Last Thursday, I sat down with local hip hop artist Trackademicks at Farley’s East to talk before his upcoming set at the Oakland Music Festival on September 27. Alameda-born and Oakland-based, Tracks is deeply entrenched in the Bay Area hip hop world.

As a teenager, Trackademicks became involved with Youth Radio, a youth training program previously in Berkeley, and now in Oakland. It had a lasting impact on his life and introduced him the fellow artists that now make up the Honor Roll Crew of which he’s a part.

This year he produced all the songs on the The Champagne Room album which the Honor Roll Crew released this summer, including two of his own. One, “El Dorado Nights,” was inspired by his love of backpacking and the Sierra Nevada.

“It’s funny: ‘El Dorado Nights’ specifically, a lot of people think ‘oh, Cadillac El Dorado.’ They think it’s a car, because in rap, that’s what it would be. But I made it because I thought of the El Dorado national forest, how I feel when I’m out there: peaceful and serene.”

Tracks describes The Champagne Room sound as champagne soul; a style of synth-heavy soul, derived somewhat from mid-80s soul. A sound, he says, from which a lot of Oakland rap is drawn.

“It’s just about being sophisticated soul music. There are pop sensibilities, but it’s not pop-y. You can get down with it. But it’s grown. But still fun-grown, not stick-up-your-a** grown,” he chuckles. “Because I feel like everybody, y’know, the older we get, we’re still kids though. Or I know I am.”

Tracks is a vocal advocate of local hip hop, noting that disadvantages, specifically the area’s lack of a big music industry, have inadvertently become advantages. The lack of visibility in the past, he believes, has made artists try harder, and that’s made them become sharper than in other cities.

“It’s directly related to the lack of entertainment and music infrastructure. We don’t run the nation when it comes to distribution. Somewhere like L.A. or New York, they have distribution channels and they need talent, so they fill it with whatever talent they have at their disposal, whereas here, we have so much more talent and a lot less distribution.”

Tracks sees things changing in the Bay Area, though—more spaces for shows, the internet, local artists making it big nationally—and he sees those changes affecting young artists who don’t feel like underdogs as much as their predecessors did–for example, the success of homegrown talent, Iamsu! from the HBK Gang.

“He’s the biggest rap artist in the bay right now. He’s on par with all the major artists. And that’s probably the first time since Too Short and E-40 that we’ve had someone of that caliber. With [Iamsu! and HBK’s] influence, the underdog mentality is starting to dissipate. Kids who like them are saying, ‘oh yeah, we’re successful too, we can do it. They’re not catering to anyone outside. They’re doing exactly what we do here, and it’s going outside.’”

Events like OMF and Heiro Day, which are thriving in Oakland, are also shifting the local mindset and helping artists reach a wider audience. While the Bay Area isn’t the only underdog music scene, Tracks states, the hip hop community here has made it their own.

“It’s homegrown… Even all the way down to what indie looks like, to dress, to the way it sounds, to Hieroglyphics. It’s kind of taken ownership of the movement that we’re in. It’s not shiny. But we own the artistic capital that we create. And I feel like Hiero Day has definitely helped put it on a huge platform. It’s only the third one and it’s just gotten out of hand!”

Tracks took this Hiero Day as an opportunity to do some networking, even getting a picture with Mayor Jean Quan, which he posted on Instagram and Twitter. He is an avid user of social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. Asked if he thinks social media has helped small, local artists, he is adamant it has.

“It’s totally democratized everything. You don’t have to be in front of someone’s face. Now the participants of the culture who are in high school or their early- to mid-twenties or whatever, that’s completely what they’ve come up under, right? There’s no disconnect. It’s like their third arm… It’s great for brand-new artists to really utilize because they just throw everything up there and they have their fan base, or friend base that then grows into a fan base. Just purely off of doing. When you’re young you just do, when you’re old you think. [The Internet] gives them all the tools to ‘do’ more.”

A few weeks ago, Tracks posted a screenshot of a momentous event—being followed by Taqueria Sinaloa on Instagram.

“I’ve been going to Sinaloa for, man, like 15 years. I love it. I love Oakland taco truck culture. I mean, look at food trucks everywhere. We’ve had it forever and it never was a thing. That’s my go-to. I love taco trucks. I feel like everywhere should have them.”

I mention that everywhere is getting them.

“But everything shouldn’t also cost $10 for a little thing. But, y’know, it is what it is.”

Besides playing OMF, Tracks has a lot on his plate. He is producing an album along with 1-O.A.K and his Honor Roll Crew called Fahrenheit 510, which he describes as “the temperature gauge of what’s going on here in rap music” and will feature global rappers.

Then there is 1-O.A.K’s second album, which Tracks is extremely excited about, calling the artist one of the best, if not the best, in their scene here. Tracks is also producing work with Iamsu! and the HBK gang, all of which will drop throughout next year.

In the meantime, he’s finding inspiration for some solo projects, including the end of a recent relationship. On August 13, Tracks tweeted, “Know why I love music? There is no situation or sentiment that doesn’t already have a song to perfectly articulate it. Truly therapeutic.”

“I went through tough times this summer—relationship-wise, and just going through the ups and downs, I was like anything that I’m feeling there’s a song out there that’s explored it in total. And yet, you can still write new songs that are even more catered to your situation.”

I always joke every woman that I’ve ever dealt with has at least two songs about her. It might be the intro and the outro,” he says, and laughs.

You can catch Trackademics, and many more, at OMF this Saturday.

Oakland Music Festival
Saturday, September 27, noon – 8 p.m.
22nd Street at Franklin, Downtown Oakland
Tickets: $35, $28 for discounted group tickets of 4+, and $70 for VIP  tickets

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