Don’t let his chill demeanor fool you. When Andre Davis enters the recording booth and steps up to the mic, he explodes. The Des Moines-based rapper spits messages dripping with rich metaphors, poetic lyricism and plenty of truth. There are stories from his life. Stories passed down from friends and family. Stories about love, loss and identity.
On “Track 2,” which appears on Davis’ 2021 EP Poetry Jazz Sessions, he opens up about the loss of his grandmother. “The day you passed/ my aunt went to the front lawn and ripped the grass/ as if she knew that your spirit had gone back into the earth/ and the lifeless blades between her fingertips/ were all the pieces of you that she had left.” Each line is a visceral depiction of grief at its most raw.
“Really, music has been my way of either reporting what I’ve seen or just expressing exactly how I feel,” Davis said. “As long as I’m telling the truth, I really don’t have anything to be afraid of.”
Davis is not new to rap. He’s been spitting rhymes since he was 8 years old. It started with the MP3 player he carried with him growing up. It was full of soon-to-be influences like Jedi Mind Tricks, Immortal Technique and Canibus. But just as important, he carries the wisdom he learned from his grandmother. Looking back, Davis sees his grandmother’s hand there. She gave him the confidence to believe he had something to spit.
“My grandma would always drop gems,” Davis said. “As I continue to live my life, I try to personify everything that she taught me.”
Davis got into Drake University Law School with high-achieving academics and confidence backed by generational affirmations of love and strength. What’s even more impressive is that Davis dropped Poetry Jazz Sessions while studying things like tort reform and case law.
In 2021, Davis graduated from Drake Law School and continued to build his discography. He pivoted into a new sound using consistent mellow beats with an old-school flow. In 2019, he released his debut album When it Rains while dropping notable singles like “Fight On” — in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by law enforcement — in 2020. He sees parallels between music and law and what it can do for communities.
“I think in a lot of ways when it comes to protesting and organizing, it’s important to ask what we’re trying to accomplish, and how we can get there?” Davis said.
He actively organizes protests with the goal to draw awareness and action on social justice issues. He uses this understanding alongside musical and familial influences as a guide to perform and create.
“My grandmother would say to believe in yourself and be confident in who you are,” Davis said. “If people don’t like you, they don’t gotta like you. The people who love you, they will stick beside you.”
Davis pays those affirmations back with “10 Things I Wish I Could Tell My Grandmother.” On the Poetry Jazz Sessions song, a jazz beat welcomes an outpouring of lyrical realism, Davis connecting with the one who started it all: “I’ve tried not to hate God for taking you away from me/ sometimes it’s hard not to…I love you Bonita, Ann Larry.”
In fact, even Davis’ name is in honor of her in a way. His grandmother used to rave up and down the neighborhood that her first baby would be her son. She would name him Andre.
“My grandmother used to tell everybody that her first baby was gonna be this big superstar. Everybody’s gonna love him,” Davis said. “Well, her first child was her daughter.”
That would be Andrea Davis, Andre Davis’ mom and the inspiration for his stage name.
“After telling me that story about my grandmother, my mom told me, ‘I think you’re the Andre that momma always wanted,’” Davis said.
Davis dropped his latest EP, Sacred Assassins, on Aug. 13, 2022, in honor of his grandmother’s passing. The EP is a collaboration with fellow hip-hop artist DK Imamu Akachi. The two became close friends after meeting each other at an open mic night several years prior. One day, Davis called Akachi with a proposition for a joint hip-hop EP, and within 30 minutes, “The Alchemist,” the first song featured on Sacred Assassins, was done. It was a rare moment of the planets aligning in the music business. And while Davis knows that won’t always be the case, he’s going to keep at it.
“I’m not gonna sit here and make it seem like the music industry ain’t full of bullshit,” Davis said. “But, at the same time, if you’re willing to take the hits, the beauty, there is nothing like it.”