Tulsan Johnny Polygon a rapper who delights in hometown crowd
BY JENNIFER CHANCELLOR World Scene Writer
Sunday, February 17, 2013
2/17/13 at 4:15 AM
It's the dream story of any rapper who came up off the streets. These streets were Tulsa's, and the story is distinctively Johnny Polygon's.
A high school dropout, the rapper now claims both coasts as home.
"When I dropped out, I'd get on my bicycle and ride to a school cafeteria and do rap battles on the playground or parking lot or cafeteria," he said. It was like challenging other kids to fight. But with words.
"I went to three high schools, I knew pretty much everybody," he said, then laughed.
Wednesday, he kicks off his North American tour right here in Tulsa, where he'll debut his new studio album, "The Nothing," live, in full.
To him, it's everything.
His first gigs were in a pizza joint owned by Marcos Matheos. Since then, the club owner and music promoter's invited Polygon to perform at Matheos-founded Free Tulsa music festival, his Crystal Pistol night club and the rapper now will christen Matheos' latest venture, Oculus, at 18th Street and Boston Avenue. He'll host a meet-and-greet soon after, at Chimera Cafe, 212 N. Main St.
"Johnny's always had a great stage presence. I remember booking him for the pizza parlor shows. He'd take the mic and control the crowd. He was a real eye-opener in Tulsa," Matheos said. "I knew then he was going to do something big in his career."
Now 28, Polygon remembers the day he sat down his family and told them he had one ambition in life: To make music.
"It wasn't exactly like one of those 'Intervention'-type meetings, but it was close," Polygon said, then laughed. That was 2004.
"My dad told me to go where the action is," Polygon said. "I said I wanted to go to L.A. He said 'Cool, I'll drive you.' "
So, with $300 in his pocket and a box of homemade CDs ("Leggo My Ego"), they trekked to Hollywood.
"He dropped me off and I was on my own," Polygon said. "I had $297 by the time I got there - I bought a bag of chips on the way and my dad got onto me for wasting my money."
He sold his albums on street corners and on Venice Beach. "The first person I saw was a guy in a Spider-Man suit getting patted down by the cops. I knew this place wasn't anything like where I was coming from."
For several years, he earned a living that way. He also released several albums and slowly built not only a fan base but a national network of musicians, rappers and producers.
"That's how I met DJ Green Lantern," he said. "He really liked my stuff and flew me out to New York."
His bicoastal residency was officially established. He's since toured with, directed videos for, recorded with or remixed Nas, Dead Prez, Kid Cudi, Adele, Amanda Diva and his music's been featured in the game "Grand Theft Auto 4," on BET, MTV, the movie "Brooklyn's Finest," the HBO show "How to Make it in America" and in dozens of other projects. He also still works a lot with Tulsan Gabriel Royal, who he had performed with in some of those earliest pizza joint shows.
In 2011, he turned down a major label record deal when it asked him to permanently relocate to the San Francisco Bay area and claim it as his home town. He refused, still mentions Green Country in all his live shows, and often raps about his city. Late last year, he was named one of MSN's "Top 5 Artists Up-And-Comers You Should Know."
Tulsa artist Wes Jackson created the cover artwork for Polygon's new album, "The Nothing." Polygon has built a close relationship with his fans on social media, and when he put out a call for cover designs, they soon answered.
"I got dozens of ideas from them," Polygon said. "They are amazing. They send me beats, raps, lyrics and fan art all the time. They book me shows all over the place. I wouldn't be anywhere without them.
"Wes' art, it's amazing. I was like, 'Man, we gotta use this.' "
Jackson said he discovered Polygon's music several years ago and immediately submitted ideas to the rapper. "The visual arts scene and music arts scene in Tulsa are codependent," he said. "We are all creatives and are all talking to each other."
Jackson, 30, moved here years ago to study aeronautics and engineering. He soon found his calling in art, and now works with just about anything he can get his hands on - metal, pen, ink, paint, canvas, paper, murals, you name it. He's also designed work for Tulsa brother band Hanson.
Then, "Johnny's path and mine intertwined."
"It's a great honor. They've gone out of their way to showcase my art," he said of Polygon and his team. "He didn't even put his name all over it, even though it's being used in the album art, the posters, tour materials, everything."
Jackson said his mother was a Cherokee master artist, "and I was raised at art shows." His father was a "barber and musician."
He's not rich, but, like Polygon, he's living his dream. "As artists, we have to be creative in everything we do. I really identify with his work ethic."
JOHNNY POLYGON 'THE NOTHING' CD RELEASE PARTY
with After the Smoke, The Bourgeois
When: Doors open 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, show starts shortly thereafter
Where: Oculus, 39 E. 18th St.
Cover: All-ages. Tickets $12 advance, $15 at the door, available at tulsaworld.com/ticketstorm
Afterparty: Meet-and-greet, 21+ (10 p.m. to close), Chimera Cafe, 212 N. Main St.
OKLAHOMA CITY CD RELEASE PARTY
with After the Smoke, Myke Brown and Dewey Binns
When: Doors open 9 p.m., showtime 10 p.m. Thursday
Where: Kamp's 1310 Lounge, 1310 NW 25th St., Oklahoma City
Tickets: 21 and over only. Tickets $7 advance, $10 at the door, available at tulsaworld.com/ticketstorm
Original Print Headline: Rapper Polygon delights in hometown crowd
Jennifer Chancellor 918-581-8346
Johnny Polygon will perform his new album, "The Nothing," in full on Wednesday in Tulsa. Courtesy
"The Nothing" by Tulsa artist Wes Jackson. His art is the cover and promotional material for Johnny Polygon's new album and 2013 tour. WES JACKSON/ Courtesy