Local rapper Endr Won, 32, answers to his stage name just as naturally as he does to his given name, Kenneth. His best friend James refers to him as both but leans towards Kenneth, while the recovering drug addicts he works with at his part-time job refer to him by his first name. His last name is known by only a few people for his own privacy and safety.
There are no distinctions between the two identities. He goes by Endr Won when releasing music, but in his songs, he parades as nothing more than Kenneth: a grateful husband and a blessed father; a driven lyricist who wears his heart and experiences on his sleeve like the tattoos that cover his body. And now, he’s a thoughtful survivor of heavy drug addiction and homelessness.
Won’s life didn’t always include the trips to the park he now takes with his son, or the happy days his family spends together at the mall. Due to addiction and homelessness, Won’s life was far from guaranteed throughout his years as a teen and young adult years. But what began as a hobby grew into a catalyst for hope.
“My goal hopefully with music is to make the understanding that it is possible to be able to change, because if I didn’t think change was a possibility, I would have never got sober,” he told the Emerald.
At first, Won was terrible at rapping, but he slowly grew better and by his early 20s he was opening up for big names such as The Game, Mike Jones and E-40, fulfilling a sizable role in the Eugene hip-hop community.
But Won’s early life was troubled. Before his teen years, he moved between cities numerous times and was the victim of sexual abuse that resulted in developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, causing a deep depression that led him to attempt suicide.
The issues worsened in his early teens as the prescribed medications given to him to treat his mental afflictions were being paired with drugs such as cocaine, shrooms, heroin and crack. He even dropped liquid ketamine into his eyeballs.
Initially enamored with graffiti, 15-year old Won began trying his hand at rhyming after being encouraged by a few guys he used to hang around and beatbox for. By this time he was homeless, and his value of life was all but completely empty.
Being homeless caused Won to lose interest in his own life. “I got to the place where I was fully under the understanding and commitment that I was going to die before I reached 16,” Won said.
Life was a nightmare Won was hoping would end: his refuge being either death or prison. He ran from the consequences of various, consistent crimes he’d committed until, at age 15, he was caught and originally faced 6 months at the Yes House in Portland, an adolescent program that stands for “Youths Entering Sobriety.”
Before his court hearing though, he took hard drugs. “I don’t even remember what [drug] I was doing,” Won said. This, on top of the mental health issues plaguing him, caused Won to lash out in court and try to punch his parole officer. “I remember my mom screaming in the background, it’s a pretty vivid memory,” Won said.
His actions in court resulted in an 18-month stay in juvenile detention that included a 30-to-60-day exiled lockdown period where the light was on 24/7 and he was offered little to no human interaction.
The remnants of his addiction came to fruition during this time. “I was going through detox and withdrawals from a cell,” Won said. “I was pretty fucked up. I remember skin crawling, hallucinating, seeing things, night sweats, cold sweats. [I] could not sleep. Looking back, I could have died for sure.”
Won recalled an experience during his lockdown when a stranger came to his room and asked if he’d like to help fold laundry. The two-hour experience simply folding hot laundry with a stranger was the first meaningful sober interaction Won felt he’d ever had, and he remains grateful for it.
After being released from the detention center, Won knew change was needed. But the road to recovery is not an easy one.
“It’s a gradual thing you learn over time. I remember when I got out of [a juvenile detention center], I eventually relapsed,” Won said. “I had a couple different relapses, but each and every single time it was a learning process, every time it was like memorizing a new page.”
On Aug. 11, 2005, he became sober. Once clean, Won began addressing the roots of his problems and making substantial progress, all while remaining grateful for persevering.
But in the last few years, Won has had to take a break from music to tend to other responsibilities such as supporting his wife through nursing school and raising their 2-year-old son, Oakland. Endr Won couldn’t stay silent for so long, though.
“I know that I’m a better person when I am actively writing and getting that therapeutic music out, and when I don’t and when I’m resistant to it, I’m way more temperamental, and I get resentful,” Won said. So through careful planning, he again started creating.
He released his most successful album “Bigger Than Me,” last year. Yielding professional quality music videos and a national tour, Won’s new, more personal music has touched more people than it ever has before.
Bubbling under the surface for Won was a need for honesty, accountability and integrity in his music, though.
“Being able to come back to it was so powerful,” Won said. “This album was like, I need to get some shit out, that’s what this album was for me. It was to finally get to that place and feel acceptance in who I am enough to be honest, like ‘This is me. This is me, flaws and all.’”
Any income that Won makes from “Bigger Than Me” is just a bonus; the true prize for Won is witnessing his music’s profound effect on his listeners.
Won said he recalls receiving an Instagram message from a stranger, saying that one night he felt the urge to self-harm until he came across Won’s music; its message and honesty convincing him not to.
“I don’t know how many times on tour he’s called me and said ‘Oh my god. This person came up to me in tears. Something I said really struck a chord with him,’” Won’s wife, Kathleen, said.
Providing support for the people in his life is something that Won takes seriously.
“With shit like that, it’s like, how do you put a number or a price on that?” Won said. Won says from experience he knows the smallest support can have a deep effect on one in need.
“The fact that I’m even breathing is a blessing, let alone having my son smile and laugh at me, let alone a beautiful wife that I don’t deserve,” he said.
And even though his rap career doesn’t reap the monetary benefits of those heard on the radio, Won says he is happy. “When people ask if I’ve made it, if those motherfuckers can see where I was, compared to where I am today,” he said. “I already made it.”