Music Fans, Meet Pr€sident

Mizel Faison, a.k.a. President, an emerging rapper from East Hampton, wants to add some street credibility to the Hamptons by putting it on the rap map. Judy D’Mello

He is not the first rapper from East Hampton, but Pr€sident, also known as Mizel Faison, a 17-year-old who attends East Hampton High School, is leading the charge to put the South Fork on the rap map. 

By that he means, unlike his forebears, such as T-Shyne, a homegrown rap success story who is never seen locally, touring instead with the likes of Wiz Khalifa and Young Thug, Pr€sident (he uses the euro symbol in place of the “e”) wants to remain anchored to the Hamptons, both musically and emotionally, even if and when fame and fortune come calling.

It certainly seems like perfect timing, as thus far news of rappers on the South Fork is usually limited to the number of zeros at the end of Jay-Z’s real estate deals.

The Pr€sident of the Beast Coast, as he is known among his friends, is part of the next generation of artists on SoundCloud — the online audio distribution platform that enables users to upload, record, promote, and share their originally created music. SoundCloud seems to be home to an entire universe of young, often school-age rappers, many with colored dreads and names containing a multitude of symbols and a distinct dearth of the “Lil” prefix prevalent in the early 2000s. Producing melodies inspired by emo, pop punk, and the latest mutations of Atlanta’s trap genre, these young musicians work on building fan bases on SoundCloud while they wait for the spotlight to pan in their direction. 

On Halloween, Pr€sident dropped his latest song on SoundCloud. Called “Goners,” it offers sharp observations on the hazards of labeling youngsters. The “bad” kids at school, the song goes, are called “goners,” a euphemism for not going anywhere, since they are into drugs and partying and are failing at school. Yet despite turning his life around and displaying some talent, the singer says, he still feels like a goner “because at the end of the day that’s what they called us all, goners.”

Labels stick, is his message, so be careful what you call your children.

In person, Mizel is poised and displays a remarkable facility for language, which is unusual in most teenagers and helps explain the lyrical honesty that is especially apparent in the most recent of his eight tracks on SoundCloud. Like nearly all rap today, it is explicit, not unnervingly so, like the more violent “drill scene” that came out of Chicago’s South Side. Mostly, however, there is much to read between the lines of his insights on growing up, including this from “Goners”: “If I learned my lesson in adolescence / That its pressure can form perfection.”

He talks easily and openly about his life and music, even offering a self-deprecating critique of his early attempts at rap as being “just words with no flow.” He admits that he has never been a terribly good student but has always loved English. “I started writing poetry really early,” he said, around age 10. Focusing on particular words, their cadence, and the effects of certain sounds on people has turned into something of an obsession.

“Lost in thought and that’s the train you’ll never catch” was a line he wrote when he first started dabbling in rap lyrics. He shared it with his grandmother Laura Grossman, who was a member of the East Hampton School Board for more than 20 years, and she encouraged young Mizel to keep going, to pursue his passion as a musical wordsmith. 

Today, she is his talent agent, working on getting him bookings and maybe signing with a record label. He has lived full time with his grandparents since he was 2 — his grandfather is Stephen Grossman, an attorney with an office in Sag Harbor. Mizel said they are hugely supportive of his music but added, with a smile, “They just kinda earmuff when they hear something they would have rather not.”

Three months ago, the young rapper released “Beans and the Flats” on SoundCloud, and it became a party hit of the summer in East Hampton and even New York City. His following rocketed from 20 people to about 90. Today he has 126, which doesn’t sound like a lot by today’s “going viral” standards, but SoundCloud is still relatively new. The song, which was listened to more than 5,000 times on the site, was a collaboration with Damma Beatz, a talented young music producer who Pr€sident credits as “a big reason the song blew up.”

In July, Mizel was in Manhattan with his father, who lives in Los Angeles. They went to the Bitter End club on Bleecker Street to listen to an uncle, a resident singer there. Suddenly, said Mizel, his uncle called him up onstage and handed him the mike. Mizel seized the opportunity, spewing his lyrics in front of a wildly appreciative audience in a performance that harked back to the old-school format of grime M.C.s freestyling live onstage or on the radio, long before the era of SoundCloud.

He intends to go to college, he said, to study music management and production. Until then, his main focus is on shooting music videos and securing live performances at places like the Bitter End, or out here at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, which he hopes will add an occasional young rapper like him to its roster. 

That, he believes, will truly help him jump over the orange-and-white SoundCloud and go from URL to IRL.