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Local rapper returns with music production program for kids in East St. Louis

After COVID shut down his summer music camp for youth in East St. Louis, rapper, producer and songwriter Anthony Lucius is bringing it back this year. The goal of his camp is to introduce students to the art of producing music.
Derik Holtmann
Belleville News-Democrat
After COVID shut down his summer music camp for youth in East St. Louis, rapper, producer and songwriter Anthony Lucius is bringing it back this year. The goal of his camp is to introduce students to the art of producing music.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

When you enter Anthony Lucius’ home studio, be prepared to learn.

In the middle of the room, there’s audio equipment and instruments. Photos of him performing and documents related to those performances are scattered on the wall. But two white hand-written posters filled with instructions and advice capture your attention before anything else.

“The ability to move people through words is a gift like nothing else,” reads a poster titled ‘Substance.’ “Add the right backdrop to that gift, and you’ve got a winner.”

You know that Lucius is an artist before he tells you that he is.

TheEast St. Louis-bred rapper and producer instills that show-and-not-tell approach to everything that he does. He only releases music when he “has something to say,” and he shies away from attention. He lets his art speak for itself. It’s part of why Lucius, a natural teacher, is excited to bring back his summer music program in East St. Louisthis year.

“Kids want to do something that they’re interested in, especially during the summer,” Lucius, who now lives in O’Fallon, said. “I look at it like if they’re going to be looking at a computer at a community center, (then) let me bring my equipment and teach them (about music). I look at it as me paying it forward because I’ve been doing music since I was 12, and I wish somebody would’ve given me game beforehand.”

The program, titled Nothing But Hustle, will be held at the Griffin Center, an after-school program and summer camp site in East St. Louis, starting in July. Throughout the month-long course, children will learn the basics of music production and how to make their own songs.

Lucius started Nothing But Hustle with East Side Aligned, another youth-focused initiative in the city, about seven years ago as a way to give back to his hometown, but the program paused due to COVID-19. He’s taught about 300 kids since the program’s inception.

Now, after a three-year hiatus, Lucius plans to make Nothing but Hustle more collaborative. He’ll involve fellow rappers and DJs in the St. Louis area to teach the class. He also wants to implement the program as an extracurricular activity or an elective for East St. Louis School District 189.

“If it was day one, I would introduce myself,” Lucius said about what he plans to teach. “I would show all the equipment and then I would pick apart piece by piece and I would explain what this equipment does, like what this compressor is, what a computer is and what it does. It’s kind of pretty intuitive.

“Then, I would let them connect it all together. First thing is to know your equipment, so I would make sure they know what they’re using, not just let’s run to it and open the program. You gotta know how to hook it up just in case something malfunctions. After that, we get to the fun stuff.”

‘All about community'

The fun stuff includes allowing kids to experiment with different beats and make their own song that they could potentially share on TikTok or Instagram. Lucius enjoys watching the kids in his class get excited about making their own music.

“I’m all about community and building that community, whether it be I have my own community with the music or my own community with the music and teaching the kids and stuff, too,” Lucius, 29, said. “That’s what I do it for. It makes me feel good to be helping my friends out, helping the kids out. That’s just how my people raised me to be.”

Lucius grew up in East St. Louis and attended the now-defunct Miles Davis Elementary Schoolbefore moving to O’Fallon to stay with his mom. He went to O’Fallon Township High School where he participated in jazz choir and learned music theory, which led him to pursue rapping and producing—something he’s done full-time since 2014.

His debut album, “Welcome to St. Lucius”, was released in 2017, he’s immersed himself in the St. Louis music scene, and he’s toured with Sofar Sounds, a global music company that connects fans with intimate, secret performances. But Lucius isn’t one to talk about his work a lot. Instead, he’ll let his music do the talking. “What’Cha Want,” one his most recent singles, shine for his mellow bars about dealing with someone else’s expectations of him. He plans to release an album this summer.

“In my music, I tell stories about life and just what I see, so I think that’s kind of my inspiration,” Lucius said. “That’s what I mean, kind of like what I see. I’m a realist. I speak about what I see.”

East St. Louis is a source of that inspiration.

Though nearly 20 minutes away from what he considered home, Lucius will never forget the strong sense of community he felt in East St. Louis. He fondly remembers attending summer camps in the city while visiting his dad’s side of the family and always feeling protected.

Where my dad lives is in Edgemont and 87th Street, and, basically, everybody knows everybody,”Lucius said. “That’s one thing that I like. I went to summer camps. It was one of those things where like your mom knew your dad and things like that, maybe they grew up together and if they didn’t know each other, they were going to get to know each other. You couldn’t get in trouble because they were gonna tell your parents. That’s one thing I liked about East St. Louis that I didn’t get in O’Fallon.”

He wants kids in his program to feel the same way.

Lucius’ passion for youth is what stood out to Charmel Dixon, program manager for the Griffin Center. The center serves children ages 5-14 who are living in the city’s public housing developments. She said the program, which is free, is especially essential for kids serviced by the center because of the financial hardships they face at a young age.

“This was right before the pandemic, and he was showing the children at the Roosevelt (Homes) how to create their own music and he also came to our Griffin Center,” Dixon said about the first time she met Lucius. “The kids were so in love with him. He was showing them how the beats start and how this beat gets you here to this music line, and he showed them how to create sounds to music on their own and he showed them how to create lyrics with the music. The kids just fell so in love with Anthony. They were so excited.”

She admits she was more excited than the kids were. She knew she had to include his program in the center’s summer camp.

Nothing But Hustle will run from July 5 to August 5, and it will also be open to children who live within a six mile radius of the housing projects. Dixon and her team are still finalizing other details about the program, but she said she plans to start promoting it soon, via flyers and directly reaching out to each housing development.

“It gives kids a different perspective besides just thinking I have to be the rapper,” Dixon said about the program. “Why can’t you be the producer? Why can’t you be the songwriter? Why can’t you do it all? By Anthony being there, he’ll give a clear vision to our children of what they can do.

“We have no problems with them wanting to be a basketball player, but why can’t you be the owner of your team? Why can’t you be the coach that teaches the coaches? We want them to dare to dream bigger.”

For Lucius, it’s all about the children. That’s his substance.

“I just want to educate kids,” he said. “ I don’t look at it like I want this big ‘ole million-dollar plan or whatever. It’s more about I teach somebody (and) they teach the next person. That’s how I look at it.”

DeAsia Paige is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

DeAsia Page covers East St. Louis and its surrounding areas for the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.