Featured On The Bronx Chronicle: Therapy Through Hip Hop
by Gonzalo Duran
In my new regular column I have sought out veterans to share their stories and recognize their community work. This week I would like to introduce Petty Officer 3rd Class Adrian Elias of the United States Navy (USN).
Adrian was born in Queens, New York but raised in the Bronx. He currently works at the Empire State Building in the Maintenance Department, is the Executive Officer for Top of the Class Music Group, and a proud member of the Universal Zulu Nation. Adrian’s story has great ups, and downs but his core belief is that, “You can use hip-hop to address controversial issues”, and this makes for a great story.
What makes a skilled rapper is debatable among the hip-hop community and there are many complexities within the process of creating music such as the body of work, rhymes, and more. One of the categories that define a Master of Ceremonies or Emcee (MC) is their ability in storytelling. That’s why we found Adrian so deserving of recognition. He has been open with his spoken words to give veterans a better view of expressing themselves, while at the same time engaging with the community as a whole. When he’s not working you can find him at local venues rapping about how a combination of the street life and military life can open the world for you or he is volunteering at a community event for various causes aiming to improve the well-being of others.
One of the challenges of being a storyteller is having firsthand experience and understanding in the story you want to tell and then being able to deliver it to others. Adrian grew up facing many hardships and then chose to join the USN as an Operations Specialist for a better future. At first, life aboard a ship and traveling was very exciting but after two deployments, in 2007 on board the USS Enterprise and in 2010 in Afghanistan, his military career would take a toll on him. He would come across difficult paths he was unable to handle and this would lead him in being discharged from the military. Adrian received an Other Than Honorable (OTH) Discharge because of a driving infraction going onto base. He knows it’s hard for many to talk about those types of transactions but that same stigma helps him in acquiring “knowledge of self”, which is knowledge that only comes from learning about knowing yourself and seeking improvement.
Readjusting back into civilian life for Adrian proved troubling, especially with limited options and resources being available to him. You see, not all veterans get out of the service with honorable discharges, and those that don’t normally have very difficult experiences after they separate from the service. Thus these events brought Adrian from a poet who kept his work private to an outspoken MC embracing his childhood nickname A-d. Since 2012 he would write poetry to express himself and now he had begun to use it as “a form of self therapy”.
While Adrian was back at home he had to decide what he was he going to do. He found it difficult finding housing and decided to enroll into college at Fordham University. Soon he began networking in New York’s underground hip-hop community. Amazed at all the venues giving artists the opportunity to perform, he was most impressed watching others freestyle at Union Square Park on Friday nights with the Legendary Cyphers. This gave him the courage to step on stage and grab the microphone so his voice could be heard.
As his network increased, his stage presence became more known, and with an unlimited amount of venues coming out, he made a decision. Although school was appealing he wanted to focus more on his music. He took his knowledge of business and turned it into Top of the Class Music Group and helped others starting out with their branding efforts with an intricate bartering system. Soon rooftop parties and events were a common thing but he noticed that, “There was a lot of greed put on the hip-hop culture”, so he decided to change directions and focus on a different model.
“Rapping about guns and drugs are trendy but it is not useful to the community, music needs to relate to the people.” Adrian said in explaining what changed his prospective on which moves he was going to do next. He noticed that a member of the Universal Zulu Nation would be at many events either speaking, participating, or hosting. Adrian approached them for information and would soon join their ranks, which opened up more opportunities for community activities. In the last few months alone Adrian has volunteered his time for Boogie on the Boulevard with the Bronx Museum of Art and performed for inmates at Rikers Island for Green Earth Poets Café.
I asked Adrian what are his long-term goals and he replied with, “I would love to continue as an independent artist but with a distribution deal, and eventually establish Top of the Class Music Group as an independent record label. I’m currently working on releasing more tracks which would be available for free of charge to the public to listen to.” He also wanted other aspiring artists to, “stay true to the hip-hop culture. It’s more than just a genre of music. Hip-hop is a movement, and a lifestyle.” Adrian has faced a few hardships down the road but he has taken those negative times and turned them into positive opportunities so that more veterans can see progression when others see obstacles.
Devil Dog USA Incorporated
Gonzalo Duran is CEO of Devil Dog USA Incorporated, a non-profit in the Bronx that focuses on veterans. Duran is a Veteran Columnist for The Bronx Chronicle.