“I just wanna see someone from Reno succeed,” says Richie Panelli, talking about the local hip-hop scene. “And I don’t care if it’s me. I just want to show people how much talent is here in Reno.”
Panelli, who raps and makes beats, has worked with nearly every rapper and producer in town.
“I’m just happy to be working with people that I like so much; whose music I respect so much,” he says, modestly.
Panelli, 31, has been rapping under the name Apprentice since 2003. He and Pharoah Davis, who goes by Rameses on stage, make up the rap collective Dorm Room Records, perhaps an intentional nod to influential producer and collaborator Rick Rubin, who co-founded Def Jam Records in the early 1980s with Russell Simmons in his NYU dorm room.
Pannelli and Davis met in college and bonded through their love of hip-hop. Davis had rhymes and Panelli had beats.
Panelli, who works as an audiologist and is a semester away from earning his doctorate, likes to talk more about how he learned from other local rappers—hence the name.
He tells the story of when he first bought an ASR 10 keyboard “and didn’t have a clue how to use it.” This was back in 1994.
“Dialect [rapper/producer, member of Element] came over and showed me how to use it,” he says. “I went to pay him and he said ‘Don’t pay me, just show someone else how to use it.'”
Panelli kept his word and made it a point to keep the gesture paying forward, teaching the next generation the critical skills.
“And ever since, [Element has] been family.”
Panelli put out his first album, Misery Loves an Audience, in the winter of 2005. The first song he wrote for the album—or in his life, for that matter—often gets played on “The Bombshelter” (a radio show that airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on 102.9 FM).
“In love, just like in pain, just like in death, you usually dive in and forget to take a breath,” he raps on the song “Just Like You.”
“In love, just like in pain, just like in life, just like in death, you usually get knocked down every time you take a step. But you never knocked me down.”
He’s brought that same attitude to his music.
The album is a mix of reflective love songs, Reno hip-hop collaborations, a bit of political commentary and a couple catchy party tracks. Think Atmosphere meets the Beastie Boys.
On the song “Mr. Mr.” he raps, “Hey mister mister, nights seem colder. Clothes never change. Stay the same like a soldier. Never ask for nothing. Guess being hungry makes you bolder. Did you ever think that’d be you on that sign on the corner?”
Panelli is as talented as he is modest. And if you’re one to root for the underdog, his album might just be worth listening to.
He plans on releasing his second solo album, the polished The Red Balloon, this summer. Panelli says that his motivation for much of the new album comes from “trying to be a good son to my parents, a good brother to my brother, a good husband to my wife.”
A far cry from the stereotypical rapper, but hell, he is probably the only 31-year-old ear doctor married to an elementary school teacher alive who raps.