By Sam Schaefer
Last year, more than three years after I had first met Evan Draughon, I heard him perform live for the first time. It was an inauspicious occasion, a hip-hop concert at Jack Sprat on Franklin Street featuring him and several other acts on a rainy October night. I had first met him through my brother and his friends, and over the years I had know him, I had heard him rhyme among small groups of people in private settings, but because I was always too young to get in the venues where he performed in front of an audience, those were the only times I had seen him rap in person
This time, I saw the full effect of Evan Draughon, popularly known as “Ease.” He performed two sets that night, both with an intensity I had never seen him exhibit before. Most of the music he performed was upbeat, with him triumphantly rapping on top of pounding, chipmunk-soul style beats. But the most memorable lines he spit that night, he performed in an a cappella verse:
“There’s two numbers on your tombstone, and everyone will read ’em/but the only thing that matters is the space in between ’em.”
A life of Ease
Ease first started rapping while he was a student at East, following in the footsteps of his brother. He found creative outlets at East in Hope Hynes Love’s theater department, and, most importantly, in former East math teacher Darryl Piggott’s classroom, where Ease’s love for hip-hop grew.
“He used to let us freestyle in his classroom during lunch; we used to have battles in his classroom during lunch. If we had a free period and he had a free period, we’d go in there and sit around and go to different hip-hop websites and listen to the new music that was out,” Ease said. “Having an outlet like that really sparked it.”
But for Ease, who graduated in 2007, he really began taking rapping seriously in the fall of 2009. He moved out of his parents’ house and into a house with two friends from East, Sean Connelly and Joe Weiner, with whom he formed a band called The 40 Club. The group helped to start a creative burst for Ease where he began writing more than he ever had before. Soon, however, he found that he wanted to take the music more seriously as a career than the rest of his band did, and so he began to rap more on his own.
Eventually, he signed with a small label, AFB Entertainment, and hired a management company, Eargasm Entertainment. With them, he released his latest mixtape, which was received well within the Triangle and gave him a solid catalog of material to draw from for live shows. After that mixtape, he began working on another tape called “Mr. Personality.”
“I was really excited about it for a while. It was an idea I really liked, and then my brother got sick,” Ease said. “He was in the hospital for about six months, and for those six months I didn’t really do anything musically, so the idea of “Mr. Personality” and the project itself became kind of stagnant to me.”
As far as future plans, Ease is planning on releasing tracks he made for “Mr. Personality” as well as some tracks he is working on with some artists from Durham this summer. After that, he plans to release a sequel to his last mixtape. Additionally, he has plans to shoot some music videos to go along with some of his songs, and a local director has been in contact with him about a possible documentary.
“That’s actually one thing I’ve been slacking on — visibility,” Ease said. “That’s what myself, my manager, my booking agent and my label have been sitting down recently and talking about — really just trying to get myself out there.”
Working to make it big
For every small-time rapper to persevere and make it big, however, there are many more that never become famous, often despite their talent and willingness to work hard. This is a fact of life that isn’t lost on Ease, but he doesn’t let it bother him. He is self-assured enough that whenever he talks about becoming famous, for him, it’s a matter of “when,” not “if.”
“I feel like especially nowadays, you can make it so people can always see you,” Ease said. “I think luck is getting out of it more and more… You got to make yourself noticed, you got to prove yourself as a marketable talent… Nobody’s gonna work with you unless you’ve proven you can sell records now because it’s a gamble… I kind of like that, you know what I mean? That just means you have to work hard, man.”
Ease feels like there are certain aspects to his rapping that give him a leg up over other rappers, including how he just raps about his life — he doesn’t feel like he needs to make up alternate personas to get people to listen to him rap.
“I feel like rappers spend a lot of time creating these alternate lives that they rap about that they don’t really live,” he said. “I mean, the [expletive] I rap about, yeah, it makes my life sound cool, but that’s because my life is cool.”
But there’s another major factor that inspires Ease to work hard on his music besides what he experiences.
“Bad music inspires me to rap,” he said. “It’s not even so much: ‘If these guys have a record deal, why don’t I?’ It’s more so like: ‘Listen to my [expletive] because it’s better for you.'”
At the same time, Ease tries to make music that audiences will like, and he doesn’t believe in complete self-indulgence.
“If you make music for yourself, there’s no point putting it out,” he said. “I’ll never put out a song that I don’t like, but at the same time, I’m never going to put out a song that only I like.”
To find success, Ease knows part of it is making himself better. One thing he has done to improve his music is to rap more about his own experiences.
“When I first started rapping, [I did] gangster rap,” he said. “I met 9th Wonder when I was a junior in high school, and he was just like ‘I’d much rather hear you rap about [expletive] that you do and [expletive] that you don’t do,’ and I was like ‘that’s a good idea.’
“As far as making myself better… I try to only work with artists who I feel like are better than me.”
One major challenge Ease faces with trying to get his music out is what he believes is an error in how people find out about the music they listen to, and how artists think about the music they make.
“People are conditioned to only listen to what’s given to them,” he said. “So much of our music is based on everybody else’s opinion. So many people pick their music based on what’s presented to them through a limited source of mediums. That’s just kind of the way it is.
“It’s so sad to watch for me — other generations were trying to make timeless [expletive], and we pride ourselves on trends,” he said. “People keep trying to make stuff that’s hot… Things that are hot cool down.”
So instead, Ease will continue to make music his way, trying to make it appeal to himself and an audience, but also trying to make it good enough that it will stand the test of time.
At 22, Ease is, in the words of one of his songs, on his way. It’s hard to say whether he will make it big, and my own opinion on the matter is heavily biased, but after knowing him for over three years, I can say I think he has as good of a chance at becoming a success as anyone else I’ve ever met. He has the cleverness, the dedication, the sense of humor, the talent, and the sense of self he’d need to do it. Whether he makes it or not, however, one thing is certain: The way he lives his life and the effect it has on those around him has already been enough to make the space between the numbers on his tombstone matter a great deal.
Photos Courtesy of Ashley Robbins and A&E Promotions