I first met Kevin “Kaze” Clarence Thomas (for real) at various shows in the Triangle. He would never say much off stage. He has mild manners that would make you think he’s quite mysterious. This isn’t the case, because Kaze has no hidden agendas. He has been in this game for a reason: himself–and he doesn’t deny this. But while doing so he has managed to be one of the most important persons in the newest generation of mutherfuckers making it and spreading it! Kaze, along with folks like Cesar Comanche and Larry Pickett, will soon reach the junior status of godfathers like DJ Madd (www.maddwaxxrecords.com) and Mr. Freeze, who have both promoted hip hop for a minute. But like Comanche, Kaze is more than a tastemaker; he is a rapper.

He was born in Northern Virginia and moved to North Carolina with his family in ’91. Kaze went to UNC, where he started out as a criminal justice major who turned into an English major who turned into a radio, television and motion pictures major. Even though he hasn’t finished this final major, he has done more with it than most graduates have. He started a well-known organization called Hip-Hop Nation. HHN evolved into a nationally syndicated television show. The show isn’t on anymore, which isn’t a reflection of the show; it was extremely popular and successful. The reason for the show’s end had nothing to do with the actual show.

It was sad when the show halted, but it freed up time for Kaze. While Kaze was exposing artists on Hip-Hop Nation, he made songs, rocked shows and kept his own rap hustle alive. But the end of HHN marked the beginning of Kaze’s extreme concentration on his own career and the birth of Soul Dojo Inc. (www.souldojo.com).

Soul Dojo, or SD, is a record label founded by Kaze. (Is this brother doing his thing or what?) SD is “is devoted to supporting independent artists whose music speaks with powerful, intelligent, energetic and personal messages,” says Adam Touw, director of SD operations. SD’s first release, Spirit of ’94, by Kaze, drops March 25. And in the spirit of Touw’s words, Spirit of ’94 relays these messages and more.

Kaze told me that his album is dedicated to artists like Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Outkast, Snoop Dogg and Wu-Tang, who dropped some serious shit in the nine-four era.

These influences are strong, but even stronger are the similarities of Kaze’s flow to another Virginia-born rapper, Skillz. Not to mention the very Timbalandesque beat on “K to the AZE.” So if ya feel Skillz, chances are you’ll feel Kaze, and if ya ask Kaze if Skillz is an influence, he’ll reply, “Not really.” Maybe there is something in the water up there.

Like Skillz, Kaze ain’t gang-banging. He raps about the rap hustle, the honey hustle (which doesn’t seem too hard for him) and his own dad’s hustle. A strong theme in Kaze’s album is his painful relationship with his father. Kaze isn’t really hating on his dad, but more working shit out through rapping, which is deep. Unlike Eminem, Kaze and his pops “are cool” and “get along.” Which is great for the two of them.

Another personal touch on Spirit of ’94 are the two banjo sounds in “For The Record” and “Last Man Standing,” which have a unique country twist. These are some of the most interesting layers in Kaze’s beats. The album’s beats are sample-free except for “Stay a Customer”–which is one of K8’s fav tracks. The lines are sharpest and the beat is slickest. In the next track, “American Way,” Kaze gives a testimony to the backward way of the U.S. of A. But Kaze isn’t always serious; he can make you laugh. “What’s Good” certainly brings a giggle, and I will leave it at that–if you wanna find out why, just cop the album. Keep your eyes peeled for the Spirit of ’94 album release party TBA. EndBlock