“I’m not one of these fictitious rappers,” says Demichrius Hill, the 23-year-old Akronite who records under the moniker D.Hilla.
By this moment in the evolution of rap music, the arbitrary line dividing fake MCs from their autobiographical counterparts is so abstract as to be insignificant, a conceptual holdover (if not a relic) from a time when the term “MC” was still used in double entendre-laden battle raps.
This is not how Demichrius Hill sees it.
What’s interesting about D.Hilla’s brand of rap is that, instrumentally, it sounds like a lot of trap music circa 2019 – glossy keyboard melodies swimming over downtempo, software-programmed percussion – but features lyrics that render his modest life experiences and describe his West Akron neighborhood while eschewing drink, drugs and glitz-boasting, a trait he’s proud of.
“My aim is to be me,” Hill says. “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I don’t try to fit in the crowds. I just put my environment in my lyrics. It’s therapeutic in a sense.”
Hill’s most recent tracks reflect this approach. On “Hate It,” he complains about the city bus running late. On “Proud,” he decides not to mention the mice invading the basement of his grandmother’s home so as not to offend her. On “How You Do It,” he flirts with a girl at Thursday’s Lounge, the Exchange Street bar near the University of Akron’s campus, a far-cry from big-money bottle service and swanky penthouse soirées.
The world Hill depicts is often hyperlocal and quotidian, so it’s both unsurprising and encouraging that his lyrics seem to be growing more personal, reaching further inwards.
A juxtaposition of songs is in order.
Three years ago, Hill uploaded the song “100 Racks” to his Soundcloud page. The track is typical of what you might expect from Soundcloud rap: there’s dread-inducing church bells used to the same effect as air sirens, bouts of machine gun fire, filter effects, rhymes about putting people in coffins, making “classics like a maestro” and “stacking and spending” all the money coming in.
Last month, Hill uploaded “Soulless,” which features a more satisfying, soupier low-end throb and this chorus: “I feel so soulless / I feel so hopeless / My heart is broken / And I just know this.” The lyrics describe Hill trying to break from an emotional nadir: “In my phone, don’t see friends…. / Don’t have money and I don’t have plans…. / Just wanna upgrade who I am.”
It’s far from the braggadocio of “100 Racks,” but delivered with a vocal flow more pronounced and confident, as if the refinement of his elocution runs parallel to the maturation of his worldview. As a formula for transfiguring life into art, and then building a career off the art, it’s a winner, if not a downright necessity. Hill might have figured this out or he might have happened across it naturally. Regardless, at 23, he has a long ways to go, and that’s not meant as a criticism. For an artist whose music attempts to mirror his life, growing older should only strengthen the craft.
If D.Hilla continues to get all up in his feelings, to not simply absorb but study the world he wants to speak for, and to sculpt a more distinctive sound, he’ll be on his way to reaching that upgrade he’s been searching for.
Kyle Cochrun is a writer from Akron, Ohio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.