Rapping about Rockville, whose not-so-mean streets make for a nice suburb

"The Rockville Rap, by Rockville Slim." (Youtube/Rockville Slim)

John Kelly
Columnist June 16

Scorsese has New York. Joyce had Dublin. Rockville is very special to me.”

So says Rockville Slim, a 30-something artist who wrote and recorded a rap song about the MoCo suburb, the video of which was greeted with equal parts delight and derision when it was uploaded to YouTube late last month.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

A representative online comment from someone who didn’t get the joke: “Thank you for bringing a gray cloud of shame to Rockville by showcasing and exploiting your white male privilege.”

Slim’s goofy, giddy video is equal parts travelogue, history lesson and chamber of commerce PowerPoint. He name-checks Rockville’s historic Beall-Dawson House and the Original Pancake House. He lauds the stellar SAT scores at Wootton High School and includes a Nike missile emerging, Monty Python-style, from the head of Revolutionary War hero Richard Montgomery.

He raps atop Womack Pest Control, a 71-year-old Rockville business. Why? Because the building’s distinctive paintwork features a creepy five-foot-tall termite, something Slim saw every day when he was a boy living in a nearby apartment complex.


A scene from a rap video posted on YouTube by Rockville Slim that celebrates Rockville. (Courtesy of Jack Flint)

“That termite was such an important part of growing up,” he said. “That might be a direct link to why I became an artist, because the graphic design of this logo is etched into my mind. And I wanted to capture it before it was gone. And that’s the point in a way.”

The point being: Suburbs, like cities, have material culture that influences their residents. Grow up in Paris, and the Eiffel Tower is important. Grow up in Rockville, and the Womack termite gets lodged in your brain. And just as we mourn the loss of Washington’s historic Rhodes Tavern, shouldn’t we also mourn the loss of Rockville’s Peaches Records or Montgomery Donuts?

Ironically, though Rockville Slim is very slim, he doesn’t live in Rockville, at least not anymore. He traded Rockville for Virginia after seventh grade, though he returned often to visit his grandparents. Now he lives in the District. (Slim asked that I not print his real name, because he doesn’t want his non-musical day job mixed up with his musical exploits.)

Perhaps it was the experience of living somewhere long enough to get a taste for it, but not so long that you get bored with it, that made Slim the perfect person to, as he raps, be puttin’ the “Rock” back in Rockville, puttin’ the “ill” back in Rockville.

“I started writing the song years ago,” he said. “When I started traveling internationally, people would ask, ‘Where are you from?’ I would say, ‘I’m from Washington, D.C.’ They’d say, ‘Are you really from Washington?’

“There was that snobbery about Washington.”

Slim decided to embrace his formative Rockville years. “When I saw the Arlington rap [video], I said we should have one,” he said.

Arlington: The Rap” is the tongue-in-cheek video that comic Remy created to much acclaim five years ago. It’s been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube. That dwarfs “Rockville Rap’s” 22,000 views, but even that is a lot more than Rockville Slim expected.

“I was thinking 500 to 700 hits, max. What Connor and Jack and I were talking about was this would be cool to watch drunk on a Friday night like five years from now,” said Slim, referring to editor Connor Scalzi and cameraman Jack Flint, who shot the video and edited it at the Video Editor in, naturally, Rockville. (The song was produced by DJ Maxitaur.)

The rap is a rebuke to a certain indie band.

“All we had as kids growing up was ‘Don’t Go Back to Rockville,’ ” Slim said of the R.E.M. hit. “It’s like this twangy, weird country song. . . . We got the Georgia version of Rockville. I didn’t want that. I wanted that cast aside.”

Friends have asked Rockville Slim what his next project will be. He hinted that it might be time to pass the baton.

“I would know my project’s successful if some kid in Bowie makes a Bowie rap after this,” Rockville Slim said.

Okay, suburban rappers, the challenge has been issued. It’s time to start puttin’ the “ow” back in Bowie, puttin’ the “Chant” in Chantilly, puttin’ the “Spring” back in Springfield and puttin’ the shizzle-dizzle back into Silver Sprizzle.

Send a Kid to Camp

On Monday, the first children will arrive at Camp Moss Hollow, the summer camp for at-risk kids that’s supported by Washington Post readers. You can help by making a donation. Go to www.familymattersdc.org. Or send a check, payable to “Send a Kid to Camp,” to Family Matters of Greater Washington, 1509 16th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036, Attn: Accounting Dept.

Now is a great time to give because an anonymous donor is matching gifts up to a total of $100,000. What’s more, our friends at Clyde’s are providing gift certificates to their fine restaurants. If you donate between $200 and $299, you’ll receive a $25 gift certificate. Give $300 or more, and you’ll get a $50 gift certificate. (Certificates will be mailed in August.)

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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