Rapper Consci8us uses music to share his strong message of community

DeWayne LaMont Ewing Jr. ’18 (Sociology), stood on a stage in the University Union Ballroom, looking out at an audience still filled with raw emotion. It was the day after the announcement that no charges would be filed in the death of Stephon Clark, fatally shot a year earlier by police in a South Sacramento backyard.

Sacramento State was holding a campus event featuring music and dance performances by students and alumni. Ewing Jr., a Hornet alum and rapper better known by the public as Consci8us, was the opening act. Since his teens, he had focused his music on empowering individuals to improve their community. Between songs, he issued a call to action.

“The change comes from what we do on a daily basis. Every single one of us has a role,” he said. “It’s a serious obligation that we all have to use our voice, use our platform and use our resources to make a change.”

In ways, the moment was a culmination of Consci8us’ life experiences. Growing up in Oakland provided a deep appreciation of culture and community, but also opened his eyes to the realities of inequality and injustice. Listening to artists such as Tupac Shakur, Black Ice, Nas, Lauryn Hill and Immortal Technique – “conscious rappers” who used their art to promote awareness and spark social change – inspired him to attempt to empower others with his music. Enrolling at Sacramento State challenged him intellectually and provided a platform to spread his message.

“Sacramento as a whole is a place that has a strong community,” Consci8us said. “I always had faculty and professors who encouraged me to be my best, and who provided me with opportunities and platforms, artistically and educationally.”

During the day, Consci8us works for the city of Sacramento, developing and leading youth programs (where he’s known as “Mr. DeWayne”), building partnerships between the city and community, and training other city employees to work with young people.

When he’s not working, he’s performing – at local schools, at community events such as the Sacramento Martin Luther King Jr. Day march, and at venues such as the California State Fair. Most recently, he received two Sacramento Music Awards, also known as SAMMIES, in the emcee and hip-hop/rap categories.

Consci8us began rapping in middle school, but didn’t think of it as anything beyond a hobby until his teens, when he was exposed to conscious rap.

“It really started a whole new direction for me in life, because it showed me that I could be more than a rapper who raps about random stuff that does not add value to my community,” he said. “I realized I could really tell my story, provide insight into my community, and spread positive messages that could impact people and change culture.

“I maybe wasn’t that deep back then, but it was really inspiring to see that, whoa, I could use music to make an impact.”

He adopted the stage name Consci8us as well as an often-issued call to action for people to “stay consci8us” – which he describes as being aware of one’s decisions, God, and one’s purpose in life. The “8” in his name symbolizes the neighborhood in which he grew up, the “80’s” in East Oakland; the day he was born, March 8; and the infinity symbol.

When hoped-for football scholarships didn’t pan out, and his initial application to Sacramento State was rejected, he decided to relocate to Sacramento anyway and enrolled at Cosumnes River College.

“It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life,” he said. “It gave me an opportunity to get a fresh start.”

A few years later, Consci8us transferred to Sacramento State and majored in sociology, exposing him to classes that engaged him as other subject matter had not and helped put his life experiences into context. A course on African American history and the civil rights movement, for example, connected to his childhood in Oakland. While a student, he also worked in the MLK Scholars program, leading lectures, workshops and other programs aimed at keeping students from dropping out.

His work also has been highlighted by California state Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, the Sacramento Housing and Development Agency, and the Los Rios Community College District.

Whether through his work with the city or his music, he hopes he can be an inspiration to young people in Sacramento.

“They see the professional Mr. DeWayne, and then they see Consci8us who comes to their school to perform,” he said. “I think the biggest way I bridge them together indirectly is just by being a fixture in the Sacramento community, and them seeing that I’m this positive, dope rapper that does all of this cool stuff.

“I’m working every day to make an impact with young people and build community.”

‘I don’t want an asterisk by my name’: Opera singer Lucia Lucas makes headlines, but has sights set even higher

Sitting in her graduate classes at Chicago College of Performing Arts alongside students who had attended Julliard and other prestigious music schools didn’t faze Lucia Lucas ’05 (Voice and Instrument) because she knew she had a crucial advantage.

At the more prestigious schools, performing opportunities typically went to graduate students. But things are different at Sacramento State.

“There were never more than a couple graduate students involved in the opera program when I was there, so undergraduates had to do the roles,” she said. “I went off to conservatory after Sac State totally prepared, and much more prepared than other people who had maybe more prestigious degrees.”

All of that preparation has paid off. Lucas is enjoying success as an opera singer based in Germany and performing worldwide. Most recently, she became the first transgender opera singer to play a lead role in a professional U.S. opera production when she portrayed the title character in Don Giovanni in Tulsa, Okla.

That moment earned her headlines as a milestone for the transgender community, but Lucas says her primary focus was delivering a quality performance.

“There was so much pressure on it, but basically all I had to do was my job. So in that moment, I’m not thinking about any history being made,” she said. “It was important, but it wasn’t important that it happened. It was important that it was good.”

Growing up in the Rosemont area of Sacramento, Lucas says she had difficulty communicating and expressing her feelings until she discovered music and began performing. When she arrived at Sacramento State as a student, she briefly considered majoring in engineering – both her parents are engineers – but was drawn to the University’s tight-knit performing arts community. She met her wife, also an opera singer, at Sac State. And when she performed in her first opera, Orpheus in the Underworld, she fell in love with the genre.

“It was singing with your full voice. I always felt like I was stifling my voice a little bit in other forms,” she said. “I really feel that opera has some of the most pure emotions in music form, so my appreciation and love for it has only grown as I’ve been able to grow as a performer.”

Robin Fisher, a Sacramento State professor of voice who worked with Lucas as part of the University’s opera program, says Lucas was an extremely dedicated and focused student who was still working to find her voice. Fisher encouraged Lucas to audition for regional productions, telling her she had the talent to make a professional career as an opera singer.

“Next thing you know, she’s singing with the Sacramento opera, which is a big deal.”

Classical music is challenging, Fisher said, because the performer has to infuse something written by someone else with their own message, meaning and sense of purpose. That Lucas has been able to do so successfully as a professional opera singer, she added, is a testament to her talent.

“It takes immense courage to really be yourself when you’re singing classical music, and I think she has found that way to communicate, that way to be true to herself, that way to sing authentically, and that touches people,” Fisher said. “That reaches people with universal meaning.”

Over a decade-long career, Lucas has performed throughout Europe as well as in Korea and the United States. She recently portrayed the role of Wotan in Die Walküre with Theater Magdeburg in Germany to critical acclaim, and this fall will return to the opera that started it all, Orpheus in the Underworld, with English National Opera at London Coliseum.

Lucas still is unsure how her transition has ultimately impacted her career, acknowledging that there likely are people who will not hire her solely on the basis of her gender identity. But, she said, “my sense of self is much stronger,” and, regardless of what others say, she has her sights set high.

“To not just be the best trans singer but the best singer in my voice category is important to me,” Lucas said. “I don’t want an asterisk by my name.”

Photo of Lucia Lucas by Josh New. Video via youtube.com/channel/UCxWgI4gQInFt65UzOiXwtog.

‘El Chicano’ co-writer Joe Carnahan recalls ‘blue-collar’ Sac State film education

Joe Carnahan ’95 (Film Studies) has written and directed several movies that feature high-octane action sequences designed to get your heart pumping and adrenaline running. But he doesn’t consider himself an action director.

“I guess that’s what I’m known for, but what makes any film interesting, what makes any genre work, ultimately, is the characters,” said Carnahan, whose credits include Narc, The A-Team, Smokin’ Aces and The Grey. “How much you connect to them and how much you care about them.”

Carnahan hopes that the characters in his latest film, El Chicano, which opened May 3, connect with audiences in a big and very important way. The film is the first superhero movie to feature an all Latino cast, something Carnahan and his co-writer Ben Hernandez Bray, who also serves as the director, hope can address a major problem in Hollywood: the underrepresentation of Latino individuals in movies.

“Ben for years had been saying, ‘I don’t see myself represented. I don’t see brown faces. I don’t see those movies,’” Carnahan said. “The only balm I could supply, as his best friend, was to say, ‘We need to go make this movie now.’”

Carnahan credits much of where he is today to Sacramento State, from which he says he received a “blue collar” film education – one that prioritized hands-on learning over theory – in a diverse environment that exposed him to individuals from all backgrounds.

A native of Vacaville, Carnahan had become involved with creative writing while a teenager, which morphed into an interest in film while attending Solano Community College. At 19, he wrote his first screenplay.

“It was terrible, but it was a good learning process, and so I wrote that and began to write another one, another one, another one, and through attrition and just being stubborn about the process and understanding that I was learning even though it wasn’t stuff I was ever going to do, I just kept slogging forward,” he said.

He continued to take film courses, raised his GPA and transferred to Sacramento State, where he enrolled as an English and film studies double major. Working at a moving company to help pay for college, he also got involved in the local theater and film scene, and staged a one-act play in the Playwrights’ Theatre.

The campus itself even made its mark on Carnahan’s career. The tunnel below Arboretum Drive at the front of campus was used as a filming location for an early version of Narc, which eventually became one of his first commercial films.

Carnahan eventually saw a string of success with several big-budget action films and thrillers, but getting financing for El Chicano proved difficult. He and Hernandez Bray eventually had to go to Canada to secure funding.

The film, based in part on Hernandez Bray’s personal experiences, tells the story of a Los Angeles police detective who discovers that his deceased brother had planned to become a masked vigilante known as El Chicano in an effort to fight the influence of Mexican drug cartels in East Los Angeles, and eventually assumes the mantle of El Chicano himself. Billed as a superhero film, Carnahan says it also touches on issues of identity, including what it means to be both an American and a Mexican American.

El Chicano aims to make a dent in a severe underrepresentation of Latino characters in Hollywood. A 2018 USC study found that just 6.1 percent of speaking roles in films in 2017 went to Latino characters, despite Latino individuals making up nearly 18 percent of the U.S. population. The disparity is even greater when looking at who is spending money at the multiplex: Latino individuals bought 23 percent of all movie tickets in 2016, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.

Or, to compare apples to apples, El Chicano came out just one week after the highly anticipated Avengers: Endgame, the culminating film of a 21-movie superhero series that featured just one prominent Latino character.

In talking about how to address the issue, Carnahan circles back to what he loves most about making movies: creating characters that can connect with an audience.

“If you watch Black Panther, you don’t say, ‘Well I’m not African American or African so I can’t possibly understand what that story is about.’ It’s absurd,” he said. “Of course you do. It’s a great movie. Great movies transcend.”

The approach Carnahan took with El Chicano – to make the movie, whatever it took – stems from lessons and values he learned at Sacramento State, which were imparted by faculty members who also were working professionals in the film industry.

“I didn’t go to film school. Sacramento State was my film school, and I’m very proud of that,” he said. “It had a blue-collar approach to it. It wasn’t so steeped in film theory. It was, ‘ Get out and do it.’ ”