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Aspiring rapper hopes music can lift him from the streets

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Clifford Hartwell

Clifford Hartwell prepares to record a rap song at Costello Studios in Summerville in July. Hartwell immerses himself in his music when he's in the recording studio. "Rapping is my space. I tune everything out. I tune everything out and get lost," he said. Michael Pronzato/Staff 

Clifford Hartwell stands in a dark recording booth, an iPhone illuminating his focused expression. He envisions a crowd screaming his stage name, Mixa. His body rocks as he starts to rap:

"Boy it's been a long day

Yeah I came a long way"

Hartwell, 26, has been writing raps since age 12.

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Clifford Hartwell

Clifford Hartwell grew up in the Dorchester Waylyn neighborhood and has lived through violence and changes. He's an aspiring rapper and dreams of improving the neighborhood if he ever makes it big. "I wanna buy this community, man. I really do," he said. "I just wanna put a lot of things around here for the kids." Michael Pronzato/Staff

He thinks music could be his ticket to a better life. If he made it big, he could renovate the rundown home where he lives with his aunt in the Dorchester Waylyn neighborhood.

Hartwell shot hoops and jumped on trampolines as a boy growing up in the Waylyn. These days, he sees plenty of rough edges: drunks, drug addicts, shootings, the pile of trash accumulating across the street.

The Waylyn changed for Hartwell when he lost a neighborhood friend to gun violence at age 17. A large tattoo on Hartwell’s forearm reads “RIP Money” in his friend’s memory.

It’s not all bad. People here know one another like family. Even those who've moved out don’t stay away for long. Most days, Hartwell and his friends end up outside his aunt’s home on Saratoga Road, a longtime gathering spot.

And that can draw unwanted attention from police, as it did one day in July.

Three officers approached the friends as they stood talking in the street. The officers mentioned something about shootings and break-ins in the neighborhood.

They patted down Hartwell and the others, instructing the men to stand against a silver Lexus outside his aunt’s house. 

A cousin of Hartwell's stomped up.

"They always stop them,” she said. “I’m sick and tired of this.”

The officers asked to search the house. They were told to come back with a warrant. With that, they turned and left.

Hartwell let out a laugh. “All that just to tell us to get out the street."

Hartwell has tangled with the law before. He spent a year and a half in prison for stealing dirt bikes and violating probation. He's tasted the loneliness of incarceration and doesn't want to go back.

“I can’t do the same thing" he said. "I can’t.”

He has a baby girl due in December. He wants to be a good dad.

His worries melt away when he’s rapping. In the studio, with headphones pulled tight over his snapback hat, all he sees is the microphone.

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Clifford Hartwell

Clifford Hartwell (right), whose stage name is Mixa, listens to music he recorded at Costello Studios in Summerville in July. Hartwell's raps sometimes center around his experience in the Dorchester Waylyn neighborhood, where he lives. "It's hard sometimes. Once you been around it so long, you get used to it. It's normal to see someone walking down the street falling down drunk every day." Michael Pronzato/Staff

Reach Angie Jackson at 843-937-5705. Follow her on Twitter at @angiejackson23. 

Angie Jackson covers crime and breaking news for The Post and Courier. She previously covered the same beat for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive.com in Michigan. When she’s not reporting, Angie enjoys teaching yoga and exploring the outdoors.