Yong Tru is “popping like bacon”: He has “more rings than a phone call”—and a freshly recorded verse bringing him one step closer to his dream of being a professional musician.
Yong Tru, a.k.a. You Only Need God To Rise Up, a.k.a. Trevor Smith, stepped into the recording booth the other day at Ugly Radio, the online radio station downtown on Chapel Street. Click the video to see the 18-year-old rap.
In another room at the station, Smith’s partner and manager, Marlon Pastor-Staten Jr., was working with a group to script a radio commercial to promote a new music project.
The two teens are part of a group of young people taking part in a summer program at Ugly Radio, learning about all aspects of audio recording and radio production and marketing. It’s a joint effort of the station, the city, and Ice The Beef, an anti-violence organization. The program, which stems from the mayor’s Youth Stat initiative to curb violence and engage young people in the city, came together with the help of city youth services chief Jason Bartlett
For seven weeks, Ugly Radio’s Joe Ugly and other staffers are leading 18 teens in a variety of activities and projects designed to expose them to new possible career avenues in music, radio, and media.
“A lot of kids already have a connection to music,” said Ugly. “They all have an interest in the business.” The summer program is a way to “use that avenue to show them there’s more to it than rapping.”
The music and radio business also has jobs for DJs, producers, sound engineers, and people who write commercials—like Pastor-Staten and three other teens were doing on Thursday.
In a conference room overlooking Chapel Street, Ugly Radio’s Preston Wilson (pictured) led the group on Thursday through a brainstorming session creating a brand identity for a new music project called “Concentrate on Revolutionizing Everything” (CORE).
A whiteboard was covered with ideas: “clean” and positive rap music, focused on getting kids off the street, nonviolent. The group set about writing a script based on those themes, for a radio ad for CORE.
“We’ll make it like a doughnut,” Wilson said—talking first, then music, then talking to end it.
“CORE is more than just a brand,” Pastor-Staten (at left in photo) wrote. “We are a way of life, helping youth off the streets.”
Meanwhile, in another room, Smith (pictured) was behind glass in a recording booth, getting ready to perform a rap he’d just written, reading the lyrics off his phone.
Ugly Radio producer Daniene “NuNu” Hardy was at a recording station, laying down a beat for Smith. She’d just recorded a verse by Dontai “Ghetto BeBop” Moore, an emcee and Ugly Radio DJ.
Smith ran through a first take. “That sounded dead!” he said after listening to the playback. He headed back in the recording booth for another go at it. “Excuse me if I get loud.”
After another couple of takes, he had one he liked. Other summer-program teens offered notes, or worked on their own rhymes to record.
“You need ad-libs,” Hardy told Smith. He stepped to the mic again to record a second track over his verse. “Right? ... True ... Uh huh ... nine, 10!” he interjected over his rap.
During a lunch break across Temple Street at Chipotle, Smith spoke about his aspirations. He’s a student of architecture and civil engineering and Gateway Community College, he said.
As a rapper, he’s trying to make positive music, hip-hop without drugs and guns and violence.
“Because nobody’s doing that,” he said. “People are dying everyday. We need something new.”
Smith said he lost 16 friends to gun violence over 10 years while growing up in New Haven.
“I was on the streets,” he said. “I was involved in it all, living that life.”
Then he got hooked up with Ice The Beef, he said. “I got tired of going to funerals.”
“I want to do something different. I got a little brother. I don’t want him to grow up like that,” Smith said.
“I really want these kids to see a path to advance,” said Ugly (pictured), after placing the group’s order for burritos. “These kids are either going to be a tax burden or a tax base. They’ll be either a voting bloc or in a cell block.”
Asked about their plans for the future, Smith and Pastor-Staten offered the same answer: Rap music.
“We’re going to be making millions,” Pastor-Staten said.
If those millions fail to appear, however, Pastor-Staten has a back-up plan, to become a New Haven cop. “That is my goal.”
“I’m going to be a rapper-slash-architect-slash-civil-engineer,” said Smith. “I’m going to do everything.”