Embracing his music, Ekoh finds himself


He says the word twice, repeating it for emphasis, though his smile is a Judas, betraying that which he says.

“Terrified.”

That’s how Ekoh says he feels.

But he doesn’t look it.

The 20-something Vegas MC, known as Jeff Thompson offstage, grins sheepishly as he describes his apprehension over how his new EP, “Zyzzyx Road,” released on Tuesday, will be received.

Thompson may confess to being a little nervous about how fans will react to the album, which is certainly a departure for him. But ultimately, his enthusiasm rises up through his long, athletic frame like bubbles ascending in a bottle of Champagne.

Sitting inside a West Las Vegas Starbucks on a recent Tuesday afternoon during an hour or so of downtime between one of his day jobs and the next (he has three in all), Thompson seems at ease with his unease.

“I started off making music for me,” he says. “Then, when people started listening, I started making it to impress people. I tried really hard to be hip-hop.”

Thing was, Thompson was weaned more on punk than rap, and he never aspired to become an MC. But when he was in rehab for drug addiction as a teenager, he started writing in journals, getting his thoughts and feelings on paper as a kind of therapeutic poetry. This eventually evolved into Thompson recording some songs on a friend’s Macbook.

He was bashful about sharing his music with others at first, but eventually started performing, backed by his buddy, Michael Portaro. But then Portaro was shot to death while selling tickets to an upcoming show in March of 2011, and music became even more of a shelter for Thompson.

“I’m really closed off as a human since my friend died,” he says. “Sometimes, the music is the only place I feel comfortable.”

But getting out of this comfort zone was key in the making of “Zyzzyx Road.”

Recorded in Hollywood with producer Courtney Ballard, the house engineer at a studio owned by Joel and Benji Madden of Good Charlotte fame, the album shrouds Thompson’s confessional, ever-earnest rhymes in radiant pop hooks, ricocheting electronics and lilting acoustic guitar and piano.

“This is all I got,” he announces on the disc’s title track, delivering his lines with such force, you can hear him gasp for breath afterward. “And I started loving who I am when I stopped hating who I’m not.”

Getting to that point, though, took some time. It was a process, one of discovering something new in his music: himself.

“I kept trying to convince myself not to like it,” he says of the shift in direction on his latest disc. “But this is me.”

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.