Rapper and producer Soop overcomes ‘Hurdles,’ launches new business

On the heels of a long-in-the-works new album, the musician prepares to open East Side restaurant FishBurger alongside business partner Randy Keyes

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Soop (Demetrius Howard) and Randy Keyes photographed in the new FishBurger restaurant location

Throughout Hurdles, the newly released album from Soop, the rapper and producer dips into his past, detailing everything from his grandmother overcoming drug addiction to the child neglect that permeates “Don’t Come Downstairs,” a track on which the kids are forced to huddle upstairs while the parents party below, an environment that doesn’t quite provide the safety net envisioned by the elders. As the album progresses, though, Soop begins to overcome these various obstacles, establishing himself as a husband, father and businessman — complete with a new restaurant coming soon to the East Side.

Soop, born Demetrius Howard in Akron, Ohio, 35 years ago, said the album started to take thematic focus as he worked on “Intro,” and in particular the track’s second half, where the beat moves from a simmer to a boil and the rapper casts aside his usually cool demeanor. “I’m just happy I made it through the shit I saw as a kid,” he raps, going on to detail how his grandma would sell his toys for drug money, syllables tumbling forth from the MC like timber-filled flash flood waters ripping through a canyon.

But the fevered, frenetic passage that appears on the finished album is the sixth or seventh iteration of the verse recorded by Soop, with each subsequent edition scraping a little bit further beneath the surface.

“When it came to the rapping, I was doing what I thought everybody wanted to hear, throwing a little fly shit in there, a little bravado or whatever the case is, making sure there’s lines in there and it’s barred up,” Soop said during a late August interview in Driving Park. “And my man kept saying, ‘That ain’t it. That ain’t it.’ … He was like, ‘Man, stop doing what you think everyone wants to hear and let [this song] talk to you.’”

After pausing to regroup, Soop stepped back in the booth and let the words flow, first out of frustration, and then in embracing the sense of catharsis that came with finally letting go. “It was a eureka moment,” he said. “It was no different than in ‘Hustle & Flow’ when they plugged the equipment in and got that first single off, or when Q made his demo tape in ‘Juice.’ It was that moment when I felt the lightbulb cut on and I knew exactly what this [album] was going to be about.”

Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter

The session, which occurred two or three years ago, also doubled as the moment that Soop said he started to find his own voice as an artist, a lifelong journey he began in earnest when he wrote his first rap at age 7 to “93 ’Til Infinity” by Souls of Mischief. Raised by young parents (his mom had him at age 14), Soop said he grew up immersed in golden age rap records by the likes of De La Soul, Slick Rick and NWA, among countless others. “Everything was hip-hop in my household,” said the rapper, who used to jam tissues up his nose before school in homage to Redman. “So for me, just naturally, it was like, ‘This is the thing.’”

While Soop traced the more personal pivot on Hurdles to the “eureka” moment in the recording studio, its roots stretch back years, with verses exploring his evolution as a husband and father, as well as his self-driven desire to carve out a different path from those he grew up alongside. “It was never for me,” the rapper said of the street life. “I went with my friend on one drug deal when I was like 16 or 17, and after it I was like, ‘I think I’m just gonna go to the crib. This ain’t for me.’ And that was it.”

Instead, at age 27, Soop took out a pencil and paper and started making a checklist of all of the things he hoped to accomplish, including buying his first home by age 30 (check) and starting his first non-music related business by 35, an accomplishment he can check off the list when FishBurger opens at 1808 E. Livingston Ave. in early to mid September. 

The new business is a partnership between Soop and longtime friend Randy Keyes, who launched the business shortly after he was let go from his job at Alliance Data in March 2019, selling cheeseburgers and fried fish sandwiches out of his home. Within a year, the venture expanded to a food truck and a series of bar pop-ups. The Driving Park location, now in the final stages of construction, will be its first brick-and-mortar location, and the two are already discussing the potential for expansion.

“This is our own neighborhood. … My whole family is in this neighborhood. And, at the end of the day, we have a place now where people can pop up and be like, ‘That’s my cousin’s spot,’” Keyes said. “And I never had that. Those kinds of things were unobtainable to us. Like the corner store, I would have loved to have been able to walk to the corner store and say, ‘This is my family’s.’ And now we have that for our people.”

Soop (Demetrius Howard) photographed in the new FishBurger restaurant location

In that way, the new restaurant serves as the perfect coda for Hurdles, an album that opens with Soop watching Shaq on an episode of “Cribs” and wondering what it would take for him to escape the type of poverty with which he found himself surrounded at the time.

“It’s a great opportunity for the people in our lives. … It’ll give them the kinds of opportunities that people didn’t give us, where we can create generational wealth,” said Soop, who talked excitedly about teaching his daughter, now 13, the ins and outs of the business in the hopes of giving her a better head start on her future than the one given to him. “But even this is just the beginning.”