Author: Kevin Heffernan
Title Image: Max Collins
Photography: Kevin Heffernan

Chae Hawk, Buffalo native and self-described Progressive Rap Cinema Artist, is evolving.

Earlier this decade, he was traveling the country, moving up and down the coast in California, making connections and friends, and was within what he describes then as the peak of his creativity – so he thought. In 2011, he released his album Blues of a Journeyman. Dance Party for the Heavy Hearted followed in 2012, featuring collaborations with huge names from Buffalo like Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley. Singles were accompanied by videos with production value not previously seen out of Buffalo, employing dramatic storylines, special effects, actors and prominent architecture. His shit was dope, and Hawk was presented with multiple opportunities with management and labels. Years were spent chasing leads and more meetings, and the opportunities ultimately fizzled.

Hawk is now entering a second phase of his career and life. No longer chasing, he’s building. Not just a business, but a family.

“The birth of my son was just this massive improvement to my life. It gave me a reality check. It put a clock on everything I was doing. I’m building something sustainable for myself and for him.”

Hawks’s son and his friends are an anchor tying him to Buffalo. Shifting from just music and video production, he’s working to tie the community to his success by supporting efforts to cultivate talent from every neighborhood. 

When I was a kid, I went to Woodward extreme sports camp. At the end of the first week session competition, I bombed. I came back for a second week competition, and pulled the same tricks as before on my bike, with new determination and precision and was awarded a medal and new bike from Dave Mirra himself. That had such a lasting impact on me. That these other kids and I were given an opportunity to perform at that level in front of those kinds of names.”

That experience sparked the movement Chae is building. From house parties to small venues, they’re inviting youth to perform for the first time in front of a crowd. Many of these young artists have only rapped in their bedrooms, their garages with friends. Now, they get a taste of the reality of performance.

Team Radio, Hawk’s production company, has been developing a roster of committed, motivated artists, producers and videographers from Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Everyone involved wants something bigger than just their home towns, but wants to take their community with them, instead of leaving it behind. Hawk is currently creating a unique project to creatively work and collaborate directly with refugee children from his west side neighborhood, getting them access to resources and helping to get their talents to a level where it might get discovered.

“There’s the well-designed brand that anyone can have face the public, but it will still have people asking – Who are you, though? So it’s the actions, the stands you take for issues and people, the way you treat your neighborhood and community, that actually allows people to know who you are.”

“Yeah. I didn’t break out before, and I could still kick the dirt in frustration about that. But in that early experience, I saw it, I heard it, felt the emotions of those setbacks, and there’s no way we’d be able to build this business and movement properly now without that experience.”

While Hawk is committed to embracing Buffalo, he’s met enough of its self-appointed leaders to understand that the city needs to get out of its own damn way sometimes.

“The Old Guard has just got to go. Let the youth start to work. We’re hungry. We want to eat. We deserve to eat, and we’ve earned our meal.”

“Canalside will break the bank to bring in an artist that hasn’t been relevant in over a decade, but pay the local opening artist so little they can’t even pay their own band.”

There is so much money in this region locked up in the purses of a disconnected, older generation, desperately holding on to their power and relevance. If the city is ever to move forward, that generation needs to let go, ride the wave, embrace youth and change. From recognizing talent and funding these artists through more grants, and paid performance events, to developing a more supportive, productive and creative school system, Hawk believes Buffalo has so much potential and even more ambition. It’s time to help that talent thrive.