"Things like this can really kill someone's whole spirit, 'cause it's like, this is everything I have and it's all up in flames," says 25-year-old Alameda native Trackademicks, known for remixing E-40 and doing beats and instrumentals for Mistah F.A.B. and the Editors. "I think the healthiest thing for me to do is jump back on my feet."
If a guitar player loses his guitar, it's reasonable to assume that he can find a new guitar that will play pretty much the same way. But when a hip-hop producer loses his equipment and records, it can be hard to recapture that creativity. Groups like Digital Underground and A Tribe Called Quest were never quite the same after Shock G and Q-Tip lost their record collections in fires. On October 2, a fire swept through 2830 4th Street in Oakland and consumed the instruments in several studios, including most of Trackademicks' gear, whose value he estimates at between $10,000 and $15,000. Now he's on a rebuilding mission.
He shuffles through the stacks of vinyl in Berkeley's Amoeba Music, searching for a new music collection's "foundation" stuff like records featuring only ambient sounds or just one instrument. Most record stores, he notes, throw punk and new wave in with the rest of the rock, which makes navigating the section arduous. The self-described music nerd flips through "W," commenting on how much he enjoys Wham, and adding that George Michael can be one of the best songwriters around when he really wants to.
It's a carefree moment for the up-and-coming producer and rapper, who just months ago received a somber call from his DJ, Tap Ten. Track was on his way to work as a coordinator for Berkeley-based Youth Radio, but made a detour to the studio. It was over. "Really, I had everything there," he says. "At the house I have clothes, and everything else is in the studio."
"Everything else" included a lot. He lost his ASR-88 sampler, a full DJ setup, two keyboards, and about fifty crates of records. Also gone was a barely used $2,300 iMac. The fire, the cause of which is still unknown, also ruined discs of his beats that he had worked on for years and would hand out to artists and record labels. To top it off, Track was uninsured, so finding the money to rebuild has been particularly difficult. "Luckily it's the studio and not me," he says. "I can make music again. It came from somewhere; I can do it again."
Trackademicks, born Jason Valerio, started his production career in 1999, although he says he was a band kid from grade school to high school. Garnering most of his shine as a producer, his "unofficial" remix of E-40's "Tell Me When to Go" is his claim to fame, because he turned the hyphy anthem into a soulful, sample-driven track. The remix has gotten him play at KMEL and clubs in Las Vegas, and earned him props from Mr. Flamboyant himself. He's also gained notoriety for a pair of unofficial remix CDs, where he does things like turn a Ciara pop ditty into a broken beat track.
He calls his sound "Western Slapademic Tender Smobbin Cosmic Music," or in simpler terms, soulful electronic hip-hop. He has contributed to F.A.B.'s first album and his upcoming release on Atlantic, and has also worked with Yummy Bingham and J*DaVeY.
The road back to full production has proven long. Within hours of the fire, Track was scouring the Internet looking for a new ASR-88, and recently found one on eBay. The record hunt continues, and some of the equipment survived, including his hard drive, which had everything he'd recorded for his album so far. Two months after the fire, he's putting together a new studio in Oakland and has started "messing around" with producing. Track's also been doing a lot of shows, performing to the beats from his rescued hard drive. He says the shows have helped establish that he's still here, and he's still serious. His next gig will be opening up for Florida's Diplo at the Mezzanine in SF on December 29.
"It's funny, 'cause all the old equipment smells like ash," he says. "So stuff like my hard drive is burnt-up-looking, but works. I'm gonna have all this half-burnt equipment, and there's going to be this smell of fire in the studio. I think it's good, because it reminds me, 'You came through this, you've gotta keep going. Everything you had was gone.'"
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