In the past year and a half, Phoenix rapper Bag of Tricks Cat has gone on national and international tours opening for nerdcore heavyweight Mega Ran, with whom he dropped a split EP. He also recruited Bazaar of platinum-selling hip-hop group D12 to appear on his track "Never Sober." A lean year for any rapper, but for a 22-year-old, it's all the more impressive.
"We sold out London, and I even had a bunch of fans there, and I made more that night," says the rapper (real name: Michael Gamarano). "I got even more love than I get at home sometimes. I got to play Comerica Theatre, and to step on to a stage like that is a big deal to me. And then I got to fly out to Detroit and kick it with D12."
Not only did he go to Detroit to work in a studio with one of his hip-hop influences, but he also was about to persuade Bazaar to come to Phoenix to appear in the music video and play a show with him. Gamarano says he watched D12 at Cricket Pavilion on July 26, 2005, and 10 years later to the day, Bazaar confirmed to Gamarano he would appear on the track. The video for "Never Sober," featuring Bazaar and Justus, came out in October.
Music runs in Bag of Tricks Cat's blood, though, as his grandmother, Ann Bennett, also was a performer. Bennett fronted big bands in the Cole Porter era, says Gamarano. She was even deemed worthy to perform for President Eisenhower. Her playing in bars and clubs of yesteryear and even performing for a U.S. president is small potatoes compared to her biggest hit: She wrote and performed the theme song to the iconic cartoon Felix the Cat.
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"She got $75 to do the Felix the Cat theme — no royalties, no nothing — and it became what it became," Gamarano says.
But Bennett was far more than just a club singer to Gamarano. She was his playmate and mentor. He says she even taught him to read and write. She employed a method, involving a small projector and screen, that she would use in singing all the rhymes from Hooked on Phonics to him.
"That's honestly probably how I got into rapping — when my brain was a sponge, all I was fed was rhymes," Garamano says.
Beyond teaching him to read, Bennett also offered Gamarano some musical advice in the early stages of his now-burgeoning career.
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"She told me to make yourself known and to get people's attention and to be dominant. She said to take command when I am on stage," Gamarano says. "But she also had bad things to say about the music industry. She didn't like the politics, and she warned me that people would try and take advantage of me."
Armed with the advice from his grandmother, Gamarano entered the music business with a mind to take advantage of it, and with a helping hand from a mentor like Mega Ran and fellow collaborators Bookie and Justus, he is well on his way to a successful career.
For now, Bag of Tricks Cat has intentions of taking a full headlining national tour following the early spring release of his upcoming album, Hometown Hero, featuring a track with all the members of D12 except Eminem.
Bag of Tricks Cat is scheduled to play at the Arizona Hip-Hop Festival on Saturday, November 14.