"I kinda freaked out, started calling my girlfriend, started calling my work," says local rapper/producer/photographer Ducko McFli via phone. He's explaining his sudden and extended disappearance from the Nashville hip-hop scene a couple of months back, when he was contacted about working behind the scenes on hip-hop superstar Drake's tour. "Can't get a hold of my girlfriend. Can't get a hold of my job. I don't know what to do. Realistically, I knew what to do. The regular, you know, 'Charles' was like, 'I don't know if I can do this.' But Ducko, Ducko was like, 'Let's go, let's do it!' The rational, job-having, girlfriend-having me was like, 'Look guys, it's a month-and-a-half.' "
Then again, if you get the call to join up with arguably the hottest tour on the planet — Drake's Club Paradise Tour in this instance — rational thought and adult concerns shouldn't be at the top of your to-do list. Getting your ass into that bus should be your No. 1. In the words of Fear of a Black Hat's resident philosopher Tone Def, "When you take the bus, you get there." For a young artist, the path to success doesn't include punching the clock or staying close to home. So Ducko made the only rational choice a person in his position could: He hopped on rapper French Montana's bus for a month-and-a-half — he served as Montana's photographer and videographer — to work behind the scenes at arena rap's hottest ticket.
This Saturday marks McFli's formal return to the local hip-hop fold with the release of his latest album, The Return of the Real. Originally slated for a May release, recording and mixing were put on hold while McFli jaunted across the continent. New material was added and old material reworked in an eight-day whirlwind last month. Frankly, we'd be worried if his creative engines weren't humming on overdrive after six weeks hanging out with hip-hop's elite. Ducko's the sort of dude who processes experiences and turns them into songs at a breakneck pace — if you follow "Party & Bullsh*t," the local hip-hop column on Scene music blog Nashville Cream, you've seen his name almost weekly since its beginning — and he's constantly pushing himself and those around him to try new things and make new sounds.
But on the flip side, Ducko has never been much on self-promotion, content more to work in the studio or on the stage than big-up himself on the Internet. He's been humble and driven to the point that many folks — the ones who aren't paying hyper-nerdy-journalist level attention — may have missed stellar albums like last year's King Duck and Molotov, his explosive collaboration with fellow local Openmic. But six weeks with one of the biggest publicity-generating enterprises on the road and he's ready to rectify that with The Return of the Real. McFli's one of the most productive members of a hyper-productive scene, but talking to him now you can tell that his hustle has barely gotten going.
"The actual experience of it," says Ducko, "being able to be around the power circle — this wasn't just a tour with regular people, these are the elite. Rick Ross is around, Drake is around, Meek Mills — you know what I'm saying? Getting to listen and learn and watch them as they go through the process of putting out records, watching how they did a new single and watching how they did the tour videos and how they did shows, the stuff that I learned just sitting back and listening and opening my eyes — that to me was the best part of the tour."
If anything though, it seems that McFli's road trip with hip-hop's cream of the crop has him more pumped than ever about the quantity and quality of his hometown artists. While he probably could have gotten a feature or three from hot national acts for The Return of the Real, McFli's priority was getting in the booth with his Music City crew. Expect new verses from Openmic, Evan Blocker, Sofa Brown and more of your favorite local MCs. Even though he's seen the top of the hip-hop mountain, Ducko doesn't see himself getting there by leaving his hometown in the dust.
"We've got a full roster of great arists in Nashville," says McFli. "I know more people in Nashville that make music well than you'll find in the Top 100 at this very moment."