Bullies suck. But clever kids finish first. Also a budding saxophonist at the time, Trackademicks met his grade school foe with a rhyme he performed in front of the whole class. TKO, bitches. And I mean, pretty much, basically? It’s been a wrap since.
Having built a name with reach that extends further than many might know, Track has remixed the likes of Janelle Monae, Little Dragon, Yummy Bingham, and Boy Crisis as well as produced tracks for Mistah F.A.B., Phonte of Little Brother, Tanya Morgan, Kid Sister and J*Davey.
He’s also an emcee. And and aaaaand, he’s part of a dope ass, down as hell Bay Area based crew called the Honor Roll consisting of four other emcees (Josie Stingray, Spank Pops, Mike Baker the Bike Maker, and Moxy), one producer/singer/rapper (1o.A.K.), and a DJ who doubles as the camp counselor/A&R type for this crazy ass band camp.
“We started rapping before we really knew how to rap,” recall Track and Mike who met in summer school science class and bonded over being the only two black kids.
They did come up in Alameda. The Honor Roll was named and largely brought together by the group’s mentor and friend, Wiz, who was a teacher for most members during a media training program at Youth Radio.
Why “Honor Roll?” In a nutshell, the Honor Roll is invested in what they do – they’re at the top of the class. “Honor” also represents the collective’s genuine nature with everything they do.
And, you know, they’re students – so they’re like, always learning and stuff. While Track’s story boiled down to saxes and punks, others grew to love music in their own special ways. Tap, who started DJing around 16, was a mix show fanatic, citing Vidal Sassoon, I mean, Billy Vidal and Michael Erickson as influences.
He also mentioned The Wakeup Show as formative in developing his taste in hip-hop. Wocka wocka wocka. Sorry. Having grown up in a musical church-going family, 1o.A.K. was breaking hearts at age three with his kiddie drum set, turning down church girls and whatnot. At age 10, he tried and humbly gave up the guitar in fear of becoming a young Lenny Kravitz (see: womanizing).
Mike and his bad little friend used to sneak into homeboy’s older brother’s room and listen to Slick Rick like he was a prostitute. He also watched Yo! MTV Raps at his babysitter’s like it was Transformers and took wholehearted advantage of The Warehouse music store’s return and exchange policy. Ahem. And he’s kinda nice with his metaphors.
Josie, Spanks, & Moxy were absent during my sit-in with the Honor Roll so I can’t quite do their stories justice. Though I heard Josie was writing battle raps, Spanks was busy being someone or another’s pops, and Moxy may have been on his 4th round of Blackjack blowing all his cheese, pause (since he lives in Vegas and all). Rappers.
Anyhoo. These cats masterfully swing a breadth of sound in their repertoire, juxtaposing hip-hop, soul, and electronic with 70s funk, 80s “sophisto-pop,” and new wave, amongst other things. They aim to unite music snobs worldwide by translating different music for different people.
Driven more by philosophy than sound, Track notes that ‘when you break down all these factions and the aesthetics, you find a lot of similarities between music.’ You mean you can convert me to like techno? *Dooch dooch dooch* << techno sound FX.
With a finite number of topics to write about and with modern distribution (see: jacking, zhare, gajilions of “mixtapes,” etc) making music highly disposable, the difference is in how one chooses to deliver subject matter, shares Mike.
Dubbing their music as “life music” (as opposed to “fake life music” – it’s out there) that takes listeners through a “3D” journey, the group prides and challenges itself to always bring a “fresh” perspective with music that is honest but still relevant. “There are some songs that make me ‘take off my cool,’” says Track.
“You don’t really see many rappers doing that.” I asked if he might be inclined to take anything else off at a given point, you know, if times got rough. He declined to state.
Up until now, the collective has really just been working on music and developing their artistry. Having already built quite the reputation amongst local scenesters and national tastemakers, however, the Honor Roll is making 2009 the year it all counts.
An Honor Roll mixtape and EP are both slated for this year, and you can cop Trackademicks’ single “Enjoy What You Do / Topsidin’” on Fool’s Gold Records (DJ A-Trak’s label) today.
More goodies from the crew like Josie’s “Doin’ My Thang” with Jack Davey (ft. production from 1o.A.K.) are floating around the innanets as well – let the digging commence.
A little code of conduct tip if you’re looking to kick it with the Honor Roll (who are basically party aminals. Yes, I said aminals): On 22nd and E 14th in Oakland, there is a white and orange taco truck. Orange truck = no. Fish tacos = yes. Don’t shoot the messenger.
Seher Sikandar is a Bay Area-based photographer who shoots art and lifestyle events. Check out her portfolio at rehescreative.com.