By Carmen Glover
An enterprising group of youthful entertainers who cemented a strong bond of friendship while growing up in the Bronx, New York, the birthplace of hip hop, is poised to storm the music scene from their dual base of operations in Atlanta, Georgia and New York City with a plethora of musical offerings under their music umbrella, The Street Roc Label LLC.
Inspired by genres that span reggae, hip hop, R&B and Rock & Roll, the ambitious musicians are passionate about their craft and determined to make an indelible mark in the music industry. Despite having their own unique styles, they are also following in the footsteps of other memorable groups such as Ruff Ryders, which was helmed by DMX and the Fugees, which paved the way for explosive careers for its members Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel.
With NWA’s biographical film, “Straight Outta Compton,” dominating the movie theaters this past summer and industry buzz building about upcoming releases chronicling the career of Snopp Dogg, sometimes known as Snoop Lion, the Street Roc roster mates see a viable path to carving out a competitive niche for themselves in the industry and solidifying their reputations as serious, conscious, hard-working, savvy musicians and budding entrepreneurs.
But, just like the 1985 blockbuster movie “Krush Groove” told the story of hip hop trendsetters Russell Simmons, Run-DMC and LL Cool J, and enigmatic musician Prince set the stage for independent producing when he left Warner Brothers after a public spat, the Street Roc team members are determined to have ownership of their work and shape the trajectory of their careers, a lesson many musicians fail to learn until they have lost all their earnings to extravagance and flash.
Kristoph Francis, 23, one of the label’s co-founders, created the name for the company based on reactions to his childhood musical performances and because the name, Street Roc,”has a nice ring to it.”
“I came up with the name when I was in high school because everywhere we went we had the streets rocking,” he recalled. Francis, who played the Congo drums in church at age 11, describes the drums as instruments that infuse all of his musical repertoire. “When I’m making my beats, I think of the drums because they give me my music sense,” he said, explaining that his cousin plays the bass drums for reggae singer Capleton, who is known for introducing the element of fire to his extraordinarily spectacular shows.
Francis said he was influenced to pursue a career in music by Michael Jackson, Jay-Z, his stepfather and a host of artists, including reggae crooner Sanchez, who came around the family often during Francis’ childhood. Meeting Young Jeezy and M.E.M.P.H.I.S. Bleek, who signed Francis’ book of raps, piqued his interest and fueled his drive to hone his musical skills.
As he puts the finishing touches on a mixed tape, which features singles such as “Back Home” and “It’s All Yours,” Francis reminisces about the day he showed his grandmother his homework, which posed the question: What do you want to be when you grow up? Francis wrote “a rapper,” which elicited much consternation and the response: “You can’t be a rapper,” which caused him to internalize his dreams until his adult mind was capable of developing a plan of action to aggressively respond to the tugging of his heart-strings and live his musical truth.
While also having an interest in music, the experience has been somewhat different for Francis’ brother, Malcolm ‘Dolo Pierre’ Jackson, 25, a co-founder of The Street Roc Label. Jackson combines his experience as an actor, songwriter, producer and musical artist to create a career path that is boundless in scope and richly textured with layers of possibilities.
“A lot of my musical and acting experiences come from the church because my mom was heavy in the church and I used to try to join her on the choir and they would let me sing,” he said, a thespian in his own right.
Citing reggae legend Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley and iconic entertainer Michael Jackson as his two greatest influences musically, Jackson strives for range in his music.
“I’ve done reggae, hip-hop, R&B,” he said, while explaining that all of the artists represented by the label “take pride in writing our own lyrics.”
Jackson, whose musical talents gained an audience when he participated in the chorus in elementary school and the band in middle school, said that being raised in a household with ‘musically inclined’ parents made a huge impact on his sensibilities.
“Music developed naturally and soon I wanted to record,” he said. As he continues to follow his heart, Jackson said that he plans to release an EP of “all original music early in 2016,” and strives to achieve the taste of success, which, for him, is “the look on everybody’s faces telling me that nobody has any question about my talents.”
Kristene “Phresh” Walker, 26, spent the first seven years of her life in the Bronx before relocating to Atlanta, Georgia, where the other members of the label gradually transitioned.
“Once we all came down to Atlanta, it solidified what we were trying to do,” Walker said, describing herself as a thinker. “I think a lot and I want to bring a lot of thought back into music because back in the day it was more about lyrics and I’m trying to bring it back to that and integrate the message back into music and the rhythm,” she said.
Walker, whose musical interest was awakened at age 13, also performed in church as a child. A solid artist, who sees her role as akin to Lauryn Hill with the Fugees, is striving to awaken “a more conscious and cultured element to the current crop of music, like Erykah Badu and Missy Elliott.” For her, being a member of the Street Roc family is comforting.
“The team plays a big part because us being together pushes me to create something that never existed before,” she said. As she continues to promote her mixed tape, “Loud Silence,” which debuted in April 2015, she is also busy working on new music. “Being able to influence others and have a say, gives me a high and pushes me forward,” she said.
Lavar “Stiff Tha Godz” Stiff, 28, another of the label’s co-founders, was enthralled when he first saw Tupac Shakur having a merry time on MTV in his classic Dr Dre-produced hit “California Love,” followed by a video by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
“When I saw Tupac in ‘California Love’ I knew I wanted to be a rapper. He inspired me and MTV opened up a new gateway for me,” said Stiff, who was 8 years old at the time. “I started acting like I was on stage, like I was performing.”
Once the music bug hit, Stiff began to formulate a plan to make his dream become a reality. But he realized that he was also interested in the business side of the music industry so he enrolled in college and completed three and a half years of a degree in business administration.
“As far as entrepreneurship, I was influenced by Master P because he came from nothing to become one of the first Black millionaires just from doing rap. I’m an artist. I write music, I rap and I helped put the label together by forming the foundation,” Stiff said, while explaining that he has a lot of different things that he would like to accomplish, including learning to play the guitar. “For the future, I’m interested in film, movies and incorporating them into the musical aspect, like Michael Jackson and his long-form videos,” he said.
For a fledgling musical entrepreneur who did not grow up around much musical influence, Stiff nonetheless developed an eclectic taste for music and an admiration for genres including reggae, hip-hop, old school R&B, Rock & Roll and Blues by the incomparable B.B. King and Muddy Waters. Yet, Stiff celebrates marijuana each chance he gets and lauds the herb on his recent EP, “High Times,” which was released on September 23 2015, at https://soundcloud.com/stiff-tha-godz/sets/high-times.
The youngest member of the group, Devon “D.O.C” Riley, 21, looked no further than two hip hop legends as a template for inspiration.
“Nas and Jay-Z influenced me because they are able to express themselves and the way they deliver their lyrics, they have something to say,” he explained. Riley developed an ear for music from his father, who is a DJ. “I was exposed to music at a young age. I felt the music. I used to be more on the reggae side but as I grew I dabbled into different types of music because I don’t want to be put in a box. My focus is to get people to understand both types of music—-reggae and hip hop,” he said, pondering the musical landscape.
Riley, who is very interested in scary movies and hopes to find ways to integrate that interest into his music, is currently savoring success with his new song “Gotham City,” which is available on iTunes.
“People have different views looking out on the world. Music is the way people express themselves and I’m working on a project on duality, to use music to explain everything,” he said.
Alexander “Spazz’ Momon, 26, rounds out the crop of label mates, who function like family by nurturing each other’s independent projects while collectively investing in the success of the label as an entity.
“We all went to high school together and we have different styles. My musical style is more energetic and technical, like Busta Rhymes, Eminem and DMX,” he said. After careful thought, Momon, who also holds down a job so that he can pay his bills while building his musical career strategically, explained that he has “been influenced by pioneering rappers such as Kool Moe Dee and LL Cool J.”
“My dad put me on to them and Wu-Tang Clan and my mother used to work in the music industry,” he said, revealing that when he first heard Rhymes’ “Dangerous,” at age 11, he was so captivated by the animation and high-octane flow that he would sneak home early from school to listen to the song over and over. Like his label mates, Momon is hard at work compiling an EP.
“My mixed tape will be ready on November 1 but I recently released the single “Bon Jour Mary” on the “High Times” EP,” he said. As he charges full speed ahead with his musical career, Momon has one objective: “I want people to understand the struggle, the triumph and the love for music,” he said.
As the multi-talented entertainers on the Street Roc Label LLC pour their efforts into a distinctive musical repertoire, they create individual projects and bring new artists along the journey to prominence. While they contemplate organizing a Street Roc tour, the label mates expect to soon hear the sweet sounds of success reverberating from coast to coast and across the globe, as they finally get their career recognition and financial rewards.
Learn more about this prolific, dynamic group of musicians and what’s next in their careers at StreetRocMusic.com—OnPointPress.net—