Duece Dysart confronts death, grief on ‘When the Leader Gets Lost’

The Columbus rapper will celebrate the release of his deeply personal new EP in concert at Rich Street Records on Friday, May 10.
Duece Dysart
Duece DysartJason Smith

Duece Dysart has approached the creation of albums strategically in the past, entering into the writing process with a clear idea of what he wanted to say and then constructing tracks that generally hewed to this larger thematic arc. But the Columbus rapper’s new EP, When the Leader Gets Lost, is comparatively diffuse, the tracks existing as an unchecked outpouring of emotions, with verses and even individual lines ping-ponging between expressions of grief, hope, anger, depression, confusion and conviction. 

“And that’s just what life has been these last seven months,” said Dysart, who will celebrate the album’s release in concert at Rich Street Records on Friday, May 10. “I have moments in my day where I feel like the sun is never going to rise again. And then I have moments where the future still feels like the brightest thing. But regardless of how you’re feeling or what you’re thinking, the next day comes. And that was something that didn’t always feel concrete to me. But it’s a truth of life. And I think it’s something that is baked into the project.”

The EP’s five tracks emerged in the aftermath of Dysart and his girlfriend experiencing a stillbirth in October 2023, the loss occurring almost nine months into the pregnancy and sending the family into an extended period of mourning whose ripples continue to this day. “My girlfriend is still dealing with it. I’m still dealing with it. My [6-year-old] son is still dealing with it,” the rapper said by phone in early May. “We’d been looking at the ultrasounds, getting the nursery together. And then that happens, and it’s like, ‘Oh, God. What do I do?’ … But you have to keep going and hope that at some point, if you’re lucky, you get some understanding.”

When the Leader Gets Lost never flinches when confronting these complex emotions, Dysart rapping in a deeply conversation tone about the depression that gripped him when he learned his baby son’s heart had stopped beating (“Wake Up”), the reality that not everything is within his control (“Vision”) and the importance of finding ways to press forward amid the backwards tug of grief. “Keep going, keep living,” he urges on “Keep Dreaming,” speaking to himself as much as anyone else who might be listening. 

As Dysart wrote, he leaned into his vulnerabilities, saying that it would have felt disingenuous in that moment to act as if he were either in control or in possession of some greater knowledge, which is something he might have done on record in the past. “When you’re in your mid-20s, you’re going through that first phase of adulthood and you think you have all of the answers,” he said. “But I’m 30 now. I’ve got a family. And as a person, as an artist, that really changes your perspective. … You stop having all of the answers and realize you’re really just at the start of a whole other path.”

On previous releases, Dysart never shied from telling people what he thinks. But this album, he said, is the first time he’s ever expressed on record how he feels.

The vulnerabilities surfaced in the music carried over into our conversation, with Dysart relaying the nerves that consumed him in the days before he released the album digitally last week and unpacking his shifting motivations, recalling how as a younger man he often weighed his music’s value in terms of the “likes” it generated on social media. “And what really matters to me at this point is what my son thinks of me, what my girlfriend thinks of me, and what my family and peers think of me,” he said. “I mean, I’m still human, so I still hope people like it and that it resonates with them. But when I look at it, it’s like, man, there was such a level of vanity to my music before. And that doesn’t dominate my focus like it once did.”

This idea carried over into the way Dysart viewed his role within these songs. In the past, the rapper tended to strike a more instructional pose, his verses doubling as life lessons from which he hoped listeners could glean some semblance of wisdom. But with When the Leader Gets Lost, he moves away from the lectern, instead taking a place in the scrum alongside his listeners.

“I’m not trying to teach anyone anything. There’s no real moral to the story. You’re just watching what happens in real time,” said Dysart, who credited his comfort in taking this uncertain step to the steadfast support of his family, as well as manager Jason Smith of Bertha Hill Music. “With this, I wanted people to experience life with me, to where maybe they could see where it touches theirs. And maybe you haven’t experienced the loss of a child. But maybe you’ve lost a parent and some of those same feelings are present. … It’s more about having this experience and sharing it with you.”

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