The Local Spins series showcasing the talent of Eastern Michigan today focuses on a Detroit educator, hip hop producer and community leader who leverages collaboration to develop talent and promote education .
Producing & Talking About The Music That Makes The Difference: Rod Wallace (Photo / Kyla McGrath)
EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s part of a series partnered with Ypsilanti’s Grove Studios to spotlight artists from eastern Michigan – a venture aimed at bridging the gap between east and west. Today, writer Lori Stratton profiles hip-hop producer Rod Wallace, who has become a leader in leading collaborative hip-hop projects and launching a scholarship program for black artists.
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Fueled by community, collaboration and creativity, Rod Wallace continually breaks the mold.
The Metro Detroit educator, hip-hop producer and community leader quickly establishes and maintains local partnerships rooted in art, advocacy and outreach, including the Washtenaw County Amplify Fellowship for black artists.
âIt was a manifestation of all the work I have ever done on collaborating, connecting music to the community, and getting involved with the educational side of music. It also includes a production, engineering and project management component, and all of those things helped make it special to me, âWallace said.
Last fall, Wallace co-launched the Amplify Fellowship with Maia Evans on behalf of Grove Studios Ypsilanti and Leon Speakers Ann Arbor. The eight-month fellowship provides black artists with 40 hours of studio time and engineering and production support.
Fueling Collective and Individual Growth: Wallace (Courtesy photo)
Three artists from Washtenaw County – singer-instrumentalist London Beck, R&B singer Kenyatta rashon and singer-guitarist Dani Darling – won the scholarship, partnered with community nonprofits and started new projects.
âWe’ve seen them grow up collectively and they’ve developed such a fantastic kinship throughout this process. Individually, they all grew up in different ways too. We saw London become that machine almost as Kenyatta became a mother and Dani let go of all conventions while working on her project, âsaid Wallace, educational programs coordinator for Grove Studios.
With the end of the inaugural fellowship, Wallace and Evans will bring in another class of fellows later this year and will continue to work with nearly 40 collaborators on the next round of artist projects.
âOur team is even stronger thanks to the opportunity to work with the fellows who were part of it this year. We have great confidence in the program, and I hope to be able to use a lot of our creative and administrative energies in the future, âsaid Wallace.
IMPACT HIP-HOP COLLABORATIONS
Outside of the stock exchange, Wallace has played a central role in driving collaborative hip-hop projects at the local and national levels.
In 2020, he co-produced “Formula 734”, a community hip-hop album, with Jamall Bufford and in partnership with Washtenaw County My Brother’s Keeper, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and the Washtenaw Intermediate School District.
Together, Wallace and Bufford have brought together an intergenerational group of disparate male creators to write, record and release a fascinating album featuring emerging hip-hop artists, producers and engineers. The 12 tracks of “Formula 734” challenge false narratives about men of color and raise awareness of the underlying causes of systemic racism.
LISTEN: “Race Relations”
âWe have created a historical record for this particular period in Washtenaw County history that people can refer to. They can get a primary analysis of what it was like to be here during the COVID-19 pandemic and the troubles related to the death of George Floyd, âsaid Wallace, who hopes to start another cohort of Formula 734 plus late this year.
Wallace also oversaw two releases last year for Dirty Ol ‘Men, an international collective of hip-hop producers, musicians and curators from the United States and Japan.
The Dirty Ol ‘Men: Wallace with the band outside of Grove Studios. (Courtesy photo)
In September, Dirty Ol ‘Men released the midlife-fueled album, “Six Feet,” to reveal life-changing conversations, thought-provoking stories and enduring tales of social injustice, systemic racism, struggles. internal and personal aspirations.
Last February, they also ditched âEast Grand,â which was created in a Detroit loft on the corner of East Grand Boulevard and Oakland Avenue during a three-day retreat. The album captures the authentic vibrations of Motor City and features alternative sounds from vinyl records purchased at local record stores.
âI design these projects, so I have the opportunity to take all these diverse ideas and sounds and turn them into a collective vision. It’s almost like the albums are my medium, and I study the albums on the Zero Noize podcast, âWallace said.
This month, Wallace will join Dirty Ol ‘Men in an unknown town to work on a new project. This will be their first in-person gathering in two years and will offer a refreshing change from virtual collaboration on Songlab TV, an online approach to a songwriting session.
âMaking ‘Six Feet’ virtually was a great experience for us, and it taught us what we liked and didn’t like. ‘East Grand’ also had a lot of edits and stuff that was done online after the fact. It wasn’t all recorded when we were out of town together, âhe said.
A DOCTORATE, A PODCAST AND A SOLO ALBUM
In addition to collaborative projects, Wallace is pursuing a doctorate in educational studies with a concentration in urban education at Eastern Michigan University. Its graduate courses focus on the critical pedagogy of hip-hop, or how the creation and study of music is a method of performance for those interested in hip-hop culture.
âI studied hip hop a lot in response to social conditions. I’ve done analyzes of public policy as interpreted through hip hop, and I’ve done quantitative studies related to producers and their trends, âsaid Wallace, a former high school teacher and administrator.
âI like to call them mad scientists to a point. Manipulation with technology and alignment with artistic theory as well as the context of what is popular does not receive enough attention in terms of people and their creative capacity.
The solo album: “unfreqdblk”
Wallace plans to finish his classes this summer, prepare for the comprehensive exams in the fall, and begin his thesis later this year. He also leads UEM’s Upward Bound program, a federally funded initiative that provides students at Ypsilanti Community High School with improved academic skills and motivation to earn a college degree.
âUpward Bound has kept me grounded in being a hotspot for kids. It gave me the opportunity to broaden my knowledge about a lot of different things and my involvement in the state and the county when it comes to access to education in general, âhe said.
Wallace continues to combine his passions for education and hip-hop through the Zero Noize podcast, which provides a forum for discussing music analytically rather than comparatively. He explores classic albums with artists, producers, educators and executives and examines the impact these works have had on them.
âI wondered what it would be like if I brought people in and started talking to them about the music that made a difference. Music has touched us all at some point in our lives, so I wanted to talk with the guests about a project that represented a time in their lives that we could really dig into without getting too technical, âsaid Wallace, who released 16 episodes since February.
Wallace recently moved this musical analysis to his latest album, “unfreqdblk” (pronounced “unfreaked black”), which uses the metaphor of a broken cigar to represent the search for value in any situation. Co-produced by JB Swift, the project addresses loss, marriage, deception, resilience and growth through seven powerful introspective tracks.
LISTEN: “321 / Frontmatter (unfreqdblk)”
Released in January via Bandcamp, âunfreqdblkâ allowed Wallace to refine his lyrics against vintage and hypnotic beats and dynamic collaborations with F13ldz, Snapeasy, Josh Hype and Houston Patton. For Wallace, it is about moving from the seat of producer-engineer to that of artist.
âI wanted to be in a position where I was working on a project and all I did was rhyme. JB (Swift) gave me the tracks and the beats, and I worked on things from there, âWallace said.
The album’s thoughtful and contemplative opening, “321 / Frontmatter (unfreqdblk)”, pays homage to Wallace’s late father and reflects on his life lessons. Meanwhile, the bouncy and brilliant braggart of âSlushâ addresses how tumultuous relationships slowly erode self-confidence over time.
âI hope people recognize that there is always an opportunity to redefine yourself and understand that an end is a beginning. That’s why the project starts with my dad’s funeral because it was a transition for me, âsaid Wallace, who will be addingâ unfreqdblk âto other streaming platforms later this summer.
âI had to grow up from that and the realization that I no longer had that person in my life to tell me if I was wrong. You must have this compass in your life, and when you don’t have this compass, you must become this compass.
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