“Turning the hood into its own Beverly Hills,” says Watts rapper, producer, songwriter, and community activist STIX. “That’s the ideal community to me.”
When pushed, he expands the idea further.
“A community where people who look like me, whether they be black or brown, or come from a financial situation like I grew up in, whether they are white, Jewish, Indian, immigrant, non-immigrant, LGBT, doesn’t matter — a community where we can all live in one place and have the resources and opportunities available to stimulate our own economy and provide resources and opportunities.”
Centralized communities where people help and care about one another? Where mega-conglomerates aren’t able to leverage the promise of convenience against more empathetic concerns like supporting local businesses? It’s a powerful vision and one which STIX has been chasing throughout his 16-year career. And while rap is often the medium for his message, his social justice mission stays front and center.
“Moving out of the hood is always the goal,” he says. “But why don’t we gentrify or own neighborhoods, wholesale? When we move out of the hood we pay property taxes, those property taxes go to schools that don’t target the people I just spoke about. Then you’re paying the salaries of police and politicians who don’t focus on the needs of those people I just spoke about.”
Talk is easy, but STIX is one to practice what he preaches. Despite early hip-hop success working with Bobby Valentino, tours with Top Dog Entertainment’s Jay Rock and Reason, and acting as the chief architect behind Iggy Azalea’s Ignorant Art mixtape, he hasn’t left the south LA neighborhood he grew up in.
“My neighborhood is a big inspiration behind why I do what I do today,” he says. “I used to see what I didn’t have and I would feel like if I had resources to this, or access to that then I’d be rich. I want to end that cycle for other young individuals who are growing up in places like where I grew up. Make it so they don’t have to say that. So they have the resources and opportunities to make something of themselves.”
That mindset motivated STIX to start the non-profit foundation Think Watts, which places a major emphasis on community mobility and building bridges between the residents in low-income neighborhoodss and professionals in the corporate world.
“Our main mission is to supply the community and low-income communities with education and economic development in regard to financial literacy, entrepreneurship, arts programming, job training, sports pathways, with a subsidiary focus on permanent support of transitional housing for the homeless, and preventing recidivism. My mission is to help those in need and identity what those needs in these communities are and supply them with it via my relationships or my impact with music.”
That adds up to a massive task, obviously, but STIX has a natural ability for pulling the right minds together to get things done. He developed the skill when his primary focus was on rap — grabbing producers and completing an entire album with Bobby Valentino in just three days. More recently, he did it in his CLIO Award-winning advertising work with the Watts Rams.
“Hip-hop is an expression,” he says. “I utilize it as that tool that the streets use to communicate, and I use imagery and innovative content and a message that the corporate world would try to articulate. I bring those together to create something. Every time I create those partnerships, I make sure they do something for the community… [in the case of the Watts Rams] kids growing up without opportunities now have access to a free Pop Warner team that’s coached by the police.”
STIX followed up that work with a song debuted by the NFL’s LA Rams on Monday Night Football, which spoke about racial and social injustice, as well as police brutality.
The realities of 2020 have, unfortunately, put some of the Think Watts community projects on hold. But STIX didn’t let the pandemic stop his mission. Instead Think Watts has pivoted towards doing more food distribution, throwing grocery drives, and even offering rental assistance to low-income families. STIX stresses the importance of offering support now more than ever, in the face of a pandemic that has disproportionately harmed black and brown communities nationwide.
In 2021, much of his focus will be on education, with Think Watts offering community programming around financial literacy, entrepreneurship, coding, and job training. For STIX, courses like these are an outgrowth of his efforts to build bridges between communities of color and the corporate world.
“The corporate world talks at people, not to them,” he says. “What I try to do is be the messenger between both… and be a force for good.”