Sebastian Augustine Saiz, Age 29
By Cecilia LaFrance
One block west of Federal Boulevard, a cross street equally as sketchy as Colfax’s worst stretches, the Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales Library squats like a step-stool to a towering apartment building behind it. The recently built Denver Public Library branch joins the sprawling gentrification in the western perimeter of Denver’s skyline. The contemporary apartments and a smattering of brave entrepreneurs cleaning up the aged storefronts nearby are new additions in the now prized real estate. Yet, the neighborhood continues to hosts a steam bath reminiscent of a Capone film, massage parlors likely prey to police sting operations, and dilapidated housing earning killer rent by slumlord holdouts. West Colfax’s darker past casts its shadows.
On the second floor of the library, the public recording studio’s door is shut, reserved for a two-hour block by a frequent visitor each Wednesday afternoon. Seen through the studio window, Sebastion Saiz delivers staccato lines into the high definition microphone, his back straight for full use of his lungs. Sporadically, Saiz’s knees obey a drop beat. Eyes closed as if lacing his words with a vision behind them, Saiz uses his hand as an extension of his vocalist’s art. His flexed fingers of his right hand tap at the air to an unheard beat streaming through his headphones until he jabs at his chest to punctuate a crucial point.
He listens to the 10-second take, mindlessly pulling on the short rough hair under his chin, and tries the segment again. “Listo,” he cues his recording assistant, who also happens to be the library’s security guard. This time, he holds up a worn handwritten lyric sheet while he lays the main chorus track for “Mommy Tried,” a memoir ballad. Shallow breaths carry the pain of Saiz and his siblings’ childhood in a verse crammed with references of life with food stamps, vouchers, and absences.
The song is destined for his CD From the West Point of View, “meaning they can’t see it the way I see it.” Saiz grew up nearby, a “Westie,” and after a stint in state prison for robbery, is living out his parole in his former stomping grounds. “I made it out of the hood, but still in the hood.” Saiz points to the irony of his situation, his 4-year-old son, SJ (Sebastian, Jr.) silently watching videos on a smart phone at the side of the room. After growing up as a disadvantaged youth, Saiz wants to protect his son from the same fate. “I’m walking the righteous path.” If he had his freedom, Saiz would take his “Stupid Dumb Sick” style on the road, confident in his music enough to tattoo his chest with his label, Make or Break Records (M.O.B.). “I have a testimony to tell.” Twice last month he played at the Roxy Theatre in Five Points, a music venue that packs local hopefuls. Saiz said he was offered a ticket to a rap contest in Florida, but his parole status keeps him grounded in Denver.
“I’ve been rapping all my life.” No one taught him. “I just press play on the beat and go.”
Little SJ fidgets and vies for his dad’s attention. Saiz knows his time is up. He checks layers on the Logic Pro X software and saves it alongside other projects. Within minutes, SJ riding on his dad’s shoulders, the pair leave the library headed for Wednesday night services, just down the street.