Sonically Driven: Dvalor on hip-hop, the industry and the lifestyle

David Manny Valerio (aka Dvalor, Valor) is a Providence native with more than a decade of experience in music tech, production and studio relations. Seeing the world through hip-hop culture has shaped the life this single father has created for himself and his son, Ethan. From playing beat sets at local venues to finding his way through the corporate world of music, Valor’s story is equal parts humble and humbling. With a fiery passion for success and expression through artistry, Valor’s goals, aspirations and means by which he works to achieve them are relatable and empowering. Valor’s music and infectious laughter are easily recognizable and worth getting to know. 

“I began a career in recording arts as an adolescent at The Met. I learned the fundamentals of the music business from The Jeffrey Osbourne family. I learned about event curation, music production and studio relations. It was there I first discovered entrepreneurship and received my first business license at age 16. While attending Rhode Island College, I chaired the Student Entertainment Committee and booked Gym Class Heroes while also interning at a local recording studio. The foundation I got through a progressive education brought me to working with some of the biggest music tech brands.”

Even before he started the groundwork for his career, music was a big part of his life. “Like most Caribbean-based cultures, Latinos are sonically driven. I was always around music. My parents would have loud Salsa music playing at all hours of the night like while I was trying to watch Toonami and play video games with my cousins.”

Valor was 14 when he started producing music. “Before I even started making beats I went to the library a lot and saw in audio magazines that people could go to college for music. I eventually started producing on my computer with Cool Edit Pro and Sony Acid Pro. I would find the simplest chords and create Reggaeton drum progressions under them.  To me it would sound halfway decent! I got into it as a hobby and that got me into sample digging and bettering my skills over time.” 

His newest full album, As Long As I’m Alive, is coming out soon with the flagship single “Let It Go feat. Ink The Urban Myth” being released September 3 on streaming services.  His new work features local collaborations and Valor’s unique take on his influences of New York hip-hop, backpack rap and alternative music.  

“This album is spiritual hip-hop with depth. I made a decision that since the pandemic affected everyone and with me personally experiencing loss and heartache, I would not let my dreams slip away. As long as I’m alive I’m not going to let fear be the thing that stops me. I’m crazy happy to be dropping music again. I’m inspired by my friends and knowing we can’t let music fall through the cracks since this means so much. I’m excited for people to experience this entire piece of work and to see who I’ve been working with. I’m so tedious on music I come out with because my art through creation is so personal to me. It’s intimate. I’ve had times being happy and making music while smiling the whole time. I’ve had times where I felt so down it came out in what I was making. But through the therapy I get from creating I was able to turn the same piece around and make it uplifting and hopeful.”  

Valor’s world view and motivation are shaped largely by his experiences in hip-hop. A pioneer for the importance of this culture his biggest influences are the group Little Brother, KanYe West and Lupe Fiasco. His favorite book at 16 was Russell Simmons’ biography, which taught him about one of the first rises of Black ownership in music.

“Hip-hop has given me more chances than I think I’ve deserved. It’s taken me away from so many different things in a positive way. I’ve lived in inner city areas and was around a lot of crazy stuff. I would be in situations hanging outside my house and know if things were going to go in a dangerous direction. We’d be having fun and all of a sudden someone would kick a fence post and the cops would be called. Instead of being sucked into the moment I would go inside to make beats. By the time I had come back outside the cops would have already came and beat up my friends for doing something reckless. How would it have changed me if I stayed outside and been a part of that?  For me these situations are inescapable unless you’re able to change reality. Hip-hop allowed me to change my reality. It saved my life. It’s the core values of hip-hop that I’m able to bring into every environment and what’s allowed me to apply these values to professional infrastructure through the latest decades rise in tech companies, entrepreneurship, and promotional networking.”

These experiences have brought an important sense of community to Valor’s life as well. He gives a lot of his time to local causes and continues to impart knowledge he has gained over the years to young people in a variety of settings. This includes being a community curator at AS220 teaching beat-making during the pandemic. He was even able to leverage his music tech connections and had the company Izotope donate thousands of dollars worth of their software for the non profit’s music production facility. He also taught an innovative social media class at The Met in 2018 teaching kids about social media analytics, brand building and marketing strategies.  

“These are things I want to continue doing. Imparting knowledge is very important. My challenge to bigger companies is to do more to equip kids in communities like ours with tools and resources. I would also love to see RI government pay local studios for time to send kids to learn how recording, music business and the creative process work. Instead of pushing kids away from being creative, empower them to learn more about these potential avenues in life. Choosing to expose them to these types of experiences will help them with life experience meanwhile helping local professionals and / or aspiring professionals in the local music community. We can set kids up with mentors and some basic equipment and start stimulating a whole new type of local economy.”

This type of insight comes from having been in the professional music technology field over six years. His backbone of hip-hop ideals and motives has led him up the corporate ladder of the music world, having worked in various positions for such prominent music tech companies as InMusic Brands (the parent company of Akai Pro and M-Audio), E-Mastered, Izotope, and currently Timbaland’s company BeatClub. This work has never made him deviate from his passion of solo artistry and expression, though.

“I’m a person who created my own opportunities by being part of companies who gave opportunities to learn in many capacities. I’m on my personal journey in combination with my professional journey. Through living life this way, I’ve been able to build a more solid foundation for my own unique self rather than constantly getting caught up in fads or trends. People who get to a legendary status understand themselves first. They’re always ready because it’s literally part of their everyday life.” 

When asked about his personal experiences as a local creative growing up in Providence and seeing where it is now compared to where it was when he first started Valor explained:

“Through time we’ve began to create our own infrastructure within our creative communities. We’ve had to build everything little by little from the ground up. Because we’re so small and tight-knit, it forces an individual to have to stand out. Meanwhile the music industry is always changing. Especially now, it’s a whole new hybrid industry. They figured out that things can be accomplished even if the world is shut off since we’re all connected through our phones. These people have learned the true value of the internet, readapted it, and put the pieces they learned into the best strategies to make it work and generate income and notoriety. Now the biggest power is being first. If you’re first and you’re ready, then you’re going to get where you want to go. This gives people from anywhere new opportunities, and our home is no different.”

Given the everyday work Valor does, he has a constant finger on the pulse of new musical trends and current hip-hop and producer culture. When asked about Rhode Island in relation to the music industry and what may be needed in order to grow our notoriety within the bigger industry he explained:

“With music and entertainment a lot times people have to leave RI to gain some national notoriety and then come back to be more successful here. The good thing, though, is that when we venture out we bring pieces of Rhode Island to other places. I love my city and I want the world to see my city. From a music industry perspective I’d love to see us have a prominent music festival. We have PVD Fest, but that’s a call to our specific culture. For me I’d love to see a ‘Rolling Loud’ type of event. When tourists get here they see Rhode Island as having a unique vibe. We have beaches less than an hour away, we have a great night life scene and we’re the creative capital.  I think we need to promote Providence as a major city in America in new ways and that will draw newer types of attention here.   More positive as opposed to negative competition within will help us as well.  We have an entire music hall of fame a lot of people have no idea about.  We’ve had producers from here on major records, even bands who tour the world.  A lot of special things and people come from here, we just need to continue putting ourselves on the map collectively.”

When asked where he sees Rhode Island hip-hop heading into the future he said, “I think Rhode Island hip-hop will come together like the different nations within the Avatar universe. We will learn the ability to use each other in positive aspects to network like other states and crowd boost our own social content, which will inevitably popularize the diversity and talent we have in the smallest state in America. Once we get to the point where we listen to ourselves enough other people will want to listen to us too.  I think there should be more inclusion in local major and minor businesses in Rhode Island musical arts as well.  Even simple things like using more local beats and songs for commercials will be a big help.”

In true Valor fashion he had a few words to leave anyone reading this who may be starting out, looking for inspiration, or feeling lost on their journey:

“My advice to a lot of people is to not be scared to release music yourself, especially if you’re hitting walls releasing music with other people.  Stay positive, work hard, if you have a setback, realize why it happened, hold yourself accountable and continue.  This is exactly what I thought I’d be doing when I first got into music.  My goals have never really changed because I knew exactly what I wanted to do for so long.  Being able to make sounds that make people feel good, that help them when they’re sad, or even just make them shake their butts is a privilege.  I’m a single father balancing a very demanding career, making music, and still creating my legacy for something my son can leverage for himself one day.  That motivates me more than anything.  Like many people I started out just making dope stuff with my friends.  Now I’m making dope stuff happen with my friends.”

Dvalor’s single “Let It Go feat. Ink The Urban Myth” drops September 3: smarturl.it/jiwstx. The full album, As Long As I’m Alive, will be available soon.  Keep up to date with this and more on Valor’s social media: Instagram: @cantstopdvalor; Twitter: @youaintdvalor; Facebook: @dvalor

Who I AM.: Revolutionizing life in the former home of Esek Hopkins

Anthony “AM.” Andrade’s (they/them) work entails activism and awareness through communal art and creativity.  Andrade is co-director of The Haus of Glitter Dance Company & Performance Lab. They also manage The Haus of Glitter Liberation Garden and Record Label as part of a two-year artist “parkist” residency at the Esek Hopkins Homestead and Park where Andrade and their family are “living, healing and reimagining.”  

Andrade’s work centers on community through a BIPOC / queer lens. They constantly work to break down walls and re-think how our society, plagued by white supremacy, is shaped. “We center self care and rest around what we do due to the gravity of our work,” Andrade said. “Care is at the center of everything we do. We make sure people are fed, rested and hydrated, and we offer massages and meditations to get everyone in the right frame of mind.”

Andrade’s creative and artistic journey began at age 5 when they started piano lessons. This progressed into hip-hop dance in high school, which ushered in a love for music production.    

“I was born an artist. I didn’t really have a choice,” Andrade said. “My great grandfather passed down the tradition of music. He was semi-well-known in the Cape Verde islands. Playing piano definitely brought me to the space of knowing what flow is and of course learning more about music. Hip-hop has been a space for me that I see a lot of things through. Even with pop culture or music from other countries, so many inspirations and ideas are rooted in hip-hop. Styles of expression within it such as Crumping, Tutting, Graffiti, and music production were my only ways to express myself in a space that was comfortable for me, which is pretty backwards for a lot of people.

“Nowadays I’m into the ballroom scene, which is really pretty much the queer hip-hop scene.  I’m a sample-based music producer, so Vogue music speaks to me.” 

Ballroom, or Ball Culture involves events or “Balls” where primarily BIPOC and Latinx performers living in houses (or groups of people living together in community) compete in categories such as dancing or modeling.  Events are fun and energetic, and folks typically go home with performance trophies. 

Ballroom encompass many different forms of expression, so I asked Andrade if they prefer one form of expression over another. “I absolutely do not prefer one medium over another. Although I am considered the musician in The Haus of Glitter and am currently writing the album for our next production.”  

The production, named The Historical Fantasy of Esek Hopkins, is an activist dance opera that will premiere with PRONK and PVDFest 2021 on September 9. It’s a performance ritual that centers on one Black woman on the slave ship Sally, which Esek Hopkins commanded. As we’re representing the story as BIPOC artists in this space, which he (a rich white slave owner) built and occupied, the elements take you on a journey as to what it was like for us to physically arrive here. We’re living and healing in and with this space, and shifting the energy of this physical house to queer liberation. It also allows a space for people of color to be seen. It’s empowering for all people, but really centers people of color.”

The Haus of Glitter is in the midst of a two-year residency at the nationally preserved Esek Hopkins house in Providence. They have made the space into a production, fashion and art house and they are re-imagining the homestead and park, transforming the space into a creative work environment that centers queer and feminist BIPOC. When asked what it feels like on a day-to-day basis to live in the same space occupied by someone such as Hopkins as well as the enslaved people he kept, Andrade took a deep breath before explaining: 

“The energy here is very heavy. There’s an initiative to remove Esek Hopkins’ name from the local school, which is filled with Black and brown youth, and to remove the Esek Hopkins’ statue, sitting on a 7-foot pedestal paid for by the City. Then there’s the house we live in. It begs the question why, for all the horrible things he did to slaves (and even British soldiers), so bad in fact, that he was fired by George Washington, he is glorified today. He was put in power as commander in chief for a short amount of time and it lives as an example of how a white man in power can pour money into preserving his legacy and put up statues of himself and no one questions it. We are trying to get people to think as a city why this place has been preserved the way it has been. Can we shift it toward community healing? This is what the center of this project is. It feels like the walls are speaking to us and ancestors are speaking through us in this work. I feel the motivation of the lineage of people behind me pushing me.”

Moving into the house has opened up many possibilities and meaningful ventures for The Haus of Glitter Dance Company and their work. Examples of this include the Liberation Garden, which was created at the beginning of COVID. Through the Creative Health Worker Fellowship from the City of Providence Andrade brought together doctors, environmentalists and other experts to figure out how to implement safe outdoor programming for youth in an attempt to see how Earth work and art can find an intersection.

“We study how we got to where we are in Providence, why this particular street has the worst air quality in the city, and learn about ancient planting techniques and herbs used by Indigenous people. This is the same land that was used to feed the Hopkins family, and we can only imagine the enslaved Black people working here. So to do this work because I want to and set up this space for young Black and brown people to harness and shift the energy in the same earth feels really good.”

Andrade also works at AS220 Youth as a program manager, overseeing classes and working with young artists on projects such as Future Worlds. This year, in collaboration with PRONK, they’re creating an installation-immersive runway in the Liberation Garden with large scale lights, murals and paintings. He also began The Haus of Glitter Record Label, which aims to center and uplift queer and BIPOC musicians who are just starting out in their music careers.

“We’re being more paid attention to since we have a white frame around us, living in a nationally preserved historic home. This is also a layer of my Black experience in this white space. It feels like people care more about us now due to our proximity of whiteness. Sometimes it feels good to leave the space and not be surrounded by so many reminders of how someone who looked like me sitting in this seat 200 years would have been experiencing. It’s not only a healing and liberating space, but also equally painful for my Black body to sleep here. It brings a whole new level of meaning to this activist work.”  

When asked about the uniqueness of Providence and how they feel about this work happening in this city Andrade explained that their thoughts on this have changed over the past year. 

“There are cities like Chicago that put a lot of money into their arts culture.  This is also the case in Providence, but what makes it so special here is that we’re so small and tight-knit. I feel more collaboration than competition here.”

Andrade also believes the individuals who make up the city and are in position to make change are pivotal in making a uniquely positive experience for many marginalized groups.  

“I’m able to work alongside officials and figures who I’ve always looked up to towars common goals.  Providence released a 10-year cultural plan that focuses on artists of different ages, colors, backgrounds, etc… so that people who work in related fields have opportunities to thrive.

“We think a lot about legacy work and how to carry on our traditions. I didn’t have a sense of community with dance until I met the people in my house as well as my mentors and stumbled into a sense of community and carrying of these traditions. ‘Positive brain washing,’ as we call it, involves helping people decolonize individualist thinking.”

The idea of legacy itself, community and collaborative work is most important to Andrade. They don’t aim to leave anything behind personally, but more look to leave a legacy of community.

“I want people to think of ‘We’ when they think of me.  Moving away from individualism and stepping into collective thinking is important. I get feedback all the time on my breath practice bringing a sense of tradition, which is something we lack in American culture. The way I step into everything I do, especially with youth and with my house, is bringing a sense of tradition and ritual by doing something over and over again. These rituals help us feel separated from the constant grief of colonization, which each and every one of us suffer from in some way.”

The Historical Fantasy of Esek Hopkins is set to premiere with PRONK and PVDFest 2021on September 9th.  Its own legacy will continue as a physical album, graphic novel, coloring book and as a performance ritual in schools and historically preserved places across the country. Anthony also has meditative sound offerings on Spotify through the link in their Instagram bio @am.period. For more info, go to hausofglitter.org or follow them @theglittergoddesses.