Ruben Medrano stood calmly at the back of the Knitting Factory, his dark eyes moving between his cell phone screen and the stage. The show was "The Convention: Northwest," and Medrano and his promotion company, Movement Music, were at the helm.
The program featured acts from Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Utah with guys who rapped self-referentially about tough upbringings, the oppressive American government and women who are only after their money. And though he and his right-hand man, Zak Taniguchi, were continually running backstage, greeting performers at the door or on stage filming the performances, Medrano was impeccable as always. At a glance, he appeared casually dressed, but a closer look revealed an attention to detail: His oversized pullover and jeans were without a wrinkle, his bright white runners were spotless, his expensive watch shining. As he stood at the back of the house, the 29-year-old greeted one out of about every four people who walked by with an easy smile and took a minute to discuss something with Portland, Ore.-based rapper Cool Nutz (who had been on tour with Swollen Members) before heading backstage for what would not be the last time that night.
That kind of music and those kinds of artists are what and who Medrano, formerly half of local hip-hop duo Lookin' for Change grew up listening to. But it wasn't long into the duo's run that Medrano learned that his strengths and his love lay not in the act of rapping but in organizing, managing and connecting rappers to the people and services they need to be successful. So in the spring of 2008, he founded Movement Music.
"We want to be a filter for independent artists, the go-to-guys for their needs," Medrano said. "We have a lot of contacts throughout the West Coast and Northwest ... what I think we are bringing to local artists is we have a network of artists who are serious about their music. That's what makes us important. Because we are serious, I believe it is essential for us to find these driven artists and for them to find us. Two is better than one, and the bigger our network, the bigger our window for success."
If Medrano had to be summed up in one word, it would be driven. His focus is sometimes so intense that it can feel intimidating. But it has served him well.
When Lookin' For Change dissolved, it wasn't for lack of determination on Medrano's part. The duo sold or gave away around 30,000 copies of their CD.
"By the end of Lookin' For Change, I had already met artists like Leezy Soprano from Tacoma, [Wash.], artists who have talent and want to be artists and they have the time to be artists," Medrano said. "And I love business."
Medrano also loves new challenges. Movement Music is handling all of the arrangements for this year's Boise Soul Food Extravaganza. And he is starting up a new company, Definite Branding, which will design and print T-shirts, coffee mugs, pens and other things businesses are fond of putting their logos on.
With everything he has going on, Medrano puts in 20-hour days applying his enterprise to the musicians he represents or assists. He's a producer, manager, agent and PR company all in one and provides everything he thinks up-and-coming artists need to get on the right track: original beats, studio time, networking (he puts them on compilation CDs and shows), promotion, graphic design, marketing, photo shoots. The musicians don't have to be rappers--rockers of all kinds are welcome. What they do need, however, is talent, desire and a willingness to work hard.
Medrano explained that Movement Music is about bringing artists to Boise for shows like the Convention, but is also about getting local musicians to hit the road.
"I think Boise artists need to step out and push their music in Salt Lake City, and push it in Seattle and Portland," he said. And in turn, he brings rappers like Soprano--someone who also ascribes to the theory that pavement-pounding pays off--to Boise.
"One day I was in Spokane, walking around a mall selling my CDs," Soprano said. "I saw Ruben [who was with Lookin' For Change at the time] and he had a CD, too. I said, 'Let's exchange.'"
Soprano didn't know it, but while he was still in the mall hawking CDs, Medrano had gone out to his car to listen Soprano's. They lost track of each other for a while, but when Soprano came to Boise to do a show, he ran into Medrano.
"We exchanged numbers this time," Soprano said, laughing. "He put me on a show that 700 people showed up to. It's been magic ever since, and now Boise is like my second home."
From an outsider's perspective, the Convention was lukewarm. The crowd was thin and stayed mostly seated in the early hours, thickened slightly but kept to their chairs or clustered near the back of the bar, and then thinned again before the last few performers had taken the stage. But Medrano saw it as a success, in part, because it was one more step toward his ultimate goal. Each show, each compilation CD he puts out, each event he organizes, is bigger and better than the last.
"I think as Boise is growing, and especially in these times, it's important that people are still doing what they love," Medrano said. "Throughout my time in this industry, from my experiences, I've learned how difficult it can be. It's exhausting, but we have big plans for this year, and next year will be even better. We, Movement Music, are serious about what we do and we appreciate the good challenge ... I'm looking forward to it."