“Everybody come to the stage right now. Let’s go. Let’s get it. I promise it’s going to be worthwhile.”
– Lyrick, Oct. 12 at The House Cafe, DeKalb
In the few months Northern Illinois freshman Danielle Pulliam practiced with Bianca Brown, she assumed the senior guard was the same soft-spoken leader off the basketball court that she was on it.
Then she met Lyrick.
While Pulliam rode in the back of Brown's car with other Huskies teammates on the way to the senior's Oct. 12 rap concert at The House Cafe, she was surprised to see a more aggressive, more brash Brown break into rhymes.
"She just had the beat going and she was just flowing," Pulliam said. "She was just [rapping] loud off the top of her head."
Hours later, Brown took the stage as Lyrick – "Don't forget the K," she says – as the final act of "El Mensaje," a show that included a compilation of rappers, breakdancers, a spoken-word artist and a live graffiti artist.
While a crowd of about 100 scattered around the Lincoln Highway establishment, the usually reserved Brown brought most of the small assembly to its feet to surround the 10-foot wide stage during a 20-minute set of seven original songs.
"Before I get on stage, I have butterflies," Brown said. "Once I get on stage, and I look into the crowd and I get that reaction I've been looking for, it's gone. It's kind of like I transform on stage, like I kind of turn into a different person.
“Hopefully it makes me more versatile, less one-dimensional and shows that I have a lot more to do than basketball.”
“And when I step to the mic, it’s like you into my life.”
– "Everything" by Lyrick
Brown, a Detroit native, has always had two passions in her life: music and basketball.
She took piano lessons when she was learning multiplication tables and long division. She also sung in the school choir. Meanwhile, Brown's mother, Tyiame Sandals, drove her daughter around the country for AAU basketball tournaments in junior high and high school.
That's when Brown took a liking to fellow Detroit product Eminem and other rappers such as Eve, Nas and T.I. She began putting on her own small shows at high schools and even released an album, "From the Mouth of a Babe."
But when Brown accepted a scholarship to play basketball for then-NIU coach Carol Owens, basketball took precedence over rap.
When frustrations boiled for Brown as she played less and less for a team that went 35-52 during her first three seasons, she turned to rap as an escape.
"There’s been times, especially these last couple years, I’ve been working 110 percent and I’m sitting on the bench, not really knowing why, not knowing what you’re doing, giving your best effort. Sometimes that’s a defeating feeling," Brown said. "So instead of taking it out on the court or going about it the wrong way, I just try to keep my head up, be positive and put it into a song because I know there’s other people going through the same things.
"Rap is my outlet. It used to be basketball. But I came to college and basketball kind of became a job. So now rapping is my outlet. I feel like that's one of the only things I do in my life to truly express myself without having to worry about it. It's one of the things in life where I put the effort in and I can actually see the results."
“Yes, it’s underground, but it’s only there for now. I mean, you was number one until I went and knocked you down.”
– "Dear Boy" by Lyrick
Brown is slowly grinding her way into the rap game, writing rhymes on notebooks, scrap paper, her computer, anything she can find whenever an idea pops into her head. She performed about eight concerts in the spring and a few shows this fall.
Lyrick's lyrics have game. She writes about her life: her Detroit upbringing in a single-parent household – though her father, James Brown has always been involved in her life – frustrations with basketball, her grandmother Mimi's death, failed relationships and love.
Adam "Switch" Hooczko, a 23-year-old NIU student who has recorded some of Brown's songs, said Brown is a "perfectionist" when producing her songs because she wants her music to "appeal to the masses" while not sounding like "the radio garbage."
"Sometimes I get people in the studio and you can tell they're just like, 'I just want to be cool. I just want to rap.' But with Bianca, you can tell she really loves doing it and you can really hear the emotion when she performs," Hooczko said. "You can tell she's really in it to win it. It's not just a phase for her. It's not just a gimmick for her like it is for some people."
“I graduated from college in three years instead of four. I’m gonna be 23 with a master’s degree. My momma told me young, education is the key.”
If Brown had her way, she would've forgone college to pursue her rapping career. But mama wouldn't have it.
Brown's mother is a self-made woman. She worked two to three jobs at a time to allow her three daughters to have the best clothes and to be involved in as many extracurricular activities as possible. But she didn't work those long days to see her youngest daughter skip college.
“There’s no reason for her to break her back for me to do the same thing," Brown said.
Whatever gene is responsible for hard work passed from Sandals to Brown, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in communications in three years. She now is pursuing a master's degree in sports management while continuing to play basketball and further pursuing a future in rap.
"I'm a freshman and I'm overwhelmed by everything I'm doing and I'm struggling for time," Pulliam said. "She's up at 3 o'clock in the morning writing. I don't know how she does it, but she does it."
Brown, who has averaged 1.2 points in 7.8 minutes a game during her first three seasons, was selected a team captain by teammates and coaches this season and is expected to play a more significant role as a defensive specialist and ball-handler.
"She's multi-tasking," said E.C. Hill, who is in her sixth season as an NIU assistant coach and first under first-year head coach Kathi Bennett. "If I thought there was a problem with her music or that it was a distraction for her, I would've said something. But right now it enhances her because she has something that takes her focus off things that don't go well with basketball."
“In the rap game, everyone knows things can change in a night. I can go from local to international.”
– "Around the World" by Lyrick
Brown and Hooczko haven't seen each other much lately. Brown has been busy preparing for the 2010-11 season and next month's final exams.
Even when the NIU students find time for a recording session, they never are satisfied with the final product. Hooczko's townhouse bedroom doesn't exactly have the acoustics of the Def Jam studios.
The music industry is hard to crack. Even more so for a woman rapper who prefers T-shirts and pants to skin-tight dresses.
"Women have never been taken seriously," Hoockzo said. "Even nowadays when you have these women making it quote-unquote big on TV, they're still doing it in a cliché sexual way they've always been portrayed as. It really hasn't gotten better."
Sandals hopes her daughter eases into the music business, possibly earning a more secure job in another field first.
"You have to kind of crawl before you walk, put your toe in and see how it feels," Sandals said. "Then down the road I'd like her to be sure before she completely steps into it."
But Brown is determined to make it and or at least give it the old college try. She's working on a new album and mixed tape to send to record companies, collaborating with other artists – including NIU wide receiver Nathan Palmer, an R&B singer – planning a music video and attempting to make inroads to the Chicago rap scene.
"I want her to (succeed in the music business), so I can be in a video," Hill said with a chuckle.
“I hope it happens soon," Brown said. "Next year is when I hope it happens. This next year I’m working on writing, getting a buzz: Internet, fliers, CDs, whatever I can. I want everyone to know who Lyrick is.”
Brown will perform at halftime of the men's basketball season opener Friday against Northwestern at the Convocation Center.
She's played in front of crowds at the venue plenty of times but never as a rapper. NIU basketball fans will see a different side to her then.
"She just has her own swag to it," Pulliam said. "She knows she's good so she can go up there and do it and not even worry about it whether it's a huge crowd or two people in the backseat of her car."