First Wave Music Exclusive: “Dandelions”
by Jordan Gaines & Sean Avery
Since its start scholars of the First Wave program have been individually enacting the program’s 3 pillars. As a scholarship and urban arts learning community, the program is built on arts, activism, and academia. In the past 10 years some of the brightest and most achieved scholars of color, some of the most poignant social reconstruction workers, and of course some of the hottest hip hop and urban artists on campus have been members of the First Wave community and those who haven’t wished they had.
Still, despite the student body’s achievements in the last decade there are still many first waiting to be uncovered. At the 2016 First Wave retreat, students took on the undertaking of producing, writing, and mixing a song that includes a representative from every current cohort in the program. The song, titled “Dandelions”, features 14 First Wave artist (Janel Lee, Heru, Rich Robbins, Anwar, Ketema, Jonnychang, Denzel Taylor, Sir Mackalot, Joe Verge, Jamie Dawson, Lucien Parker, Matan, Quaan, and ABA) and is the first of its kind produced by the program.
The title “Dandelions” comes from a line in the hook, written by singer-songwriter and photographer Tehan Ketema, known by her stage name Ketema. It’s like a magna clum lada posse cut, or dean’s list Wu-Tang; the University’s best and brightest artist-scholars flexing both their vocal abilities and writing skills. Despite popular belief not all, or even most, of the artist in First Wave come to the program with the intention of being recording artist, yet the song sounds like every single person is a practiced and professional musician.
It’s what rapper, First Wave graduate, and sound engineer for the song, Christian Robbins, called “organic experimentation” (he didn’t say that exactly, I’m taking some liberties). Robbins, who goes by the stage name Rich Robbins, describes the process as very different from his previous exploits in recording, because the energy of the room was not about competition or completion, it was about community and commitment to everyone having a place in the song. Comfortability was high during the two days the song was recorded on the First Wave retreat (shout out Elkhart Lake), and once the record button was hit, all eyes and ears were given to the person in front of the mic. I’m not gunna lie, I wish I had been in that room, amidst such supportive and creative energies. Some verses were written by one person and shared between two or more voices, some people didn’t record much and instead helped produce the beat, while others added harmonies that brought the songs melodies to their fullest peaks; whatever was contributed was used in one way or another, and every addition became crucial and integral to the song’s structure.
“Dandelions” is the first of many projects to come from First Wave Music (FWM), a student created subcategory of the larger program to emphasis the need for musical collaboration and programmatic support of recording artists. Robbins liken FWM to iTunes and Apple. “iTunes is apart of Apple, it’s a product of Apple, yet it has its own notable brand and function,” said Robbins. FWM intends to institutionalize specific support for recording artist into the First Wave program, while consistently facilitating collaborative work to strengthen and grow all artists involved
When you think about a dandelion, it’s something that only grows in clusters, but it also picked individually. If you blow on its head, the once seemingly solid flower scatters into a hundred separate pieces all on their own journey in the wind. First Wave Music wants us to think about First Wave like a dandelion, a colony of bright pieces that stay together, but ultimately will drift in different directions, always being the same dandelion but in various places. “Picking up some dandelions, multi-colored waves,” Tehan sings, and the metaphor rings true, these 14 artists are all on there own wave and still part of one growing thing.
Check out this exclusive of the “Dandelions” here and tell us what you think.