Since before he could remember, Robert Dean Washington II had an interest in gardening. Born and raised on Fort Worth’s East Side, he doesn’t often see flora thriving in his neighborhood, so he uses gardening as a means of meditation. Through his hobby, he’s learned to be meticulous, with a Zen-like focus – a skill set he’s learned to apply to his rap career.
Aside from being Robert the landscaper, he goes by Lil’ Sick, short for “still in control.”
Lil’ Sick, he said, “was a name given to me when I started to take music seriously. I embraced it.”
Washington’s hard-edged lyrics mostly deal with street life, race, and poverty. His rap style is frenetic. He’s a verbal gymnast who uses interline rhymes and clever wordplay, and he switches up the pace of his vocal lines with ease.
With his upcoming release, No Longer Local, Washington juxtaposes rap dreams and hood realities, but he draws more deliberate distinctions.
Over a span of four years, he has worked to become proficient in rap, piano, saxophone, guitar, and drums. He said he remembers days where he carried a guitar on his back to the studio.
“I lost a job because they claimed I wasn’t a ‘good representation of the company,’ ” he said. “This road to being recognized … even in Fort Worth, hasn’t been an easy one.”
More than four years ago, Potent Music Group rapper Envi Babi noticed Washington when she caught one of his gigs, and the Fort Worth-based record label signed him to a deal.
“They’ve really been rocking with me since Day 1,” Washington said. “That’ll always be the family.”
Though Washington has garnered a considerable following in the East Side and on YouTube, he said he’s looking to introduce himself to new audiences here and abroad. The name of his album isn’t just a brash statement. It’s also his goal.
“I feel like before anything, I have to be respected in Fort Worth,” he said.
He believes music is something he was meant to do. He prides himself on being a spokesman for people who have struggled. When approaching songwriting, he said, he starts with a compelling story and expands on it.
“For instance, if I’m talking about yellow, I’ll talk about everything from the sun to the hue of corn,” he said. “I refer to it as ‘reality rap.’ ”
His reality rap stems from both his personal life and the lives of people he may not know. Washington said his influences come from people he would like to figure out psychologically, whether they’re artists or not.
“I can be inspired by [anyone] … from André 3000, Jimi Hendrix, or Kurt Cobain,” he said.
This critical way of thinking has served as both a way of viewing his music and a method of survival in Fort Worth’s East Side. Washington said that overcoming his rough upbringing has been his biggest obstacle as a young musician.
“We pay attention to what’s good to us,” he said. “And being born and raised right off the train tracks … I know people don’t listen to the doctors and preachers. They listen to the pimps and drug lords.”
To reach his goals of breaking beyond Fort Worth, Washington is working with popular Fort Worth rapper Smooth Vega, Fort Worth comedian Rob C, and Dallas standout Bobby Sessions on upcoming shows. Before the year is over, Washington also plans on hosting a Fort Worth rap cypher –– a show that features one freestyle performance after another without a break in the music.
Washington said his end goal with No Longer Local is to make a name for himself in another city. The tentative date of release for No Longer Local is Aug. 17, a homage to Fort Worth’s 817 area code.
“I want to walk with a purpose and want to progress in any way that I can,” he said. “I’m on the good side, and that’s where I want to keep it.”