Producer shines in studio
Rodriguez mentors students with music
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 16:03
As a former Contra Costa College student and UC Berkeley graduate in ethnic studies, Oliver Rodriguez never thought his passion for music would play a huge role in his success.
Rodriguez, known in the Bay Area music scene as Kuya Beats, has produced music for local hip-hop artists such as IAMSU and Kool John. His biggest accolade so far has been producing for mainstream hip-hop artist Wiz Khalifa.
In addition to working with his production team The Invasion, Rodriguez works as an after-school site director at Pinole Middle School, providing homework help and workshops for students.
After discovering his students’ shared passion for music and art, Rodriguez applied for a San Pablo Community Mini-Grant. The grant gave funding to start a music recording and production workshop.
Rodriguez said he sees it as a chance for kids, who are not necessarily interested in sports, to participate in other activities. The grant provided nine computers and professional music production programs for students to use.
One of Rodriquez’s students, Pinole Middle eighth grader Jaylen Walker said, “Oliver inspires me to work harder. He teaches me how to create music and then I, in return, teach others. It’s important for us to stay positive and have something to do after homework.”
Rodriquez said with having the art and music programs, it will also help kids find their identity through creativity.
“In order to (participate in the program), they need good grades. It’s hard to get kids to do homework after class when they’ve been sitting in a classroom all day,” Rodriguez said. “This program is an incentive to do better. These kids enjoy music, but they know they have to handle business first.”
The students, however, sometimes judge him because of his young age and style. Because of his relatable nature, Rodriguez is likable for his demeanor, local hip-hop artist Jay “Jay Ant” Fort said.
Fort works with Rodriguez on his production team as well as his after-school program. He said, “At the end of the day, he’s the boss but he’s lenient and easy to talk to. He can be hard on the kids, but they need it. He’s like a big brother to them.”
Because his colleagues and students see him as a big brother, he earned the nickname “Kuya.” “Kuya,” in Tagalog, means “big brother.” Being called a “kuya” is a form of respect in Filipino culture.
Aside from being an after-school director, Rodriquez works alongside his younger brother, Paolo “P-Lo” Rodriguez, in The Invasion.
“He has inspired me my whole life. He taught me everything I know,” Paolo Rodriguez said. “As a team, we hope to inspire people to do something positive.”
Oliver Rodriquez said he and his production team took a trip to Los Angeles. Through a common friend of theirs and Wiz Khalifa, they were invited into the recording studio.
Since the group was afraid that there were too many of them to go in, they sent P-Lo in to play produced samples by The Invasion. Wiz Khalifa then rapped over the beats and now four tracks in his most recent mixtape feature The Invasion, Rodriquez said.
Out of all the artists Rodriguez has worked with, he said he is most proud of working with Sudan “IAMSU” Williams, also a former CCC student.
“I really watched him grow up, and for him to trust me is really an honor,” Rodriguez said.
IAMSU is gaining media attention interviewing with magazines such as Spin and Complex, while his music is gaining constant radio airplay.
“(Rodriquez is) the person I ask for advice. He sees my vision. It’s an ‘us’ thing. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t be in the same spot we are now,” Williams said.
Rodriguez gives credit to the music appreciation and home studio recording classes he took at CCC with music department Chairperson Wayne Organ. The classes exposed him to different types of music and taught him the language.
“It gave me the chance to learn the vocabulary needed to work successfully in the industry,” Rodriguez said.
Currently, Rodriguez is helping to work on IAMSU’s next project and releasing a mixtape for the “HBK Gang” which is a collaboration of local hip-hop artists he produced in the past.
His ultimate goal is to start a non-profit program similar to that of Youth Radio in Oakland.
His passion for music took form in that program.
“Even if I (don’t) make any more music for mainstream (popular) artists, I would still be making music,” Rodriguez said.