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TeamBackPack.net’s Dev Tejwani Reinvents Hip-Hop: Online and Independent

September 5, 2014

“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” – President John F. Kennedy

TeamBackPack logoHow many of us have had the opportunity to truly pursue our creative and professional dreams? The cross-section of these two items is often burdened by the “purpose” of a college degree and the practicality of following a well-paved path to supposed success. Fortunately, we have numerous risk-takers and visionaries in our society that are constantly teaching us that there may be yet unfound paths to finding ultimate satisfaction. The way in which consume entertainment vehicles is changing at a dizzying pace. Less than ten years ago, it would be entirely common to rent a DVD at Blockbuster or similar retail outlet. Today, the content can be streamed onto any mobile device. Want to watch your favorite music video? No need to watch MTV for an hour as it can be pulled up on YouTube instantly. Brick and mortar businesses such as Tower Records no longer exist and have been replaced with iTunes and other services. As with all artistic content, access to it will continue to evolve rapidly over the next several years.

With this backdrop, OneDublin.org recently had the opportunity to sit down with a Tri-Valley resident that is working to revolutionize not only how we consume the next generation of hip-hop music, but how he seeks to galvanize this specific community. This is the story of TeamBackPack.net. We became aware of this phenomenon through a very innocent avenue. In 2011, OneDublin.org profiled Ms. Shobha Tejwani who was honored as the English Language Learner Educator by the Alameda County Board of Education. At the time, Shobha was largely based at Frederiksen Elementary School, but was also assisting students throughout the district. Today, she continues to support students at Murray Elementary School. However, she has taken on a larger role this year with respect to training and coaching ELD teachers throughout DUSD. During that conversation, Ms. Tejwani shared the progress of her three sons that were matriculating through California High School in San Ramon. Her oldest son, Dev, was completing his B.A in Business Administration/Marketing from Chapman University in Southern California. But, she also noted his pursuit of developing a musical platform for “Cyphers.”

To fully understand this, it takes a bit of investigation into the history of rap music. While the roots of rap are based largely in the streets of major urban centers, the evolution turned to hip hop and a greater commercialization of the genre. While it came under much scrutiny in the 1990’s – based largely on the emphasis of glorifying material wealth and violence, its popularity exploded with the emergence of stars like Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur and Eminem. While this industry has produced many superstars, it has also followed the traditional album label model of signing artists, providing studio time and distribution. Then a smaller percentage of CD sales would be funneled to the artists. However, this model leaves the vast majority of artists outside of this channel and with little chance of being seen or heard.

While still in college, Dev and his two partners, Armani Cooper and Nelson Silva, hatched a plan to change this landscape. The concept was to create an online and in-person environment to spotlight burgeoning artists without the trappings of their predecessors. Further, the vibe of the entire experience would be different. Cyphers practice a similar free style cadence with their peers, but the emphasis is not on “battles” as exemplified in the Eminem film “8 Mile.” Rather, the goal is continue to keep the cipher continuous and flowing. It’s perhaps not an easy concept to understand, so we’ll allow Dev Tejwani to explain his vision. Now at the ripe age of 24, Mr. Tejwani is working to fulfill his long-held mission.

OneDublin.org:  It is important for one to follow their dreams.  However, it is another to build an environment/community that did not exist before.  Please explain how and why you felt confident that TeamBackPack.net might succeed in an unfulfilled space.

Dev Tejwani

Dev Tejwani

Dev Tejwani: “We always knew, starting out, that through community (both online and in person) we would be able to grow. Our mission statement has been the same since day one.  – ‘Teambackpack.net represents a collaboration effort bridging together talented and diverse musicians. Our ultimate goal is to create and promote a positive environment to connect individual artists to their fans without the major labels.’

“We felt confident in our ability to put on amazing, interactive events which we could film and bring to the internet at a later date, essentially creating advertisements for future events. We knew we were good at that and getting better. We also had nothing to lose by doing this. Events were put together on shoe string budgets and it was all about bringing people together in a safe place to produce the greatest content we could. There were ups-and-downs throughout (and still are) but we have built an amazing foundation to continue to grow and sustain.”

OneDublin.org: You had mentioned that live events are where TBP really excels.  Describe the general vibe of these events and the reception of the artists and the audience. 

Tejwani: “The events are always amazing because the people who come are either (1) sincerely looking for an opportunity to network and/or (2) just want to enjoy the music. Events include all ages. People are well-behaved and we have rarely had problems with the audience. Many of the artists who come are already involved with TeamBackPack and have garnered much of their fan base through the platform we have provided. The new comers are always welcome and people are all ears when they go on. The artists themselves always enjoy the environment, since it a great place to meet current fans and gain new fans. The artists are never “too cool” to hang out with the crowd. The whole experience is unlike another other concert experience i have ever seen. Events are more like seminars or conferences than regular concerts.”

OneDublin.org: While TBP may have initiated on the west coast, you have had the opportunity to travel to a healthy portion of the United States.  Share with our readers where you have been and the excitement of being on the road.

Tejwani: “We have done events in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York City, and Washington DC. It’s cool to see the impact we have made throughout the community in all of these places. The internet has allowed us to document all of our early successes and showcase to the rest of the world. Going from city to city and having people already know what we are about is crazy! Still, we have many people to prove ourselves to, but that will happen through constant traveling and finding the most talented artists in every city to come represent for the TeamBackPack culture. It’s amazing to also see how many people come from all over the world to be involved in our events on the West Coast. Our last conference in LA this year we had 800 people come through from all over the US and Canada, as well as several from Europe and Asia.”

OneDublin.org:  If you stop and ask most people about their attitudes about hip-hop and rap, you’ll probably hear some strong opinions.  However, the concept of TBP transcends just creating a different record label – it is the attempt to mobilize and to create a cypher community that is free of negativity and is a big departure from traditional models.  Please articulate what TBP is really trying to achieve. 

Tejwani: “TBP is trying to show that hip-hop really just is another form of artistry. For years since the early 90s, there has been a negative stigma towards the culture, EVEN though everything from automotive design to fashion, prime time television programming, professional sports, and mass media marketing is a reflection of hip-hop culture and it’s current trends. There has been a severe lapse in creativity for much of the mainstream hip-hop music community and what gets presented as “the culture” lacks the substance that gave the art form life to begin with. Through TeamBackPack we learn to accept our differences yet understand how much alike we all are in our own unique way. Through TeamBackPack we are able to communicate and learn about other races, cultures, and lifestyles.”

OneDublin.org: Fair or unfair, as the oldest of three boys, I am guessing that you were expected to lead your siblings by example.  However, you chose to take a very exploratory path after attaining your undergraduate degree.  How did you convince your family (and yourself) that you wanted to take the path less traveled?

Tejwani: “Although the oldest of three sons in my family, I really just had to do well for myself and show my family I was always trying – no matter what form that took. My brothers are both very strong intelligent individuals with much potential in their particular fields. I think the hardest part of taking this road less travelled is just staying on top of the curve and not ever getting too down. There are so many highs and lows with both the entertainment industry as well as entrepreneurship. Realizing that what really matters is I am building something bigger than myself and it is positively effecting tens of thousands of peoples, is what made me (and what continues to make me) stay involved and active in growing this organization. Money will come, just as long as we stay true to the culture, keep innovating, and moving forward – just as it always has.”

Earlier in this story, we had made reference to how we came to know of Dev’s venture. So, this profile would not be complete unless we gathered the musings from his mother, Shobha.

OneDublin.org: During our visit, Dev shared that he always had visions of someday becoming an entrepreneur.  Please share a thought or anecdote that would reinforce this concept.

Shobha Tejwani

Shobha Tejwani

Shobha Tejwani: “Dev has always been a risk taker and even as a little boy was always fearless – rode every roller coaster, played hockey, was not afraid of traveling alone.  I think you have to have that fearless mentality to be an entrepreneur.”

OneDublin.org: So many careers in the 21st century will be technology-centric. Yet, TeamBackPack.net appears to be a marriage of technology, business and the arts.  When and how did you allow yourself to embrace the idea that this could become a viable career option for your son?

Shobha: “When I saw that he was so passionate about his business and would not be happy unless he dedicated himself to making it a success. I felt that it’s better to try and take risks while he is still young and has a passion for helping other young people become viable artistes in the hip hop music business.”

OneDublin.org: You mentioned a post-it note that you have on the bathroom mirror that Dev can view every day.  Please share what it says and why these words mean so much to you.

Shobha: “‘Your expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies.’ I strongly feel that if you expect good things to happen they usually do. But if you try something with a negative thought and expecting failure, you will definitely fail. I have the quote on a post it on the fridge and in the bathroom mirror to remind us all the time.”

So, while the circle may not be yet fully complete, it was a fascinating peek inside the design process of a business in its earliest stages. But beyond that, Dev and his colleagues are attempting to create something much larger – a movement that will motivate thousands more to achieve artistic expression in non-traditional avenues. OneDublin.org would like to thank both Dev and Shobha Tejwani for their contributions to this profile.

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