I Do Miss Making A Difference… (Part One)

On the bass about to play along with some of my students during a school assembly… (2007)

In order for me to even begin addressing this part of my life properly, I have to flash all the way back to the summer of 2005 to a spot in Washington D.C. called Cada Vez. I was invited to Common’s listening party for Be, which I thought was dope because at the time I wanted to hear what he had to say about this new and upcoming album that was supposed to “bring old Common back” or “bring hip hop back” or whateverthehell…. I can’t remember which one it was supposed to do, but you know how that silliness goes with music. Anyway, I ended up meeting more than a few D.C. kats there, including Raheem DeVaughn and an emcee who I was already very familiar with as I listened to his music while in college… Asheru. We met and immediately landed on the same page after we started conversing about music, in general – then, for whatever reason he asked me out of the clear blue sky, “Man, you ever thought about teaching?” I probably took an awkward pause as the thought of teaching had never entered my mind…. like at ALL. EVER. In LIFE. I think I responded with… “Naaaaaaaaaaah maaaaan…” or “Ehhhhhh, I’m good on that.”  …Or something similar as I had friends who were teachers and NONE of the stories they used to share with me from the classroom were positive. We exchanged information anyway and said that we would keep in touch, particularly since I was planning to move east anyway.

…Fast forward to April of 2006. I had been in Maryland for only two months and was working sales at a gym in Gaithersburg, MD and hating every last minute of it. I quickly got connected with a kat named Omar Hunter who was looking for a keyboardist to play at this weekly joint he had over in NE D.C., a spot called Roses Dream. I soon found out that Omar was tight with Asheru… As a matter of fact, O had just started teaching at the school Asheru was Director of Arts and Education at… AND the two of them were in a group called The ELs – pretty small world. Once the dots were connected on how everyone was affiliated, the two of them damn near started a “Free Zo! (from his wack ass gym job)” campaign to get me working at the school. At that point, I wasn’t caring about the fact that I had zero teaching experience whatsoever. I also could have cared less about the fact that this Level 5 Special Education school was basically the step between a daily educational setting and a correctional facility for most of the kids who were attending – I just wanted OUT of that damn gym. Finally in June, Asheru set up an interview for me at the school… I suited up, went in and got the job, no problem. I would have LIKED to have thought that it was my “accomplished musician with a few credits under my belt” credentials that earned me the teaching position…………………… But uhhhh…. It was pretty much the fact that I knew Asheru. So it goes, so it goes… Regardless, I was all set up to start at the top of the summer semester which began July 5, 2006. One of the craziest things was, I’ve never really been nervous performing in front of large crowds of people before, but I’d have to say I was a bit nervous having to try and teach classes and hold the attention of 5-10 kids (per class) whom I’ve never met or seen before… Oh, did I mention that they were all diagnosed with either ED, LD, ADD, ADHD, ODD, MR, OHI or a combination of a few on that list?

“CHALLLOOOOOOONNNGGE!!!!” © Howard “Sandman” Sims

The dope part about the position was that Omar and I were set-up in the same class – a co-teaching situation. He had a semester’s worth of experience under his belt at the school already and many of the older kids either knew him or knew of him, so that was my open door to step through. We set each class up as a band. Different kids would play different instruments. We had a couple of keyboards, 4-5 guitars and eventually a bass guitar and a drum set. A good number of the kids took to it because hell, who doesn’t like music?! The fact that they were able to play music they were familiar with was usually the icing on the cake. We found that teaching theory to a high school kid with “oppositional defiant disorder” through music originally crafted by The Roots, Jay-Z, and The Isley Brothers, for example, worked much more effectively than passing along the “traditional” training that I received and hated as I was growing up. We had these kids playing together at every talent show, assembly, and school program there was and they took great pride in their performances. Their personal appearance at these shows was just as important as how they sounded. The kids usually agreed to coordinate colors as a group so that they would look like an actual “band” and we encouraged them to do so – it made them feel as though they were a part of something important. With the “new educator”  energy that we brought into the classroom everyday, we also felt personally responsible for not only their performances, but the therapeutic impacts the music was having on them as the music training served as a natural confidence builder for most of the kids. Matter of fact, I’ll just show you what I’m talking about. Here’s a peek at one of my classes from Spring Semester 2008 playing a pretty common R&B chord progression that I taught them… They learned it, practiced it as a class and put their own spin on it.

Ok, let me explain something to y’all, music is powerful… Let me say this again…….. MUSIC. IS. POWERFUL. It is so intensely powerful that it can become life-altering or even serve as a soundtrack to a major change in one’s life – I have seen it occur in many instances with the kids I taught. The same kids who had been kicked out of their neighborhood schools, abandoned by their families, in and out of juvenile facilities and/or jail, always performed at the bottom of their class, been told, “you ain’t worth shit” most of their lives are usually the ones who latch on to music the tightest. Why? Because when that kid finds something they are actually good, or in some cases great at… It will become something they almost obsess over. For example, Omar and I had a student who in his 8th grade year would run the hallways with his boys skipping classes, terrorizing other classes, and leaving school altogether… DAILY. Omar, who as I stated earlier was teaching at the school a semester before me ended up landing him in the music class he was assisting with and put a guitar in this child’s hands. Now, the one thing that was guaranteed to happen at that school on a daily basis was one word: unpredictability. No matter how much a kid said they loved music, or how badly they felt they wanted to be in your class and play <insert instrument of choice here>, the moment of truth came when they physically got on the instrument and started to mess around on it. The kid would either get frustrated and quit right on the spot, or stick it out and continue to work through the early difficulties of learning a new instrument. Well, this particular student caught on quickly by learning his notes and chord placement well before his classmates and even had a fairly nice tone when he played. Needless to say that after a few weeks, the child was hooked. As a music instructor, you know that the ones who are really serious about their instrument are the ones who make the effort to get access to that instrument in order to put in some time to play and practice it home – That’s exactly what this student did. One day, he walked into school with a brand new guitar and gig bag strapped to his back complete with a pair of sunglasses…You couldn’t tell him a THING that day. He told us that when he would get home from school, he would practice the guitar most of the evening and into the night. The results were very telling. Outside of the obvious fact that he became the top guitar player in the entire school, you also didn’t see him running the hallways as often. His grades began to improve slightly as did his overall classroom attendance. Later on, he even gave himself a “guitar influenced” stage name/nickname… The instrument and his newfound talent provided an unlimited amount of confidence that carried over into other aspects of his life and it was such a beautiful thing to witness. It assisted in his overall growth as a young man including coping skills and social abilities. He ended up graduating from high school and enrolling in college and now takes classes at a university in D.C. To this day, he and I continue to keep in touch as he is kid who I want to see WIN.

My students were even making a few waves outside of the classroom for what they were doing in it. One afternoon, I taught one of my classes the music to “Break You Off” by The Roots. After a day or two of practicing the piece, I let them know that I would be bringing my video camera in to record them in action as they loved when I had my camera on me – it let them know that they were improving, or at least good enough as a class to be recorded and posted on up on YouTube. Well, we worked out and agreed upon an intro arrangement and on the first take, they nailed it. I edited the footage and posted it up online and emailed the link to each student in the class (including a parent of one of the students who couldn’t believe that he was even sitting down in class long enough to learn an instrument). I then hopped on Twitter and sent a link in a DM to The Roots’ drummer and internationally known musical director, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson letting him know that my class is playing his group’s song… and playing it WELL. He in turn, tweeted this to his 1 million+ followers…

The link he tweeted directed everyone to check this video…

…I saw the tweet, hit the “Favorite” button and took a screenshot so that the kids could see it too. The following day as I saw each of them throughout the day, I told them, “I have a surprise for y’all when you get to class today.” When 6th period came, I told them all to come around my desk where the computer was located so that I could show them what I had been talking about all day. Now, they pretty much knew who The Roots were just through song recognition. About half of the class knew who Questlove was, so I went into what his exact role was in the group as well as other places they may have seen him (i.e. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party , Late Night With Jimmy Kimmel, various award shows, etc). And I finally showed them the tweet he sent out about them…. They all stared at the tweet on the computer screen…..looked at each other and let out a collective,


I got hit with about 15-17, “OH, that’s VICIOUS, young!!”‘s and “He KNOW who we are, we’re famous!!!” They were hyped up for the remainder of the day off of that recognition. Very rarely had I ever seen my students get that excited about something positive. That class remained one of the most collectively talented and enthusiastic groups I taught…. They were only rivaled a couple years later by a 5th period class I had of all 9th graders who couldn’t WAIT until their lunch period was over to come into the classroom and start playing. Were they rowdy as all hell?… Yes. Did they get on my nerves……AND each other’s nerves constantly? Yes. But they certainly had a drive to improve that I hadn’t seen from any other class that I had ever taught especially since they were all first-time players. The bass player from that class ended up convincing his father to purchase a bass guitar and amp so that he could practice at home. The kid came in a couple of weeks later sounding like a completely different person on that instrument, the improvement was incredible. He was another one who walked into class carrying a bass guitar case on his back with newly found confidence that was through the roof. He would stop by my classroom early in the day to drop his instrument off because he didn’t trust that his classmates could keep their damaging hands off of it. Maaaan, the bright spots in the classroom sometimes felt few and far between, but they shined brightly once shown – YET it’s always the arts they want to cut from education first when money gets tight. Go figure…

Quick Story… Y’all Know I Have Plenty: Playing at Fred Smoot’s Wedding Reception…

Music always has a way of landing me in some interesting and sometimes comedic situations. This one took place in September of 2009… My man Asheru knew a kat who had a direct link to a couple of the Washington Redskins players and wanted to know if he could put a band together to play at cornerback Fred Smoot’s wedding reception – No problem. Ash ended up putting a couple of calls in to members of the ELs crew, including myself on keys, Omar Hunter on bass and Chris “Biscuit” Bynum on drums. We all rolled down to Falls Church, VA to meet up at Fred Smoot’s house and knock the gig out. I arrived to the house first, loaded my equipment in through the garage and headed down into the basement where a long table was set up for guests to eat along with the catered food and drinks all set up along the wall in preparation for the reception itself. Omar, Biscuit, and Asheru rolled in not too long after I did and set their equipment up in the space next to my board. Now, before I move along any further, let’s think about this… It was already random as hell to have received the call to play at Fred Smoot’s wedding reception in the FIRST place so I had no idea what to expect. My impression of him like many other sports fans who would tune in to SportsCenter fairly regularly in the morning, was that he was a pretty solid cornerback who ran his mouth a little bit – yet he always seemed like he was having fun with it. I mean, shit… nowadays, it’s almost like, what athlete doesn’t run their mouth anymore? But then again, those same kats who are all extra and over the top on the field, usually up being the most  down-to-earth and “real” kats off of it. I was pretty interested to see if this held true for Smoot as well. Regardless, we were gonna make this joint fun because the gig was so… I don’t know…. vague and different.

We took our time setting up our equipment because the wedding (which was to take place upstairs on the main floor) had not begun yet. From the looks of things, it wasn’t close to start time either….. Or so we thought. As we were slowly plugging cords into amps and power strips while cracking jokes and figuring out the reception’s food situation, a young lady whom I assumed was the wedding coordinator came downstairs. She walked straight up to me and asked, “Excuse me… But can you play “Here Comes the Bride”, or something as the bride walks down the aisle?”

Although I was totally unprepared for that request being as though we were there to play at the RECEPTION, I was cool about it and responded, “Yeah, I can do that… Let me figure it back out for a couple of minutes to work the kinks out before I actually play it.”

Coordinator: “Oh no… She’s walking down the aisle right NOW.”

Me: *crickets*………… “OH.”

I sat down at the keyboard, turned the volume up so that those attending the wedding ceremony upstairs could hear me and proceeded to play… I’m sorry, I mean work through a slow version of “Here Comes the Bride” all while O and Biscuit were watching me….. and laughing, of course. It’s a pretty simple song, but I had the “heavy concentration face” on as I didn’t want to earn a permanent place in the Smoot Wedding memory annals as the piano player who couldn’t bring the bride down the aisle worth a shit.

I actually got through the bride’s introduction unscathed and we just kinda waited around quietly for the actual wedding ceremony to wrap up. Once it did, everyone in attendance began to filter downstairs to the basement where the reception was being held. Folks took pictures, shared small talk and we were all finally able to get up and get a plate of food. I looked around and saw a few Redskin players that I recognized and there was another kat in attendance whose face looked familiar as well, but I knew he didn’t play football. We discovered it was vocalist, Dave Hollister. Dope! We also found out that Fred wanted him to do a song with us… Well shit, even better… Let’s run it!


The song that Brotha Smoot wanted Dave Hollister to sing with us…….. At his wedding…….. was….

BlackStreet’s “Before I Let You Go.”

*mo crickets*

“Now uhhh, ok uhhh..seee uhhhh…. Lemmeh tehya som’n!!” © Charles Barkley

Pretty much any other time, this song choice would make sense. I mean, outside of “No Diggity” and “Don’t Leave Me”, “Before I Let You Go” is still one of BlackStreet’s best known jams… PLUS, Dave sang the lead on the original recording, so shit…. There it is, the perfect song choice!

*sigh*…Nah man.

I can still hear Biscuit’s response when I told he and Omar what they wanted us to play. He said, “Dogg, at a WEDDING??!” None of us wanted to hit the audience with the “break up song” 30 minutes after Mr. & Mrs. Smoot exchanged vows! I mean, ok…. let me put it to you like this. Let’s take,  Earth, Wind & Fire’s “After The Love Is Gone” for instance. As pretty sounding as that song is, I think it’s safe to say that you’ll never hear that shit as a couple’s “first dance at the wedding” choice. But hey… If folks wanna begin a clean slate of matrimony with, “Baby I’ve been thinkin’, there’s something’s goin’ wrong ‘cuz you’ve got an attitude, and you’re not in the mood…. like ya used to”, be my guest. Who am I to argue with what the groom wants played?! Maybe the joint had a deeper meaning than we all thought… I didn’t know, nor did I care to find out. So we talked it over with Dave in regards to how we would present the song format-wise, Omar and I quickly figured out the chords, changes, etc… And we pulled the song off. Now, if I remember correctly, people responded to it pretty well. I was actually bracing myself to get a puzzled response similar to the one Randy Watson received at the “Miss Black Awareness Pageant”. But all jokes aside, Fred Smoot was a good dude, definitely a lot more laid-back and humble than he used to portray himself in the media. After playing for a couple of hours, we ended up leaving that gig with some satisfied wedding attendees, full stomachs, our checks, and more helluva stories for the library…

The Foreign Exchange in SF on Sept. 12th and TWO nights in LA, Sept. 13th & 14th

I woke up this morning to the news that The Foreign Exchange will be playing a show out in San Francisco on Saturday, September 12th @ Yoshi’s. I hope to see my West Coast kats out there. Here are all of the details…


We will also be back in Los Angeles for TWO dates at the Roxy Theatre. Kats had so much fun playing the venue in June, we had to come back and do it TWICE. Click here for the details…

New Foreign Exchange Dates Announced (Indianapolis, Cleveland, Seattle, and LA)

In addition to the August 8th date in Maryland this month (The Spirit Festival), there have also been stops added in Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Seattle. Here’s the info… Mark your calendars!


The Foreign Exchange @ The Athenaeum, Indianapolis IN

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

The Foreign Exchange @ Grog Shop, Cleveland OH

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

The Foreign Exchange @ Nectar Lounge, Seattle WA

Thursday, September 15, 2009


The Foreign Exchange in Los Angeles

Sunday and Monday September 13 &amp; 14, 2009

Venue: The Roxy Theatre

The Foreign Exchange in Detroit – 06.04.09

I’ll be honest, I was really looking forward to going back home for the second time in a matter of about 10 days to play a show with Foreign Exchange. Ever since we started playing together in November, I have been asked in just about EVERY city we have played in, “When are y’all playing in the D?” With the way things have been looking economically here recently, I had absolutely NO answer for that question. Well, we finally got a show back home at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History – which, until recently I had no idea that they even held performances there. 

Anyway, me, Omar and Biscuit arrived in Detroit in the morning and I drove them up to the house. It was already weird to see my D.C. kats in my hometown, much less kickin it at the house. Then, I took them to The Original House of Pancakes over on 10 mile in Southfield. We HAD to head to the hotel after that because the ‘itis began to show itself as the fellas were in the car OUTTA THERE. I had enough time to sneak in a workout before heading to soundcheck. 

Overall, the show went well. Kats who came out, came OUT and seemed to really be into the show. I saw a few familiar faces… not as many as I thought would show up so it was actually good to play in front of a new crowd. My family was in there sitting front row and enjoying every bit of the show, I’m glad they enjoyed themselves. Of course I never have enough time to catch up with everyone when I go home, I don’t care how long I’m there for. I did get to kick it w/KT, Malik Alston, DJ Sicari, K-Fresh, tREBLEFREE, Alex Rogers, Roxstar, and my man Tate McBroom. See y’all again when I go back…

MusicalArchitect.com News 05.28.09

What’s the good word y’all? Well, I guess I’ll jump right into it. Now, y’all know that since I’ve been in the DC Area, I’ve been playing with a band called The ELs, right? And since November, we have been the touring band behind Phonte and Nicolay, collectively known as The Foreign Exchange, right? Well, ever since our very first show back in November, I have been asked the same question in EVERY city we have played in, it never fails…

“When are y’all gonna do a show in the D?!”

“Are y’all comin’ to the D anytime soon?”

Welp! That time has finally come. Next week on Thursday June 4th at the Charles H Wright Museum… Foreign Exchange will be in Detroit performing with vocalists YahZarahDarien Brockington and us…The ELs providing the music. Y’all don’t understand how excited I am about having the opportunity to go back home and present this show that I have been talking about, showing pictures and YouTube clips of for over 6 months now. To my peoples at home –please spread the word to everyone. I wanna see a ton of familiar faces in the crowd!

This show will kick off a couple of other dates including a return to Chicago and our debut in Toronto and L.A. Here is a list of the schedule:

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Foreign Exchange with Yahzarah, Darien Brockington, Zo! & The ELs

Charles H Wright Museum, Detroit MI

More Info | Buy Tickets

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Foreign Exchange with Yahzarah, Darien Brockington, Zo! & The ELs

Revival, Toronto ON

More Info | Buy Tickets

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Foreign Exchange with Yahzarah, Darien Brockington, Zo! & The ELs

Double Door, Chicago IL

More Info | Buy Tickets

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Foreign Exchange with Yahzarah, Darien Brockington, Zo! & The ELs

The Roxy, Los Angeles CA

More Info | Buy Tickets

In the meantime, …just visiting too has just acquired vocal assistance in the form of Phonte and Carlitta Durand. The three of us just finished a new joint for the new SunStorm album as well. Keep your ears open…

Aaaaaand, school is almost out and I will not be teaching in the summer…so it will be yet another productive (and peaceful) couple of months. I am also one class (and two standardized tests) away from a Master’s Degree! How ‘bout that?


As always, I’ll continue to keep you all updated as things come up. Thank you for listening and see y’all at the next show!





MusicalArchitect.com News 04.13.09

What’s the word y’all?

The past month has been exciting and busy to say the least. The top of March saw me out with The Foreign Exchange as we hit Baltimore’s Eden LoungeD.C.’s Black CatNYC’s Highline Ballroom, and Philly’s Johnny Brenda’s. And in between those dates, FE made a stop into the XM/Sirius Radio studio for an exclusive recorded performance that aired on March 22nd. For those who didn’t get to check it out… You’re in luck.

Download the XM Radio Performance HERE

At the end of March thanks to a kat I go back a little ways with, Waajeed, I had the privilege of traveling West with PPP (Platinum Pied Pipers) to San Francisco’s Mighty and LA’s Dakota Music Lounge that featured both my homegirl Monica Blair and my man Coultrain on vocals. We all had a BALL out there…Even got to kick it with 14KT and Buff1 while we were out in SF. Thank you to the West Coast for showing nothing but love. Look for more dates sooner than later. In the meantime, here are a couple of clips from the shows (yes, that’s me on the bass in the first two lol).

PPP – Angel in San Francisco

PPP – On A Cloud in San Francisco

PPP – 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover in L.A.

Meanwhile, here in D.C., The ELs have played shows opening up with Asheru for U.K.’s own, Omar. We also hit with the brotha Erik Rico last week at Busboys and Poets for his “In the Artist’s Studio” event thrown by Lil SoSo Productions. So as I said, it has been wonderful to say the least.

Album news…

…just visiting too will be out in July. SunStorm will be out at the tail end of the year. Finishing the former and working on the latter…

The feedback that Asylum 7 and I have received about Overdue Process has been a blessing. Thank you!! That album is available here.

Also, those of you on Twitter… Feel free to look me up! http://twitter.com/zo3hree5ive


Here are some confirmed show dates:

4.15.09 – The ELs with Asheru @ Hip-Hop Pilgrimage Concert

4.17.09 – The ELs with Foreign Exchange @ The Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC

4.19.09 – The ELs with Foreign Exchange @ Double Door Inn, Charlotte, NC

4.25.09 – The ELs with Asheru

06.07.09 – The ELs with Foreign Exchange @ The Double Door, Chicago, IL

Thank you so very much for your continued support, I hope you enjoyed the Easter weekend. See you in North Carolina and Chicago! Stay safe y’all… Peace!!



Chapter 3hree, Verse 5ive Music, LLC

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