TEXT BY SOPHIA JENNINGS (‘16), CREATIVE DIRECTOR
PHOTOS BY ANI ACOPIAN (‘16), STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Prior to this article, my last text to Derrick Holman consisted of five words:
“Imogen Heap for Spring Fling.”
He never responded. Which means two things: (1) Derrick Holman takes his work seriously, and (2) maybe it’s ok that bar night is over.
He speaks slowly. I tell him this at his kitchen table on a Monday night in April. “I know I speak like a politician,” he says, popping two english muffins into his toaster, “I’m careful.” He asks if I’m ok with tap water, he can’t find the Brita.
A Sociology major from the Bronx, Derrick Holman is the Senior Council Treasurer, Spring Fling Committee Chair, a founding member of Red Feather Studios, and the co-Founder of VIBES Creative Group, responsible for last year’s VIBES Music Festival.
But, today, three weeks before graduation, Derrick doesn’t want to talk about himself. He wants to talk about KAI OD, the artist he now manages. “I have to be really careful making comparisons,” he says, adjusting his glasses.
He talks about Kai as a musician, a friend, a thinker. His sound is like Pharrell and Jimi Hendrix, it isn’t rock, it isn’t hip hop. He talks about the influence of water, how Kai washes out his vocals, how his name, literally, means ocean.
But what about you? Did you also grow up a musician? He answers immediately. “No.” He pauses. “But I grew up around music a lot.”
Trying to piece together where Derrick is from is a game of guess-and-check. A week after our interview I sit in Ani Acopian’s room and she asks if he has any siblings. “It’s May. How are you just asking this?” Ani tells me her housemate doesn’t share much. Derrick eats his Asian Restaurant in silence. He swallows. “I’m a private guy.”
We learn he has a sister, “she’s much smarter than me,” and a father he calls his role model.
“My dad used to own a video store,” he explains, “I couldn’t even walk around Harlem without people coming out of nowhere and being like, ‘Hey, Rick, what’s up!”
On road trips to Atlanta and Florida, his Dad played the same albums on repeat, whether it was Michael Jackson, the Black Eyed Peas, or Prince. “Just listening over and over again, that’s what gave me an appreciation,” he says. “Cause I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of pop, but I’d say I understand how it works.”
Back in September, I stayed at Justin Friedman’s apartment in New York and found Derrick hover boarding around in the morning. He’d slept over to help rapper Teddy Rubin with his rhymes. “How’d you like working with Teddy?” I ask him. Silence. “He’s fun.” He keeps eating.
Rapping and writing songs is something he started in high school. “I didn’t take it that seriously,” he says. “I take it seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously doing it.”
I ask what Columbia Prep was like, and he hesitates. “There were the really rich kids who didn’t have to do shit. Then there were the kids that were really driven, the arty kind of kids.” Himself? “Somewhere in the middle. I’m very driven. But I’m influenced by both in ways. Though I’m far from rich, I understand a lot about how they think.”
He stops and takes out his phone, showing me the Instagram account of NYC model Eileen Kelly, otherwise known as @killerandasweetthing. “Do you know this girl? I’m in love with her. So in love.” He shakes his head.
Last year, he organized a bus of 50 Wesleyan students to go to Washington DC for the Broccoli City Music Festival, an environmental music festival geared towards urban communities.
"How’d that happen?"
“I just had the idea.”
He then organized a similar festival at Wesleyan and got BEATS to pay for a Post Malone show in the Eclectic House. There were about 30 people in the audience. Maybe 50.
“Horrible timing, unforeseen bad timing,” he sighs. “Now he’s playing the Staples Center.”
He talks about this with Kai. When Kai brings up independent labels, Derrick tells him to dream bigger. “Not to knock independent labels at all, but we should be going for the biggest possible thing we can do. I don’t want to go to the next logical step.”
Yet there’s nothing about Derrick that comes off cocky. He’s too careful for that.
“I’ve seen Post Malone go from 50 to 20-thousand people,” he says. “I’ve seen friends I used to freestyle in Central Park with go on nationwide tours. I know that it’s possible.”
While he used to call himself a 'project manager', now Derrick’s using the word 'producer'. “It’s about finding things that have nothing to do with each other, like environmental justice and hip hop, and bringing them together,” he says. “The goal is bringing people together to produce something incredible.”
This role extends to his social life. “I never threw parties cause I like to party,” he says. “I like to throw parties cause it brings all my random friends together.”
On Spring Fling, I watch him dance down Foss Hill to A$AP Ferg before slipping backstage to check on the equipment. “I’m very aware that the things I’m doing here are very Wesleyan oriented,” he says. He mentions how they might compare to the ‘real world’ then stops himself. “Fuck! I hate that.”
“One of my biggest pet peeves is when people say ‘in the real world’ versus ‘here’. This is the real world! The things you do here really affect people. This is actually my life. You can have a negative or positive impact on the trajectory of your life at this school.”
It wasn’t until recently that he felt like he finally “got it”…this whole Wesleyan thing. “I appreciate my place here, more than I have in the past,” he says. “It’s a cool feeling.”
The night after fling, he calls me and asks where I am, showing up 3 minutes later at Method editor Ben Romero’s house. There’s a group of 7 girls drinking strawberry daiquiris in the living room. He says hi to them then turns to me. “I want you to hear this.” He plugs in his iPod.
“By the end of the summer, Kai’s going to have a record deal,” he tells me. “Really? How?” “I dunno. I’ve never gotten anybody a record deal.”
He plays with the house's border collie, throwing a felt monkey across the living room.
“I have 100 percent faith in myself,” he says. “It’s new to me, having the confidence that I’m going to figure things out and it’s going to work, no matter what.”
I ask him about his favorite class. “Future Perfect,” he looks up. “I didn’t actually like the class but I like the idea.”