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Rockaway Rappers Take on FEMA and Gentrifiers in Song

By Katie Honan | June 5, 2014 3:24pm
 Sean O'Connell, Tristan Nevirs and Darnell Brown, met in junior high school and have released a rap song together about Rockaway after Hurricane Sandy
Sean O'Connell, Tristan Nevirs and Darnell Brown, met in junior high school and have released a rap song together about Rockaway after Hurricane Sandy
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

ROCKAWAY BEACH — Friends Sean O’Connell, Tristan Nevirs, and Darnell Brown rode out Hurricane Sandy at their homes in Broad Channel and Rockaway, and spent the next year moving from place to place as their families tried to recover.

Now more than a year after the storm wrecked their neighborhoods, the trio, who met in junior high school and bonded over their love of rap, have joined forces to battle what they see as negative changes and a lagging recovery process in their hometown using the power of verse.

“Other people don't even understand how serious [Sandy] was,” said Brown, 18, who lived in Far Rockaway. “I lost my house.”

As they dealt with the traumatic experience of Sandy and its aftermath, the trio found rap became an outlet for their confusion and anger, they said.

Their single “F--k Out The Rock,” their first recorded collaboration together, calls out FEMA and the "contrived faux bohemia" that they think is distracting from the major issues that still exist in the popular beach neighborhoods. 

“[Sandy] just gave me a perspective,” said Brown, who raps  as Stacks the MenACE as an homage to late Far Rockaway rapper Stack Bundles.

He watched as his mom struggled and fought with insurance and government agencies to help fix their home, and they moved to Pennsylvania after he graduated from high school, he said. 

Brown, who has an album, "Mixtape The Lp," out June 13, put off college because of the move, and he'll start at Hofstra University in the fall.

O’Connell, who raps as Sean Blaise, has an album coming out on July 3, "The Crux."

O'Connell just finished his freshman year at Vassar College, said the storm shaped what he’s studying in school — urban studies is a possibility — and the peninsula's period of transition and change have a big impact on his rhymes.

“I figured, channel all of this anxiety that's personal but also that's a result of having our houses messed up,” he said of his collaboration with Nevirs and Brown.

His house, which flooded and experienced other damage, is still half-finished, and he's not sure when it'll be done.

Nevirs remembered seeing the boardwalk rip apart and crash into his apartment building, he said.

A student at Queens College, he performs as TrisNev and the first line of his own album defines many of his songs: "Voice screaming from the ruins of Sandy."

"That's where it all started," he said. "The words kind of flew out after that because I had so much emotion that built up and so much anger that was going on."

Dealing with the hurricane left them all wary of various changes in their hometown and distrustful of government who said they would help  but, in their experiences, didn’t.

And as the peninsula and Broad Channel continues to recover, they're nervous about the changes that they say could result in pushing people out.

They're "just kids," Nevirs said, but feel they can be "a voice for people who have no other way to express themselves or feel like they don't have a voice themselves."

And it all stems from a deep love for their hometown.

"For everything that is has going against it, it's still an amazing place because a lot of people who live here really care deeply about it," O'Connell said.

"And I don't want to see those people who care deeply about it be pushed out."