Asheville-based rapper Larry Williams, aka Po’folk, was watching football when he first learned of the challenge. Without warning, fellow local lyricist Davaion Bristol, aka Spaceman Jones, had released “Champ Sh*t,” a diss track meant to unseat Williams as one of — if not the — most respected MCs in town. Instead, the musical ploy awoke a sleeping giant.
“It lit a fire, because I really rap, so somebody coming at me like that with some good stuff, I liked it. It made me come at him,” Williams says. “I listened to it. I even learned the words. But then also, honestly, I thought he could have came a lot better.”
Within 24 hours, Williams “came back and hit [Spaceman] in the head” with “King Po’folk,” a rebuttal that he says has silenced doubters who momentarily thought a new top dog had emerged. “When he said that he could rap better than me and basically end my career, there were a whole bunch of co-signers,” Williams says. “But we did our songs, and I don’t hear those co-signers no more.”
Far from finished with their newfound rivalry, the two MCs take their beef out in the open on Saturday, Nov. 18, with a rap battle at New Mountain’s Sol Bar. (The evening also features Chachillie versus SK the Novelist and Mr. 15ive versus Mayor Black, with DJ Migo spinning backing tracks.) The live showdown will be Williams’ first — “I don’t think anyone wanted to try me,” he says — and the latest step in a life that’s been defined by overcoming obstacles and amassing personal confidence.
A native of Charlotte, Williams made his way to Asheville through the prison system and staying in halfway houses. Set on making the most of his second chance, he enrolled at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and became close with a group of fellow students who rapped and made music after school. One of those friends moved to Augusta, Ga., where he connected with a producer and shared some of the tracks the A-B Tech crew had recorded. The producer liked what he heard, especially from Williams, who’d never rapped before. The positive feedback gave Williams the confidence to try his hand at a career in music, but the opportunity proved too good to be true.
“It ended up being a scam, where I ended up having to owe them money somehow,” he says. “So, my first experience with anything doing [music] was kind of a bad one.”
Williams persisted with his education and graduated in 2007 with a degree in human services. Fatherhood further cooled his musical interests, as did a weight problem that saw him balloon to 717 pounds and landed him in the hospital. Narrowly escaping death, he emerged from the experience with a new outlook on life.
“I decided I wanted to do that musical thing one more time, because I didn’t know how long I was going to be here,” Williams says. “I shot my first video in 2012, and I was like two days out of the hospital. I could barely stand, but I rapped and then when [the director] would say ‘cut’ or whatever, I literally had to fall down and just gather myself.”
Williams has since learned how to eat a healthy diet and take care of himself, resulting in the loss of 315 pounds. In that time, his career has flourished, thanks to such connections as Young Buck from G-Unit. Williams got the 50 Cent associate to play Asheville Music Hall in 2015, and the two filmed the video for local group Ponkinhead Allstars’ “One Chance” at the Hotel Indigo. The video aired on MTV and BET, attention that Williams has since parlayed into more than 67,000 followers on his Facebook page, where he’s lately turned his attention to making comedy videos instead of rapping. When Spaceman Jones came at him, however, it forced Williams to change his focus.
“I think [rappers] underestimate me because I laugh and I’m a big guy, but I’m a wordsmith,” Williams says, alluding to the battle’s true purpose. “Spaceman Jones is an honorable guy. We can do this and still be cordial and honorable with one another. We won’t go below the belt — we already discussed that. It’s about hip-hop and the culture. It’s not like I really beef with him, because I respect him. But then when we get in that ring, I won’t pull no punches. I’m talking all kinds of sh*t about him.”
Williams hopes the event will help shed light on the Asheville hip-hop community and show other artists how to express themselves in a positive way. It’s also his goal that an evening of high-quality battles and music will lead to invitations for artists from his community to perform on larger stages. The ongoing absence of such connections mystifies him.
“It’s hard for the urban guys to even get an opportunity to perform or to show their skills. If you’re Austin Haynes [of Free Radio], if you’re Colston [Bryan Godleski of CrazyHorse & Colston], you get a show like it ain’t nothing,” he says. “The Orange Peel will have certain hip-hoppers, and [the opening acts don’t] even correspond with the type of music [as the headliners]. I don’t think Austin Haynes or them should be rapping for Nas or rapping for Scarface. They need someone like me, and we don’t get that and I don’t know why. I know I make just as much noise as those rappers. If anything, a lot of those rappers look up to me.”
WHAT: Po’folk vs. Spaceman Jones hip-hop battle
WHERE: Sol Bar, 38 N. French Broad Ave. newmountainavl.com
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 18., 9 p.m. $10