When ESPN’s Rob Parker sounded off about Robert Griffin III and race last winter, leading to a brief national spasm on the topic, Waco-based rapper Quistar tried to keep quiet. He didn’t want to appear like he was profiting off his friend’s fame, “didn’t want it to be a gimmick,” as he put it. Eventually, though, he felt like he had to say something, partially because he knew Griffin couldn’t.
“There was only so long I could hold it in,” Quistar said by phone. “I see little kids in my area, and now they’re not looking up to gangsters; they’re looking up to Robert. And now you’ve got this guy saying no, he’s not the idol, he’s not the guy you want to look up to? I was so angry I couldn’t even deal with it. I’ve got little homeboys I want to keep out of trouble. And even for the whole city, to see the influence Robert had over Baylor, the excitement over something positive? I want that for my community.”
So Quistar made a track about his friend, called Changed the Game, set to Tupac’s Changes and including snippets of Griffin’s Heisman Trophy-winning speech.
“I’m labeled a thug because I come from the gutter; Robert made it out now he’s a cornball brother?” the track begins, one of repeated references to Parker’s famous phrase.
The 23-year old rapper has known Griffin since the two played basketball against each other in high school; they’ve gotten closer over the past year, as Quistar has frequently turned to Griffin for advice and inspiration. And during an hour-long conversation with Griffin and his sister last month, that first track grew into something more.
Griffin’s sister asked the rapper whether he had any “clean music,” tracks that could be played in front of children, or for those who object to profanity. The answer was not really. That question then became a challenge.
The result was Quistar’s “RGIII Mixtape,” the first mixtape he’s made in honor of someone else, and the first of the 40 mixtapes he’s made that “you could play in church,” as he said with a laugh.
“It seemed like an obstacle, but it wasn’t difficult at all,” he told me. “The way [Griffin] carries himself is real motivation, so I just kind of gravitated toward him. Watching him has been a blessing, just a real blessing to sit back and see first-hand how he deals with everything, how he keeps himself humble and focused. I went through a transformation as an artist. This tape is just different; it’s inspirational, it’s positive, and that’s the kind of music I’m now in love with making.”
Griffin texted Quistar a few ideas for beats, which he used in making the mixtape. I Wake the Roosters, a rehab-themed track, is set to Wiz Khalifa’s No Sleep. Another track, This Year, uses Miguel’s Adorn. He made an RGIII-themed remix of one of his previous tracks with an original beat, and finished with seven songs. Griffin tweeted about the mixtape several times after it was finished last week, and Quistar said the final product is unlike anything he’s worked on before, largely because of its inspiration.
“When I’m around him he doesn’t curse, you don’t hear him say anything negative, you don’t see him downtalk anybody,” Quistar said. “I’m a person that’s been through a lot and that’s changing for the better. Robert gave me a reason to….His mind works a million miles an hour, on everything, to do the right thing. I just sit there and watch him; he’s got all this on his plate and he can do it like that? It inspires me to try to get up and try to do better, to try to make more happen. Sometimes I’ve got to stop and really thank God — I don’t know how I got to be friends with this dude, but it’s a blessing, it really is.”
Of course, it goes without saying that Quistar is now something of a Redskins fan. And he’s every bit as optimistic as the most burgundy-stained partisan.
“Some learn the hard way; some never learn,” he tells Parker in Changed the Game. “We off that — Week One, Superman Returns.”