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Sonora Teen’s Rap Performances Gaining Wide Audience

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Article submitted by Sonora High School:

Sonora, CA — Ashton Martinez is a normal teenager. Apart from the big hair and big personality, he doesn’t stand out in a crowd from his peers at Sonora High School. He’s kind, down-to-Earth, and goofy—always cracking jokes. But when it comes to music, Martinez is as serious as can be.

During the holidays, he was given an unexpected opportunity, and he made the most of it. The school had a rally coming up, and planned to have students perform holiday raps dressed as characters such as Santa Claus, The Grinch, and Frosty the Snowman. With the script finished and rehearsals having gone on for weeks, Martinez was asked at the last minute to jump in as the surprise last guest—to roast all the others. Martinez recalled the experience, saying, “Mr. Smith called me and said, ‘I’ve got a crazy idea, but I think you’d be perfect for it’ and once he explained it, I was pumped. I wrote my rap that night, recorded it the next morning, and performed it that afternoon in front of the whole school. I was super nervous, but it was the most fun I think I’ve ever had.”

Growing up in the Bay Area, with family members and friends involved in music production, Martinez has long had the dream of being a performer. He has recorded his own songs in studios and performed small gigs in the Bay and in the Mother Lode, as he has grown a solid following online. With regularity, he writes new songs and works them out in the studio, and repeats the process over and again—honing his craft. For several years, he has been putting in many hours to this end, waiting for the next opportunity.

In mid-February, Sonora High held a talent show, the first one in many years. Seeing a chance to show his skills and get some practice, Martinez was one of the first acts to sign on. To drum up interest, he and a staff member promoted their rap battle act on the school’s social media page. Each went back and forth, making fun of one another’s generations, and teasing one another about everything from their taste in music to their age. Martinez said, “My favorite line was probably ‘Man you old as the Goonies, how you a teacher but can’t even school me?’ It was just good banter back and forth, and we did the whole thing kind of being silly, just to help the audience have a good time.”

Martinez noted that they put in a lot of work planning not just the raps, but the act as a whole. This was just another avenue that Martinez used to expand his skillset. “It was a really fun way to show what I can do in front of the school and community. I knew we had something fun, but it went even better than I expected,” he noted, referring to the fact that the act won the “Best Overall” performance in the talent show. “I wrote the first rap in only about 90 minutes, and the second one in less time, so it felt good to know I can do this if I’ve got the right mindset and inspiration. This just motivated me to write so much more,” Martinez said. “I know how much Ashton loves music and I just keep making him do stuff to use that gift,” said his teacher, Greg Smith. “He’s got a great personality and a ton of talent, so I just keep telling him to go after any opportunity, no matter how small. He has done that, and I’m super proud of him,” Smith said.

During the run-up to the Talent Show, another opportunity presented itself, and as instructed, Martinez jumped at it. The spring play had already been cast, but he was encouraged behind the scenes to go and talk to the Drama teacher about joining. “Initially she (Drama teacher, Anita Leonard) told me it was cast already and that was that, but she was kind and let me come read, and later the student who had the role was like ‘you should do it’ and I was added. It’s been a cool journey,” Martinez reflected. “This week she said I knew my lines better than most and she was so glad I joined, and the whole thing has just given me a ton of confidence.”

Martinez never saw himself joining Drama or performing in a play, but his foray into acting was just like the other events—something to get him on stage. “I never planned to be in plays or anything like that, but the part was a kid who raps at a school talent show, so I knew I could do that—easy,” Martinez said. “Seeing the ins-and-outs and everything that goes into a play, it’s surreal. I’ve always loved watching movies, but to have to learn the script and do all the blocking and dancing and memorization to get off book—that’s all new and exciting. I had no idea how much went into it and it’s really cool to see,” he said.

Recently, Martinez added to his quickly growing resume by performing a show in the Bay Area in front of hundreds of people. He also finished several new songs, is currently experimenting with new recording techniques and software, and working on promoting his growing song list. “A lot of people think it sounds weird to say ‘I’m going to be a rapper’ and I get that. But I know I can do this, and I know my drive and how much this matters to me. There are safer paths out there, but this is the one I’m going to take. Right now, it feels like the only one I can.”

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