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SleazyWorld Go reached the national hip-hop stage by rapping about Kansas City violence

Island Records
Kansas City’s Joseph Isaac, 25, raps as SleazyWorld Go.

Joseph Isaac overcame his own obstacles to become the most popular artist from Kansas City in years. His songs depict the tragic bloodshed caused by an ongoing plague of violent crime, and earned him a spot in XXL magazine's Freshman Class of 2023.

Kansas City rapper SleazyWorld Go has become accustomed to generating excitement.

At a promotional appearance in May at Roe Jewelry, the artist born Joseph Isaac was greeted by screams from the long line of people snaking through the upper level of Oak Park Mall to see him.

Propelled by his insinuating 2021 breakout hit, “Sleazy Flow,” the soft-spoken 25-year-old is the most popular musician to emerge from Kansas City in years.

Isaac has racked up 250 million streams on Spotify and another quarter-billion on YouTube. He’s also attracted high-profile collaborators, including Lil Baby, Offset, and Polo G, and is signed to Island Records, the record label associated with superstars like Bob Marley and Amy Winehouse.

“It's a weight that you’ve got to carry, me being the most popular artist and being in the industry and bringing attention to the city.” Isaac says. “It's like I’ve got to carry myself a certain way, I’ve got to represent for the town.”

Bill Brownlee
KCUR 89.3
Isaac and a fan are all smiles at Oak Park Mall.

In June, the influential hip-hop publication XXL magazine included Isaac in its Freshmen Class of 2023. Previous recipients of the honor include superstars J. Cole, Jack Harlow and Travis Scott.

While Chicago, Atlanta and other major markets have more readily embraced Isaac’s music, Kansas City is still his primary base of operations.

“I come back a lot when I'm not doing shows,” Isaac says. “I just love being here. I feel more comfortable here. It's home. I grew up in the 30s — 36th and Belfontaine, to be exact.”

A troubled youth made Isaac’s ascent seem unlikely. Even before his stint at Central High School was over, Isaac landed in a different institution.

“I was 17 when I was in prison” Isaac recalls. “I was in jail for four years.”

Behind bars, he recalibrated.

“It definitely strengthened my thought process and how I use my brain," he explains. “Cause when you’re in the world, everything is going fast — it's like you don't have time to really think. … I used the things that I went through to motivate me. I turned those lessons into blessings.”

He launched his post-prison career by starting at the bottom.

“I used to just give kids free shows for their birthdays, their sweet sixteens,” he says. “You’ve got to go through the grind. It's a lot of little things that I used to do (that) got me where I'm at right now.”

Sleazy flow

A gritty worldview informs much of Isaac’s music and inspired his stage name. His lyrics are loaded with lurid sexual content and graphic violence, and guns are a central theme.

He titled his most recent album, first released last year, “Where the Shooters Be,” but Isaac says the title isn’t only about shedding blood.

“(It’s) like: ‘Where the underdogs be,’” Isaac explains.

“I come from this city where a lot of people don't make it out of,” he says. “A lot of people die at a young age and I just so happened to make it out of it. So it's like … this is for the people that died in this city. This for the people that went to jail, that lost their life to prison time, and people that lost their family members.”

Island Records
A Kansas City shirtwaist house, along with plenty of firepower, is featured on the cover of 2022 SleazyWorld Go album, “Where the Shooters Be.”

Overcoming adversity is a recurrent theme in Isaac’s music.

“I done dealt with it before, where police harass me for my music. It's because I'm Black, I feel like we’re a target,” he says. “It's hard growing up in America, being an African American, a hip-hop artist, and just coming from the community I came from. The odds (are) against you.”

“More Than a Shooter,” the working title of his next album, reflects a fuller view of the world and growth that Issac has since embraced.

“I'm more than what you just hear in my music,” Isaac insists. “I'm a father, I give back to the community, and the stuff that I rap about is not … to get people into it. … It's really just me talking about what's going on, what I saw growing up, and what I came from and how I made it out of that.”

While his fans at Oak Park Mall were clearly awed by Isaac’s celebrity, they also seemed inspired by Isaac’s vision.

Bill Brownlee
KCUR 89.3
Isaac greets young admirers at Roe Jewelry in the Oak Park Mall.

In turn, Isaac was generous with his time and free with his radiant smile. He validated their fandom.

Though the trajectory of Isaac’s career is filled with promise, he has already made essential contributions to Kansas City culture.

Isaac’s portrayal of the unsavory side of town may make locals uncomfortable, but he’s giving voice to one of the city’s, and the country’s, biggest problems.

In the process, Isaac has proven he is, in fact, much more than a shooter.

KCUR contributor Bill Brownlee blogs about Kansas City's jazz scene at plasticsax.com.
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