Taking Hip Hop To New Level
Two veteran New York City deejays are on a mission, and they are requesting help from the corporate and entertainment community. Gary Toms and Joseph Bonilla, also known as "The Bass Kings," are lifelong friends who are confident that they have come up with a way to assist the widows and children of soldiers killed during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Originally, the duo's goal was to set up an all-star deejay concert in Iraq, and later in Afghanistan, featuring top New York City mix deejays from popular radio stations and dance clubs. The concert was to incorporate various genres of music, such as R&B, Hip- Hop, Latin, Reggae, Reggaeton, Rock, Country and House. Toms managed to enlist the help of legendary deejays like DJ Larry Love, formerly of "Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five," and 98.7 KISS FM's Ruben Toro. Eventually, other radio stations expressed great interest in having their mix-masters take part.
"Scorpio", the deejay moniker that Toms goes by, then hoped to broadcast the concert as a pay-per-view event, nationwide, with 90 percent of the money raised going to wounded soldiers, widows and families. Five percent would be donated by Toms to the U.S.O., and the remainder to the payper view company. Toms even brought in a noted music video production manager, Jason Scianno, who has worked with music superstars Whitney Houston, Bruce Springsteen, Mariah Carey and Tony Bennett, to shoot video messages from the soldiers to their loved ones back home.
"I came up with this idea after reading and seeing several news reports on how many of these families are struggling to make ends meet," said Toms. "These families include single mothers with several kids, and in many cases the slain soldier was the sole provider of income. People are losing their homes and mothers are sleeping with their small children in cars. Moreover, families can barely keep up with the cost of medical expenses for injuries their loved ones sustained in combat. This just isn't right! Raising this money would help them tremendously. As deejays, we can help them through a vehicle that links everyone on the planet, which is music."
When initially setting up the volun- teer effort in 2005, Toms e-mailed and spoke, on a regular basis, to U.S.O. representatives who were communicating with officials at the Department of Defense to obtain clearance. Unfortunately, the situation in Iraq escalated to a crisis point, and Toms decided it was best for those involved with the concert to remain in the states. "I'd be willing to risk my life to bring some joy to the soldiers because I'm single and have no children," said Toms. "Many of those who volunteered to go with me aren't in my position, and I decided I didn't want to put them in harm's way."
Toms also candidly admitted that he decided to cancel the event because of royalty and copyright issues regarding the music that was to be played for the troops. He noted that the record labels and artists would complain about not being compensated if their music was played during a live broadcast from Iraq or Afghanistan. "You would think they'd be willing to make an exception in this case, but politics always come into play. I really hate that. Everything doesn't have to be about money!" noted Toms.
"It really hurt him to make that call," said Bonilla, also known as "DJ Bass King." "He's like my brother, and I know for a fact that it bothered him when he realized we couldn't do the pay-per-view event. He really wants to help. He didn't want a single dime generated from the concert, and he won't take revenue generated from any event we may have in the future. For him, it's about the fact that nearly 4,000 have died, and we need to show them and their families some love. We can do that through our dance music and by raising this money. This is not about us expressing ourselves politically. It's about us expressing ourselves musically for a cause."
To validate their commitment to this cause, "The Bass Kings" waived their $2,500 fee for a proposed fundraiser last year at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, New York, much to the astonishment of many in the military community. "The Dynamic Duo of House Music" fully intends to forge ahead with plans to launch an on-going series of dance party fundraisers across the country.
In mid-November, after reading about their plight on the Internet, DJ VON UKUF, a leading deejay and promoter from the Los Angeles area, contacted Toms and indicated that he and a number of Hollywood deejays were deeply moved by the benevolence of The Bass Kings. After a week of e-mail correspondence, VON informed Toms that a dance party extravaganza to benefit the troops was to be held at "EM Sundays" in Hollywood, CA. The event was held on November 25, 2007. Moreover, VON stated that many corporations expressed great interest in making significant donations at the event.
"I was stunned when I saw the flyer and when VON contacted me with the amazing news" said Toms. "I was so elated. VON said he really wanted us to be there, since we're responsible for creating the concept, and thanks to a corporate sponsor, who decided to cover our travel and hotel expenses after reading about us on the Internet, we [were] on hand for the event." All proceeds will be given to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Family Support Center of California and New York.
Ultimately, The Bass Kings hope to spearhead a national, two-day dance party, where deejays from across the country would perform at major clubs and large venues to help raise money for the families of slain soldiers. Again, they refuse to accept any of the money generated from the events. "This can be done.
If an organization can find a way to pay David Beckham $250,000,000 just to kick a damn ball, then club owners, deejays and people all across the country ought to be able to come together to help these soldiers and families, which is far more important. All it takes is a few phone calls and some compassionate hearts," Toms concluded.
Gary Toms, originally from Rockaway, is a former Associate Editor of The Wave.