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LaPorte Teacher Turned Rapper Enters NPR Tiny Desk Contest



NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest draws thousands of entries from musicians across the country. This year, one of those entries came from a group in LaPorte headed by a rapper who is a teacher by day.

Joe Ruiz sort of got pushed back into creating music.

“I had some students who kind of dug up some sound files that I had archived on SoundCloud and one day, one of came into my classroom and was like ‘hey, Mr. Ruiz,’ and he began to verbatim rap a song called Change that I had written in like 2005.”

After college Ruiz had gotten away from making music. He got married, had kids and wasn’t even thinking about it until the students dug up his old stuff and started asking, “When are you gonna make some new music?”

That lead to a gofundme page, which lead to a recorded song, which started selling. Half the profit went back into more music, the other half went as a donation to the food bank at Ruiz’s church.

The PAX Center is using that money to fund an outdoor community garden and food education space in downtown LaPorte.

Ruiz ended up recording an entire album. And Rhymer/Educator was born.

At that point Ruiz was working with pre-recorded beats and sound guy, Mike Warner. Their pastor at State Street Community Church started playing the tracks as background during events and the group gained two new members, Dave Farris on keys and Chris Kribs on drums.

“You had overheard the music and you said that ‘man this is really cool’ then I explained well it’s that guy standing over there that did it. And you and CJ were already kind of working out music together but didn’t really have a formed solid idea of what you wanted to do. And I was like, ‘well let’s go introduce you to Joe,’” Warner recalled.

The group needed some low sound, so they advertised for a Bass player on Facebook and Chris Bendix saw it. “Once I heard the music I thought this could be really cool, you know?”

Together they create a sound that’s different than what Ruiz had on his own. It’s more jazzy, less straight beats.

The whole group is a fan of NPR’s Tiny Desk performances. They learned about the contest this year almost too late.

“I just happened to see on Twitter maybe that they were accepting submissions for the contest and this was like” “It was like a day before” “It was two days. Two days before the deadline and I was like ‘hey guys we gotta make one of these videos and submit it.’”

So they crammed into Ruiz’s actual classroom at LaPorte High School, around his desk and knocked out a video.

“We like, ripped apart my desk, took my computer off and everything and like pulled the desk out set up the drumset and the instruments.”

“It fit the Rhymer/Educator label to do it in a classroom," Ruiz said "So when the submission rules said that there needed to be a desk somewhere in the shot and I just thought it’d be really cool to have a real teachers desk, in the performance, in the shot.”

Ruiz and the band don’t think they’ll win the contest but he said it’s been a great opportunity to see other great musicians and have others see them.

“I found myself just going through and watching all of the Tiny Desk entries and so I thought, I’m seeing all these talented people and I’m taking time out to go through and watch all of their submissions and artist tend to be people who just like art and like other music and they’re probably going through and listening the same way.”

Ruiz said they’re planning to enter again next year, with more time to work on the video. The winner of the Tiny Desk Contest will be notified Friday.