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British rapper hoping to break out in U.S. finds part-time home in Bergen

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

IN TUNE: British recording artist Master Shortie has quietly been making a move here. And when he’s on this side of the pond, the 22-year-old MC ordinarily stays in, of all places, Ridgefield Park.

Theo Jerome “Master Shortie” Kerlin

“Usually when people come to the U.S., they either go to the Bronx or Manhattan or Brooklyn, but not Hackensack and Little Ferry,” he told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “I got lost once. I walked from Hackensack through Little Ferry to Ridgefield Park. One day, I took the 168 [bus].”

Master Shortie, whose real name is Theo Jerome Kerlin, has his own record label (Odd One Out) and sneaker line (Pigeon Heads) in the U.K. He’s opened for rap stars Lil Wayne and Erik Sermon, and indie favorites Hadouken!, among others.

But he can walk the streets here, or in Manhattan, without being noticed.

“I’m more of a small fish in a big pond,” he said.

Kerlin was exposed to an array of musical styles from an early age, which he says accounts for the wide-ranging variety of his music – from soft R&B and electro-funk to pure pop and hip-hop. He samples New Wave star Adam Ant, rips into power pop and cites a diverse list of influences – among them, Paul Simon, Tracy Chapman, Outkast, the Roots and Prince.

Even in his dress, Kerlin mixes low-rent jeans and baseball caps with Day-Glo shirts and chains.

In the South London area where he grew up, “everyone was listening to a sound called grime and garage, which now is becoming dubstep, and commercial pop,” Kerlin told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “My mom enjoys a very pop British sound and my dad owns a jazz bar in East London.

“So my style is very eclectic.”

Here’s “Prodigal Son, ” from Master Shortie’s new mix tape, Studying Abroad”:

Kerlin’s career began with a role as Simba in an urban production of “The Lion King” at London’s famed West End Theatre.

“It was quite different from any other West End Theatre musical production,” he said. “It was more rapping and singing.”

It spawned a love for rap and hip hop.

One of his greatest thrills is performing.

“There’s something about being onstage,” Kerlin told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “When you see a crowd, it makes all the negative things you been through all worth it within a second.”

Kerlin has already made several trips to the States as he lays the groundwo rk for what he hopes is crossover success.

Website / Twitter / Facebook / MySpace

“Traveling allows me to get to know new people and to come across different music from a lot of different artists that I admire,” he said. “I draw a lot of my inspiration from artists such as Kanye West, Craig David and The Roots.

“I want to be able to do that for other people.”

It was in Manhattan, Kerlin said, where he promised himself that nothing would stop him from achieving his dream.

“I was trying to sign a couple of contracts that did not go through, so I was a bit down on my luck,” he said. “I got into a cab and the cab driver asked me what I do, so I told him I don’t really work, I just make music.  The man told me he had been working 12-hour shifts for the past two years.

“He said he’d give his right arm to be able to financially support his family, actually doing something he loves to do. That’s when I realized that it’s very rare that people in this world get to do what they really want to do in order to support themselves.  It is a blessing that I am able to do what I love to earn a living.”

He may have taken the long way from Hackensack to Ridgefield Park, but Master Shortie has come far musically in a short time.

“I want to be modest and say ‘No, I never thought I would get this far,’ but in all honesty, I did,” Kerlin said. “I have been working hard to get to where I am. Do I feel that I want to be bigger? Yes. That’s how I felt then and that’s how I feel now.

“In this day and age, it’s not about the music, which is very sad.  It has to do with luck, timing and consistency. There’s loads of people who never stick it out in this industry for one reason or another.

“You have to keep going, regardless of your age or your financial situation.  If this is what you want to do, you have to keep going and keep pushing.”

Wendoly Pantaleon, 26, is a junior majoring in Journalism at Lehman College in th e Bronx, where she lives. As the Celebrity Chaser ,” Wendoly has taken dozens of photos with musicians, actors, TV stars and other celebrities.

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