By Sgt. Robert Yde
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs
FORWARD OPERATING BASE PROSPERITY, Iraq – Growing up in the Mission District of San Francisco, Pfc. Marco Sanchez always dreamed of a career in rap music.
It was a dream he never let go. He imagined himself headlining shows and having his face on CDs, posters and on television. Wherever his life took him, working as a waiter, selling time-shares and now as a Soldier serving in Iraq, his music remained a top priority.
Over the past six months, all his efforts have paid off, professionally, personally, and financially. He has seen his dream materialize into reality with the signing of a multi-album deal with San Francisco-based Bay Grinderz Records and the release of his album, "Hazardous Duty Pay."
Everything he worked for is coming true, but in his dream he never thought he would be enjoying his successes from half a world away.
A fueler assigned to Company A, 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd "Black Jack" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Sanchez has been involved in San Francisco's rap music scene since he was a young boy and had many successes with guest appearances on other people's albums and even with putting out a couple of his own. However he could never seem to get the big break he needed to move toward the next level.
Needing a drastic change in his life, Sanchez joined the Army in November of 2005, and after finishing his training and arriving to his unit at Fort Hood, Texas, Sanchez spent his days as a Soldier but continued to work on his music in his free time at his apartment, which he setup into a small recording studio.
"I had my own setup in my apartment, but I have professional equipment and I had sound proofed my room so I could get those clear, crisp vocals and everything," Sanchez explained. "I made a majority of the beats on the album there, and I wrote all of my lyrics and some other people's lyrics for the album."
While he and his unit prepared for their upcoming deployment, Sanchez continued to work on the songs that he hoped to release as an album, and one night while surfing the web, he came across an old friend who would offer him the opportunity he had been waiting for.
"I was sitting at the apartment on my computer, and I see on MySpace my friend, Jeff, from high school," Sanchez said. "Well this dude, Jeff, it turns out he started a record label called Bay Grinderz Records, and he's got distribution with City Hall, Koch and working on one with Atlantic.
"I pretty much just shopped a demo to him, he liked it and everyone that he showed it to, they liked it as well, and his advisors gave him the OK to go ahead and sign me."
He was too close to deployment to be able to travel to San Francisco to meet with the recording company, so he knew that signing a contract would have to wait.
After arriving to Iraq, Sanchez remained in constant contact with the recording company, but it wasn't until he went on leave in February, and was able to return to San Francisco that the contract was presented to him.
"When I went on leave I met up with the whole family at Bay Grinderz. I had dinner with them and a couple of drinks with them and the next day they pulled me into their office in downtown San Francisco and said, 'hey we've got a contract for you.' Turned out it was a quarter million dollar contract to record my music."
The $250,000 recording contract was for three albums to be recorded and released over the next five years. As part of the contract, Bay Grinderz also would release "Hazardous Duty Pay," which hit the streets in June.
"We released this CD, and I think the last time I got the numbers from them we'd sold 8,500 copies just in California. And in about two months it's going to hit international distribution levels, meaning that I'll be every state. I'll be in about 30 different countries, and we'll see how it goes from there," Sanchez said.
For the first run, 20,000 copies of the CD have been pressed, and Sanchez said that most of the sales to this point have been done by consignment or over the Internet.
"They go into the store and say, 'hey, we've got 10 CDs for you. Sell them at this price, and we want X amount of dollars from it, and then when you sell out we'll collect the money,'" he said, explaining the process.
Although being deployed prevents him from doing much of what an artist would typically do to promote an album, he said Bay Grinderz marketing teams have done everything they can to get his name out there.
"We've got street teams in a few different cities, and they go out and sale, promote, pass out fliers, pass out T-shirts, pass out stickers and body art. They've got fake tattoos with my name on it," he said.
"They do special events also," he added. "They throw events, and they've got this banner that says Bay Grinderz Records and under that it says Support the Troops and it's got my album cover on there."
Being overseas though hasn't kept Sanchez from taking part in the promotion process.
"They go to the radio stations and do drops," he explained. "What they'll do is they'll tell me a brief description of what the radio stations' would want to ask me if I were there. They'll call me and say these are the five questions we need you to answer. I'll call Jeff, the CEO, back and tell him my answers to all these questions that they're going to ask on his voicemail, and then they play them on the air.
"They also do a little video conferencing. I'll sit in my room, and I'll be on the webcam, and they'll do video conferencing with different websites and different distributors who want to see my face."
Looking back at where his music career is now, Sanchez said he has come a long way since he started his entertainment career as a young break-dancer trying to gain acceptance from the older kids in his neighborhood.
"I was about nine years old, and I used to break-dance, and down the street from my house there were these guys that used to rap and DJ and stuff. I thought these guys were cool and they always looked like they were having fun," he said. "One day they saw me practicing in my garage, and they came and talked to my mom and were like, 'Hey can we get Marco to come break dance at our shows.'"
Sanchez said his mom, who is a fan of rap music, was excited and used to accompany him to the shows to keep an eye on him. It was after one of these shows that he first gave rapping a try.
"I was 'chilling' with them after a show and they were like, 'Hey, Marco go ahead and rap,'" he said. "So, I started rapping, and they all started making fun of me. I thought they liked it, though. They were making fun of me, they were laughing, they were joking, and they were like, 'Yeah, you're dope. You sound good!' but they were just poking fun at me.'"
Being too young to understand that they were making fun of him, Sanchez said he took their jests to heart and over the next several years, just kept working on his rapping.
"I kept rapping and rapping and every day I'd come back to them and say, 'Look what I wrote,' and they made fun of me up until the age of 14, and then they were like, 'Oh God, this kid's actually got something,'" Sanchez said. "Basically, I got started by someone making fun of me, and I just kept rolling with it."
He spent the rest of his teenage years bouncing around northern California's underground rap music scene performing what he describes as "semi-gangster" or "thug rap" - music he said that reflects the world he was raised in.
"Where I grew up, everyday life was not that pretty," he explained. "You got gang violence all around the area. So I was raised up all around that, and I kind of inherited that lifestyle, and I got into a lot of trouble as a kid."
To get away from this lifestyle, Sanchez left San Francisco and headed south to San Diego to start a new life. While in San Diego, Sanchez took a job selling time shares and continued to work on his music, but he said when his opportunity with his music fell through, he felt like he needed a major change in his life.
"I hit a real low point," he said. "My music wasn't happening, which was my dream, so I said 'Why am I going to get another nine-to-five (job)? Let me do something exciting.'"
He started looking into the military and spoke with recruiters from all the branches of service before he finally chose on the Army.
"I joined the Army because I needed something different," Sanchez said. "I needed something to pull more inspiration from. I needed something to just kind of straighten me out because I was all into the streets. The Army took me out of it, and it kept me off of a lot of drugs. It kept me away from just doing stupid stuff."
He said that he was originally interested in mortuary affairs, but when the job was unavailable, he chose to be a fueler because of the job opportunities that would be available to him after his enlistment ended.
"I sat down with my uncle, who had been in the military for 20 years, and we basically went and researched what kind of jobs you can get when you get out of the Army, and we found that I can get a job with these gas companies pushing bulk fuel," he explained. "So it seemed like a good choice, and that's why I picked it."
Sanchez spends most days preparing his equipment and truck for the nightly convoys to pick up fuel, and every other month switches to the base's force protection cell where he mans the base's front gates and security towers. He said that the Army has helped him mature, and he has found a lot of inspiration from his daily duties and the Soldiers who he lives and works with – all of which comes out in the music that he writes.
"The inspiration comes from a lot of places," Sanchez said. "Hearing the guys I work with talk and me getting on a level with them, that's how I get the inspiration.
"I've got a song on the album called "After the Storm," and basically, it's talking about being out here and the hook is '...after the storm, the sun don't come out, it's gone.' I'm basically talking about being out here. As Soldiers, you know, we go through all this crap and the next day you think it's over but it's still there; you know the sun ain't there for us right now. So inspiration, I can draw it from anywhere."
While Sanchez didn't bring any recording equipment with him to Iraq, he said he doesn't go anywhere without his pen and paper, and this has helped him focus on the lyrics for his next album. He said he writes wherever and whenever he can, but it's in his room, surrounded by the noise of the other Soldiers whom he shares a tent with that he draws the most inspiration.
"The tents are so noisy," he explained, "and just hearing everybody vibing off of different things, it kind of makes me vibe in my own world. So I put the headphones on and I start writing, and then when I get on the stump, I take the headphones off and just listen to everybody for a minute. Then I put the headphones back on, and I'm right back into business."
Although "Hazardous Duty Pay," has only been available since June, Sanchez said he is already focused on his next album.
"I'm already nine songs into it," he said. "They've got a budget for me for the next album, which is almost 100 grand, and I've been sending out e-mails to various producers in the industry and buying out beats from them. I'm taking production from everywhere I can. It's going to be credible for the industry."
He said that not having to spend time producing the music for this next album has allowed him to focus even more on his lyrics and message.
"I don't talk too much on soldiering in these songs," he said, "but I let people know that right now, I'm not a gangster. I'm not a thug, I'm a Soldier but at the same time I'm still from the streets."
Once his next album is released, Sanchez said he also hopes to be able to take a more active part in promoting it.
"For the next album when we get back," he said, "I will be shooting a music video for it. I will be shooting a TV commercial for it, as well, (and) doing interviews with various magazines like "Vibe," "XXL," "The Source." I'm going to be doing all those things.
"With the music that we've got so far and the people that I've got behind me, I see it going to MTV level, BET level and Billboard. This next album, I'm going to get a Billboard Award, that's said and done. I'm going to do it. "
Sanchez is scheduled to return to the United States in January and said that when he gets back he will still have a year left on his enlistment, but is hoping to use his contract to get an early discharge. He said his unit is currently researching the matter to see if his contract makes him eligible for an early out.
"My commander knows that when we get back my intentions are going to be to try to get out of the Army and she supports that 100 percent," he said. "If it happens, it happens, and if it don't, I will gladly serve my time because the Army has done a lot of good for me.
"Being deployed right now has been a tough situation with my music, but doing my time in the Army is just one more thing I can say I did. I've gone from being in the streets to helping rebuild a third-world country - how many rappers can really say they've done that."
This work, Black Jack Soldier signs recording contract, releases first album, by SGT Robert Yde, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.