Erik "P.R.E.A.C.H." Bothazy is a 26-year-old local rapper originally from Oradea, a city in western Romania about seven miles from the border of Hungary. P.R.E.A.C.H., along with his parents and sister, immigrated to south St. Louis in 1991.
After moving to St. Louis, P.R.E.A.C.H. quickly became interested in music -- hip-hop especially. He started recording his own songs when he was fourteen and has since independently released two full albums: Expect the Unexpected in 2007 and Dark Religion: Chronicles of the Nocturnal in 2010. We talked to the rapper about Tech N9ne (with whom he has worked), what he likes about the St. Louis music scene and his Romanian past.
"Raise Up" by Preach
What was it like in Romania?
To be honest, I only recall certain aspects and moments of it. Childhood was beautiful; Romania is a very beautiful country, our traditions, and my parents were hard workers. It was the ordinary: growing up in a neighborhood, playing with the kids, snow fights and throwing snowballs during the winter. That's pretty much what I can recall. But when we got to the States, that's when things really started to shape out for me.
What is your family like?
It's my mother, my father and my sister. We're the first generation to the United States. My sister, Monica, is ten years older than I am, so I'm the baby of the family. I'm the black sheep, basically. I'm the ambitious one. I'm more of a dreamer. I'm a Capricorn, so I've always been a visionary and I've always been a dreamer, but I'm also a go-getter. I'm very humble about what I do, but I set out to achieve my goals.
My family is a loving family. They're hard workers, my parents worked so hard. If I have anyone to credit and consider my heroes, it would definitely be them. A lot of my friends growing up here in the inner city never knew both their parents. That reflects back on the way I was raised.
When did you become interested in music?
I would say the summer of '93 is really when I got introduced to the music realm around me. It was through a music channel called The Box. That's when I really fell in love, especially with hip-hop. I'm a fan of everything, but hip-hop really took over in '93.
Is there any particular artist that sparked your interest?
Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. I acquired a lot of my style from listening to Bone. At the time, I couldn't even speak English. I was just going back and forth just listening to them and being able to repeat the words. So Bone was the big influence. Bone Thugs was kind of like my Rolling Stones or my Journey or Pink Floyd.
This is a horribly generic question to be asked as a musician, but where did the name come from?
The acronym means "peacefully respect everyone amongst continuous hate." People were always telling me that I sound like I'm preaching and I sound like a wise old soul. I just thought, that's it. That's the name: P.R.E.A.C.H. It defines who I am. I'm a very religious guy, I love everybody and I accept people from different walks of life. P.R.E.A.C.H., to me, is saying that music is my sanity and my heart equals the man in me. Music is truly my sanity. It's my platform and it's a way for me to convey a message to everybody. I'm the voice of the people. By way of Romania through south St. Louis, I'm your Romanian brother from another mother.
How do you feel about the music scene in St. Louis?
I absolutely believe we have so much talent. The only thing I wish we had a little bit more of is a push from these hierarchy individuals. We need a better platform to showcase our talent.
In St. Louis, we love our sports, but the music industry is such a hardship. It's like quicksand at your feet. The promotion is backwards. But for me to receive love and the compassion that I do is incredible. St. Louis roars for me, they're definitely rooting for me.
Where do you draw inspiration?
The biggest inspiration for me is my everyday struggle in life, and my observations. I put that into my music and I speak from the heart. A lot of people, when they hear the name P.R.E.A.C.H., they think it's going to be a religious rap. I'm a religious dude, but I'm still urban and I'm still for the people. People are my biggest influence.
I tend to use a lot of my background in my music. My folklore background, traditional Romanian sounds -- I'm definitely taking that into consideration. I have a lot of fans that want me to make a song where I'm rapping a verse in Romanian and I'm rapping a verse in English.
What artists in the industry do you respect?
Right now, I would have to say Tech N9ne due to the simple fact that his heart is massive and he puts on the best stage show I've ever seen in my lifetime. Tech N9ne is setting the standard for a lot these young artists. Tech is 39 years old and he's putting a lot of these young guys to shame. I'm really rooting for him.
Describe your music.
To sum it up, I would say my music is real, heartfelt, dynamic, powerful, intriguing and universal.
What sets your apart from other rappers?
Anyone can be a rapper. There's a thousand and one rappers out there, but what separates me from the rest is not only my style and delivery and my background, but my charisma. Definitely my charisma and work ethic. Promotion is key.
Where do you want to go with your music?
My ultimate dream is to take my music universal. Every home, every corner, every neighborhood, every block, every crevice. I definitely don't want to limit myself.
How are you going to make that happen?
I'm going to continue to work very hard, I'm going to step my Internet game up 100 notches and work on going viral. We're in the process of filming two videos right now. The proof is in the pudding. I have fans from Australia, Romania, Bosnia. It's just amazing.
What is your message?
My overlying message is love conquers hate. Learn to love your neighbors. Don't be so mean. Get to know somebody before you judge somebody, they just may put a smile on your face.
I love my haters. If I do have them, they must be hiding in the bushes, because I don't see them.
P.R.E.A.C.H. will be playing at Blueberry Hill on October 1 and at the Gramophone on October 15 as part of Hip Hopper's Holiday.