As Baltimore rapper D.King settled into a local studio to cue up the rough mix of a debut album that’s been over two decades in the making, he tried to explain why it’s taken this long.

“A lot of it is ‘analysis paralysis,’ I’m being honest with you,” he said, noting that he sometimes spends 20 hours mixing a single song. “You know, getting in your own way.” But after years of carefully crafting the record, he released the video for the single “Road To Riches” in May to announce his presence to the world.

It’s a world that, if fair, might already know his name. He’s impressed superstars like Jay-Z and has recorded with Snoop Dogg and Kanye West, but between bad timing and a busy life full of personal setbacks, he’s spent the last couple decades out of the spotlight, getting ready.

Justin “D.King” Busia is in his late 30s now, but he got an early start in the music business. Growing up on Cooks Lane in West Baltimore, he wasn’t a star student. “I was in the back left of class, I caught enough to write,” he said with a laugh. But the son of two Ghanaian immigrants was a hungry aspiring rapper who would perform on the spot for anybody he could get in front of with industry connections. One of the people D.King rapped for told him, “You remind me of my son.” Fortuitously, that was Michelle Brown of Black Friday management, mother and manager of Philadelphia rap star Beanie Sigel.

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In 2000, Beanie Sigel was part of one of hip-hop’s biggest labels, Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records. At the time, though, Jay-Z was putting together another label venture, called The Carter Faculty, run by two of his oldest friends, Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith and Briant “Bee-High” Biggs. D.King, who rapped under the name DK at the time, was only 15 years old when he impressed Jay-Z and his associates enough to land a spot on the Carter Faculty roster alongside rapper Geda K and the duo Da Ranjahz, both from Brooklyn.

The Carter Faculty’s distribution deal with Def Jam ultimately fell apart before its artists could release any music, and the label’s founders eventually put their focus on the formation of Jay-Z’s next company, Roc Nation. During his brief time with the Carter Faculty, though, D.King recorded with producers including future superstar Kanye West. D.King jumped to the independent label Babygrande Records, appearing on two albums by Purple City, a group affiliated with Cam’ron’s Diplomats crew. His 2006 mixtape “King Me” was hosted by New York radio legend DJ Kay Slay and reviewed favorably by The Source and PopMatters. The mixtape featured the Kanye West-produced “If Not Me Then Who,” an outtake from his early Carter Faculty sessions:

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Since his early brushes with stardom, D.King has slowly made his way toward figuring out what to do with his musical talent and his unique story. “You’re Jay-Z’s protégé, what the f--- is you doing?” he said at one point, beating up on himself for how long it’s taken to get back on track. He attended Howard University for a few years but never graduated, and then founded his own label, 730 Commission, recently signing the Philadelphia rapper/singer Syreeta O.

Brandon Burton, who serves as president of 730 Commission, remembers being impressed by D.King’s lyrics when they first met in 2005. “I really liked his musical style, it was something I never heard before from this area,” Burton said. “I became a fan first before a friend.”

Burton worked for several years managing tours and merchandise operations for Griselda Records, a label based in Buffalo, New York, that’s become a venerable brand name for gritty, lyrically intricate rap with a pronounced ’90s influence. Griselda’s biggest artists, such as Benny the Butcher and Westside Gunn, became stars in their 30s, defying the youth-obsessed norms of contemporary hip-hop, and Burton thinks D.King can build a fan base the same way. “Hip-hop is so young that it’s really growing into what we’ve seen with other genres. The Grateful Dead toured forever, Willie Nelson has toured forever,” Burton said. “You just need to get a large enough catalog for people to see if they like you or not.”

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“My album is my life’s work but it’s actually newer material,” D.King said while playing tracks from the star-studded “TrapMan UniverCity.” On as-yet-unreleased album tracks, he’s worked with Benny the Butcher on “Knockers,” and with the legendary Snoop Dogg on “Beautiful Thing,” and is planning out a series of album interludes that will also feature Snoop.

The demo that got D.King signed to The Carter Faculty was made with Washington, D.C., producer The Goat Decompose. And they’ve continued to foster their creative chemistry over the last two decades, with Decompose producing the bulk of “TrapMan UniverCity.”

“When I make music, it’s like he’s the other instrument added to this composition,” Decompose said. “I know his vocal tone, and I’m like, ‘This will fit him.’”

“TrapMan UniverCity” is in some ways an old school East Coast rap album, full of conversational punchlines and drug-dealing tales in the vein of early Jay-Z, but it’s also ambitious and eclectic. One of D.King’s biggest touchstones for it was OutKast’s funky, genre-blurring 1998 effort “Aquemini.” The rapper prides himself on his ability to craft not just verses but also melodic choruses for his songs: “I’m so submissive to what the music requires, if I have to sing in the softest falsetto ever.”

D.King’s particularly proud of his African roots, and his family tree in Ghana includes former Prime Minister Kofi Abrefa Busia and “The Color Purple” actress Akosua Busia. The next music video he has planned, for the song “Project Mona Lisa,” will be filmed partly in Baltimore and partly in Ghana.

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“I don’t wanna be the face of Baltimore,” he said. “I wanna be the American African.” He is well-connected to Baltimore’s current rap scene, though, singling out YG Teck as his favorite current rapper in the city. “As a lyricist, he’s amazing. People don’t even know how good Teck is,” D.King said. “We’re talking about a record we’re working on.”

At one point, D.King’s story caught the attention of Reggie “Combat Jack” Ossé, an entertainment lawyer who’d become one of the most popular hip-hop podcasters with “The Combat Jack Show.” Ossé, who died in 2017, recorded an in-depth interview with him that has yet to see the light of day, but D.King is now working with the Black Effect Podcast Network to get that audio released. It’s something that will excite the many fans of Ossé's series and, hopefully, put the Baltimore rapper’s career in context for a new audience. That Ossé influence is still a large influence in D.King’s work — “It’s Over,” the oldest song on D.King’s album, is the autobiographical track that piqued the podcaster’s interest in him. “This is what made him want to be involved with me.”

Another key track on the album came together during a fruitful Virginia Beach studio session when two major producers, Bink! (Jay-Z, Rick Ross) and DJ Toomp (T.I., Jeezy), put pressure on D.King to write a hook for their beat right then and there. Working fast on the spot, he came up with the album highlight “Acting Up.”

D.King has waited patiently for his moment to come, but he still speaks about his music with the confidence of someone who once earned Jay-Z’s cosign. As he plays “Acting Up” in the studio, he gets so amped up that he pauses the song. “I don’t want to perform in the club,” he shouts. “I want to perform in stadiums!”