NicDanger shares his vision of Columbia

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 | 5:25 p.m. CST; updated 7:08 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Nick Rodriguez poses for a portrait Tuesday at Lee Hills Hall. Behind him, the pages he takes notes on float through the air.

COLUMBIA — People told him it was stupid, pointless and couldn't be done. They didn't see his vision.

Nicholas "NicDanger" Rodriguez, 22, released his music video, "Columbia Stand Up" two weeks ago. The project took about six months to complete. Rodriguez collaborated with others who share his vision of a unified Columbia. The video even features a cameo by Mayor Bob McDavid.

"Columbia Stand Up" was born out of a simple frustration: Columbia is most often recognized for MU, yet many students told Rodriguez that they didn't even like living in Columbia. So, Rodriguez set out to compose a song about a city that is defined by more than its large university.

The result is a 3:27 minute music video, that features  people, businesses and hot spots in Columbia. As a graduate of Hickman High School and long-time resident, Rodriguez saw an opportunity to recognize the hardworking people that live in the area and showcase the city as well as his art — rap music.

"I felt like the video had to be made to show that Columbia means something, too," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez wrote the song in May, and he worked with his uncle, Lionelle Miller, to produce the beat. Miller runs Lionheart production company and has worked with Rodriguez on about 30 other songs.

Rodriguez recalled watching his many uncles play various instruments in bands and dance when he was a kid. His uncles' passion inspired Rodriguez's own love of music.

Music and dance are far more expressive than words alone, Rodriguez said.

"I like to see that he has the same music bug that I have," Miller said. "And I live in Columbia and think it's a wonderful place. The final cut really encapsulated what it's like to live in Columbia. I'm a very happy uncle."

Matt Akins, the leader of Citizens for Justice, also contributed to the video. Citizens for Justice is an organization that monitors police misconduct and helps residents with their complaints as well as showcases good police work, Akins said.

Outside of Citizens for Justice, Akins has his own company, Video Visual Solutions. When he started the video company, he offered to make Rodriguez's first rap video, "Holdin' Up the Wall," free of charge.

"Columbia Stand Up" is the fourth video the duo has made together. They shot somewhere between 60 and 70 locations. Rodriguez rapped through the entire song at each location. The individual clips were then taken back to the month-long editing session.

"With someone like Nic, you don't want to overdirect him. He's a free spirit, and if you overdirect, you risk him being stiff. Overdirecting would be counterproductive in representing Nic," Akins said.

There really isn't any other video out there that focuses on Columbia. Most videos focus on the university alone, Akins said.

"The positivity that he brings to (the song) and the motivation, drive and ambition that he has are all good things that will help him in molding his vision for the city," Akins said. "I respect him and his vision for the city 100 percent."

The video opens with Sarah Hill, digital storyteller for Veterans United Home Loans. Hill's children went to Rock Bridge Elementary with Rodriguez. 

The first time she ever saw Rodriguez, he was 10 years old and performing at a school show with his group, Poetry in Motion. The group mixed break-dance and poetry. Hill has followed his career since then and promotes his work through social media. 

"Watch this kid, he's going places," Hill said. "He's a fighter. He's a rising star in Columbia."

When Rodriguez asked Hill to participate in "Columbia Stand Up," she immediately accepted.

"The energy of a young person who is excited about his community and wants to share — who wouldn't be excited to be a part of that?" Hill said. "I'm inspired just watching it."

Attorney David Tyson Smith met Rodriguez during a video shoot downtown. Inspired by Rodriguez's work ethic and attitude, he offered to help. Part of the video was shot in Smith's office.

"Columbia needs to see examples, like NicDanger, who are working hard," Smith said. "He's doing everything he can to fulfill his dream and pursue his passions. He's not just sitting on the sidelines. He's a great young man of courage, and he's inspired me, as well."

Later, after seeing the final cut of the project and having a long discussion, Smith asked Rodriguez how he could help him. Smith offered to help promote the song by sending the video to news outlets.

Rodriguez estimates that his project cost about $500, which he funded through his paychecks from the call center where he works.

"He basically promoted many businesses in Columbia and on his own dime," Smith said. "He doesn't have a lot of resources, but he does a lot with what he has. I admire his hunger."

The video is on Youtube and various social media outlets. Rodriguez plans to meet with Mayor McDavid to discuss how the city can use the video to promote Columbia.

Supervising editor is Karen Miller.

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