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Poetry, music, art drives hip-hop artist
Andrew Bell performing on a Sacramento sidewalk. - photo by Photo Contributed

For the dozens of people that are flooding into a converted movie theater in Downtown Stockton, it’s a seemingly average Saturday night.

Drinks are in hand. Conversations are being had. Handshakes. Laughs. Smiles.

But off to one side a relatively thin 20-something with shaggy blond hair and a baseball cap seems out of place. He shouldn’t – a good portion of the people in this room came to see him perform, and an even larger portion of those people know him outside of the hip-hop persona he had been crafting for years.

He’s the preacher’s kid. The no-filter former reporter from the Manteca Bulletin that can lay claim to ticking off the Manteca Police Department more so than anybody else has in recent memory. The guy that Executive Editor Dennis Wyatt still says had the best “Man on the Street” interviews that he’s ever seen.

He’s Andrew Bell. Andru Defeye. Defeye.

And he’s walking the path of artistic freedom.

Now living in Sacramento, the East Union High alum spends his days focusing on the things that have always interested him – poetry, music, art. They are the passions that drove him into writing in the first place. They are the fiery pursuits that gave him the rebellious streak that would eventually lead to what was at the time a crushing departure from what he thought was his chosen career field.

Every boxer hits the canvas sometime.

The caveat to Bell was that he hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface of the talents that he did possess. Those that he could wield were raw at best – the sort of broadsword that would knock somebody off of a horse simply because of its weight but not its edge. Like any good artist, it would take a period of wandering and self-discovery before he was able to truly figure out the direction of his inner-compass.

True North can be one hulluva place to find, but you’ll know it when you get there.


The Jimmy Fallon effect

For three decades Johnny Carson ruled late-night television. He was funny and he’s was charming, but most of all he was relatable. Anybody in America could turn on their television set and see Carnac The Magnificent, laugh hysterically, and realize that Jimbo from the Friday night poker game would do something just as crazy.

Jay Leno was cut from the same cloth. He was edgier, sure, but the times were edgier. His shtick was similar, and that’s what made him popular. Conan – let’s just pretend that never happened.

But then Jimmy Fallon came along at the beginning of this year. And he brought The Roots – led by an Afro-wearing drummer that goes by the moniker “Questlove.” And he got up on stage with Justin Timberlake and continued “The History of Rap” during the same timeslot that used to feature monkeys interacting with its host.

So did everybody above the age of 65 just suddenly stop watching The Tonight Show just because they can’t relate? Sort of. The age of Fallon’s viewership did dip. But the programming choices are also expected to bring the culture America’s youth to the masses on a historic scale.

There’s a correlation here between Fallon and Bell and The Tonight Show and The Manteca Bulletin. Did people cancel their subscriptions simply because there was a young whipper-snapper writing about getting tattoos and how graffiti was art (which incensed the police)? Possibly. But it also carried that culture into the collective conscious of the community, even if he didn’t realize at the time that he was doing it.

Bell was brash. He was flippant. But he was also fearless. And driven.

As a one-two punch, the combination is brutally effective.


The long and winding road

You’d think a revolutionary nomad would carve his niche in San Francisco.

But it wasn’t until Bell ended up in Sacramento and came across a trio of community activists – Anand Parmar, Estella Sanchez and Dominick Porras – that he put down roots and started to flourish in areas he never expected.

Through the Sol Collective – a unique arts and cultural center – Bell was able to step away from focusing solely on being a hip-hop performer and more closely examine his future. He worked his way back into a media capacity and started networking with other like-minded souls. He saw the power in reaching out to the youth of the community and sharing an artistic message. And he learned about himself.

He has since cut inroads into the poetry and art scenes and has taken on a larger role as a producer of events – organizing flash mobs and utilizing social media to build a profile about what Sacramento has to offer a world of growingly despondent youth. Bell has embraced the urban guerilla role wholeheartedly, and has used his used the relationships that he’s built within that community to reach out in fun and unique ways. 

Earlier this year a video of him walking into what appeared to be a Gap (it could have been any mall clothing store, really) appeared on his Facebook page. It looked like a guy shopping until all of a sudden he kicks off his shoes and does a 60-second impromptu “sock hop” – gyrating his hands like he was carrying glowsticks at a rave and moving his white socks across the smooth concrete. By the time the video was finished, electronic dance music and light effects had been added and the flash mob-style event came off like a genius way to interrupt the rigid flow of daily life. 

Silliness? Surely. But there’s a guy that for more than four decades that has worn the title of “social activist” in San Francisco by throwing pies at people, so surely dancing around in your socks qualifies somewhere on the scale.

And it’s all a matter of degrees. 


Moving forward

Bell has gotten a taste of the big time. 

He’s been to the South-by-Southwest (SXSW) Festival in Austin, helped put together one of the largest showcases of the event, and seen how basic networking can help up-and-coming artists on a massive scale. 

And he’s become a host for a no-holds-barred open mic in Sacramento that doesn’t turn anybody away or shy away from any topic. 

It’s raw. It’s powerful. It’s true. 

With his Zero Forbidden Goals (ZFG) crew aligned to help propel the idea of revolutionary hip-hop in Sacramento, that flash mob idea that has taken on a musical and performance-driven spin. April is National Poetry Month (he throws guerilla in there because, well, that’s his style) and the group, which grew as an extension of the Sol Collective, is hitting places in Sacramento with poets and artists that are willing to perform their works in public spaces. 

Security usually comes. 

Questions are definitely asked. 

Unlike instances the past, however, when laws may have been broken – skateboarding in places where it’s banished or tagging up buildings – the experience is much different today. 

Call it evolution. Call it maturity. Call it growth. 

It’s something. And it’s ongoing. Five years ago Bell said that his drive centered almost solely on becoming a rapper and a better hip-hop artist. 

Who knows where he’ll be five years from now. If past patterns are any experience, Bell could be well on his way to leaving a mark that will endure for decades. 

Time will tell. And he’s okay with that.