The Clean Slate of MC Empty Mynd

Brush with success brings local hip-hop artist back to his roots

Empty Mynd performs at Summer Jam 2001 on Thursday, Aug. 30 at the Brick Works.

Twenty-nine-year-old rapper David Ward, a.k.a. MC Empty Mynd, has learned a lot in the last year. The Panamanian-born entertainer has been through the mill, he says. But the man who emerged from the trials and tribulations of his recent brush with music industry success is a peaceful man.

As he sits in front of me on this hot August night in the living room of a local poet friend, he politely holds my tape recorder against his blue-and-white, tropical-print shirt. With his stylish dark pants and shoes, sparse jewelry, a cell phone at his side and long fingernails on his left hand, as is customary in Panama, Empty Mynd appears to be a soul at ease. Why?

“You hate to have to learn lessons this way,” he says in a soft, articulate tone. “But I have learned a lot and managed to stay cool with a couple of people too. The whole situation has made me re-evaluate myself and go back to my roots. This is how I have found peace for myself.”

Money and politics, he laments, ruined the April 24 release of his debut CD Thoughts of an Empty Mynd on local label The Real 420 Records. The label was able to ink a manufacturing and distribution deal for the CD with New York EMI subsidiary Orpheus, but, says the rapper, as soon as real money became involved the problems began to surface.

“There were typos on the CD sleeve,” says Empty Mynd. “ The cover art was messed up, and several of the publicity projects pitched by my publicist were ignored. I had virtually no ad support. Let’s just say that at one time there was supposedly money to do things like make videos, run ads and tour. But what happened to that money is why my relationship with 420 dissolved.”

Sure, he says, there are two sides to every story. But Empty Mynd feels that he held up his end of he bargain as an artist: He delivered a solid CD.

“But with no money for promotions…” Empty Mynd shakes his head. “And there are thousands of promotional CDs just sitting in boxes in places like San Pedro that can’t be regularly sold because they are for ‘promotional use only.’ And I’ve been told by many people that this is a good CD. It would be nice to get to re-release it some day, but right now 420 owns all of the material. It’ll probably take a court process to completely resolve things, but both sides are at peace with each other, and we’ve both creatively moved on to our next projects.”

And so Empty Mynd now directs his attention to his past for fresh perspective on what to do next. Although he was born in Panama City, which supplied a rich Latin influence on both his life and his music, his family moved to South Central Los Angeles when he was a young boy. There, he lived out his formative years in the neighborhood around 42nd Street and Normandy Avenue, amid the influence of some of today’s top hip-hop stars.

Inside his South Central house, he says, was like living in Panama. But out on the streets he spent time as a Crips gang member living the “O.G.,” or “original gangster,” lifestyle. He eventually came to Chico to get away from it all.

But growing up Empty Mynd witnessed gangsters become stars. Guys like Eazy E., Dr. Dre and Chuck D. were able to escape the gang lifestyle and become successful by selling their hip-hop CDs out of their car trunks. You have to be marketable before you hook up with a major label, he now realizes, then you will have leverage in dealing with their solely profit-making mentalities. By the time the major labels approached these guys, they’d already sold thousands of CDs by themselves, he says.

“So this is what I’m going to do now,” he finishes. “I’m going to sell CDs out of my trunk. I’ve got support from local radio, and I am working with people who are on the same page as me. Knowing what I know now, I would never have signed a deal without money up front.”

The rapper has taken it all in stride, though. And his positive attitude has served him well in getting work. He’s recently recorded with local reggae/hip-hop entertainer Coot Dog on his latest CD The Coot Dog Project and has even recorded with the now famous Marty James of Scapegoat Wax. He was known as MC Sniper back then, says Empty Mynd. And the man is contemplating crossover projects with local legends Electric Circus as well as several other non-hip-hop acts. Empty Mynd is in demand.

Also, along with working on material for a new CD called Welcome to My Mynd, which he hopes will be out by Christmas, Empty Mynd is participating in more and more socially conscious projects. Having six kids of his own, he’s directly concerned that his kids won’t have a place in the community where they can learn about hip-hop and Latin culture. These kids in our community need an outlet, he says. “So if you want to help, give me a call.”

He also participates in the educationally experimental project dubbed “Ntrance” and organized by local poet Aaron Yamaguchi. Empty Mynd is one of an array of spoken-word artists who perform in front of high-school-aged students. The aim is to get the students to stand up, join the performers on stage and improvise whatever they feel as inspired by rap, poetry and music. The kids are even encouraged to paint on a canvas and create on a computer screen. This helps kids grow by learning how to express themselves, he says. “That’s why I am a part of it.”

In an attempt to provide a cultural outlet, Empty Mynd is starting to host Saturday night hip-hop parties at The Epicenter (the first was held Aug. 25). These won’t be drug-infested gang parties, he says. Those kinds of things ruined the club Shell Cove back in the day, the early ‘90s, he says. People will be searched and asked to leave if anything questionable is found.

The man has even gone so far as to plan a hip-hop class that he will teach this fall at the Senator Theater.

“It’ll be both for kids and parents," he says, "because parents need to learn not to be afraid of hip-hop."