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Sober Poet Hits Bars to Rap on Dangers of Drinking

EAST WILLIAMSBURG — Standing on the roof of his loft building known for its raucous parties, rapper Timmy Grins belted out the song he's performing at a different bar every night this month. As crowds of people watch with cocktails in their hands, Grins delivers a sobering oration — on the destructive potential of drinking.

"I channel everything inside me," said Grins, 34, of his piece "Last Call" about his own crisis as an alcoholic. "I do this to keep myself alive and vigilant, and to remind myself that at any moment I could get tempted and go down the wrong path...and my whole point is to reach people who've been thinking about quitting drinking but who are scared."

Grins — who wrote the jarring four-minute rap a few years ago about his low point with alcohol in his early 20's — has already touched viewers with his YouTube music video and with renditions at schools and nonprofits around the country. And now the New Jersey native has launched his first marathon bar performance this month, in an unlikely but poignant and convenient setting for his message, he said.

"I wanted to introduce this to NYC, since I'm relatively new here," said Grins, who now lives in East Williamsburg's McKibbin Lofts.

"I looked for every open mic night there was. Bars are where the mics are," said Grins, who kicked off his local tour at Brooklyn Fireproof's open mic in Bushwick. "And people can be like, 'That cat does a lot of cool stuff, and wow he doesn't drink. If this guy can do it I can do it too.'

"I'm not telling everyone not to drink," he added. "But with alcoholics, there's no off switch."

And Grins, who claimed he started drinking he was 16 years old and was arrested three times for drunk driving within a few years, said his "Last Call" piece still directly transports him to the agonizing moments before he entered Alcoholics Anonymous.

"I got hit with what would’ve been my third DWI in Washington, D.C.," he recalled of his drunk-driving arrest in his early 20s. "They locked me up and then let me go, and I was walking back to my car, which must have been 10 miles, in January in the cold. I went to AA that night."

Once he joined the program, Grins realized he had a chance to turn around his life — especially when he met another young man who had just hit a family of four while drunk driving on New Year's Eve.

"He didn't even remember it. He was blacked out," Grins said. "I sat there and was like, 'Wow, I'm lucky I didn't do something like this.'"

Now Grins, who started rapping in fifth grade with "a rebelliousness, an angriness to it," has been able to transform his hobby into a calling. Grins has been honored by Oprah Winfrey in her "Favorite Things" episode in December 2010, he said, and has worked with Maryland's Highway Safety Office on an anti-drunk driving campaign.

And every night he performs this month, in a new "personal journey" for April's Alcohol Awareness Month, Grins said he never quite knows what to expect. 

"I'm not against drinking," Grins said. "People should just check themselves."

Grins joked that his message has reached a new level.

"I had one guy tell me I sounded like a preacher last night," laughed Grins of his performance at Bushwick's Goodbye Blue Monday.

As long the message is received, Grins will keep rapping it.

"One guy last night told me he'd been trying to quit drinking, and asked how I quit," he said. "More people need to hear this. It helps bring people out of the shadows."

Grins' full performance schedule can be found on his "Last Call" poster.