Hip-Hop Hope – Formula 734 Brings Sense of Community to Washtenaw County Men of Color

Formula 734 brings intergenerational men of color together to create hip-hop anthems about overcoming struggles and sharing successes. Artwork – CW Creatyv for Be Creative Studios

As a fresh community-based hip-hop album, Formula 734 poetically encapsulates shared stories of struggles and successes for men of color in Washtenaw County.

“I feel as though we’ve created a historical document for this particular time in history for Washtenaw County that people can refer to, or they can gain some primary source analysis of what it was like to be in Washtenaw County during the COVID-19 pandemic and the unrest related to the death of George Floyd,” said Rod Wallace, who co-executive produced the project with Jamall Bufford.

In partnership with Washtenaw County My Brother’s Keeper (WMBK), the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and the Washtenaw Intermediate School District, Wallace and Bufford assembled an intergenerational group of disparate male creatives to write, record and release a compelling 12-track album with emerging hip-hop artists, producers and engineers.

“Jamall and I started to talk about our desire to engage young people with hip-hop in a positive way that taught a number of different skills. We started planning for the project, and our first meeting was in November,” Wallace said.

From November to February, Wallace and Bufford hosted Formula 734 meetings and recording sessions every two weeks with male creatives and hip-hop collaborators to build trust, teamwork and camaraderie at Grove Studios, The Workshop and The Neutral Zone’s Orpheum Studio.

Each gathering included a meal and a huddle to enrich, energize and inspire participants before they wrote and recorded music with Louis Picasso, Tru Klassick, Sam Watson, Beretta Shells, Konphlict, King Ogundipe and Approachable Minorities’ Drew Denton and TJ Greggs.

“One of the intentions of WMBK is to engage in discussions with men across generations as opposed to only focusing on young men. There are men across the spectrum of color who need support and who need positive experiences, so we try to bridge that gap, and through this project, we were able to do so,” Wallace said.

Concocting Formula 734

With Wallace and Bufford at the hip-hop helm, Formula 734 weaves introspective rhymes, thoughtful monologues, crisp beats, old-school jams and deep grooves while authentically amplifying the voices of local men of color. All 12 tracks challenge false narratives about men of color and raise awareness about the underlying causes of systemic racism.

“We want change to happen in our communities, in our neighborhoods and in our schools. One album probably won’t accomplish that, but we want this to be a stepping stone in the right direction to some of the systemic changes that we want to see for black men and young men of color in our community and around the country. We want this to hopefully be a catalyst for the conversation that needs to take place about what’s happening in our communities,” said Bufford, who’s a WMBK project specialist and Formula 734 co-executive producer.

The latest Formula 734 single, “Proud of You,” pays a heartfelt tribute to mothers and wives who strongly advocate for their sons, spouses and significant others in spite of mounting personal struggles. Gleaming piano, soaring synths, soulful finger snaps, groovy electronic drums and Sade samples propel the collaboration of Bufford, Picasso and Watson.

Bufford graciously raps, “And speaking of amazing/Yeah my wife is amazing/I feel like heaven blessed me with a hell of a lady/My baby holds me down in a world that’s so crazy/She helps me stay sane when this world tries to break me/And back when I was broke/She didn’t try to replace me/She put me back together like a puzzle to save me/The women in my life/The reason I can do great things.”

“It was one of those situations where a conversation occurred amongst the young men, beats were played that kind of fit that vibe, and they jumped on the vibe and created something very organic,” Wallace said.

“We wanted to make sure that we instantly cut through any assumptions that the sole purpose of the organization is to only do things that deal with men. Although the source of our programming is to support the highly documented needs of men of color, we wanted to make sure that we instantly recognize the contributions to all of our lives that women are making.”

A Mother’s Love and The Cha$e

Formula 734 features collaborations from aspiring creatives and emerging hip-hop artists.

Another thought-provoking track includes, “A Mother’s Love,” which features a recorded poignant speech from Ypsilanti’s Mother Hadden about the traumatic impact of gun violence on her family and community. She openly discusses how her son is currently facing 20 to 40 years in prison for murder.

A lingering synth echoes her sorrowful sentiments, “There are so many traumatic things that are taking our people out. But I’ve heard several things on here this morning that I truly believe, and me being a single mother of color, I didn’t lose my son to murder, but I lost him to gun violence. Not only are we being lynched by white people, we’re being lynched by each other, and we’re being infiltrated by just not just knowing better.”

“When I was sequencing the album that was not one of the songs we recorded or anything. That audio came from a Facebook Live posting of the breakfast, and this was right after the pandemic hit, and when I heard it, I think it perfectly captured how transformational those WMBK breakfast events are. The focus of them is community and to be informative, but there aren’t many places where we get to come together that crosses so many boundaries and so many lines,” Wallace said.

“Hearing her talk about that provides the listener with the foundation of why we do what we do. There’s a mother who’s crying out for help and acknowledging why it’s so important that we have these discussions, and when I was putting the audio together for the album, I put it very early because I want people to understand why we do what we do. It’s really important for me for people to understand the why behind it.”

Formula 734 also beautifully demonstrates the creative prowess of local hip-hop heavyweights Approachable Minorities, King Ogundipe, Tru Klassick, Sam Watson and Beretta Shells on “The Cha$e.” Propulsive Latin-inspired beats fused with vintage ‘90s underground bass chronicle the lifelong pursuit of wealth.

Approachable Minorities eloquently rap, “Yo money make the world go round/So I gotta get it/No more wearin’ ragged hand-me-downs/Gotta be exquisite/Pockets one, swollen up/Growin’ up, and my ego would play this/So now I got ‘em blowin’ up/So caught up in my main infatuation/Ain’t no way to have her without the dedication to get the bacon/Used to be mistaken/Thinkin’ I could be patient.”

“It just shows the variety that’s in the room in just a short amount of time. I love that record,” Wallace said.

Documenting Formula 734

This fall, WMBK will release a companion Formula 734 documentary filmed by Fred Culpepper from Creative Fluidity. Initially, the project started as a documentary with music from Wallace and Bufford, but later expanded to include an album once Bufford joined WMBK as a project specialist.

“We’ve been talking about doing screenings and different types of things with My Brother’s Keeper. From what we’ve seen so far, we haven’t gotten the final edit yet, it’s super well done, and it will be very compelling,” Bufford said.

With an upcoming documentary and new album, Bufford and Wallace envision a follow-up Formula 734 release at some point. The current pandemic continues to make in-person creative collaboration and recording logistics an ongoing challenge though.

“Hopefully, this inspires everyone involved in the project to wanna step up and do more or at least just feel like their voice is important enough to help create some of the change that we’re aspiring to see in our community. I want this to be a catalyst for change, and we’re gonna do them regardless. We can’t stop supporting these young brothers involved either,” Bufford said.

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