I was born in the 80’s to immigrant parents from the caribbean who moved to NYC in hopes of a better life. They had children as soon as they arrived and without having financial security they ended up relying on government systems for survival. This included being on welfare/food stamps, medicaid, and trusting that a public school education would provide their children with a better foundation to succeed than their home could offer in life in this land of opportunity.
As a youth I was raised in the diverse neighborhood of Jamaica Queens, fueled by Jamaican beef patties, hood Chinese spots, and local pizza shops when a “real slice” was only $1. I frequented the public library and learned to read at an early age so by the time I started school academic courses were no challenge. I did however find myself a shy and non athletic kid despite being very book smart. By the time I reached middle school, getting good grades became boring and I sought to express myself through other means. I wanted to excel socially but didn’t feel I had the tools to do so. My parents had a very hands off approach to raising my siblings and I due to working low wage jobs and raising 3 children. They attempted to enroll me in tennis and karate classes at the local YMACA to support my growth beyond school, but I didn’t stick with either. Now in retrospect I see that children emulate what those who are around them the most are do rather than doing what they are told to do.
I know my parents did the best they knew how to and faced their own struggles moving from a collapsed third world country. My father was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and was dealing with cigarette and alcohol addictions and wasn’t to working when my bother and I were born. My mother worked a series of odd jobs including one at Creedmore Psychiatric center. My earliest memories are of abandonment due to mother not being around as much as I wanted and my father not being attentive or emotionally present. I remember waking up once terrified because I was left home alone with a TV on playing Sesame Street while my father went out to get beer or cigarettes. This led me to looking inside and using my imagination to create a fantasy safe space to cope with my feeling. Not trusting my father made me angry, without knowing how to express or deal with anger I repressed emotions by putting on a overly positive persona I would hide behind all the way into adulthood. This repression would manifest in me facing my own addiction issues later on in life.
There was also a big cultural disconnect between the way I was raised and the environment I was living in. I valued friends and sought approval of teachers by being a child that followed the rules, but as time passed a rebellious nature began to grow inside of me that was matched the soundtrack of emerging Hiphop artists in the 90’s like Nas and the Wu Tang Clan.
The poetic yet street lyrics had a plethora of wisdom and uncovered a raw truth I could relate to. My mother worked at the “Colosseum”, an urban mall filled with the latest fashion, music and street culture that would eventually become exported globally. The streets were lined with empty crack viles, caution tape, and the sounds of sirens became alarm clocks alerting me something wasn’t right. As I entered High school I drifted away from societal norms and I knew I would have to take things into my own hands to become what I wanted to be. My new goals were to educate, impact and empower myself but school wouldn’t be the place I would do this.
During a rough patch of self discovery before getting kicked out of high school, I read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” which had a profound effect on me. I realized I could self educate and became an avid reader, texts like the “Tao te Ching” andthe book “The Alchemist” inspired me to seek a new lifestyle. I also studied the origin of the civil right movement, and history. Howard Zinn’s “A People's History of the United States” helped me correct false information that was taught to me through the school system. I explored different neighborhoods in NYC riding the trains to neighborhoods I never explored before instead of going to school. I wanted to take better care of my body so I began to eat healthier and exercise. I studied the origins of Hiphop in the 70’s, amazed to find out this amazing culture was birth in the same city I was by youth that where similar to myself. This informal education provided more that school ever would.
After attempting 1 semester at community college I felt the same disconnect I did in high school. To express myself I began doing graffiti, writing Poems and freestyling (improvisational rap). I left college and decided to attend a 9 month trade school in Manhattan to pursue a career in audio engineering in hopes I could work in a recording studio and be a part of making music. In audio school I met a music producer who would be one of the 1st people to record me. He taught me about the musical production side of Hiphop. He had large catalog of hiphop music from the, south, west, and east coasts. He would dig for samples from old vinyl records which exposed me to the music and artists that created the samples for Hiphop music. He also had a talent for replaying anything by ear which allowed him to add on layers to the samples that were in key. Coming from a non-musical family I was in awe of this skill and knowledge. I learned his mother was a piano and vocal teacher and he developed this skill at a young age. I began to record my rhymes to his production and learn about the music.
I stared to work at a music store and save up for my own recording equipment, eventually landing an internship at “Electric Lady Studios”, the legendary recording studio built by Jimmi Hendrix. I build a home studio and started charging people to record, focusing on a career as an audio engineer. The studio life took me deeper into the world of music, setting up drums, amps, and mic’s for professionals in the music industry. This became my life for several years, working up 80 hours a week for very little money. I no longer focused on writing or recording during this time. Recording technology was also changing; the big studio’s with the large consoles and tape machines were being replaced by computer softwares such as Pro Tools, Logic, and Ableton Live. Many big studios where closing and my career as an audio engineer was not paying well and lacked upward mobility.
I ventured into live sound but it wasn’t my passion, I wanted to be part of the creation of music. After the murder of a close artist friend Matthew “Optimus Rhyme” Hall who inspired me to rap, we threw monthly open mic/ showcases in Brooklyn to honor his legacy as an artist and activist. I ran the sound and hosted this event which brought me to the stage expressing my art for the 1st time in front of live crowds. I studied all the artists I worked with in the studio and felt I had something to offer after spending years behind the scenes. The Dj at each show (Dj Emmo also a friend of Matthew) believed in my talent and asked me put together some songs I could perform. Since I knew how to record and had the equipment, it wasn’t long before I finished the songs that he would blend and make into my 1st CD.
My life changed dramatically after this, I began performing at local venues weekly and booking my own shows with my friends from the open mics. We called our team “The Optimus Foundation” named after our fallen brother, and used the proceeds from the shows to provide free after school music programs in the housing project community centers in Queens. Through this work and through Dj Emmo I met a school teacher working the Bronx that was starting a non-profit organization “Urban Art Beat” doing similar work to what I was doing with the Optimus Foundation. After 1 year of volunteering I was hired by the company to teach after school music programs all over the city.
The youth in these programs became my biggest inspiration (even more so than the artists on the NYC independent music scene). They had no egos, no limitations by genre ,and created art from a pure space. To this day I consider these youth my greatest mentors. The stage took a back seat for me and I began to record and produce recording for these youth full time. Eventually other organizations that heard about the work I was doing also hired me as a freelancer. I began to get more work than I could handle and burned out. Music was changing and the youth wanted to express themselves in a wide variety of artistic mediums (Singing, Rap, Poetry, Dance, Recording, Producing, Playing Instruments, and Visual Art/ Video). In order to provide this service I designed multidisciplinary arts programs, staffing top notch artists of all mediums that shared my passion of serving the community.
I once again became a student and set up Creative Expressions as a legal business in 2012. I studied the mentors and youth I worked with, forming bands and learning how to compose and arrange original music with intention and purpose. It is now my 12th year on this journey (2018) and I continue to grow and develop as Artist, Educator and Person. I never forget my foundation in doing this sacred work: To Educate, Impact and Empower myself so I can serve others and help them do the same.
Love and Respect,
Creative Expressions Founder