By his own admission, Dwayne Molock has always been a little weird.
As a kid, he felt like an outsider in his own neighborhood. Growing up in Baltimore, while other kids his age were out on the corner, Molock just wanted to stay home and play Dragon Ball Z or listen to James Taylor. He started rapping at a young age, and dropped his first mixtape when he was 14.
"I grew up in the projects," he says, "so I was rapping gangster stuff and pretending a life that I didn't really live." After a while, he put down the mic. "I just didn't feel comfortable rapping about things I didn't do," he says.
Molock doesn't have that problem anymore. Now living in Portland, he's returned to music, and this time, he raps about what he knows and what he loves.
He raps about cats.
When he visited WW's office, the 28-year-old wore a yellow shirt with light-black stripes, a burgundy jacket over a navy sweatshirt, and a light-pink scarf patterned with black cat silhouettes. Tali—one of four sphynxes he owns, and wearing a shirt covered in sphynx faces—walked back and forth on a conference table, looking for a scratch and a pet. Molock reached into a small cat carrier and petted the second cat in the room, Tali's daughter, Sushi. His other two cats,
Mega Man MegaMam and Ravioli, stayed home.
The cat-rap game appears to be working. Molock has nearly 30,000 followers on Instagram. His video for the song "Cat World" has over 10,000 views on YouTube. He's been featured on KGW-TV, and this week he'll be rapping live—not at a club, but at the Portland Art Museum, in front of Carl Kahler's My Wife's Lovers, the so-called "world's greatest cat painting."
Molock goes by the name Moshow, a shout-out to his dad, a high-school basketball star whom everyone called "The Mo Show." The name, he says, is "just me saying thank you, Dad, for creating me." It's clear that Molock loves his family as much as he loves cats…almost. As a gift for graduating from high school, his mother moved the family out of the Baltimore projects to Essex, Md. Molock then attended York College of Pennsylvania, exposing him to a kind of diversity he had never seen. "I grew up in literally an all-black life," he says. In college, the situation reversed: He was one of the only people of color.
"I remember going to my first party," he says. "I was used to music and people dancing, and then I go downstairs and it's just a keg and people playing beer pong. It blew my mind!"
Beer-pong culture shock was followed by another new experience: meeting his first cat. "I grew up not having animals," he says. "I didn't know what I was missing." Her name was Queeny. She belonged to a friend whose house Molock would study at. "It started with her standing right there staring at me, and I was like, 'Man, I need to get this cat away from me,'" he recalls. "And then two weeks later, she was closer, and I was like, 'All right, it's not that bad.' And then a month later, next thing I know I'm getting rubs on my legs, and I'm like, 'OK, I can deal with this.' And then a month later, she was sitting on my lap, and I was like, 'How did this even happen?'"
As the cat grew on him, so did the girl.
"She liked Lil Wayne, and I just thought that was awesome," he says. "This little girl, with glasses. You know, very nerdy. And she's like, 'I like Lil Wayne!' And I'm like, 'What? What's going on?' It just connected from there."
The two bonded over music and cats, and the sphynx breed in particular.
"I always felt like I had a connection with sphynx," Moshow says. "They're weird, like me."
After college, Moshow and his girlfriend moved to Bel Air, Md., where he launched his cat-rap career, uploading short videos to Instagram and YouTube. In them, he dances, sings in Auto-Tune and brags about his pets with an enthusiasm other rappers reserve for weed, cars and strippers, while his sphynx squad shoots icy glares into the camera. People in Maryland didn't really understand what he was doing.
"I was always known as the weird dude," he says. "I would always get stares."
So seven months ago, Moshow and his girlfriend finally saved enough money to move across the country. Portland, they felt, was a place where people seemed to be authentically themselves, where they might welcome a cat rapper. Turns out, he was right.
"I picked Portland because I felt like I was born for Portland," he says. "I was pretty much a Portlander living in Maryland."
For now, Moshow is focusing on making videos and creating all kinds of music. He says his next mixtape will include rap and more indie-rock-influenced sounds. If he has one complaint about Portland, it's that people still stare. But this time, they are staring because they recognize him. People send him pictures of himself in public and the message, "Is this you?"
"If you ever see me out," he says, "just say, 'What's up?'"
And he means it. "I don't think I'm too cool," Moshow says. "I'm just a regular guy that raps with his cats, that's spreading peace, love and positivity and telling people to follow their dreams. That's it. So if you see me, just say, 'What's up?' I'll probably give you a hug."
SEE IT: Moshow plays the Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave., on Saturday, March 12. 1 and 1:30 pm. Free with museum admission. All ages.