A month ago, 24-year-old rapper Ryan Peters of Wells was sitting in an English class at Suffolk University in Boston when he noticed he’d received not one, but 15 phone calls from a New York number he didn’t recognize.

Then he got a text from a person named Imran Majid, who said he was from the artist and repertoire department with Universal Republic Records. That’s a division of Universal Music Group, one of the biggest music conglomerates in the world and the label for such heavy hitters as Amy Winehouse, India.Arie, Jack Johnson and Owl City.

Peters, known professionally as Spose, freaked out.

“What do I do? What do I do?” Peters was thinking in his English class, where he was about to give a presentation on a poet.

He returned Majid’s call and learned that Universal Republic was interested in picking up Peters’ independent single “I’m Awesome,” a self-deprecating rap song that has been in heavy rotation on Portland rock radio stations WCYY (94.3 FM) and WJBQ (97.9 FM).

Peters went to New York City to meet with Majid and others at Universal Republic. Two weeks ago, he signed with the label. Universal Republic has taken his single to radio stations across the country, and listener response is so good that the label told him it wanted to make a full-length CD with him.

“I just got the call,” Peters said Wednesday afternoon. “They’re picking up the album, so I’m skipping classes today and I’m going to buy a keyboard, because I have to write a hit song.”

Peters has been writing songs for years, and plans to use some on the new album. He began rhyming in eighth grade and really got serious about hip-hop as a career in 2004-05, when he felt he knew he wanted to be a rapper.

“I wait tables, and every second between asking ‘Do you want fries or a potato?’ I’m writing a rhyme,” he said. “It never was for fun. If it was for fun, I’d be doing it in my room and showing it to my buddies.”

Peters self-released his first album, “Preposterously Dank,” in 2007. Mark Curdo, host of the “Spinout” show on WCYY, supported him then, so when Peters finished his mix tape “We Smoked It All” last fall, he reached out to Curdo again.

Pretty soon, the mix tape single “I’m Awesome” was getting a huge response from listeners. So much that when the folks at record labels saw that Peters was getting as many spins on radio stations in Maine as Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift, and was a top seller at Bull Moose Music stores, they took notice.

Peters was named Best Hip Hop Act two years in a row at the Maine electronic music community’s WePushButtons Awards, and last month he was selected as one of 10 Maine artists to watch by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

The song creating all the buzz, “I’m Awesome,” causes a strong response in people, Peters said. Listeners either really, really love it or really, really hate it.

The song itself is really the antithesis of the self-aggrandizing title. In it, Peters celebrates all of the things that make him “awesome” — back zits, driving his mother’s “ride,” talking to himself on Facebook, a bulging belly.

Except for the occasional use of profanity, it hardly resembles what comes to mind for most people when they think of rap songs that top the charts.

“Everywhere we play it — it’s one of those weird songs — it gets calls,” said Majid, at Universal Republic Records. The phone lines at radio stations get jammed and thousands of text messages are sent, he said.

That this tongue-in-cheek song is enough to get him a major label deal and lots of local and national buzz is mind-blowing to Peters, whose biggest ambition was to get play on WCYY.

“For it to get to this point is not only unfathomable, but completely unexpected,” he said.

He knows that other Maine artists like himself have had major record deals that fizzled, so he’s taking it one moment at a time.

“I’m not going to go out there thinking it’s rainbows and smiley faces,” he said.

On the other hand, he’s going to make the most of it.

“I want to be able to present social commentary,” he said. “You can be saying some deep stuff while getting a chuckle out of people.”

 

Staff Writer Stephanie Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6455 or at:

[email protected]