By Edysmar Diaz-Cruz
In 2007, 13-year-old Winston Kalmbach heard his first hip hop track during a summer camp program in Ocala, Florida. Yung Joc’s “It’s Goin Down” was playing loudly from a fellow camper’s phone and Kalmbach simply bopped along: “Meet me in the mall its goin down; Meet me in the club its goin down.” Later that day, he heard the song again while waiting to be picked up by his mother at the parking lot. The song was stuck in his head for the entire summer, prompting him to write his first raps on a sheet of notebook paper. He rapped some lyrics for his summer camp teacher, who was very encouraging and urged him to keep writing.
Today, Kalmbach is known to Gainesville hip-hop fanatics as Big Win, a double entendre for his husky physical appearance and nickname as well as what he hopes his fans will gain from his music — inspiration to seek out their dreams and make them come to fruition. In other words, he hopes his music provides listeners with the motivation to achieve “big wins” in life.
At 24 years old, Kalmbach has achieved more than he could have ever imagined. In the past two years, he watched his following grow, not only on social media but also as people began to recognize him casually walking the streets of Gainesville. During this time, Kalmbach began to perform local shows in Ocala, Winter Haven, and Deland, opening for artists such as Bone Thugs N Harmony, Riff Raff, Ying Yang Twins, Waka Flocka Flame, and more.
But before entering the local rap scene and before he began making music in a recording studio, Kalmbach felt stuck. “I couldn’t get a job because I couldn’t get a car,” he said. “ I couldn’t get a car because I couldn’t get a job. I couldn’t even work at McDonald’s. ”Then, one night, Kalmbach entered a local freestyle competition at the High Dive where his name was featured in fine print at the bottom of the flyer. In February 2019, he returned to the venue, this time as the headlining act. “Everything has come full circle,” he said, “That was my first show and it was the beginning of everything.”
Growing up, Kalmbach has defied all the odds set against him. At two years old, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a variation of autism. Doctors told his mother that he would need a caretaker and special education. Yet, none of that happened. Today, he hopes fans can resonate with his experience. “To a certain extent you have to embrace the things that make you different,” he said.
What makes Kalmach unique as a hip hop artist is that he grew up in an environment where hip hop and rap was nonexistent. Instead, he grew up on country music and classic rock. Surrounded by the echoes of AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Hank Williams Junior, Kalmbach sought for something more — what he didn’t know is that he would find it at a summer camp. Although he was inspired by post-hardcore bands like A Day to Remember from Ocala, where he would attend shows at local venues, Kalmach always wanted there to be a hip hop scene but it never happened.
“The key about rap is that there’s no guitar needed. No drums or anything like that,” he said. “All you need is someone with a dream who can tell the story straight from the heart.”