I am often faced with the question of what it means to be a Hip-Hop artist from Wyoming.
“There’s Hip-Hop in Wyoming?”
“Where is that?”
"Damn, are there folks of color up there?"
"What you rap about?
“Riding horses in the street?"
“Not getting shot by a rancher?”
"Wow, isn’t that like the most conservative state in the country?"
Wyoming is a state that prides itself on the myth of the Frontier. Its folklore is filled with Wild West tales of gunfights, cattle barons, and battles between cowboys and "indians." It is home to Frontier Days, one of the largest rodeo celebrations in the world. Much of the state is desolate, but the ever-present wind eludes the perceived stillness of things. The silence is deafening, like its blistering winters; like the racism, sexism, and structural inequalities that are hidden under a veil of silence.
Hip-Hop, like any form of art, is first and foremost a product of one’s environment. Seasoned lyricists and producers learn to transcend their boundaries. But the art has a starting place based entirely on circumstance.
I’ve taken my art across the country and I’ve collaborated with artists from Harlem to the Bay Area–an amazing achievement considering where I’m from. My word will continue to spread, but my starting place is Wyoming.
I didn’t grow up surrounded by palm trees or subway stations. No block parties. No surplus of b-boys, dee-jays, or graf writers, although there were some. There were no progressive grassroots political movements. No commercial entertainment centers. No indie arts culture. No community center for the city’s underprivileged kids. No city pulse. No vibrant street culture.
But like any city, there is a “wrong side of town” in my hometown. There is a place where middle class folks fear; a place they tell their kids to stay away from. I am from that side of town, just five miles away from the state penitentiary. There is hopelessness on my side of town. The politics of fear, abandonment, and containment live in my city. There is anger there. There is also love and pride, and there is talent on the south side.
The first song I wrote was about a drug dealer’s quest to beat the odds by any means necessary. My second song was a tribute to my cousin and childhood homey, Randy Anthony Esquibel, R.I.P., who I lost at age sixteen. Conceptually, my first rhymes were influenced by the gritty street tales that streamed through my Sony walkman. They were also born out on my reality as a young working class Chicano from a broken family.
I learned to believe first and foremost in myself. My hunger to be somebody radiated out of my first recordings. I was a 17 year old boy, feeling lucky as shit to be laying down tracks on tape over Master P b-sides on my homey D-Mind’s Aiwa stereo.
My education in Hip-Hop culture began back when Randy handed me a duplicate Maxell tape of Nas’s Illmatic album. I listened to three tracks, turned it off, and put The Chronic back in my tape player.
“What’d you think?”
“It’s alright,” I replied.
“It’s alright… ALRIGHT!?! Mutherfucker this is real Hip-Hop. Listen to that ‘Life’s a Bitch’ track. That’s lyricism.
“Switched my motto / instead of sayin’ fuck tomorrow / that buck that bought the bottle coulda struck the lotto…”
“You hear the horns at the end of that cut? This vato Nas is like nineteen and he’s on some profit shit. You wanna listen to this music respect the real shit…”
And so my Hip-Hop study sessions began with Illmatic. I copied the lyrics down on paper and broke down every bar, trying to understand my primo’s love for NYC street poetry. I was eleven.
Hip-Hop is hella fun, but beyond the entertainment element, Hip-Hop for me has been about culture, empowerment, motivation, and education. As an adolescent, Hip-Hop was about surviving the frozen tundra of Wyoming, the winter of my youth. Hip-Hop taught me far more about life, politics and history than my textbooks. My rhymes were my strength in the face of hate, discrimination, and self-doubt.
Now, as a professional performance and recording artist, I’m bringing something fresh to the game, and that has a lot to do with where I grew up. While I rhymed with my homies Tim and Dre in the halls of Rawlins High School, the world of Hip-Hop existed largely in the confines of my own mind. I didn’t have a large community of poets to compare notes with, nor did I want to rhyme about a life that wasn’t mine, so I had to be innovative. That suspended state of introspection and inner creativity has stuck with me as a traveling poet. I’m constantly fusing the world inside my head with the many faces, places, and ideas that color my days.
I currently represent Denver, Colorado. I speak to youth from coast to coast. All signs point to an international music career. And I’m proud to say it all started in a small prison town in the middle of what some people call nowhere.
To make something out of what appears to be nothing. That’s Hip-Hop.