Giving Yourself to Live

The long and winding journey that made p.WRECKS a force on the mic

The room Paul Richter shares with his girlfriend is a tightly packed square filled with a neatly made bed, a computer, a television set, and occasionally a giant pit bull who lets out deep, deflated sighs every few minutes. It’s hot — maybe 75 degrees — from the oven, baking a turkey right now, on the other side of the wall. The walls are filled: concert posters, album covers.

The articulate, lanky 27-year-old — known to most as p.WRECKS — spends his life here: he paces, one foot in front of the other, in a tight path around the bed. He fills composition notebooks with his thoughts and theories, tinkers at the computer with sounds. He talks to himself. He constantly practices: moving his mouth faster, making his lips spit out his thoughts quicker.

And it’s here — in a Spokane Valley trailer park — that Richter came up with a sound that is unlike any other hip-hop artist locally (and maybe even farther than that): rap that sounds like beat poetry, words that sound like science fiction, ideas that are apocalyptic. He quotes Philip K. Dick. He preaches individuality. He wags a finger and reminds us of karma. Message always comes before rhyme.

“There’s no formula. There’s no science to it. It’s just whatever I’m thinking,” he says.

Getting all of these thoughts out is what drives him, what makes him get out of bed in the morning. It’s a constant chase — a battle to keep getting better and never lose the momentum he’s spent the past six years building. He says rapping is the only thing in his life that hasn’t fallen apart.

And it’s keeping him alive.

Growing up in tiny Othello, Wash., his parents disapproved of their son’s interest in rap. As his peers picked up footballs and basketballs, he filled notebooks with poetry.

“I was little when I was in, like, junior high and high school. I got picked on a lot. And then in small towns, it’s so cliquey. and if you’re not in with this clique, you’re in with this clique. And if you’re not in with this clique, you’re nothing. And I was nothing,” he says. “It was jocks and cowboys, basically. And I was like, ‘Oh, I like hip-hop music.’”

For his size, for being different, Richter found himself constantly fighting with his peers.

“My mom would always tell me, ‘Just let it go! Let it go!’ But you let it go for so long and then you just snap. And that’s what happened.”

He was always on the defense.

“I learned that if you hurt somebody bad enough, that they don’t want to f---ing raise their fists anymore,” he says, “Because if you hit them hard enough and fast enough, there’s nothing that they’re going to do.”

After high school, Richter came up against one disappointment after another. He joined the Marines, but was discharged for medical reasons. He went to school, but couldn’t afford the tuition. He worked — as a graphic artist, a dog-sitter, at a furniture store. Nothing stuck. He lived in his car for a year. He was suicidal. His hit-hard, act-fast mentality made him angry and bitter. He ran into trouble with the law.

As a graffiti artist he gave himself the name p.WRECKS. He felt like everything he touched, he wrecked.

After being encouraged by two local emcees who saw promise in him — Freetime Synthetic and K. Clifton — Richter tried one more time to succeed. He took his poetry to the stage. For a minute, he thought he might wreck it: he dropped microphones, he read his lyrics directly from a notebook.

But the longer he writes and performs, the more he realizes that constantly spitting his thoughts out — his unique and dark ideas about the world — the more he realizes his own worth. He’s good at this. He can succeed. The obsessive fixation on his imminent failure is welcome here. People want to hear about it. They might feel the same.

“Music is a drug, right? So if you take it in, then it’s supposed to give you a different perception of stuff. So like, maybe the way that I’m saying things can give you a different perception of what is actually happening,” he says. “It’s like a f---ing Choose Your Own Adventure novel.”

And he’s realized that he’s in control of his own ending. 

p.WRECKS performs with Phantom Balance, the Scaletippers, Freetime Synthetic, Kagah, Concept, Chynki, Lilac Linguistics, Delfonic and Bueno Garcia • Mon, March 4, at 9 pm • Carr’s Corner • $5 • 21+ • 474-1731

Music Finds a Way: The Spokane Symphony @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Jan. 10
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About The Author

Leah Sottile

Leah Sottile is a Spokane-based freelance writer who formerly served as music editor, culture editor and a staff writer at the Inlander. She has written about everything from nuns and Elvis impersonators, to jailhouse murders and mental health...