Getting Schooled With Paco The G Train Bandit
He teaches math to teens in Queens. He raps. He performs a LOT. He knows why hip-hop will never die.
Alex and Katie from MTDSM sat down with Paco the G Train Bandit (and a bottle of wine). This is what went down.
Alex: What gets me so hyped about what you are doing is you have this community. Is this your first Northeast tour?
P: No. I’ve done a lot of different tours. It’s probably the most thorough New England tour. I teach math right now, seventh grade. That’s the thing I find hard with the branding idea. I feel like artists have to be like, I am an artist first and I have this shitty day job that I have to do, and part of me is like I dig both things and it’s kind of weird as a combo but I like it. It intersects too. I have an afterschool club that’s like a music studio club so kids come and record. I don’t think there’s a lot of teachers that can actually produce studio quality recording. I just do it for free and in not that much time. The school is a 6-12 so a lot of the kids I work with are high schoolers. Some of the high schoolers are kids that were doing silly raps when they were in sixth grade and they’re much more sophisticated these days too.
"Sometimes kids say stuff and I’m trying to keep it uncensored because I want them to feel like they can create what they want to create"
I avoid censorship as much as possible. We did this song called “Lunch Money” and it was all middle school kids and it was this really diverse cast of people from all walks of life because it’s Queens. So that’s something that the school can totally get behind and they were proud to have it and it gave them good attention. Sometimes kids say stuff and I’m trying to keep it uncensored because I want them to feel like they can create what they want to create and the point of me being there is just helping facilitate. The more I try to insert what I think they should be doing, the more everything just sucks. If it’s not vibing with what they want to do in an authentic way, it’s not even worth it.
When I was younger, my idea of a good after school program was very different. I wanted to teach stuff and have lessons about rhyme structure and had aspirations and quickly realized that was all very dumb. What I’m realizing more about working with kids is it’s all social. Kids will come through who don’t rap but are friends with three of the rappers who hang out there. For those kids, I’m thinking, where’s your skill set? Like, how can we put Photoshop in front of you? I try to bring in more adult experts. There’s not a whole lot of budget for it. For every ten kids I get, I can get $40 an hour for a staff member, which sounds great, but it’s only an hour and a half, twice a week.
A: Do you find that being a teacher makes you think twice about what you’re saying in your music?
P: I think kind of, sort of. I don’t think I’ve ever been the kind of person who will say something I don’t actually believe in at the moment. I think there’s a difference between what the expectation of what a “good role model” is and what an actual good role model is. I think that’s a really hard line, especially for things that involve public schools and legal battle. I want to be able to have a song about how drinking is kind of self-destructive in my life because at the end of the day, I think that that kind of self-reflection is more positive than negative. On the surface, it’s like, there’s a teacher cursing and talking about drinking on the Internet.
I used to be in a group called Duck Duck Goose. It was like a dubstep rap duo, when dubstep was popular. We had this song called “The Dick Will Make You Slap Somebody.” Alexyss K. Tylor is this Atlantian woman, and she had a Public Access television show, she called it Vagina Power. One monologue she gave, she was talking about how the dick will make you go crazy and “the dick will make you slap somebody.” If you listen to it out of context and out of culture where it comes from, this women is crazy. But if you really actually start listening, she is really about personal empowerment and I fuck with her. For us, it was a parody but it was also kind of really ribbing. We made a music video about “the dick will make you slap somebody.” Parents saw that the day we dropped the video because it got a lot of viral attention. Alexyss K. Tylor has like 600,000 Youtube followers and we put clips of her in the video. She retweeted it and shared it, so it got a lot of attention. The wrong kid went home and said, “Look what my math teacher’s doing! He’s talking about his dick!” All it takes is one parent who’s very vocal because the clause in our teaching contract says basically you have to maintain good etiquette as a role model. It’s that vague. It’s really not about what’s right and what’s wrong, it’s about who’s yelling and who’s yelling the loudest. For me I’m like alright, there are students who went home and were maybe weirded out by this, so I would really rather be like, let me explain to you what parody is and why did we make this video.
A: So what’s the solution?
" I don’t fuck with your religion if your religion thinks sinners should burn in hell."
P: I had to take the video down. That song got deleted forever. You won’t be able to find it anywhere because a parent complained to the DOE. It is what it is. I thought it was a cool funny thing, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t like it was a piece of art that really reflected myself or how I felt about the world. I don’t want to go down over that video. “#FistUp” is on the Internet and the line that gets the most controversy is, “Fuck God, how you gonna drown your own people?” Like I don’t fuck with your religion if your religion thinks sinners should burn in hell. If that started controversy with parents and they said you need to take this down, I’d be like, no. I’m all about my anti-establishment views right now. Screw the one percent. Part of me is like wouldn’t it be cool if I was the center of a controversy? If I started the conversation about what the nature of a good role model really is? That would be kind of cool, but it would also be a pain in the ass.
Katie: When did you move to New York and when did you start teaching?
P: I’m from Ann Arbor, Michigan originally. I moved to New York in I want to say about 2007. I came here to teach. At the time, I was doing a lot of spoken word. I moved here, and I always did music but I didn’t always have a lot of access to music when I was in Ann Arbor. It wasn’t like I knew a homey who had a microphone. In those days, the reality of it wasn’t fully realized. When I came to New York, I moved to Harlem and I lived across the hall from a guy who’s a producer who was a jazz musician who had makeshift studio equipment and we started making songs. A lot of my songs are still produced by the guy I met the day I moved to New York. Being in New York has helped me develop my musicality. A couple years in, I started thinking I should do this for real and joined Duck Duck Goose and after a few years that fell apart and I kind of had to find a solo lane for myself. The style I was making with Duck Duck Goose was very party related. I still stand by it because I don’t think it was disingenuous but it’s not the kind of stuff I’m making these days.
A: As far as your art goes, you transition from teaching math to working with these kids.
P: Being around kids working on music, it fills me with more energy.
A: I feel like there isn’t a genre that’s more important to be topical in than hip-hop. You go back to the 70’s when disco was a big thing and you saw artists like Kiss do a disco record, all to try to stay topical, but I think hip-hop, from the beginning, was all about being relevant. Now I think there are a lot of people producing music in hip-hop that don’t understand why Uzi Vert and Lil Yachty are so popular. For you, you’re right there with the demographic that gets it. Do you find that that’s the case?
P: I think the thing that stands out the most is that there’s always really cool shit happening. As much as people want to say hip-hop is dead, you’re full of shit, and it’s really more about understanding what other people appreciate about it. For me, I really don’t like Lil Yatchy as a rapper but the ideas he pushes forward and the way it makes people feel and the culture that’s galvanized behind it is as real as Nas ever was.
I tend to get caught up in the technical aspect of it, like who can spit the best bars, which beats should be the best, or really analyzing individual elements of a song when at the end of the day, most people complain and they don’t have any rubric for analysis in their brain. They listen for ten seconds and say, is it awesome or does it suck? It’s totally holistic. That’s the thing I don’t feel like people understand about new music. It’s not like I’ll go in there and be like oh, dancehall is the thing now, so I’m going to make a dancehall track. It’s not me right now. If you see Uzi Vert in an interview, they’re like, I just vibe. I think what they’re really trying to say is that you put it on and you like it. Period. Don’t overthink it. That’s the thing, no matter how technically developed I get, it doesn’t make me a good artist.
K: Would you say being a teacher and working with these kids has made you a better artist?
P: Yes, for sure. We’re doing a challenge now and they have to bring in some beats they think are high fire. Today’s generation of kids, they’ll go on Youtube and find a beat. They’ll rap over whatever they find that they like. They have to bring in shit that they thought was dope but never in a million years thought I could rap on, and I would do the same. I think it does push me and it pushes kids. I think it’s bigger than that, though. I think that really any time I interact on social media, any time I’m part of a conversation about what’s relevant, it’s kind of the same conversation in many ways. It’s not the only reason why I’m thinking about why music should evolve but it does play a factor.