Hip-hop artist KRS-One once said that hip-hop is more than the music, it's really a two-sided coin. One side is being hip to the world and sharing that knowledge with listeners and, the hop side is all about dancing.
In "Hip-hop Lives," KRS-One says, "Hip means to know / It's a form of intelligence / To be hip is to be up-date and relevant / Hop is a form of movement / You can't just observe a hop / You got to hop up and do it."
Boise-based hip-hop artist David Maxwell, who uses the stage name Eleven, holds KRS-One's testament to heart. Maxwell raps about the life he has led and the things he has learned along the way. He also rocks the crowd.
Maxwell has honed some interactive stage techniques at his day job as a teacher. He spends his days guiding young minds through the rigors and joys of writing while teaching ninth- and 11th-grade English at Eagle High School. When the bell rings, however, Maxwell immerses himself in his own writing—words that he eventually takes to the stage.
Born in Florida and raised San Diego, Maxwell was raised primarily by his mother after she split amicably from his father early on. Maxwell made the point that though he grew up with his mom, his dad wasn't completely out of the picture. "My dad and I are more than just father and son, we are also great friends. He was never a deadbeat dad."
Having an always-at-work single mother meant Maxwell's home life was a bit lonely. Instead of staying home and watching TV, Maxwell took to the streets to hang out with his friends. For a soon to be hip-hop artist in So-Cal, he was growing up at just the right time. "I was a break dancer as a kid. I listened to all the big groups at the time: Run DMC, Eric B and Rakim ... I loved the whole Krush Groove era," Maxwell said. "As I got into high school, I really got into EPMD and then big time into the West Coast hip-hop when Dre and Snoop got big."
Maxwell found inspiration in the artists he was listening to in high school and formed his own hip-hop group. He christened himself Voice and along with two other MCs, started performing wherever he could—including the parking lots of other high schools and street corners. Unfortunately, just as they started to generate a buzz, the band members graduated and each went their separate ways. So Maxwell put down his microphone and headed off to Fresno Pacific University to focus on an education and sports.
In college, Maxwell earned a degree in communication and after graduation started working in broadcasting—a job he quickly realized he wasn't cut out for. Shortly after quitting his broadcasting job, he fell into what he felt was his true calling and started substitute teaching in San Diego, very quickly being hired as a full-time English teacher.
He still had time for himself outside the classroom, and somewhere in there was a brief period when Maxwell won some cash and a trip to Tahiti on a reality TV series for basically being, as Zoolander would put it, "ridiculously good-looking." After returning from Tahiti, Maxwell turned down some modeling offers, used his prize winnings to pay off his school debt and went back to being a teacher. Looking back at the television experience, Maxwell said with a smile that the experience wasn't all bad. "I mean, I got to go to Tahiti," he said.
Spending his days inspiring young minds to write also inspired Maxwell to pick up the pen again. "I thought back to the teachers that inspired me. My literature teachers were my favorite. They had me reading books and writing things that I never would have done on my own," said Maxwell. "I was writing these raps to interest the kids, and I realized how much I still liked it." Very quickly his spiral notebooks started filling up with his deeply introspective verse. "Anybody can write about cars ... money ... it's a few of us that look beyond those things and write about our real purpose in life," he said.
Maxwell started making mix-tapes of his verses to pre-recorded beats. He began getting on stage again and was soon working on projects with all original beats and production. This time around, Maxwell dubbed himself Eleven.
"I have a lot of lines that refer to the number. It was my football number and basketball number ... so I associate it with a lot of things that I do. I consider myself to be one of one and I try to hold myself above. One above the average," said Maxwell.
Five years into teaching, Maxwell found himself wanting to move to Boise to be with his would-be wife—a girl he had met in San Diego. "She moved back to Boise, and that's when I knew I had something special. It was either move to Boise or not be with her," said Maxwell. He packed his bags and moved to the City of Trees.
That's when it all clicked. He quickly finished his first studio album called The Move-Meant. The message behind the title and the album is that Maxwell believes he was meant to move to Boise. He began teaching at Eagle High School and very soon after met Noah Hyde, a Boise-based DJ.
"It has to be fate that we met. He heard some of my music and liked it. He made beats. He gave me some of them and I turned around some songs in a week," said Maxwell. The two quickly began working on a new record titled Star of the Story, which will be released this September. As of last spring, Maxwell and Hyde have a dedicated recording space next to Maxwell's wife's clothing store, 5115, on Orchard Street, where the two spend hours perfecting flow, cuts and beats.
Hyde, who had previously been more into electronica than hip-hop, said he couldn't be happier now that he is working with Maxwell.
"What gets me most about David is his smooth delivery. His voice sounds great over sample-heavy stuff—the 'rare groove' stuff [samples from rare, vintage records]," said Hyde.
Maxwell and Hyde have decided that the album will cost no more than $5 to purchase, though it is professionally produced and mastered, because they want to get it into as many hands as possible.
"A lot of people give out stuff and think that's where it ends. So what if you sold a lot of records? Did you influence anyone with it, or are they just bumping it?" said Maxwell. He said he hopes the new release makes people think.
"Moving here made me realize that I can be an individual," said Maxwell. "I preach that in my music. Be yourself. If someone is going to influence you, let it be positive."
"For people that don't know him personally, he's super positive. I've never seen him in a bad mood. He's always stoked. He's a great role model. It blows my mind that he's a schoolteacher—but now that I have gotten to know him a bit better, I can see that," said Hyde.
For more information and shows, check out Boise Weekly's music guide and visit www.myspace.com/akaeleven">myspace.com/akaeleven.