Count Bass D: Acting Out

Dwight C. Ferrell began his career in the mid-90s, a particularly rich era of hip-hop instrumentation that yielded the Roots, the Fugees and others. As Count Bass D, he issued Pre-Life Crisis in 1995 at the age of 22, handling the drums, guitar, keys, bass and turntable cuts himself. It drew raves from magazines such as Vibe and Musician, but Sony Music didn’t promote it properly and the album sank without a trace.

Over a decade later, Count Bass D still makes shaggy dog music that is so intimate, it sounds as if he’s playing for you in the comfort of your bedroom. The 33-year-old carves out a modest recording career: He sells music via his website,, and cuts licensing deals with independent labels around the world. Fat Beats, a New York based distributor and record label, put out his Act Your Waist Size last October.

Count Bass D doesn’t make a ton of money. Being a cult hip-hop artist is not for the lazy or the weak of heart. But at least he doesn’t have to work at UPS anymore; he quit that job in 2005. “It’s a blessing for me to still be able to do this,” he says humbly. “I don’t know how. I just keep trying somehow.” He lives in Nashville, Tenn., just down the street from Ben Folds and near Belmont University and Music Row, with his wife and manager, Oriana Lee, and their four children.

Act Your Waist Size represents a challenge for Count Bass D. Can he mature as an adult without losing the passion of his youth? “Since I’m 33 years old and I measure approximately 32 inches around my waist, I should act like it. Grow up and act like I’m in my early 30s,” he says. Then he adds, “I hope I never get old. I feel like my mind is open right now to a lot of new things around me, and I just never want to get stuck in my ways.”

Like most of Count Bass D’s recent work, Act Your Waist Size collects around 20 tracks, many lasting one or two minutes each. On the album’s best track, “Half the Fun,” he teams with guitarist Van Hunt to create blue-toned jazz; on “False or True,” he croons in a self-consciously creaky voice over 80s-styled R&B. Even his wife Oriana drops in to kick a few lyrics on “Pot/Liquor.”

Act Your Waist Size is disorderly and unpredictable, and Count Bass D takes it in any direction he pleases. Sampled bits mesh with live performance, and Count Bass D rhymes in a leisurely drawl. “The Sam Cooke of this independent rap shit,” he raps on “No Comp.” “Brothers got it twisted ‘cause I make it look easy/But they ain’t got no money, they just teasin’ me/But jokes don’t feed six.”

Count Bass D emerged during a period when “alternative” was a buzzword liberally applied to rappers – think De La Soul circa Buhloone Mindstate and Organized Konfusion — whose ambitions eluded G-funk and gangsta stereotypes. But he considers himself a hip-hop artist. In 2003 he produced Dwight Spitz as a response, inviting rappers MF Doom and Edan to spit alongside him on zippy beats. Rolling Stone magazine called it a “headphone masterpiece.”

Dwight Spitz was a gut check for all the people who had it twisted around,” says Count Bass D. “At this point, I just continue to try to give gut checks to anyone who thinks that I’ve run out of tricks, skills or something like that.”

Certainly, Count Bass D sounds different from other hip-hop artists minor or major. “People say, why don’t you go and try to get into the commercial market, or do jingles?” he says.

“This is all I can express right now. I don’t have the ability to curtail this expression into some kind of slick package,” he continues. “The thing is, you don’t have to have that many people on board with you to make a living [as a musician] anymore.”

Originally published in Creative Loafing, January 18, 2007.

Photo by Adrian Constant.

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