Randy "CSmoke" Williams is a York performer who says his style is like a chameleon. He can write and sing to any style.
Randy "CSmoke" Williams is a York performer who says his style is like a chameleon. He can write and sing to any style. (Bil Bowden)

York City government officials, economic-development pros and businesspeople are hoping to reinvent York through the talents of creative people. Allow us to introduce you to the folks who could be the key to unlocking York's future. Using video, photos and text, we're putting together a database of sorts, showcasing local artists of all stripes. Check out the other artists we've tracked down and featured. We call this section "I Art York."

Randy Williams has every right to be mad.

The kid who grew up idolizing Michael Jackson -- and dancing in York City water fountains like he was starring in the "Smooth Criminal" video -- dropped out of high school three months before graduation.

Back in 1999, the climate at the York County School of Technology was anything but welcoming for black students, he said.

"I kind of got robbed of my education," he said.

Williams said he got tired of dealing with bullies and threats. So he walked away.

More than a decade later, the 33-year-old York City resident is anything but bitter.

In fact, the father of two has used his experiences -- the good, the bad and the downright racist -- to fuel the hip-hop lyrics he's been writing since those teenage days.

He's also forced himself out of his comfort zone, finding musical collaborators in genres like rock and folk.

You're just as likely to see Williams rapping on stage at the Depot as you are to see a jam band.

Actually, he's probably rapping with the band.

His style, Williams said, is "reality poetry."

"I talk about everyday type things," he said.

Williams -- whose stage name is CSmoke, a reference to Williams' doppelganger, actor/comedian Chris Tucker -- said he seems himself as an ambassador of hip-hop, the genre he grew to love as a teenager.

Hip-hop is an art -- "an urban way of communication," he said. But its artists sometimes focus too much on street life, sacrificing the genre's organic roots, Williams said.

"I'm trying to bring back the story," he said.

On a personal level, hip-hop is Williams' way "of being able to scream out loud."

He said education is a common theme in his lyrics.

However, the negative "gangster" stigma attached to rap and hip-hop has made it tough to find venues in York that will book a hip-hop show, Williams said.

But, he found that gigs were easier to come by if he performed with a band rather than a track recording.

That realization fueled Williams' desire to find collaborators in the York music scene.

"There's so much talent througout this city, it's ridiculous," he said.

Whether the music is techno, country or rock, "I'll be able to rap with it," he said.

Williams said he only ever wanted to record an album and hear a few people say "Good show."

"I only wanted my music to be heard a little bit," he said.

These days, Williams is a regular at Thursday's open mic at the Depot, 360 W. Cottage Place.

On New Year's Eve, Williams was among the performers who helped York ring in 2014 downtown.

Williams said he sees positive change in a community still healing from a history of racial discrimination.

"I see the positive movement," he said. "And a lot of it has been through music."