My last post was on August 13, 2013. A lot has happened since then.
I got a full time job as a program manager at City Year Sacramento, making the most money I have ever made in my life. That’s huge because when you grow up poor, financial stability is the one thing you desire. However, what I’ve learned is that with #momoney you get #moproblems. Good problems and learning experiences. I wouldn’t trade any of this experience. It’s taught me how to be an adult which I’ve learned is code for responsible and professional.
After I got the job, I started digging deep into Sacramento music and culture. What I found was Sol Collective. I started going to The Most Open Mic in the City on Monday nights and building a community of support and friendship with the artists there. The artists there were diverse and original and cared deeply about the quality of music that we were taking in and putting out. Andru Defeye had a unique stage presence as a host. He’s a local journalist and artist himself, who has both experience and knowledge about what was working in the music scene and how artists could rise to meet their idea of success. He would also introduce a list of rules and a HaterScreen for the open mic. AlienLogik was working the sound board and would really shape the experience with perfectly timed drops and transitional music.
I had performed a couple of times and was becoming a regular there before I connected with Natho of OGM and recorded my first couple of projects. We set up the mic stand in my sweltering hot, living room (because you can’t run the AC and record into a microphone in my apartment) and knocked out the recording for the entire first project, Marked at Birth (a Spoken Word tape), about 3 hours and 30 minutes. After about a month, we did the same thing again with the second project, As They Reminsce Over Hip Hop (a Tribute tape). These two projects were released to establish that I was taking music as seriously as my peers at The Most Open Mic in the City.
It worked. I connected with people by sharing my brand of East Coast hip hop and poetry, and that’s when I began collaborating with all kinds of artists. Luke Tailor, Themba and I formed a group called 3 Magpies and produced one song together. It took 4 months to get the song done, but we performed it multiple times and the reaction from audiences was visceral. It felt like we were a Sacramento Wu-Tang or ONYX. That’s when I became confident that I could really make some serious moves by working with other local artists. I remember the first time hearing Aerial and being blown away by someone who was so talented and had little stage experience. I was writing new material and looking for beats and my friend Guillermo had shared a picture of his friend’s music project called Providence. I took a listen and immediately fell in love with the work of Lewis M. Track after track after track I was entranced by the classic hip hop drums and sample work. It was jazzy, fresh, boom bap, dark at times and was the perfect fit for my style. Guillermo connected me with Lewis and we started talking about putting together the Coast2Coast project and originally it was just going to be us. We had a lot of similar connections and interests and at some point whether I had moved across the country or not, we would have connected. However, it was winter break of the 13-14 school year and I flying through material. Verses and full song ideas and concepts have never come so easy and quickly as they did then, but I kept hearing other people’s styles over the beats. I decided to open up the project to some of my peers at the open mic and Aerial was the first to say yes. We wrote and performed The Art of Rap and Coast2Coast has been amazing since. I was able to bring together poets, singers and emcees to create an amazing compilation album. The recording process took about 4 months for the entire project, but once it was done, it had a little local buzz. The project never received press, but when I announced in June that I only had 50 limited copies and they sold out within 8 hours, I knew there more I could be doing.
We started ZFG around the same time I started producing the Coast2Coast project. The idea originated with Andru but we all had the mindset that alone, we could only do so much, but together, we could accomplish all the things we wanted to accomplish. We needed the right team to push and make it real, so we assembled a small collective of artists, journalists and industry professionals who had one goal – raise the bar for quality music and quality music experiences. We’ve lost close friends and gained some closer ones. We challenged each other to create at a super high level, to never be satisfied and to support each other when it’s easy to do that and when it’s hard. Our list of accomplishments together is long – Guerilla Open Mics all over the city, National Poetry Month guerilla poetry series, Hip Hop Art Mixer at The Crocker, radio show appearances, multiple artists recognized in each of Sacramento’s major newspapers, booked for shows as far away as CSU Dominguez Hills, Guerilla Story Time, Chainlink Poetry, sponsoring The Mobbment, and on and on. We’re on a mission now to spread hip hop through positive means and shine light on Sacramento’s often overlooked talent. We create spaces for artists to develop and we give them real time feedback that elevates their performances and work ethic. Combining this kind of push for others’ artistic hopes and dreams is something that is directed aligned and connected with my work at City Year.
By building relationships, networking, being critical, developing others, being open to feedback, writing grants, investing in myself, I have been able to translate my growth as an artist into my growth as a non-profit professional. The same professionalism that I show up to work with – meeting deadlines, creating goals action steps, looking the part – shows up in my musical development. I have experience with budgeting for studio time, production and expenses, organizing my own shows, setting deadlines for projects, fundraising and recruiting for other artists and members of my team. It’s been a symbiotic growth relationship between my job and my art. One that had another significant high point this past summer when three of my songs won placement on City Year’s music compilation, Idealism Rocks. At City Year’s Summer Academy, I got an opportunity to perform in front of over 1,300 of my colleagues from City Year sites across the country and the world.