When 18-year-old North Bergen resident Tyler Griffin – known to the music world as Ty Alaxandar – wrote the rap “Bruin Country” in 2010, he could not predict the many roads it would lead him down.
The song earned the teen acclaim, both positive and critical. It landed him on North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco’s campaign video last year along with 60,000 YouTube hits and an influx of comments at a rate of about 10 per hour after its publication, says Griffin’s mother and manager (a.k.a. “momager”) Michelle Nunez.
Some of the comments were harsh, particularly in response to the now well-known hook, “I don’t know where you be from, but I be from North Bergen, son.” They had to disable the comments after it became too much.
“It bothered me at first,” Griffin said, “but then I brushed it off and focused on the positive.”
“I did this to show people it’s cool to chase after your dreams no matter what people say, and you can’t do it alone.” – Tyler Griffin
The result was a collaborative, nine-minute “Bruin Country” remix called “Rep Your City” that featured seven emcees who rapped about their neighborhoods, officially released on March 8. The music video, filmed every day over the course of Griffin’s weeklong February break from high school, has since received over 4,000 hits. Perhaps a different young man would have erased the handful of negative comments the remix received. But Griffin kept them.
“If we couldn’t express ourselves, we would have no social networks, which is what makes this project possible,” he said. “I did this to show people it’s cool to chase after your dreams no matter what people say, and you can’t do it alone. You have to help others help you.”
“Ty is wise beyond his years,” Mayor Sacco said. “There’s a lot of rivalry between rappers, but he got them together so they could all take part in a positive enterprise.”
Breaking the mold
The music industry is a notoriously cutthroat one. Artists most ardently promote themselves on the usual social media circuits like You Tube, Facebook, and Sound Cloud, and typically it’s all about who gets the most hits.
“I don’t really think I’ve ever seen anything like this as far as bringing so many [emcees] together,” Darryl Semple (whose artist name is Googie) said of Griffin’s efforts. “Ty really pushed for it, and I knew he was focused; not just some guy trying to hit me up.”
Griffin selected the artists for the video through the exact same competitive social networking avenues that often drive emcees apart. And then there’s the matter of the difference between an emcee and a rapper, he and Manuel explained.
“There’s a certain negative stereotype about rappers that has set a bad example, so we consider ourselves emcees,” Griffin said. “Emcees do real hip hop, and they maintain integrity with their lyrics. They do it for the art, not for the fame.” This notion is why he sought out emcees, many of whom Griffin had never met in person.
Jay Manuel knew of Griffin through local network circles and jumped at the chance to represent Union City, where, according to Griffin, many of the negative comments posted in response to “Bruin Country” originated. Manuel felt this was a misrepresentation of where he came from.
“I give Jay a lot of credit,” Griffin said. “His willingness to contribute to the song showed his self-respect as an artist.”
Manuel attends college full time and works in New York City four to five times a week, which limits his spare time, to say the least. And none of the emcees were paid for their contributions.
“I don’t usually work with artists unless I know they’re legit,” Semple said. “Ty’s a younger kid, and when I was that age, no one was helping me out, so the whole thing really impressed me.”
Though no one received monetary compensation, they all appreciated the fact that by working together on the project, the real reward came in a different form. The recognition they’d each worked so hard to earn for themselves was, despite precedent, mutually beneficial.
“We demonstrated that even though we’re from different cities and we’re all trying to make it, we can come together,” Griffin said. “And by coming together we helped each other.”
“I didn’t know if he could pull it off,” Sacco said, “but he did, and it was really, really good.”
In addition to artist rivalry, the Hudson County emcees claim they are more than familiar with between-town rivalry, particularly between North Bergen, Union City, and West New York.
“The rivalry’s real, especially with these towns,” Semple said. “West New York doesn’t get too much recognition, and I tried to tell people that we’re not all about gangs and crime. We’re a community.”
“People were talking bad about my having pride in a small town like North Bergen,” Griffin said. “Now they’re not. Where we’re from is a part of all of us, which is why ‘Rep Your City’ is so important.”
While every emcee had a different take on what growing up in their respective towns meant to them, every one was proud, as exemplified in Manuel’s lyrics: “Feels like I’m soaring, they wonder where I’m going; no talk, just show them....lets my city know, I did it for ‘em.”
The video is available for viewing under “Rep Your City: Bruin Country (Remix)” on YouTube.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org