For the past three years Frank Rodriguez says that learning to rap has been one of his dreams.
For Rodriguez, 16, the thought of performing, recording, and eventually producing his work has brought him to this, a makeshift recording studio based inside Fountain Center on Kuhn Street. Here, the sophomore at Edinburg High School practices choreographed dance moves in the morning and then lays down original hip hop tracks in the afternoon.
“It’s not the same as writing because I would just freestyle,” said Rodriguez, who says he has been rapping since he was 13, about the recording process.
Rodriguez is a part of Finally Realizing Excellence in Showing Honor (FRESH), a youth group founded by Florida natives Lamar Jones and Shawn Elliot, who say they have developed a program that seeks to build confidence and self esteem in local youth.
The group is collaborating for the first time with the Edinburg Boys and Girls Club, which is offering the program as part of its summer slate of youth programs in the city. Potential members audition for a spot on the team, and then produce and perform their original work under the guidance of Jones and Elliot, who have years of experience in the business.
“If they (kids) can just realize how important it is to show honor and take pride in the things that they do everyday in their lives. If they can realize that, then everything falls into place under that umbrella,” Jones said. “It’s realizing how excellent they are, how gifted, how talented they are, how far they can go and what the possibilities are, they just have to realize it.”
Jones is a professional recording artist by trade and has been in the business for about 10 years. Jones said FRESH started from his experience of growing up in the rough and tumble neighborhoods of Miami in a household with his grandmother and later days spent in the Boys and Girls Club in Broward County, Florida.
Elliot has a degree in audio engineering from Full Sail, a renowned school for the media arts, and had done sound for Disney before creating Sunflower Studios in Hollywood, Florida. Some of the highlights of his career include his association with Scott Storch who has produced hits for Beyonce and 50-Cent, and remixes with R&B hall of famer Eddie Cornelius whose song “Treat Her Like Lady” topped the charts in 1971.
Jones and Elliot have been in the Rio Grande Valley since March 2008 when they first intended to open for rap music entertainer Bow Wow in Pharr. Bow Wow, however, never showed up for the gig, but it was the duo’s set that brought down the house and got them noticed by movers and shakers in the Valley.
FRESH began from that collaboration, when both realized their goals were similar. Both decided it was necessary to take on the responsibility of giving kids an outlet for their creativity, Elliot said.
“The first that happens is you see that your heart kind of cracks a little bit when you see the kids get in trouble, and it’s for no reason. It’s not like they say ‘ok, I have an option and I want to get in trouble’ it’s because they have no options,” Elliot said. “I think we were just taken aback that there was no outreach for some of these kids so we just decided to do it on our own until somebody picked us up.”
Elliot says he is a Valley native but left to Florida at the age of six and hadn’t been back until he arrived for Christmas in 2007. That was the first time he had been back in 22 years, and when he saw what was “going on with the kids” made a choice to move back down.
“FRESH is important because there is nothing like this in the Valley,” said cofounder Shawn Elliot. “That’s why we decided to stay because the kids have an outlet.
In Rodriguez’s case he said he plans to enter the music industry as a performer or producer when he’s old enough, but plans on entering college first.
“Shawn (Elliot) and Mr. Jones teach me how to show more feeling into the music,” Rodriguez said. “They have showed me and given me a lot of help and all the things I needed to know to prepare for music when I’m on my own…what’s next for me is to go to college and take more English classes to understand more words.
Anyone seeking more information can email Lamar Jones or Shawn Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-687-2259 or can contact the Edinburg Boys and Girls Club.