A few years ago, Monterey County got to know Chris Siders as a poet. Today, he is a rapper, back to perform at CSU Monterey Bay’s Black Stole Ceremony.

Coming back to perform at CSU Monterey Bay’s 2023 Black/African Heritage Stole Ceremony feels “almost like a victory lap” for CSUMB alum Chris Siders, whose poetry the Weekly has been tracking since 2020. During his college years, Siders frequented local spoken word events, his poems a reaction to U.S. domestic politics with an emphasis on racism.

“There have been a ton of changes in the past few years,” he says about his life and career via Zoom from his hometown of Los Angeles, where he returned after obtaining his diploma in human communications in 2017. “After graduating I kind of lost myself in the sense of community participation, leading what, I felt, was a bad example for families and youth who were watching me.”

Now, he will appear in his first musical performance at his alma mater. Black/African Heritage Stole Ceremony has been part of CSUMB’s annual calendar since 1999; it’s one of nine stole graduation events this year.

“I’m excited,” Siders says. “I’m coming with my choir and full band. There will be video projections and cover bridges [15-second-long fragments of songs for people to recognize before they disappear]. It will not be a typical rap show.”

Music has always been present in Siders’ life – his dad’s side of the family is very musical, Siders shares. “My dad put me onto Fleetwood Mac,” he says, and left him a lot of vinyl. (Siders’ father died in February.)

“I was part of a rap group at some point,” he says, “but I never thought about myself as a rapper.” He wrote his first rap in 2018, and in 2022 released his first album, MisAdventures of Chris Siders. A second album, The Emancipation of Chris Siders, will be released May 26; the single “sincerely, a black boy’s cry,” is now available online.

“The album is very revealing,” Siders says. It deals with anger and grief after the loss of a parent, which was preceded by other losses. “I put it all in the songs and now I’m in a better place,” Siders says. “The message is: It’s OK to be angry. I don’t like this side of myself, but it was important to honor it.”

Nowadays, it’s easier and faster for Siders to write rap songs. For a poem, he says he needs a couple of weeks – to tap into the particular language to convey emotions. “With rap songs, it’s more raw,” he says. Part of it is being rooted back in South Central L.A. “I’m at home in my vernacular,” he adds, meaning both the location and the music.

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