's first album [1st Born Second] dropped in 2001," he laughs. "Damn, I feel old."
Meanwhile, Dreams Don't Chase Themselves recalls the inward-turning vibe of Davis' first solo albums, 2005's Hurry Up & Wait and 2007's I Predict a Riot. Like those albums, Dreams is an indie project. He's always been his own manager and booking agent. Call him an old-school rap spirit and businessman with a young man's zeal.
He sees the connections. "There's been a growth in making the sort of hip-hop that inspired me in the first place," he says, hinting at new rappers such as Kendrick Lamar. "There's an undercurrent of change. Lyricism is becoming important again. Traditional hip-hop production and progressive music is merging again. And that's just who I am - progressive in that I can never do the same thing twice. But on the other hand, I don't like wasting time or feeling like I'm speaking to no one. So I want it to land. It took me four albums to figure out that this is a game of chess. Life. Music. And you have to learn when to move your pieces."
Once a young man's playing field, rap is now filled with veterans of the game who have been doing this for a while. Like punk rock, indie rock, and house music, hip-hop has grown up, as have its early adopters. "Well, it's music first," Davis says. "So I don't think age is a even a factor. Good music is good music, and if it speaks to you, it will draw you; if it doesn't, then it won't. My music can be enjoyed by anyone from 8 to 80. The type of hip-hop I do has always been self-reflective. Now, being older and having an older fan base, I think my content is more relatable to thinking people and mature ears. I'm OK with that."