“I just freestyled four bars, high as f*ck, and the crowd loved it,” he recalls. “Action laughed a lot and let me chill on stage for the rest of the show. That was when I first got the itch – like, hell, if I prepare more, I can make people vibe to what I say.”
He finished school shortly afterward and spent the next several months writing lyrics, getting stoned and networking with producers and other musicians; the bong of creativity had been lit and 2Stix had emerged from it.
In 2013, Tommy attended another Action Bronson show, this time back in his hometown at South by Southwest (SXSW), the annual film, interactive media and music festival that takes over Austin each March. News of his cameo with Bronson had rippled through the circle of his hometown friends. And that night, Tommy was toting a G-Pen — a portable personal vaporizer created by Grenco Sciences that can be filled with tobacco or marijuana. (The product itself is legal; what goes into it is arbitrary, of course, depending on state laws. The Los Angeles-based company strongly supports medicinal marijuana legalization.)
Before the show, Tommy again bumped into Bronson, who remembered their fateful night in D.C and facilitated another jaunt on stage together. Incidentally, Grenco Sciences endorses Action Bronson, and owners and representatives of the company had witnessed Tommy using their product in the Viceland area, where they would perform that night.
“Chris [Folkerts, owner] and I went over and introduced ourselves. Tommy told us his story,” said Tim Patenaude, vice-president of G-Life, the lifestyle brand of Grenco Sciences and the G-Pen. “He’s a medical marijuana patient; he was saying this pen had changed his life. We ended up hanging out all night. We were blown away. [When] he recorded the song, ‘Cripple Flow,’ later, the video was brilliant. We had tons of conferences with hip-hop artists, so we serviced it to our press list.”
They also invited him to perform at a Coachella party in California a month later that was co-sponsored by Huf, a skateboarding/clothing brand. From there Tommy gained momentum and spent the remainder of 2013 working on a full-length album (in addition to filling out law school applications). He also completed another music video for his single, “Oil Baron,” which was partially funded by BC Smoke Shop in Austin. In it, he portrays himself as a wealthy astronaut drilling for hash oil on an extra-terrestrial landscape.
Part of 2Stix’s appeal, of course, is the novelty of his act — disabled Mexican-American hip-hop artists, patriotic to Texas, Mexico and America, who are also aspiring lawyers, are certainly a rare breed. But part of it is that his lyrics are witty, well thought-out and soul-baring, though not so raw that they’re too painful to enjoy. There’s a calculated self-deprecation that makes people a little more comfortable with what he, and they, are confronting. Audiences are inclined to root for him.
In “Fuckin Wit Me,” produced by Reggie Coby of the aforementioned League of Extraordinary G’z, for example, he raps, “What do you expect from a crippled MC/ Physically limited but not when I speak/ Get back if you’re gonna act like I’m a freak/ I’m gonna be fact-checkin’ ya like a geek.”
“I’ve always wanted to be a fighter,” Tommy says. “I couldn’t walk [when I was younger]. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t get stronger and walk some day in the future. I never realized how empowering it was to be told I couldn’t do something. I had to prove people wrong, not to show them up, but more to prove to myself that I could do it.”
If anything has permeated his life, it’s — in his own words — an “awkward sense of humor.” He adds, “I like to give jokes that not everyone will laugh at. And people will really cringe in a way, because I say inappropriate things. Plus, growing up in a Hispanic home, you learn to give a lot of sardonic humor.”
Most of all, perhaps, he gets a rush from being on stage and engaging the audience.
“I like to make people laugh and think. I don’t mind being the smart ass. Honestly, I’m not the most threatening guy in the world,” he deadpans. “I mean, yeah, I always have two titanium sticks with me, and if there’s a slick part of the ground, I’ll be on my ass before you know it. But you can feel bad about situations or you can make a joke and move on and laugh through the pain.”
Tommy2Stix will be performing on March 10 at the 21st Street Co-op’s hip-hop showcase and at South by Southwest March 15 at G-Pen’s showcase at Emo’s Annex, (which will be renamed The G-Pen Annex for the duration of SXSW) on Red River and 6th Street. His album, 2Stix, is available on Bandcamp. Follow him on Facebook here and on Twitter here.