On the X2, an unseasonably warm day makes for an uncomfortably warm ride. As the famously crowded Metrobus crawls down H Street NE, hot shoppers struggle with bags, sweaty kids struggle to find good napping positions, and two teenage girls quietly debate whether a horrible smell is coming from a baby’s diaper or the seat of an old man’s khakis. People seem anxious to disembark until Thomas Goode, 44, boards.
Goode, better known as Kokamoe, lopes up the steps wearing a thick silver chain and clutching a hazy water bottle. The driver recognizes him instantly.
“There’s my baby! Are you gonna hit something for me?” she asks.
Others take a break from complaining to yell out requests.
“Do the rehab rap. I like that one!” says an older woman in the front.
“Hit us with a flow!” a big guy bellows from the back.
Kokamoe obliges, in his charmingly old-school, singsong cadence:
“Aw, man, forget Jill or Jack
Because I’m not old school, I’m called a throwback
Right now, forget September
I’ve forgotten more things than you’ll ever remember
Back in the day we ain’t never do Jordans
We all used to shop at Morton’s
On the bus we’ll enjoy our ride
And if we didn’t go to Morton’s, we went to McBride’s
I’m just kicking it like Jackie Chan
Because I’ll smoke the trees off a Timberland
I can flow, I can keep it so real
And I got this outfit from Forman Mills !”
As he’s recalling not being able to afford Nikes and shouting out discount clothing stores popular in the District decades ago, the bus rolls down the former riot corridor, past corners where he used to be known for selling drugs that are now home to hipster dive bars, a new Wal-Mart and even newer condos. Sometimes he smacks a seat to give himself a beat; other times he gets riders to rap along with him.
There is laughter and scattered applause before Kokamoe walks to the back and sits down. He doesn’t ask for money, and no one offers any. He has a job, a good one, as an electrician — a detail he’d share if anyone asked. Nor does anyone ever raise the more obvious question: What does a middle-aged ex-drug-dealer-turned-electrician get out of freestyling on public transit?
“A lot of people could have a bad day, and that one moment helps them,” he says. “I remember one dude said, ‘Cuz, thank God for you, because I was gonna go to this dude’s house and straight kill this dude, man, but when I got finished listening to you, I realized it wasn’t even worth it.’ ”
Kokamoe started rhyming on Metrobuses not long after his first turn on the mike at the Mirage nightclub in 1994, on the eve of his birthday. Some guys were rapping onstage, and he thought he could do better. A children’s birthday party on 15th Place SE soon after cemented things. He walked by, he recalls, and people started saying, “Take ’em to the show, Kokamoe!”
“I started rapping,” he says, “and I’ve been going ever since.”
He has jumped on the mike at cookouts and block parties, and with go-go bands. He rejects the label “bus rapper” but concedes that his best-known work is on Metrobus, which provides his biggest audience and richest source material.
While having a drink and a smoke in a Northeast Washington park one Saturday, he pulls out his phone to show off a Facebook image of his face beneath big block letters: DC TRANSIT LEGEND.
A friend, Orlando Giles, stops to say a few words about him.
“If you had a Mount Rushmore of D.C., you’d have Marion Barry, Chuck Brown, Little Benny and Kokamoe,” Giles says. “He’s a D.C. legend! All the bus drivers know him. He’s a rap star for all the people.”
Kokamoe is inspired by those words:
“Ah, guess what, they may say it’s equal
And like he said, it’s for all the people
Plop, plop, it’s like a fizz, fizz
For the old school, the young and the kids
I can flow, you ain’t got to have stress
When you look across the street, there’s CVS
Goodness gracious, great balls of fire, I’m so high, you could think I was fire
In my bottle, there’s some alcohol, and guess where we at: Hechinger Mall.”
The bottle he refers to usually holds “Kokamoe juice,” a healthy pour of vodka that he carries to help loosen those nouns and verbs. He insists it’s not an everyday thing.
“When I gotta go to work — none of that,” he says. “People see that water bottle and say, ‘That Kokamoe juice!’ But sometimes it’s just water.”
After leaving the park, he takes a walk down H Street NE, filled with people, most of whom he knows, running errands, chatting and hanging out. As he walks toward a liquor store, a group of stoic young men smile when they see him.
“Kokamoe! Hit a rap, man!” one yells.
He improvises a piece about the beer they’re drinking, and they all fall out laughing.
There is one place Kokamoe doesn’t rap much: home. He says his adult son and daughter “try to act like they don’t hear me when I know they hear me,” although his daughter will ask him to rap when she’s feeling down. And his wife, Robin Offutt, is “not really into none of it,” he says.
The couple met as teens at the Golden Dome, a 14th Street arcade where DC Coast restaurant is now. Kokamoe was already well-known in the District, but for drug dealing. He enjoyed being able to walk into a place and offer to buy everyone dinner. But otherwise, he doesn’t like to talk about those days.
“I rap about the street life, but there’s no cursing, no calling females b’s, nothing like that, and I don’t rap about my criminal history,” he says.
He has had several brushes with the law over the years, mostly misdemeanor drug possession, court records show. He has also been shot and stabbed. “It came from the stuff I did, that phase called the drug life, the street life, and then with that comes the jail life,” he says. “Then as you get older, you just get tired.”
He reconnected with Offutt about 11 years ago. The couple lives in Trinidad in Northeast with Offutt’s son and a rescue dog named Rusty. Offutt, a cook at a D.C. group home, is supportive of her husband but says “I’m just not a rap type of girl.”
She also doesn’t enjoy when fans, women in particular, ask him for pictures. “We could be hugging, and they’ll break us up: ‘Get the camera out, there go Kokamoe!’ ”
Kokamoe respects her by refusing to rap when they’re out together.
“When he’s out there, that’s when you all can have him,” she says. “When he’s with me, he’s mine.”
Offutt’s theory about why Kokamoe raps is that it helps him close the book on his old life.
“Being known for something else, for rapping,” she says, “that makes him happy.”
At Anacostia’s Uniontown Bar & Grill, Kokamoe shows up hoping to get on the mike during a go-go set with Reazon Band.
Darlene Jones of Waldorf, Md., stops him: “I saw a video of you rapping on the bus; now here you are!” He gets that a lot these days, people telling him they’ve seen videos of him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
“I didn’t know I was that famous!” he says. “They’ve got me viral and everything.”
A fair number of videos of Kokamoe (or Coco MO, Kokomoe, Cocamo) exist on social media. Most often he’s rapping from a hard blue Metrobus seat, but also at bus shelters, cookouts or in front of Anacostia’s Big Chair. The clips have names like “Kokamoe Freestyle in NASA Uniform”or “DC KOKAMOE FREESTYLE (90 BUS).”
At the moment, rapping for Kokamoe is more about ego than economics. For decades, he has worked for a former instructor from the Arch Training Center vocational school. He is also starting his own electrical business.
Still, his rising profile as a performer has him thinking about how he can monetize it. Although he and his family recently moved from an apartment to a townhouse, and he is always dressed well and can afford vacations, having fame without fortune frustrates him sometimes.
Kokamoe has been trying to do more shows and would even like to do an album, but without an agent or manager, the prospect is daunting. “I need somebody I can trust,” he says.
Profit is not on his mind one Saturday as he steps off the X2 near Chinatown. It’s warm and there are enough people out for a proper audience. As he heads west, he obliges every passerby who asks him to rap.
When he reaches the Gallery Place Metro station, he freestyles with teenagers busking by the entrance. Later, another group of kids in front of a McDonald’s spots him and calls his name. He raps while a dozen of the teens hold up phones to record.
“Kokamoe’s the truth!” one says. “I’ve seen him on the buses for 10, going on 11 years.”
Kokamoe beams as the kid tells him he posted a video of the rapper on Instagram and the commenters were calling him the best freestyler in D.C.
Kokamoe heads home, but just off of Florida Avenue NE, he stumbles across an open-air band practice. He asks the owner of the house if he can get on the mike for a second.
He doesn’t know anyone there, but as he starts rapping, he hears a familiar cry of recognition: “Hey, Kokamoe!”
Sarah Godfrey’s work has appeared in The Post, Washington City Paper and RollingStone.com. She lives in Alexandria. To comment on this story,
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