There’s a burgeoning underground hip-hop community in Memphis that sounds nothing like the Bluff City-bred artists currently enjoying national exposure.
Durand “Virghost” Somerville is one of those artists, who categorize their music as "Memphop," a local version of the beloved genre. The 26-year-old emcee is currently prepping the release of his forthcoming album, Ghosts. He assures the project will not only satisfy the ear buds of listeners but also give them a look into one of the most challenging periods of his life.
“I named it Ghosts, because I feel like every song on that album represents something that happened in my past that I’ve been too afraid to actually face and tell people about,” Virghost said. “Every song represents something that’s haunted me. But if none of that stuff had happened, I wouldn’t have become an artist. I wouldn’t have become a poet. I wouldn’t have gotten married."
Ghosts will be based around a three-year time period: 2005 to 2008. On the album, Virghost opens up about hardships he experienced during those years, such as being arrested for a crime he allegedly didn’t commit and his expulsion from the University of Memphis. He credits the trials he encountered as the driving force for him becoming a spoken word artist and deciding to pursue a career in rap.
“I look it at it like those are the worst things to happen in my life,” he said. “If they didn’t happen, I would not be doing any of the good things I’m doing now. This Ghosts album is a really deeply personal album. It’s very detailed. I’m going to be talking about a lot of stuff that I just never really wanted to put out there to people, but it is what it is. People are just gonna have to take it how they hear it."
Since joining the local hip-hop community in 2008, Virghost has released several mixtapes, EPs, and albums. In 2013 alone, he released two projects: Live From The Other Side and Summer In September, a collaborative EP with KingPin Da' Composer. He said he's managed to collectively distribute several thousand units of his projects so far.
Virghost's undeniable talent earned him a slot among the city’s best lyricist for K97’s fifth annual "Next Big Thing" competition in 2013. To his surprise, he ended up winning.
“To be perfectly honest with you, man, I heard [about] it on the radio one day while I was at work and I figured that I wasn’t going to do it,” Virghost said. “I felt like every year they have it, they don’t choose people like a Virghost or a Knowledge Nick or Royal'T. I felt like, ‘what’s the point of me getting in it?’ And then a friend of mine, [Soulman] Snipes, posted on Facebook that me and a couple other guys should get in it. I was like, ‘Well, it won’t hurt me. If I don’t make it, oh well. If I do make it, a couple more people will listen to my music.’ I decided to go ahead and do it. It was crazy that I actually won. I had no idea I was going to win.”
Although Virghost achieved something unprecedented within the local hip-hop realm, he said some people downplayed his accomplishment. In the song “Best Rapper On The Planet,” he sarcastically echoed the naysayers' comments after dropping a solemn verse about the struggles he continues to face months after winning the competition.
“A lot of people were telling me, ‘You won the contest, but K97 ain’t get you signed,’ basically dismissing what happened,” he said. “That was an accomplishment for me. Even if didn’t that much come out of it, it was an accomplishment for an actual lyricist to win a contest in Memphis, Tennessee with a major radio station.”
Virghost possesses a flow that's aggressive at times, laid-back and melodic at others, but is consistently lyrical. Growing up, he listened to local legends like Three 6 Mafia, Project Pat, Playa Fly, and Gangsta Pat. However, he credits East Coast artist Nas — along with Mos Def — as the rapper who truly influenced his style and delivery and gave him the confidence to create music from the soul.
“I wanted to rap, but I was scared,” Virghost reveals. “I wasn’t that typical thug, gangster, or [doing] the music that was popping at the time. I didn’t feel comfortable or confident in vocalizing the things that I wanted to vocalize, so I wrote them down in notebooks. Nas is the artist that really pushed me out there and influenced me to get deeper with what I was talking about.”
From being a teen reluctant to publicly display his lyrical talent to becoming one of the most respected spitters within the city's underground hip-hop movement, Virghost is clearly on the road to success. His unique subject matter and raw lyrical delivery combined with solid production has placed him among the elite hip-hop artists representing Memphis. And it’s safe to presume that continuing to embrace that formula will do nothing but continue to catapult his career while simultaneously influencing other artists to stay true to themselves in their music.
Aside from being a promising hip-hop artist, Virghost is also a father and husband. He uses his music to both reflect the love he has for his family and the inspiration they provide to continue chasing his dreams. In addition to being one of the area's most respected rhymers, Virghost said he's determined to be a voice for minority fathers who take care of their obligations, eradicating stereotypes in the process.
"I feel like there’s not really an artist out there who’s representing for the fathers," Virghost said. "People try to paint a picture out of black men as not taking care of their kids and not caring about their kids and their wives or the women that they have children by. But there are a lot of black men out here who care about their family. I care about my family, and I want to represent that African-American man out there who takes care of his kids, wife, and his responsibilities.”