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Brown University student.

Rap music has come a long way from its beginnings as an innocent means for third graders to remember the state capitals-who can forget romping about during recess chanting, "My bitches be in Boston but my tricks is in Topeka, all my hoes is down in Austin, man them chicks know how to freak ya."

Many people (i.e. me) feel that the majority of chart-topping rap songs in recent years have been lacking in that intangible quality which industry folk refer to as "not sucking". The list of complaints is long, but the unquestionable top of the heap is the sheer inanity of the lyrics.

Take, for example, "In Da Club" by 50 Cent. Rhyming party with Bacardi? Brilliant. Let me guess how you thought of that, Mr. Cent: you were at a party pouring yourself some Bacardi when you read the label, and eureka! No, wait. How silly of me. You can't read.

Even so, this does not mean that the soul of hip-hop is dead (as opposed to polka-those tools sold out years ago). One need only to look into the pulsating world of indie rap to find countless resounding beats, poignant lyrics and striking personalities. The ranks of indie rap include the likes of Atmosphere, Aesop Rock, Cannibal Ox and MF Doom. Also among them is Brown's own Charles Custer '08, better known to the hip-hop community as Sun Zoo.

Custer-Charlie to his friends, Dennis to people who mistake him for someone named Dennis-has been writing music since 1998, when classmate Jared McNeill approached him and asked him to write a verse for a rap song he had been working on. "There wasn't a whole lot of time between when I started writing and when we started recording," Dennis explained.

Custer and McNeill worked together on multiple projects, and Custer produced a solo album in short order. At the time, Custer was rapping under a different pseudonym-one which he firmly refused to reveal. Using my godlike powers of groundless speculation, I have decided that it was "Clorox Beats."

In 2001, Custer adopted the name Sun Zoo and began performing for local audiences in his hometown of Avon, Conn. He played talent shows and open mics, and opened once for Deep Banana Blackout. Two years later, Custer produced The Next Movement, his first album as Sun Zoo. "I went back and listened to it recently, and it didn't suck as much as I thought it sucked, but it still sucked," he said. Sun Zoo followed up with Symphony in the First Person in 2004. "It's a good representation of where I was at the time. I'm at a different place now from where I was then," Custer said.

Custer has remained active in his musical pursuits while at Brown. In spring 2005, he performed in two concerts at the Hourglass Café which featured a mix of jazz, rock and hip-hop. In September, Custer began working on Hope Flies, an eleven-track album of all new material that he completed and distributed for free in January. Creating the album proved difficult. "Recording is a huge bitch. Mixing is an even bigger bitch," Custer explained. Since January, Custer has worked furiously to promote his album, a process he describes as "a constant battle."

Even with the completion of Hope Flies immediately behind him, Custer has hardly slowed his pace. He has begun mixing his own original beats for his next album (Custer purchased many of the beats on Hope Flies from fellow artists). Over the weekend of April 22nd and 23rd, Sun Zoo will perform at "Living Proof", a music and arts festival in Kingston on the URI campus.

When asked whence he draws his inspiration, Custer replied, "Life. I'm actually not inspired at all. Most of what I write is just sh*t that happened word for word."

Expect Sun Zoo's next single, Stephen Barlow Wrote a Bitchin' Article About Me, this spring.

For more information about Sun Zoo, check out www.sun-zoo.com.

by Stephen Barlow, originally published in post- Magazine, of the Brown Daily Herald. 3/23/06.

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