It’s always good to see an old colleague doing well.
So, I was elated to stumble across a review of a Sacramento recording artist that appeared on the pages of Playboy Magazine and see the stage name of Calla High graduate and former Bulletin reporter Andrew Bell quoted not just as a contemporary of the artist the article highlights, but an elder statesman of the scene he came up in.
Known in the Sacramento arts and music scene as Andru Defeye Bell has been making waves ever since he arrived in the State Capital, founding the hip-hop collective ZFG (Zero Forbidden Goals) and working tirelessly to promote the things he cares about most to the young people in the community as a contributor and staffer at the Sol Collective Arts and Cultural Center.
He’s a man of many hats – journalist, film editor, accomplished poet, emcee, and writer – in Sacramento these days, and seeing his name quoted on the pages of the same magazine that gave rise to accomplished writers like Norman Mailer, Ray Bradbury, Jack Kerouac, Roald Dahl, and Margaret Atwood showed just how far he has come since penning a weekly “man in the street” segment.
But, for any of us that worked with Bell and have been following his ascent since moving on to pursue his passions, the success isn’t all that unexpected.
We are, after all, talking about somebody who incensed the Manteca Police Department when he wrote an articulate, detailed expose on the underground graffiti culture in the area – highlighting the artistic elements of what most people would just consider vandalism. While arguments can be made for both sides on that one, Bell took the stand long before street artists like Banksy saw their artistic contributions on urban landscapes literally chiseled or cut out of the very walls that were vandalized and then sold at art auctions for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and long before Shepard Fairey’s paste-ups gave way to the creation of the famous Barack Obama “Hope” poster that now sits in the Smithsonian.
He was ahead of the curve on that one, and while it didn’t necessarily sit well in the conservative confines of the Northern San Joaquin Valley, it showed that he was willing to take a chance on something he was passionate about, and he never let that passion fade away.
Years ago, I went with a group of people who used to work for this newspaper to Stockton to see him perform at a venue down on the Miracle Mile and was mesmerized at the confidence he exuded during his introductory set for another artist that got top billing for the night. He was young, brash, and completely and fully dedicated to his craft, and while I always knew that music was one of his chief passions – along with poetry, and literature – I was blown away at the pure joy he showed while spitting his bars to a room full of relative strangers.
Within a few years of that night he was flourishing in Sacramento, hosting open mics and laying the foundation of what would become a hip-hop collective that would get referenced constantly in local alternative publications.
So, it doesn’t necessarily surprise me that the writer who penned the article about Hobo Johnson – also known as Frank Lopes – would have tapped Bell as the person to shed a little bit of insight into the meteoric rise of the obscure act. It was Bell who, as Andru Defeye, was hosting the open mic the night that Lopes came in with his unique brand of exceptionally-vulnerable poetry set to music, and it was Bell who welcomed him into ZFG with open arms and watched as the “the awkward kid” that showed up to his “Most Open Mic In The City” gained traction and watched his viral fame give way to a Warner Bros. recording contract.
But it was the way in which he was regarded in the article that was the most telling. He wasn’t just a fellow artist, but the “founder” of the organization that Lopes – who is scheduled to perform at the Bonnaroo Festival later this year – stumbled into and cut his teeth with and seeing that designation made me smile for my old co-worker who never let anybody tell him that he couldn’t do anything.
Much the same way Bell recalled seeing Lopes stumble into his event as the “awkward kid,” I remember Bell in almost the same way – but knowing, deep in my heart of hearts, that there was something unique about him and that his talent and his drive couldn’t be contained in the small town that he grew up in.
Sometimes people move to larger cities to lose themselves. They feel at peace in the anonymous expanses of the big city, and function better when they’re just one cog in the massive, non-stop wheel that grinds ceaselessly. But it became apparent to me years ago that Bell moved to Sacramento to find himself, and by doing so, allowed a whole host of like-minded individuals to discover that the things that were disregarded in the small town that he came from were actually hidden gems that when nurtured could blossom into something beautiful.
One night, sitting at the bar at Rocko’s and interviewing him for a story about his progress in Sacramento, we ended up getting caught up on the subject of poetry and I watched as his face lit up. Sure, the performances he was putting together on an almost weekly basis were great, and he loved seeing a room full of people rock back-and-forth to his clever wordsmithing, but at the end of the day, all it took to get him truly excited were the right combination of letters strung together on the page. Even when you stripped away all of the flashy components, it was clear that his driving force – the thing that kept him going as he carved out one new fan after another – was as pure as could be.
With an album coming out next month, Bell shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, and from the vantage point of a casual observer watching somebody live their dreams, I hope to God that he doesn’t.
Good on you, Andrew.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.