where i play Sand­box Stu­dios

Exclaim! - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - by Erin Low­ers

“From Tory Lanez and Jadakiss to younger artists, Sand­box is com­mit­ted to serv­ing the com­mu­nity.”

ANY­BODY WHO GREW UP MARGINALIZED knows that when you don’t see some­thing very of­ten, it be­comes very dif­fi­cult to dream about those things,” says Kiana ‘rookz’ East­mond, di­rec­tor of Sand­box Stu­dios. “Ev­ery­thing I’m build­ing right now is about help­ing the me that needed help when I needed it.”

At 14, East­mond’s mid­dle-class life took a turn when she be­came a home­less high school dropout seek­ing di­rec­tion. It wasn’t un­til she met Sand­box’s Se­nior En­gi­neer, KR Moore, that she started to find her pur­pose. “He orig­i­nally had a stu­dio, and I was just kinda do­ing noth­ing, and he brought me in and was like, ‘Yo, learn how to do stuff!’” she says. East­mond learned the tricks of the trade, turn­ing to artist man­age­ment shortly af­ter. Moore, on the other hand, took a back­seat role as he started a fam­ily. It would take one artist, an un­fin­ished al­bum and a tem­po­rary stu­dio space to bring the two to­gether again.

“The orig­i­nal in­ten­tion was never to have a record­ing stu­dio. When we got the [400 sq. ft.] space, it was lit­er­ally just to fin­ish that artist’s mu­sic — there was no long term plan,” East­mond states.

For five years, the duo would pay into their month-to-month lease, es­tab­lish­ing them­selves as the af­ford­able stu­dio on the block. From Tory Lanez and Jadakiss to younger artists like Puffy L’z and Faiza, Sand­box Stu­dios’ com­mit­ment to serv­ing the com­mu­ni­ties around them re­cently al­lowed them to re­lo­cate to the Stu­dio District in Toronto’s East end.

“Be­ing ac­ces­si­ble and be­ing as loud as we can be about the fact that we’re here — I’m very proud of it,” East­mond notes. “To be the ‘one’ in this district, that means a lot.”

Though not yet fin­ished, the new 1850 sq. ft. space has ex­panded from a record­ing stu­dio to be­com­ing an artist devel­op­ment fa­cil­ity, equipped with a cy­clo­rama wall for vis­ual pro­duc­tions, and a blank space to hold ed­u­ca­tional classes and life­style events. “A lot of our clients are marginalized peo­ple — peo­ple of colour, LGBTQ,” says East­mond. “Ev­ery­thing we do here is to make sure that the ex­pe­ri­ence of the per­son com­ing through the door feels re­spected.”

Both East­mond and Moore stress the im­por­tance of Sand­box Stu­dios be­ing a safe space, ex­tend­ing be­yond race, re­li­gion and gen­der, but also fi­nan­cially, em­ploy­ing a rule where staff don’t wear shoes worth over $100.

“We’re not try­ing to per­pet­u­ate and recre­ate the same con- sumerism goals for our clients who walk through the door. Hiphop cul­ture is taught that con­sumerism and the way you look is the only defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic that you need to have, and we see it all the time,” East­mond ex­plains.

“We’re one of the busiest stu­dios in Toronto for ur­ban mu­sic, hands down. We’re booked 16 to 18 hours a day, but we use the min­i­mum wage rule: if some­body had to work an hour for $14 per hour, we’re charg­ing x-amount for three hours, that’s eight to ten hours of their time, if not more. [So] we have to give them 15 hours of an ex­pe­ri­ence and every­one on our team has to care,” she con­tin­ues. “If that means I sleep on the floor, but my clients can af­ford to come to the stu­dio, that’s what it’s about.”

Lis­ten­ing to their clients and their needs, mu­sic-re­lated or not, comes first. “I like to be able to speak to a lot of the younger clients that come in. A po­ten­tial client that I met to­day just got out of jail. He just wants to start do­ing mu­sic — he feels like he failed,” Moore says. “Be­fore we jumped into a ses­sion, I had a chat with him like, ‘Peo­ple make mis­takes. Don’t let this de­fine you.’”

She makes it look easy, but as a black queer woman, East­mond has had her fair share of bat­tles. “I’m al­ready ex­cluded from so much. Even though I per­form gen­der a par­tic­u­lar way, I re­al­ize that men can scream from the top of the moun­tain about how awe­some they are, but if I give any form of cri­tique, it’s like ‘Who the fuck are you?’ I can’t count how many times [that] men, who are re­spected in this city, have told me to know my place. A lot of peo­ple know that for many years, I was def­i­nitely black­listed, and to have fought back so hard and [to] be here in this po­si­tion right now, and start­ing to give us these looks and love from just be­ing con­sis­tent in our own be­lief, prin­ci­pal and pur­pose, this is the mo­ment that’s like, ‘We did some­thing.’”

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