Geoff Gary, known to most by his stage name, Mr Free, has lived everywhere from Cairo to Tokyo and held many diverse jobs along the way—one valet job at a Kauai hotel even led him to freestyle rap for the rock band Creed. “They came to stay at the hotel and we ended up kickin’ it,” remembers Free. “One thing led to another, and I rhymed for them.” Free, who first began dabbling in hip-hop during his time at the University of Maine, was moved by the band’s response to his lyrics. “I never really took it too seriously until I met Creed,” he says. “They even said to me, before they even heard my music, ‘Do you do anything musical? Because you have the presence of a star.’ … That’s what got me started—kind of this belief in me that transcended my own belief.” Following their serendipitous meeting, Creed’s lead vocalist/lyricist, Scott Stapp, took Free under his wing—a mentorship that would eventually lead to Free opening for Creed and rapper Common on tour. Currently based in Santa Cruz, Free’s energetic reggae-infused tracks are reminiscent of the boom bap-style prevalent in East Coast hip-hop, which is characterized by a hard bass drum and snapping snare. Thought-provoking lyrical content is the foundation for his danceable hits, like “Not Guilty” off his latest album, Edge. In the song, Free puts the planet on trial, and everyone—from Bob Marley to Gandhi—comes to testify. While he acknowledges that dirty club bangers are often the big money-makers, Free favors quality over quantity. “As a writer, there’s times when I’m listening to a beat and I’m like, I could easily make a raunchy song to this,” he explains, “but no, let me choose a different path and really stand firm and say something.”
INFO: 8 p.m. Thursday, Mar. 8. The Crow’s Nest, 2218 E. Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz. $5. 476-4560.