[An L.A. native, L.A. Weekly columnist Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com, follow him on Twitter and also check out his archives.]
There’s a thin line between trolling and genius. Whether it’s Odd Future or Lil B, the most shocking methods slice through the noise. Witness the ascent of Daylyt, the Watts-raised prankster and answer to the question: What would you get if you crossed Andy Kaufman, battle rap and Ol’ Dirty Bastard?
Without YouTube, Worldstar Hip Hop and VladTV, Daylyt could have wound up a Snopes myth. With it, the tattoo-faced rapper is a phenomenon, counting Drake and Ab-Soul among his biggest fans; the latter even requested a Daylyt verse on his last album.
Message boards debate his battle-rap gimmicks. He has appeared dressed as Batman, a slave, a Klansman and Jesus, and even stripped naked onstage. He competed at last summer’s Total Slaughter event in full Spawn costume, faked a seizure and pantomimed excreting a candy bar. Then he ate it.
“There’s a method to my madness,” says Daylyt, 30, speaking by phone from his Irvine home, where he lives with his youngest son, daughter and girlfriend. “The stunts came about after I went through a period of questioning life: why we were here and what we were living for.”
Stumbling upon The 48 Laws of Power and 50 Cent’s The 50th Law, Daylyt absorbed and implemented those books’ maxims in his daily and creative life.
“All publicity is good publicity. All controversy is good,” Daylyt says, underscoring the rules that govern modern Internet fame. “Trolling happens on many different levels. 50 Cent and Eminem first came to fame by trolling. Even the OxiClean dude was trolling — that shit never washed your clothes like it did in the commercials.”
But Daylyt’s ruses only work because of his ruthless creativity, absurdist humor and lacerating raps. Besides battling, the rapper born Davone Campbell releases original songs that often double as comedy sketches. One of his most recent viral videos was the Auto-Tune–spiked satirical ballad “Shave My Legs Like a Real One.”
Better than anything Lonely Island has released in years, the clip finds Daylyt in the bathtub with a razor, an AK-47 and a marine-blue bandanna. He sings, shaves and chants “Irvine Crips.”
“My girl accidentally dropped her shaver in the tub and it clicked that I should shave my legs for Instagram,” Daylyt says. “Of course, they’d say that I was gay, but if I have an AK in the tub, they can’t say anything. The rebuttal was in the original video.”
The proximity to assault weapons reflects a past growing up on 103rd Street, a block from the Jordan Downs projects in Watts. Daylyt describes his childhood as a real-life version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. While at Jordan High, he started rapping in earnest and eventually became a fixture at battle mecca the Pit.
By the mid-2000s, his Krak City crew, which included future battle star Dizaster and Compton ratchet pioneer AV LMKR, achieved renown within local rap circles. But as the Grind Time Now and Smack battle circuits rose in popularity, Daylyt moved to San Bernardino and got a job at Wal-Mart — under the impression that his street taunts had no place in joke-heavy battle rap.
All the while, Daylyt kept making songs, until he decided to accept a Grind Time invitation to battle in 2009. It was only after he embraced his inner crazy that his career ascended. He’s become much more than a battle rapper — he’s transformed himself into one of the most fearless gonzo artists of the online video medium.
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“Once I accepted that no matter who you are, rich or poor, you’re going to get old and die, I stopped living in fear,” Daylyt says. “There’s no way to escape death. We all have to die. You only get one life. Why live it with restrictions?”