Dan Hust | Democrat
A small group is all that remains of the B.M.F.T.P. Studio in Monticello, the garage behind them having been shuttered after a series of tragedies and troubles this year. But (from the left) Philip Jacobs, Quadean Morrison, Six, Alonzo Poole and founder Telly Bridges are intent on continuing the effort to help get gang members off the streets and into productive pursuits..
Gang violence forces Monticello music studio to close its doors
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO The studio known as B.M.F.T.P. (Better Mentality for Teens Project) has always dwelled in a troubled land.
But in the past few months, trouble has visited the studio so much so that founder Telly Bridges has shut it down.
“Before, I had an open-door policy,” Bridges sadly related. “No more.”
Along Monticello’s Osborne Street, where once dozens of aspiring musicians honed their talents, Bridges’ rented white-and-green garage sits locked up, the recording equipment moved, the property almost eerily quiet.
“This has been the worst year of my life,” said Bridges.
In Carl Williams’ case, this was the last year of his life. Known in the studio as P. City, Williams was murdered in June, his just-launched career as a music producer cut short by a still-at-large assailant.
And just last month, Bridges’ cousin, 21-year-old Arsenio Jacobs, was caught by police hiding in the studio’s rafters, accused of being a member of the Crips gang and shooting at local Bloods.
AJ, as Jacobs is known, was a regular at B.M.F.T.P., rapping and hanging out with a group of young men and women with troubled pasts, including gang affiliations.
Bridges saw the modest garage as a way to reach out to those lost souls, help them find a path to become productive citizens most of all, to give them hope.
But they brought their troubles with them.
“Like it or not, that’s where a group of Crips began hanging out,” said Monticello Police Chief Doug Solomon. “Whether they were doing anything wrong or not is besides the point. ... They [the studio] just became sitting ducks.”
Connections were made, both for good and for bad, and while gang activity was not promoted or tolerated under the studio’s roof, friendships and enmities were formed based on gang affiliation.
“I just expected them to respect each other,” Bridges assessed gloomily. “Maybe if I’d had other people helping me out ...”
That’s why he’s gathered a group of his closest friends and family to begin efforts to reopen the studio as a safer place that effectively works to get kids off the streets.
“This is not a Crips or a Bloods studio,” insisted Quadean Morrison, a rapper and father of Bridges’ step-granddaughter. “We’re trying to do things for the community and also make music.”
Without a plethora of jobs or other activities, it’s a beacon for those who want something more than the constant threat of death and drugs and violence in Monticello’s roughest neighborhood.
“This is the only thing that’s over here on this street,” pointed out Alonzo Poole, a rapper and studio engineer. “I have a 10-year-old son who likes to make music with me. What’s going to happen with them [the next generation]?”
He agrees with Bridges that the studio should be shut down, but only to give them time to reassess operations and to apply for government funding for the arts.
Six, a former Crips gang member, found a new life off the streets thanks to the studio, his resolve strengthened by the death of his friend, Carl, in June.
“I want to see things get better,” he related. “We need to come together as one and do the right thing.”
No one believes in that more than Philip Jacobs, AJ’s brother and an aspiring R&B singer.
“At most, we’ve hurt Telly,” he remarked matter-of-factly about his brother’s actions. “I feel he [AJ] was wrong. Not only did he ruin it for himself, he ruined it for everyone.
“I think shutting down the studio was smart,” he added, “until everyone understands it’s not a spot where you’re going to cause trouble.”
“Everyone” includes the community, Jacobs added.
“Telly shouldn’t have to do everything himself,” he said.
Bridges already has a good relationship with the police chief, who advised Bridges to shut down the studio but believes in its premise, so long as Bridges screens his musicians to weed out the true troublemakers.
“I suppose any venture [is good] that is going to give some of these young people skills, hope and a career that will lead to a better kind of lifestyle,” Solomon said. “... If he does it again, I hope he’s successful.”
“We’ll put it back together the right way,” Bridges promised. “I really don’t want bad press to be on me or the studio.”
And he plans to engage the community and local government officials in his dream of offering hope to young people.
“We need more people to stand up and do more things for them,” he said.
As Morrison put it, the studio is family for those who otherwise wouldn’t have family.
“They’re all I’ve got,” he explained. “There’s a lot of love and unity in this studio.”
From the police to the neighbors to the county at large, Six plans to get that message out.
“If we were bad people,” he remarked, “we wouldn’t be here making music. We’d be out on the streets.
“I’m too old to be running around beating on people,” he laughed. “We’re role models now!”
“B.M.F.T.P. will persevere as B.M.F.T.P,” Bridges said with a quiet firmness. “It will keep running, recording booth or not.”