Student musician seeks connection with outcasts through hip-hop

by Kylie Renner, Contributor

Media studies freshman Russell Ho, known artistically as Rush Martinez, recently decided to dedicate his life to music-making, sending him into a year overwhelmingly filled with change.  

Growing up in Singapore, Ho didn’t listen to much hip-hop. He was into punk bands like Simple Plan, Linkin Park, Sum 41 and My Chemical Romance.

He started drumming when he was 11, learning songs by ear and posting drum covers online.

After moving to the U.K. at 17 to study for two years, Ho’s music taste transformed drastically as he got into reggaeton. By 18, he relied on stripping to pay rent, but quit after three months due to the constant feeling of degradation he dealt with on the job. However, his experience as a stripper made him realize he loved to dance and decided to explore dancehall, a Jamaican-born energetic dance genre.   

“I went through so many phases,” Ho said, alluding to the evolution of his music taste and the time he spent drumming and dancing. “It all came together nicely. I still incorporate drumming into my own beats. I put my rock influences into my songs too.”

It wasn’t until this year that Ho really started to take music seriously. Starting out as a DJ and drummer for a small group of friends from his hometown in Singapore, he never thought he could be a rapper.

“It was one of those things that I was always talking myself out of,” Ho said.

Ho finally gave rapping a try in January, when he freestyled on an empty verse of his group’s track.  He and his three friends continued as a group they called Yeti Pack.

Yeti Pack was given many opportunities to perform at nightclubs and beach clubs, since it is one of the few hip-hop groups around.

“Singapore is small, so hip-hop culture isn’t that big,” Ho said.

Despite the group’s success in Singapore, he wanted to see how well he would do in the American scene.

“This might sound cheesy, but I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and learn more about myself,” he said about his decision to move to the U.S. and attend San Diego State.

He had a late start due to serving in Singapore’s army for two years.

“It was scary as hell to come here, but at the same time, I knew it would challenge me to do better,” he said.

Ho describes his music style as subtle.

“It’s basically stripper music,” he said. “I love dirty bass, Nicki Minaj kind of stuff. I don’t want to brag, but I’ve never really seen anyone do it like how I do it.”

He said Big Sean, Logic and Jaden Smith heavily influence his sound today.

While Ho has produced a lot of his music himself, he has recently decided to focus more on rapping. He now works with his friend Diego Hernandez, a junior music composition and business student at SDSU, who mixes and masters Ho’s tracks for him.

“He knows exactly what kind of sound he wants,” Hernandez said of Ho. “Every single time I do a mix, he’s ready to listen, taking detailed notes of everything that needs to be tweaked to make the perfect song.”

Hernandez said he sees success in Ho’s future.

“Normally I wouldn’t do mixing projects like this,” he said,  “but if you ask me, Rush is going straight to the top, and it’s worth being a part of that. It’s not often you find talent and vision in one package.”

As far as writing goes, Ho is excited to see his thoughts come to life.

“Writing my jumbled-up thoughts down and putting them into a song is a feeling I’ve never felt before in my life,” he said. “My thoughts are so messy but so clear on paper, and singing or rapping all of it makes it so much better.”

His lyrics mostly reflect his relationships and other relatable aspects of life he goes through.

Ho released his first solo single, “Lock” Dec. 7. Though he had to complete the audio and video components of the track in less than a week, he is more than satisfied with the end result.

“It’s the first time that I actually feel like my song has fully come to life compared to the vision in my head,” he said.  

While Ho plans to make a SoundCloud account in the near future, he currently shares his music through Spotify and Apple Music.

Constantly moving around as an international student has inevitably caused him to feel out of place, even in a place as diverse and self-expressive as San Diego.

Ho used  the Japanese word “gaijin,” meaning “outsider,” to describe his situation and approach to music.

“I want to send a message to people like that,” he said. “My target audience is the people who aren’t necessarily popular, they’re just kind of weird and feel that they can’t fit in with anyone.”

As for the future, Ho hopes his music career will make the Asian community proud.

“I’ve never seen an Asian Justin Timberlake,” he pondered. “I’ve never seen an Asian guy that does dancehall or stripper music, and I want to be the first one.”