by jerome spencer
On a summer day in 2000, I went to my local Tower Records in Nashville to snag then new(ish) Dilated Peoples and Dido albums. Ardamus was just chilling there looking for someone to talk to. Apparently, he worked there, but it seemed like his purpose was just talking to customers about music for hours — in great, obsessive detail. And then, I taught him how to rap.
Ok, so I didn’t teach the kid to rap, but the rest is true. In fact, when I met Ardamus way back then, he was already establishing himself as one of the hardest working emcees in the biz. While I was just some snot-nosed punk bouncing around freestyle ciphers battling other snot-nosed punks, Ardamus was in the process of making an actual album. While I was writing “songs” over Mobb Deep instrumentals, Ardamus had a producer and recorded in a studio. This guy was even given a grant from DC Arts & Humanities to make an album. He was determined to make it as an emcee and I admired that fortitude and perseverance so much back then. And I admire it even more now, 17 years later.
Ardamus (whose name is a spelling variant of his government name, Artemis Thompson) isn’t exactly sure how much music he’s released in nearly two decades — there are too many features and side-projects to be exact, but he places it somewhere around 30 albums and EPs. And he’s kinda been signed (his stellar Thx4UrHonesty.(liar) was issued under Fake Four Inc).
However, he’s kept his work ethos as DIY and uncontaminated as one can in such a bright and grimy industry. He’s never hopped on a trend to sell a record (a true feat when you’re raised in the gangsta-centric environment of the Dirty South) and he’s never compromised his values to broaden his fan base. Ardamus makes boom bap, an emcee in the most classic and compulsive way.
His career is long and storied; his background is rich in hip hop lore compounded with a whole lot of hustle. Inspired by an “old school rap tape” that his older sister had, his rap career started when he was 6 at a church talent show.
“I wrote the bars for myself and the bars for the other kids,” he explains, “and it was just about being a good kid in Sunday school and it was so stupid, but I had the best bars, of course, and it went over really well so…”
“it’s about ownership for your bullshit, you know? It’s the only way you’re able to move on.”
Ardamus got serious about rapping when he was 13. Not serious the way every other 13-year-old boy gets about being a rapper, but laser-focused and resolute. A self-proclaimed “studio orphan,” he just watched others work and waited for his chance to get on. He studied and honed his craft and, eventually, left Nashville for DC to attend Howard University. His relocation to a more cultured hip hop community didn’t launch his career right away, though. He tells a tale of the first time he stepped into a cipher on campus and everyone just walked away.
“Man, I was heartbroken,” he laughs, “And I’ll never forget that, but at the same time I was like, nah, they’re gonna listen to me rap.”
And they did. An avid follower and participant of underground hip hop myself at the time, I watched Ardamus’ name pop up everywhere. His early work with the Ladder Day Saints crew was chat room fodder in every crucial message board, and he was popping up on some of the most influential albums and shows of the era. He was battling every chance he could (the infamous Verbal Armageddon was huge for him) and recording furiously. He just kept grinding and pushing and creating until he became a DC hip hop legend.
Basically, he put in work. And now that we’ve lost track of how much work he’s put in, he’s still standing. His newest release, A Broken Hearted 90s Season, drops tomorrow. It’s a culmination of all of his influence, hard-work and commitment.
As the title suggests, it’s bit of a relationship record. Always a “conscious emcee”, Broken Hearted finds a more introspective and “woke” Ardamus lamenting what he could have done differently.
“Part of me just wanted to talk about some of the things about relationships that I learned over time,” he says, “Some of it attacks masculinity, the toxic side of it, which I definitely exhibited at one point…”
Hold up, did the emcee who made the smash-hit “At Least I Got Laid” just tell me that he made a record that explores toxic masculinity?
“…it’s about ownership for your bullshit, you know? It’s the only way you’re able to move on.”
He cites a defining moment while doing “the quiet song” for the album with his fellow emcee Prowess as his favorite track.
“She actually disses me in the song. I like it because she breaks down a lot my song titles. And with this record; I had to really explore that about myself. Do I really need this said about myself? Yes. And I’m okay with that, because I’m growing as a person.”
It’s still boom bap and Ardamus is still a quintessential emcee, but Broken Hearted is a coming-of-age record from a seasoned rapper that’s not afraid to wear his heart (and mistakes) on his sleeve. And just further proof that he’s not slowing down anytime soon.
Listen to an exclusive single from the album below: