I am a huge fan of all four of those men above. Of the work they’ve created, and who they are as humans. It’s fun for me to wax poetic about what it was like for Frank Sinatra and the rat pack in the 60s shooting Ocean’s 11. And then in the 2001 remake. Or what it was like to create Goodwill Hunting with your best friend and win an Oscar. For me that’s the dream. I mean isn’t the dream for everybody? To create moving, inspiring, and entertaining art that changes people’s lives with the people that you love? And we can get real heady about it and say that science or great humanitarian work is artistic as well.
The other day it dawned on me that I actually have had a front row seat (well maybe more of a seventh row seat) to the next cohort of game changers.
Daveed and his best friend Rafael Casal created a concept where you would take a movie scene and transform it into a two-minute live rap that would ultimately be filmed in a one take vignette with nine other rapping duos over a live band. It might seem out of the blue. But not really. Daveed and Rafael come from not only performance background with their rap group named The Getback and comedy sketches, but an education background as well. Rafael was running a program at the University of Wisconsin before he came to New York, and Daveed was actually a teaching artist. Daveed told me as we were ordering Chipotle one day that he and Anthony Veneziale, the co-founder of Freestyle Love Supreme, actually met because they were double booked on a teaching artist gig. This is one of those moments where luck met genius. Anthony created Freestyle Love Supreme with Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tommy Kail in college. And this is how Daveed was introduced to Lin which changed his life—and all our lives—forever.
#Bars was such a great experience. It was about three or four of us that were doing it for fun, and the rest were professional performers. Class one we played a bunch of fun rap games and got to know each other. Rafael is not only a dope MC and PROLIFIC poet that had success on Russell Simmons DEF Poetry Jam, but he is also one of the most charismatic people you’ll ever meet.
As we closed the first class, sitting on the floor, he told us this was one of the ways he was getting a crew together in New York. Rafa and Daveed brought in some of their people named Carlos, Cris and Samora for our last class; we are about 50 people squeezed in a rehearsal space at Ripley-Grier to create something very special. That live rapping performance. (And oh man, it was absolutely terrifying to go ninth in a live one-take 20-minute video.)
Because everything they do seems to turn to gold... The next Cohort of #Bars was at The Public Theatre. (For those of you who don’t know The Public, it is a theater in the East Village in New York City that has created/fostered A Chorus Line, Avenue Q, Shakespeare in the Park, and a little musical called Hamilton. Oskar Eustis is the artistic director, and my goodness is he a genius.)
After taking the class I downloaded their CDs and instantly discovered that Daveed was one of my favorite emcees of all time. Please check out Small Things to a Giant and his more recent work with The Clipping here and here. He has all that I want in an MC. vocal dexterity, sick flows, boundless creativity, real authenticity, humor and fierce intelligence. Daveed is a super interesting and humble dude who comes from a biracial family; he went to Brown and loves using double meanings of words. He will bounce from grit to irony and then back again... and in the next gig will do something for Sesame Street.
All of the leads of Hamilton ended up massive stars. But Daveed (and Rafa) were given license to create TV, film, whatever else they wanted, and boy did they do it right. They had been grinding for 10 years before fame, and now they had the opportunities they were waiting for to get into rooms and step on the gas pedal.
They’ve created fire side chats, partnerships and allies at every level.
They went back to the roots and created a love letter to the Bay area in a film called Blindspotting (for purchase on Amazon here) that was called “The next Do The Right Thing.” Rafael has starred in TV shows and movies opposite Hugh Jackman. Daveed is about to shoot season four of Snowpiercer opposite Jennifer Connelly.
And their next iteration of Blindspotting is now on STARZ. It is fun, raw and guess what...inspired.
They have truly honored The Bay including legendary MC’s, (including Too $hort) local jaunts and dozens of Easter eggs in every episode. It stars tons of their chosen fam including Jasmine Cephas Jones from Hamilton. You can read reviews here and here.
I am happy to report that even though they are now part of the elite class in Hollywood. They are still the same generous spirits. True- they’re two of the most talented humans you’ll meet, but what is so special about these guys is their interest in people, the way they lift others up, and their fierce dedication to each other.
Who knows what is to come out of this new rodent pack from the Bay? Definitely more Snowpiercer and Freestyle Love Supreme on Broadway. Definitely more music from Rafa and Clippng... And definitely more inspiration.
Nate from the seventh row