Jelani Sanchez Keeps It “Lucid” with His “Free Thought” Rap Collective

Jelani Sanchez poses in the pink room which lends Pink Room Media its name. / Instagram @ nyclucid

  Many of us on campus are in a constant rush to get our lives together. We are continuously in motion on our way to work, to class, or just hoping for those few simple moments of quiet we have for ourselves at home. At times it becomes hard to connect with another person and understand their experiences because we may be so wrapped up in our own even though the only path to success is through teamwork. We must push ourselves to connect with others in hopes that we may find those whom we wish to surround ourselves with and ultimately will push us to succeed.

  I took some time to travel into Queens and meet with one such person. Jelani Sanchez, a.k.a. Lucid, is a film student at Brooklyn College and has been actively creating films and music during his downtime outside of school or work.  We talked about his creative influences, his burgeoning collective projects with his rap group Free Thought and entertainment clique Pink Room Media, the importance of collaboration, and how Brooklyn College has affected his creative process.

  CS: Can you introduce yourself?

JS: I am Jelani Afiba Marti Sanchez and I go by Lucid. I am a full-time student, a full-time employee, a full-time creative, and a full-time nut-job.

  CS: What is one of your earliest memories creating art?

JS: Well both of my parents are musicians, you have to understand that. I always had instruments in the house so I can say the earliest is three. I was always banging on the drum. I was that cliché little kid banging on pots and pans. So I guess if you want to consider that art, that’s art. But in terms of consciously making stuff, I have to give that credit to my parents as well and then school. My mom always made sure to put me in schools with good art programs, even if they were public. My parents always fostered me drawing or fostered me playing with Legos. I was just always in a creative environment.

  CS: So your parents really pushed for that? Even if it wasn’t the path you took they always wanted you to be able to use it.

JS: If I was doing homework assignments and I had the opportunity to give it a creative twist my parents would let me. My earliest assignment I can remember, I had to count to 100 and use 100 items to count to 100 in successions. I printed out pictures of the first 100 Pokémon and placed them on a mood board with my mom and I was like 5 years old. If it wasn’t fun I wasn’t going to do it.

  CS: What type of musicians are your parents?

My father plays Palo. Every religion has its own music, Dominican Santería has its own music and it’s called Palo. He fuses that with contemporary sounds like dancehall, reggae, and afro-beats so he plays the drum, he’s a master drummer. He makes Palo Fusion.

My mom is classically trained in jazz, she’s a jazz singer. She can play saxophone, bass, and she also sings salsa. She’s a vocal coach and an occupational coach for the 9-5.

  CS: So you were definitely surrounded by art in general.

JS: You know those dudes playin’ drums in Central Park? I’m probably related to most of them, if not I have a connection to them. I grew up in Central Park playing drums. That’s why I commute all the time because I was always with my parents running the gigs.

  CS: When you were younger, how did you use art to express yourself? Has that changed as you’ve continued your education?

JS: Escapism and dealing with my environment. It hasn’t changed because I’m still able to escape, but on an academic level now, because I’ve found a program that fosters my art and can give me a degree in something that I’d like to pursue.

  CS: What purpose does art have in your daily life?

JS: Honestly art is my life’s work. It’s going to be my career, it’s going to be what I’m successful in. It is a means of expression and communication for me ultimately. It is a form of escaping my environment and what’s going on but it’s more like an outlet …

  CS: In creating your reality?

JS: No expressing my reality. I’m very authentic and realistic with what I make. Eventually I’d like to make characters and rap, tell stories like Eminem, Nas, Slick Rick, and stuff. In filmmaking I’d like to create my own worlds like Kubrick and yet I want to imitate reality. I feel like that’s important because people can escape more when they can relate.

  CS: Did you find it difficult to express yourself in other ways than art?

JS: I’m not an academic. I have an academic mind 100%…

  CS: As far as the structure of school goes though?

JS: I’m so bad. I’m really good in places where strict structure is enforced; if you mess up you’re gone. If the enforcement is too lax, I won’t get anything done. I’ve never been good at homework; I suck at deadlines which I’m working on. If I’m not engaged I hate it.

  CS: In a lot of your music you talk about Queens, it is a constant motif in your music. How does Queens influence your work and daily life?

JS: It’s kind of been s—ted on. You tell people you’re from Queens and they’re like “yo that’s far,” that’s the first thing. Relative to you it’s far but I’m 30 minutes from Times Square so I’m not far. Queens has always been overlooked especially in hip-hop. I think it’s important because people don’t realize that Queens is usually on the forefront of hip-hop. The first artist that made hip-hop go pop is from Queens. Def Jam, that’s a Queens/Long Island group. Run-D.M.C., Queens. LL Cool J, Queens. There’d be no Slick Rick without Queens.

The story of Queens is the story of the underdog. I’ve been the underdog all my life, most people have counted me out early because of my tendencies, and it’s probably all self-inflicted. I’m a dirty-ass Shea Stadium Mets fan. It’s very important to me.

There is a renaissance happening in Queens and that’s big. What happened in Brooklyn from 2011-2015 [in reference to the BEASTCoast hip-hop movement central to Flatbush] and the drill music that was emerging; we’ve had that the whole time. All the funny guys on Instagram, Queens. Queens is running Instagram right now.

The contemporary art movement is coming. We just hosted a gallery in my crib and these guys are good. I think there’s a renaissance coming to NY and it’s Queens-based. The Brooklyn renaissance helped put New York back in the public eye, but I think Queens will elevate it. Bronx is helping out with elevation as well as far as Billboard music but in terms of culture in general and that encompassing everything, Queens easily.

  CS: Is there a fairly strong creative community in Queens? 

JS: Tight-knit as hell. Everybody in Queens knows each other, that’s a fact. As tight-knit as Queens is though, we just have to organize. Everybody wanna make it but nobody wants to put the work in. People don’t understand promotion or branding, they just want to put some work in and have their song blow up.

  CS: What is Pink Room Media? 

JS: I hope Pink Room Media will be the epicenter of this entire Queens renaissance that I was talking about in terms of media. A lot of my friends are into different types of arts and we just want to facilitate that, put money into the community, ourselves and circulate money between ourselves and just create stuff. The internet is a route that people of color can get on and really New York is running the internet and I feel like we can get stakes in that. We are a film, entertainment and photography collective.

  CS: Who are Free Thought?

JS: That’s my guys; those are my person, that’s my gang. We are a rap collective of individual artists that are just trying to make music and elevate it. Those are just my dudes I used to kick it with, go on random adventures with. We were always freestyling, listening to music and just chillin’. It was like “Yo let’s do this and put a name on it” and now it’s just a means of branding, motivation and organization.

  CS: You’re all just trying to help each other out.

JS: At this point yeah because we were like “Yo if we’re all in a group it just wouldn’t make sense because we’re all doing different things.” We’re a collective because we’re still able to come together and make art but also promote each other individually.

  CS: How long has Free Thought been going on for? Pink Room is new, right?

JS: Since 2011. Yes Pink Room is new although it isn’t just because we’ve all been working together for a while before. We’re trying to do what Vice is but on a community based level.

  CS: How big of a role is collaboration in your process?

JS: Collaboration is everything. I could do it by myself but even then not really.

  CS: Do you think collaboration humbles you?

JS: It doesn’t just humble you because it happens no matter what. If they say it doesn’t, that’s ridiculous. You can’t hold the camera and shoot yourself. The biggest things I’ve learned from it is to stay on deadlines, pull your weight, and not resist change.

  CS: How has it been managing several projects at once?

JS: It’s been hell but, it is fun stress.

  CS: How do you feel about Brooklyn College?

JS: I love Brooklyn College; the film program has given me the structure I needed. It has really good professors that really care about the craft. That’s the important part. You have to care about the art, but the craft is really what Brooklyn College helps you with. It is what you make of it; they’re not going to push it. They say “Here, you either want it or you don’t want it.”

It’s beautiful man, Brooklyn College has a beautiful campus. I cut class just to sit on the grass. The city needs to invest in the school a lot more because this school is a gem.

  CS: Has Brooklyn College done the same for you as managing these several collectives have?

JS: It’s given me more structure and taught me how to work with these people. It’s taught me how to work with different people, humbled me because there are a lot of really talented people in that program and they have stunted on me so many times in terms of creating dope stuff and critiquing me. I’m very proud of people in that program, even if they may piss me off. We all have egos man, we’re all sensitive people.

To get a taste of Jelani Sanchez’s musical endeavors, check him out on his personal Soundcloud at nyclucid, or check out the full Free Thought collective at soundcloud.com/FREETHOUGHTNYC. The Pink Room can be found on Instagram under the handle @pinkroommedia.

Jelani Sanchez’s latest single, “Stuck in My Ways.” / Soundcloud @ nyclucid

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