Every Friday night at 9:19 there’s a cypher on the streets of downtown Durham. You know that big bull right across from the Marriott? That’s us. We meet there to freestyle – to release - to find reprieve from your everyday routine and express your innermost feeling.
A cypher is when a bunch of people come together to rap. You rap without writing and say whatever comes to mind. We’re out there every Friday that it’s not raining, snowing or below 32 degrees.
One of the regulars is Ismael Luna-Cornejo. At least he was a regular until last December. That’s when he got expelled from Durham School of the Arts. Afterwards, his parents started keeping a tighter leash on him, and that meant he wasn’t allowed to come to the cyphers as often – or Blackspace – a place where we both hang out and make music.
Ismael recalls, “I remember how it felt to make music … You know, when you first get your first mic, you make your first few songs you remember, how that feels?"
Although he doesn’t always feel the same when he’s working on new music, he still has a process that changes just enough to continue creating music comfortably.
“First of all it depends on how I'm feeling," he said. "If I wanna make something about, usually for like melodic stuff, I've got to hear the beat first. you know, I’m not even a singer but... I kinda incorporate it into my music, except for 'Cocoa Puff' I was screaming in that one.”
Cocoa Puff is the introductory track to Blackspace’s first album "Revenge of the Afronauts" that we released last year. There were nine other songs on the tape but as soon as we heard Cocoa Puff, we knew it was the place to start. It was also the first song that Ismael and I were on together. I still to this day don’t really know what he’s saying – I know the words but don’t know what he’s talking about – but the energy is so raw and infectious that it always stuck with me. Ismael has heard his praise and doesn’t know how to feel about it.
“I feel some type of way when they go out to listen to my music," he said. "So you feel like, like in my music sign that's not mainstream it is it is. Like it feels weird that there's people who's willing to do that.”
Music helps to release the things that weigh heavy on your mind and your heart. Music is good for Ismael and he’s good at it. I wish he’d get back to the music and so does our mentor Kevin Rowsey, who we call Rowdy. He’s a facilitator at Blackspace that is very close to Ismael. This time last year he was picking up Ismael to bring him to Blackspace and cyphers.
Rowdy says: “and him being able to express his frustration and his pain through his rhyming at such a young age, likr he was in middle school, bro. And he was killing it.”
The frustration and pain Rowdy is talking about sometimes makes it into the music.
Ismael recalls “I was going through some relationship sh**s. And it was just a person that I wanted to get out of my head, but I just couldn't... It wasn't working out. It was just toxic. I'll just write about it. Like instead of like crying about it.”
But Ismael says thats not all he writes about. His style of music is slowly evolving. He used to really rock with rap artist like NBA Youngboy and Roddy Ricch but now he is getting back to his roots and he wants music that represents his culture.
“Straight Mexican music,” he explains. Specifically, the Corrido. “I don't know, it just slaps. It's just so hard.”
But in the end, Ismael wants to get back into music.
“During the school year I'm probably going to do it again. Like I got stuff written and I got people that are trying to do collabs with me … None of this is gonna stop me. Like, no, honestly, like, even if I don't make music, I just want to do something good in the future. That's why I want to be a firefighter. You know, just mind my own damn business, have some kids, ya know, live life.”