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RAP ATTACK “People clap no matter what — it’s just a robotic crowd response for when something is over on stage. I wanted to do something that would make everybody silent.”
B. Dolan is like Joaquin Phoenix with no safety net and a whole lot more back hair. Unlike Phoenix in last year's faux meta-mockumentary I'm Not Here, the Providence native doesn't shock people for no good reason. Dolan isn't coming to the Western Front this Friday with a harem of homos and heretics simply to film the crowd's reaction. That's part of the plan, but there's more to the man's method than just madness.

It all started about 10 years ago in the Bronx, where Dolan, like so many rap wanna-bes, moved after high school to find a major-label record deal. Needless to say, that never happened. Like actresses who slum in porn, the burly New Englander soon realized the limitations of his mainstream potential. Before long, he was frequenting underground open-mic nights and poetry slams, whoring out emotions among sad females and aggressive young men.

"I hate the spoken-word scene more than anything else," says this veteran of HBO's Def Poetry and winner of more than a few slams. "There are a lot of parallels between slam poetry and battle rap. They can both be entertaining in some ways, but at least a battle rapper is trying to make you laugh. A slam poet has the same level of desperation as a stand-up comic, but they're trying to get you to get mad about an imaginary girl who they broke up with."

Although not the activist he is now — these days, he manages the anti-advertising website — young Dolan smelled blood in commercial waters. After performing at a Def Jam industry party in a trendy New York gallery and having strange cats with cameras tail him the entire time, he had his indie epiphany at 18. Within months, he dropped out of college, bought a drum machine, and began recording what would become his self-released 2002 debut, The Failure.

"Doing spoken word was the first time I ever tried to present my writing on a stage, and that's what it was good for," says Dolan, who has since evolved into more of a renaissance performer. "It taught me some basic stage tricks that I still use — like how to change my voice and talk to a crowd. But once you've picked up those chops, you need to get the hell out before you become some asshole who wins the poetry slam for the 10th year in a row."

Dolan will never be able to leave his spoken-word background behind altogether. Classics like "An Open Letter to Justin Timberlake" — on which he blasts the Disney ex-brat for "kicking reggae flows on the after-school minstrel show where parents go to pimp their little kids for dough" — are embedded online forever for the whole world to see. But he's not the sort of artist who regrets his past winners. In fact, it was that success that inspired him to become one of the most celebrated failures of all time.

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