Phillip Hodge was born with the ability to compose spontaneous poetry. The 28-year-old lyricist has developed a career in music as the rapper Thuggizzle in San Antonio, Texas. He prides himself on rhyming “off the dome,” also known as free styling. It is the most prized skill in rapping, the ability to think of clever, intricate rhymes on the spot, often in competition with another rapper, and while in front of a crowd.
But despite the wealth of talent Hodge was born with, the home life of his childhood was one of instability and neglect.
Learning How to Channel Stress and Trauma
His mother sold drugs, and he and his three sisters grew up in and out of foster care. They were made wards of the state when Hodge was 9 years old. He said his acting out led to him being placed on a number of medications. He felt pigeonholed and was on the verge of living life on the streets.
After repeatedly getting in trouble, a staff member at the Baptist Children's Home where he was staying sat Hodge down and set his head on straight. That conversation planted a seed in Hodge’s head about channeling his stress and trauma into music.
“I remember an older staff member pulled me to the side and told me, 'Baby, you don’t need these meds, all you have to do is learn to balance your lifestyle and anger. Why don’t you use your music as an outlet?'”
It surprised Hodge that the worker remembered that he had an interest in music and rapped.
“I made up my mind to do something with my God-given life.”
“It was very powerful,” Hodge said later. “That is what opened up the musical outlet. I could say these things and not do them. Because I was doing the stuff I rap about.”
“You have to separate who you are from the artist,” he added, noting that if he actually did the acts he and others rap about; they would be in and out of jail constantly.
“Rapping is therapy,” he said. “You can put these things into an art form, and actually teach others.”
Developing a Career After Aging Out Hodge first adopted the stage name “Young Thugster,” but later modified that to Thuggizzle, a combination of “thug,” a word he had been called as a young person, and “izzle,” meaning “is him.” Hodge ultimately aged out of the system without finding a forever family. Aging out was at least partly because of his own resistance to adoption, he said, feeling it would amount to turning his back on his siblings.
“I didn't want to be adopted because I felt that would split us up,” he said of his sisters, two older and one younger. “If I had known we could have stayed together and been adopted, I would have loved it. I always wanted a family.”
Hodge, who entered Job Corps after aging out and became a nursing assistant, finds he has been reaching into his memories more often while rapping. Lately his style has incorporated story-telling elements.
“I'm getting older, and a lot of that pain is behind me now,” he said. “I've been able to open those doors and help others through that.”
As far as Hodge's musical technique goes, he is a freestyle purist. He doesn't write his lyrics down on paper, and invents them as he goes along.
“I am able to run my mouth,” he said, noting that he doesn't practice in the conventional sense. “It is a feeling. I feel what I say. More than practice, it is something I live.”
The first album he ever owned was Dr. Dre's “The Chronic,” which heavily featured the then up-and-coming rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg.
Little did Hodge know that he would one day perform with Snoop Dogg.
“It was kind of shocking,” he said of his first reaction to sharing a bill with the rap legend. “But then you realize they are just like you.”
Giving Back to Those In Need
In addition to his music, Hodge devotes time to over 17 organizations he founded for different causes. After watching an aunt fight breast cancer, Hodge started the organization Thugizzle Cares to provide support to those going through breast cancer treatment. He said every day he is out selling records, and he donates 10 to 15 percent of profits to help pay for medical bills.
“This is coming from the heart,” he said. “I let God decide who we go out there to help. At the end of the day, I'm no different than the next man, except I have God in my life.”
Hodge also founded the organization No Different Than You , which seeks to help families of children with special needs connect with someone who can relate to some of the same issues. He also founded the organization Reunited by Faith , which helps parents whose children have been removed from their custody get the services they need to work toward reunification with their children.