Originally created 05/10/04

Twista rides 'Slow Jamz' to the top



NEW YORK -- When Twista made his debut 13 long years ago, it seemed only a matter of time before the Midwest motor-mouth would be a platinum success.

Twista's wicked, rapid-fire style garnered him so much attention, the Guinness Book of World Records deemed him the world's fastest rapper, and the Chicago-based rhymer made his first record before he was out of his teens.

But as the years went by, so did the opportunities. Other rappers started biting his fast-paced style, and record label woes left him sidelined. At one point, he got "real" job - telemarketing - to support himself and his family, and started to think of his rap career as an impossible dream.

"I was sitting at the phone, looking at reservations," the chubby-faced rapper said in an interview with The Associated Press. "For a while, I would think this is my main thing - 'This is reality, this (rap) is a fantasy.' It could happen someday, but the faith in it had slightly dwindled."

Someday came this year for the 30-year-old Twista. He had a No. 1 smash with the old-school tribute song "Slow Jamz," which featured Kanye West and comedian Jamie Foxx. The CD "Kamikaze," his first on a major label in almost seven years, has gone platinum. And he's become a man in demand, dropping verses for artists ranging from Elephant Man to Sting.

"Any success he deserves it, completely," the rapper Ludacris told the AP. "There's nobody that can rap as fast as he can, and nobody that can do it like he can do it."

Twista's journey started back in 1991, when he released his debut album under the moniker Tung Twista. He says his speedy approach wasn't meant to be a gimmick - it reflected his creativity, though he thinks now "I was a little bit before my time."

"I thought, I gotta be different," he says. "I gotta have me some dope rhymes, some metaphors or a fresh style. But at the same time, I'm trying to take it to the next level ... as I wrote more and more, it became more intricate."

But while he got a deal with Loud Records and put out the album "Runnin' off at Da Mouth," he didn't find large-scale success. In the meantime, others were imitating him, much to his frustration.

"I was hearing the first rappers doing it, like the Poor Righteous Teachers and the Fu-Shnickens,"' he says. "That's when I was like, 'Wow, these other rappers doing my style - I gotta turn it up a little bit."'

Instead, he faded away. Though he had a hit song, "Po Pimpin'," with the group Do or Die in 1996, he had difficulty translating that into his own career.

"That's when I decided, it's time to get a 9-to-5 or something, and make sure I have a dollar in my pocket and just try and do this on the side," he says. "I just couldn't rap all day and still be able to take care of my daughter and buy certain things that I wanted and pay rent."

The next six years were full of ups and downs, as Twista focused on building his name through guest appearances. He was finally able to complete "Kamikaze," which includes a who's who of cameos, including Ludacris, Too Short and West, who also produced some of the album.

Twista fretted about whether the album would be a success, especially after two initial singles didn't catch on with listeners. Then came "Slow Jamz." The song's humorous lyrics, laid-back groove (borrowed from Luther Vandross' classic "A House is Not a Home" and Twista's frenetic rhyming made it massive hit.

"I had a feeling that when we first did that song that this was a good song that I could accept being a new coming of Twista," he says. "I had no idea that it would do what it did."

What it did was help "Kamikaze" sell more than 1 million copies. His follow-up single, "Overnight Celebrity," is also becoming a hit, and could describe Twista's newfound success.

To look at Twista today, he seems like every other big-time rapper. He's got an entourage, plenty of bling and is ferried around town in a limo.

But after his long struggle, he savors it more than most - and knows how fleeting it can be.

"I sit in the limo and rub the oak. This is what I tell all my homies," he laughs. "I'm like, 'Every time you get into this limo, rub the oak, appreciate the leather, because it might be the last time you sit in one of these."'