Dan Hust | Democrat
Big Rook, left, and J-Hooks are vice presidents of B.M.F.TP, an up-and-coming Monticello studio.
Music studio changes lives in Monticello
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO You’d never guess it looking at the unassuming green-and-white wood siding, but a tiny garage on Osborne Street in Monticello has become the hottest site for the area’s newest recording artists.
And it’s saved more than a few lives in the process.
Inside its dark environs is a full-fledged studio, outfitted by a man who believes in the power of music to not only lift spirits but change lives.
“A lot of the kids that come here are the ones in trouble,” Telly Bridges says. “But when they hear their voice on a CD, it gives them a good feeling inside.”
Enough to inspire them to go to college. Enough to grab them off the streets. Enough, even, to pull them out of gangs.
Bridges a 35-year-old father, husband, supermarket manager and brand new grandfather is the owner and founder of the studio, called B.M.F.TP (Better Mentality for Teens Project).
Like every one of his 15 artists, Bridges known on stage as B.M.F.T. came to the recording field with nothing more than a passion for music.
“I’ve always been into music,” he says. “This started with me and a couple of friends making a few tracks.”
That was seven years ago. Since then, he’s expanded into the role of producer, offering not only recording facilities inside the garage he rents but also creating shows where his budding talent can play to an appreciative audience.
In that time, he’s dealt with hundreds of up-and-coming rap and R&B artists, offering them free use of the studio in exchange for their hard work, team spirit and commitment to learning the ropes of the industry.
That’s paid off in ways few could imagine, least of all the artists themselves. The stories they tell, using their stage names, are nothing short of amazing.
• At 33, Sha-B is one of the oldest performers in the group, but if it weren’t for the studio, he might not be alive today.
A member of the infamous Bloods gang down in New York City, Sha-B moved to Monticello not long ago “still gangbanging.”
The lack of a well-organized gang network in Monticello (thanks in no small part to the local police department’s hard work) “slowed me down, but I was still banging,” he recalls.
That lifestyle, however, left him with few options and led to his blindness from a gunshot wound.
A friend introduced him to Bridges and crew, and even without his sight, “I began to see how all people are people.”
In particular, he met Six, a former Crips gang member who is now a 26-year-old rapper.
In any other setting, they would have been sworn enemies. But not inside B.M.F.TP.
“This was a breaking point,” Sha-B says. “This gave me a reason for living.”
“I had never been around people like this,” Six added, sitting next to his newfound brother. “This brought us closer together. Everybody here we’re family.”
The two rappers are now collaborating on an album, appropriately titled “Red & Blue,” referencing gang colors and highlighting the need to make peace.
“Gangbanging ain’t going to do nothing but take away your family and your life,” Sha-B points out. “This first album we hope inspires other gang members… to put aside their differences.”
He and Six are living proof it can happen.
“You come here, you forget all about it [gangbanging],” explains Six.
“You leave here, you fall asleep,” laughs Sha-B of the intense schedule that keeps him from returning to the gangs.
“We’ve got good friends here who keep us away from the drama,” adds Six.
• Lu DaVinci is the group’s 20-year-old R&B artist. The Monticello native likes the people and loves the music, finding more than he expected in the year he’s been working in the studio.
“I feel like I’m progressing as an artist,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot about recording.”
Now a marketing major at Sullivan County Community College (SCCC), DaVinci is already hard at work on promoting his new single, “It’s Amazing.”
“I like it it’s fun,” he relates. “Recording isn’t just one hour, though. It takes the whole day.”
• Shane, too, is a marketing major at SCCC, but he’s spent four years under Bridges’ supervision, honing his rapping skills and learning how to use the advanced equipment inside the garage.
“I saw you could do more,” the 20-year-old Monticello resident explains. “I’ve built friendships with everybody, and this gives me something to do instead of wasting time.”
He’s also introduced his younger brother to the studio. Now learning to play the guitar, Shane anticipates advancing in the music industry, especially in behind-the-scenes work.
“I’ll just go as hard as I can,” he says.
• Kronica is proud to say she’s the only female performer in the group, but the rest of the members don’t seem to treat her as anything but a talented coworker.
Involved as a rapper for the past six months, she’s also the significant other of Sha-B, who brought the 25-year-old into the studio.
“I’ve been in music my whole life,” she says, but it wasn’t until B.M.F.TP that she delved into songwriting. “I think it’s the best thing I’ve found.”
The self-described “troublesome kid” now is a mother of four earning a communication and media arts degree through Axia College and, soon, SCCC. She hopes to complete her education with an internship at the studio.
“It teaches you every aspect about music,” she says. “It’s hands-on, and I get to see it all.”
It’s also her place to shine as a performer and relax as a friend.
“This is my peace, my sanctuary.”
• The studio also has a management crew, including producer P. City.
A keyboardist in local churches since he was 13, the 24-year-old still plays and raps, but “I’m not really a singer.”
Where his talents show, however, is in working with the artists to bring out their talents.
“Every time I hear something,” he explains, “it’s a challenge to me to be more creative.”
He even has his own label, Point Blank Ent., that includes Bridges and four other artists.
“If anybody needs beats, I lease my beats out,” he adds.
• B.M.F.TP also has its own artist development chief, in the form of 22-year-old J. Hack.
“I see what their vision is, what they’re trying to put out,” he explains, “and I make them better artists more rounded, more grounded.”
Though he’s been with the studio for three years, Hack has been an aspiring artist since he was 16, moving here from Mount Vernon and now attending SCCC as a communications and media arts major.
A representative of the “white flag” (or non-gang) movement, he’s trying to attract more artists and expand the studio’s offerings. In fact, he’s helping coordinate an effort to create music videos for each of the performers.
“We’re trying to put upstate on the map.”
But he also is a rapper, hip-hop and R&B performer with a message.
“I’d rather die for a cause, a purpose,” he says, as opposed to what he sees in the gang lifestyle. “That’s what I try to portray with my music.”
He’s seen enough death and destruction from his childhood days in the downstate projects.
“I’m not trying to aspire to be that,” he says. “I’m more than that.”
• Vice President J-Hooks is yet another 20-year-old Monticello native who’s been inspired by the studio to pursue a communications and media arts degree at SCCC.
But Bridges has also seen in him a capacity to lead partly because he’s watched Hooks, his nephew, grow up.
“I just have to make sure everybody’s on task,” Hooks explains. “I motivate them, answer questions.”
But he’s also one of the recording artists and a beatmaker.
“I want to be a part of creating it,” he says. “I love the shows, setting up, handing out fliers, putting it together.”
• Bridges is the tough but caring father figure to most of these young people, and he hopes his efforts will help them fly far into the professional world, music or otherwise.
“The people I stick with are the people who have good mindsets in the beginning,” he explains.
In the process, he also hopes to change a community beset by fear and apathy.
“If you look at it as there’s nothing [here], then there will be,” he says. “I want people to see what we do. It’s not about gangbanging, it’s about making music.”