February marks the start of the Cultural Affairs Commission Hip Hop Congress’ Hip Hop Appreciation Month, themed “Homegrown: Put My City On My Map.”
Hip-hop related events span throughout the month, beginning with the Hip Hop Appreciation Kickoff, culminating with a Hip Hop Explosion concert on Feb. 26.
Hip Hop Congress Co-Director Mukhtar Kaissi, a fourth-year fine arts student, said Hip Hop Congress aims to educate the student body on hip-hop culture. This year’s theme, “Homegrown: Put My City On My Map,” highlights the importance of how the place or city where musicians come from shape them personally and artistically, Kaissi said.
On Monday, hip-hop artists Emillo and The Bakerboys are headlining the event’s concerts at the Kerckhoff Coffee House at 7 p.m.
In the back of a car during the early morning hours, third-year film, television and digital media student Patrick Fontenette would scribble down lyrics during his daily commute from east South Central Los Angeles to Malibu High School.
After writing down lyrics and life observations in notepads for the past seven years, Fontenette said he never really thought about pursuing a career in rap music until he began recording. Fontenette will perform under his stage name, Emillo, at the Kerckhoff Coffee House as part of the Cultural Affairs Commission’s Winter 2015 concert series and Hip Hop Appreciation Month.
As an adopted, only child, Fontenette said he did not have access to pianos, drums and other instruments at home, spending much of his spare time listening to hip-hop and R&B; music.
It was at a local youth center where Fontenette was introduced to musical instruments and found an outlet to get his creative juices flowing.
“I would stop by the youth center and bang on the drums or mess with the keys a little bit and have a few friends rapping,” Fontenette said. “At the time I was about 9 to 13 years old; I never really took it too seriously.”
As he approached high school, Fontenette said his interest in music continued in his hometown of east South Central L.A. as he observed life around the community.
“In my neighborhood you have a few options,” Fontenette said. “I know people that have gotten involved in gangbanging, drugs or just did not always have that full support.”
Fontenette said he attended Malibu High School, commuting for about an hour and a half to two hours in the back of a friend’s family car to pursue a better education opportunity across town.
“I started to listen to Coldplay, heard Shwayze and I got exposed to some electronic dance songs,” Fontenette said. “My experiences in Malibu definitely introduced me to a lot of different sounds. I saw more live performances, and it gave me more things to rap about.”
Fontenette said if he writes a song, it must tell a story and described his lyrical style as tough intellect.
“My latest song, ‘Paradise,’ takes into account my situation being raised mostly by women and expresses what I feel it takes to be a good dude,” Fontenette said. ”From my perception, if you want to be a man, these are the steps you have to take.’”
With influences ranging from Lauryn Hill and Michael Jackson to Lil Wayne, Fontenette said he draws lyrics from a variety of past and present observations of life around him.
“If I’m on campus, I’ll see something on the ground and be like ‘Wow, that is amazing,’ or the way the light hits the leaves … it just hits me artistically,” Fontenette said.
Third-year economics and psychology student John Li said Fontenette has a free-spirited personality and takes his music very seriously.
“There are a lot of different tones and rhythms to (Fontenette’s) music,” Li said. “One will be very party-ish and one will be very lyrical and expressive, so he is dynamic in terms of what he wants his music to sound like.”
Fontenette said he has somewhere between 25 and 30 songs that people have not heard that he keeps in a stash, writing and listening to fine-tune his work.
“To finally get a vision and perform these songs that I love and am comfortable performing, and to see how the crowd responds to my lyrics and beats is beautiful because I want to do this professionally,” Fontenette said.
Eliot Bohr was jamming and playing guitar on campus in Maryland when friends Mike and Pro began to rap over his acoustic guitar. Then, they started making beats together and exploring each other’s musical talents.
The Bakerboys was formed by Michael Brown and Damon Carter, who go by Mike Kush and Pro in their hometown of Washington, D.C. However, physics graduate student Eliot Bohr, better known by his stage name Eli, joined the group by meeting through mutual friends at a mall on campus at the University of Maryland, College Park four years ago.
Two-thirds of the group moved to Los Angeles when Bohr got into the graduate program at UCLA to explore the music scene in Los Angeles, where Bohr became a student by day, and a member of The Bakerboys by night.
“I feel like in a way, my purpose is to explain rap music to physicists, and physics to rap music (artists),” Bohr said.
Inspired by all genres of music, Brown said he wants people to realize that it’s okay to transcend stereotypes and be an intellectual as well as a hip-hop artist.
“(Eli) studies physics and he makes beats,” Brown said. “We are trying to diminish stereotypes and knock down every wall there is and be relatable. We figure a person can listen to our gritty tracks but still talk physics.”
Although Bohr studies physics, he said his first passion is music. He said his mother encouraged him to play piano at 5 years old. Then, he started finding his own instruments, like Spanish guitar, which he really loved.
“I might not have grown up in a setting where (hip-hop) was played a lot, but I really feel it, and that kind of just breaks down a wall,” Bohr said.
Bohr first learned guitar and then got into rap music and making beats.
“People started rapping on my beats, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world so I kept going,” Bohr said.
Bohr said the group’s diverse musical background inspires its beats and its raps.
“It’s gritty, soulful and acoustics mixed into a perfect storm,” Brown said.
Each member of the group writes their own beats and lyrics but collaborate with each other to produce the final mashup.
The Bakerboys want to be known by their music and beats, but they also want to expand. Brown said ideally, they want to start their own label and produce other upcoming artists.
“(Our music is) really just whatever the beat evokes. It’s more concentrated on flow as opposed to telling a story,” Bohr said. “You tell the story with the way you say it, not what you say.”