It wasn't a love for old Robin Williams movies that inspired Calvin Cyrus to perform as MC Jumanji, the Miami rapper explains to New Times. "When I was in high school, I was a smart-ass who tried to curse without cursing. Jumanji became my curse word. I'd tell people: 'Jumanji on your mom.' Around the neighborhood, it kind of stuck, and 15 years later, I'm still known as Jumanji."
But before his life of hip-hop, Cyrus was living that Hollywood life, spending a few years in L.A. as a comedian and actor, where he starred in the BET show Hell Date. "That was awesome, but then the writers strike happened and there was no work. My family was about to move to Miami. I came down here, and for years before, I had beatboxed and freestyled with friends, but eventually I realized I could do that rapping shit."
After moving to Miami, Cyrus established himself in the music scene. He went on the host a monthly dubstep party called Get Low at the now-defunct Vagabond. And tonight, he'll be celebrating his second EP, American Grime (available on iTunes now), with a release party at 28 Newsstand, where he'll perform a few tracks off the new album along with appearances by Juan Basshead. The night will be a relief for Cyrus. "Recording was a labor of love and passion. It was a six-month battle between wanting to throw [the album] out the window and other times it being the only thing keeping me sane."
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The EP's title stems from Cyrus' hope to turn Americans on to a British strain of rap known as grime. "Grime was a way for the London underground to express themselves," he explains. "They didn't copy rap from the U.S.; they found a new way to come at it. It's a perfect mix of dancehall, and hip-hop."
Cyrus stumbled into the genre when he was starting out rapping over drum and bass. "I ran into Juan Basshead, and he suggested I rap over dubstep. This was before anyone knew what that was. Dubstep has 140 beats per minute, so keeping up with it is a challenge. When I played at Ultra a few years ago, people were looking at me like, 'What the fuck is this?'"
He began studying the originators of grime like Wiley and Dizzee Rascal and found a sense of kinship. "I found I had more in common with grime than the current hip-hop on the radio. It was tongue-in-cheek and heavy on alliteration."
One of his proudest moments was performing twice at a London nightclub called Fabric, where he said the crowd was in awe. "For them, grime is so British that for an American to do it — they don't know how to react." But perhaps his greatest compliment to his burgeoning career as a grime diplomat came earlier this month, when he journeyed to Austin, Texas, for the South by Southwest Festival to play a set. "At the meet-and-greet, people were really confused. They thought I was messing with them when they heard me speak in my American accent."
MC Jumanji Album Release
10 p.m. Thursday, March 24, at 28 Newsstand, 28 NE 14th St., Miami. Admission is free.