RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – There are 135 offenders on death row, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. Only one has the distinction of recording a rap song from behind bars.
Michael Braxton, 48, who goes by the name Rrome Alone, recorded and released “Live on Death Row.” It really was recorded live from death row.
The rapper is in North Carolina Central Prison on death row for stabbing a fellow prisoner to death in 1996. At the time, he was already serving two life sentences for two other murders.
“I’ve been locked up for about 28 and half years,” Braxton said.
After the prison murder, Braxton spent seven years in solitary confinement.
“I feel like I got the point where I lost my mind.”
His only solitude became his music.
“It was through the process of being able to write my lyrics, it became therapeutic for me.”
Getting the music out of his head and from behind bars for others to hear was a challenge.
He wanted to record, but the only way he could communicate with anyone outside of prison was through a phone. So, recording on high-tech equipment wasn’t happening.
Then he met Michael A. Betts, II, the director of Duke’s Department of Continuing Education in the Center for Documentary Studies. Betts was working on a project when he met Braxton. Six months later, he received an unexpected request from the death row rapper to help him record his music.
“We talk about music clarity all the time. We spend money for high fidelity equipment regularly and we knew we weren’t going to overcome the sound the compression that the phone has,” Betts recalled.
Like all music, it became a matter of collaboration.
Betts called Mark Katz, who teaches Hip Hop and runs The Beat Lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Katz sent up an SOS to industry friends.
“I put it out a social media,” Katz said.
He called for reinforcements to find a way to get a recording from a phone to a releasable recording. He found help, but it was not a simple process.
“It’s been hard. It’s been a journey. More than a year of trying every different possibility. Ya know anything that they could work on and there’s still limitations,” Katz said.
So, they decided, instead of fighting the phone sound, to embrace it.
“That’s actually a portion of his brand. He’s coming through the phone from behind the wall,” Katz said. “A lot of people say, this doesn’t sound like it was recorded over a phone “
Then there was a matter of timing. There was no way for Braxton to hear the music through headphones, only through the phone.
In the end, Braxton hopes the recently released single will do more than just provide a beat to entertain.
“I realize the decisions I made in my yesterdays had gotten me to the point where I was over 15 years ago,” he said.
And while he takes full responsibility for his actions, he wants those who are wrongly convicted to be heard.
That’s what the song is all about.
“With my music, I wanted to say something that’s important. I didn’t just want to use my music and the platform and the opportunity that I have just for entertainment. Of course, I love entertaining, and I love to sing and rap, but I wanted to have some type of message included with my music,” Braxton said.
As far as any profits that may come, he has a plan for those.
“I want them to give the money to family members and victims of crime,” Braxton said.