With a portable CD player, an amplifier and a microphone, Bryan Clardy, a.k.a. "BC," takes the stage on a quiet evening at the Bunker in Ybor.
All around him, laid-back singer-songwriters sip lattes and Italian sodas — not a typical crowd for the Tampa hip-hop emcee.
Still, they feel his vibe. Heads nod and feet begin to tap as Clardy performs Ode to Gil Scott Heron, a track he wrote with well-known industrial hip-hop poet Saul Williams.
The song is featured on Time Capsule, Clardy's six-track preliminary release — the first in a trilogy called "Time Pieces."
In the rap album's framework, "pop world" is the world of the future and its resources have been depleted. An archeologist is sent back in time to discover what went wrong but gets stuck.
"It's very allegorical in the sense that I'm telling cautionary tales set in an alternate universe," Clardy said. "In pop world, I talk about everything from global warming to what I think about private school vouchers."
Clardy, 34, got into hip-hop at an early age, reciting other rappers' rhymes when he was in fourth grade and getting into writing his own by middle school.
"Hip-hop was something that was ubiquitous. If you were a kid you were liking it, white, black, whatever … all of us had LL Cool J's tape, all of us had Run DMC," Clardy said.
While attending Gaither High School, he says he stayed away from performing, but got back into it while studying fine arts and sculpture at Ringling College of Arts and Design in Sarasota. In time, he chose the hip-hop route, figuring it presented an immediacy that the visual arts did not.
"You are being judged by your peers and have to stand and deliver at that moment," Clardy said.
In Sarasota, he met up with Jerry "DJ Lazy" DuFrain and joined the group Red Tide. There, Clardy says, DuFrain became a mentor to him. Ten years later, they work together at the Orpheum, a club in Ybor. Clardy works the door; DuFrain is a bartender who also books shows. DuFrain also appears as a producer on one of Clardy's album tracks.
When Clardy emerged in the 1990s, Tampa's hip-hop scene was in a recession, as it is today, he said. There is a lack of community within local hip-hop and not enough venues or people support the scene here, he said. He hopes that the release of his local album will create a buzz.
"I don't do this strictly for money, but I would love for my art form to become a sustainable activity rather than me worrying about how I am going to pay the rent," Clardy said.
Since its release, Time Capsule has garnered Clardy opening spots for nationally-known groups Solillaquists of Sound, Slaughterhouse and Tech N9ne. Tonight, he performs at Czar, opening for underground hip-hop artist Del Tha Funkee Homosapien.
"I'm breaking out of my chrysalis with this project," Clardy said. "I really think this is the most pointed and focused my work has ever been."
Arielle Stevenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3321.