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C4mula should not be alive right now. The list of near-death experiences he has racked up at the ripe old age of 29 is pretty astounding. Flipping over in cars in two separate accidents, the victim in a malicious hit and run outside of Malone's in Santa Ana, having multiple guns pulled in his face, surviving a nearly lethal bout of alcoholism—all that barely covers half of it. Hooking an index finger inside his mouth, he pulls his lips back on the right side to reveal several teeth broken two months ago after getting jumped and beaten unconscious at a house party.
But before you even hear him rap, you can tell that behind his thin-rimmed glasses, backward hat and clean-cut, class-clown cleverness is a guy who refuses to let life's perils blow him to smithereens. After an 8-year career in the underground hip-hop scene, dozens of tracks and albums recorded, his latest offering, Another Stupid Mixtape Too, is his first step in honing a positive, thankful outlook on life. For now at least, the endless carousel of risky situations and self-destruction is over.
As a kid, the rapper born Andrew Bowman showed all the signs of a ticking time bomb. After getting caught scribbling down notes on making actual bombs from an Anarchist Cookbook in high school, he was nearly expelled. When he was allowed to return to school, he found out he'd earned the nickname "C-4" (as in the plastic explosive). It just kinda stuck, so he decided to own it.
Though it started off as a joke, the name, which he morphed into C4mula, became rather fitting with every album and mixtape he minted with the help of local hip-hop collectives such as Technicali Sound and the Committee Fam. His approach to his rhymes easily detonates a lot of tired, OC hip-hop stereotypes, delivering bars that ooze with swagger, technicality and personal struggle. Each rhyme carries the tone and buzzing authority of a gas-powered chain saw. New tracks such as "Expose the Heart" share stories about still being in high school while watching his father die from cancer, torturing his mother with his rebellious ways, waking up in the hospital after passing out thanks to drinking what he thinks might've been GHB at a party. Onstage, his right hand traces the air in front of him as he raps, bobbing and weaving like a shadow boxer.
Despite being a local name in OC rap, he has had near-misses with mainstream success, including a gig ghostwriting for AMC records after being discovered out of high school by a label rep who offered him a recording deal. He moved east with fellow rapper Eternal Jones, and both of them commenced working in Philadelphia and New York, writing and developing tracks with Raw Digga, Lords of Brooklyn and others at such places as the legendary Chung King Studios in Manhattan. The deal fizzled after a couple of years due to poor management advice and a declining record industry. A year after returning home to OC, Eternal Jones was arrested and charged with attempted murder after a drug deal gone wrong resulted in a shooting death. He received a sentence of 27 years in prison. It's not exactly something C4mula likes talking about, unless it leaks out in his rhymes.
Though that life seems to be light years away now, the past several years of C4mula's career have been a steady progression out of a dark hole he'd found himself in. An active show schedule, recording projects galore and a dynamite lyrical partnership with Placentia rapper Brawdcast have inspired him to keep grinding and shocking anyone who underestimates him before he opens his mouth. Yeah, he still raps about getting wasted and wild. But his crazy tales take on more of a cautionary tone, warning troubled souls going down the same road he did. For a kid who grew up learning to build bombs with his craftiness, it turns out learning to diffuse them with his craft has become infinitely more satisfying.
This column appeared in print as "Calm Like a Bomb."