by Kelsey Hamlin
Like a dream, Theomatic’s music tends to be soft and intricate. It typically induces a state of relaxation and transports you to your own headspace, provoking thoughts or simply letting them wander.
It’s clear through Theomatic’s Bandcamp—an online platform for entrepreneurial artists to sell productions—that the 17-year-old musician has developed his craft over the years. Theomatic, otherwise known as Teddy Avestruz, laughed and groaned thinking back on his beginnings. The young musician no longer feels what he first created lives up to his standards.Avestruz is a Cleveland High Schooler who participates in Running Start, a Washington State program allowing him to take college classes while still in high school. Classes aren’t exactly his top priority, however. “If I’m going to be honest, I take music more serious than school,” Avestruz explained.
Wherever he goes, Avestruz carries a notebook with him to write or draw. The young musician produces one new track, if not more, every week. However, Avestruz prefers to take his time when it comes to rap—which he typically does not upload to his Bandcamp. You usually have to catch him live to hear him rap.
One of only two rap recordings posted includes the lines, “They like, ‘yo, that shit is corny. Your raps are fucking wack. You got way too much emotion in your verse and on yo track.’”
“I try to spit some real things in my music,” Avestruz said. “Some people call it ‘conscious rap,’ shit like that, but I don’t care about labels. End of the day, I still want to elevate my people in the culture.”
Avestruz and his mother immigrated to the U.S. from the Phillipines when he was four years old. English is his second language, but he’s fluent in both Bisaya and English.
The artist’s ancestors have had their share of fights and successes under back-to-back European colonization and conflict. Spain seized the Philippines until 1898, after which America did. The U.S. struggled to define what government they installed for Filipinos until the Supreme Court decided, in 1904’s Dorr v. United States, that Filipinos didn’t have a right to trial by jury. Over a decade later, the U.S. promised the Philippines’ independence in the Jones Act but the promise went unfulfilled until 1935. Then Japan occupied the Philippines, interrupting their independence, until the end of World War II. The country re-gained independence but underwent a 1980s assassination of political activist Ninoy Aquino and snap elections for dictator Ferdinand Marcos. But Filipinos created the People Power Revolution, re-established their government, and Marcos fled. The successful Filipino revolution and other transformational efforts are where Avestruz gets his fuel.
“That’s where I get my background: revolution,” Avestruz said. “I’m really influenced by that.”
In part, it is this conscious Filipino history that drove Avestruz toward hip hop.
“Hip hop as a culture was something I always resonated with because, coming from my background, I always felt excluded,” Avestruz said of growing up in America. “Hip hop is roots. It was born out of Black oppression in America. It was not only an outlet, it was a lifestyle I could lean back on to express myself and my life.”
Avestruz uses his music as one of many creative outlets. But he also speaks against oppression through rap. “I try to hold that deep within me because a lot of people who get into hip hop forget that,” he said.
“Music isn’t the real revolution, people have to know that,” Avestruz said. “Music is just an art form to capture and express. If all I was doing was just music, I’d be a hypocrite. True work is organizing, having these conversations with people, going to events and rallies to represent. Music isn’t the real work.”
While Avestruz views organizing as a necessary step for change, he also expressed that the core of revolution really begins with the self:
“True revolution doesn’t happen in the street, it happens inside of your heart and inside of your mind. People often forget that when it comes to oppression. People love to point their finger at other people. Of course, there are oppressive groups, but the revolution really happens in here,” he said, touching his chest over his heart. “You have to look in the mirror.”
Ideally, Avestruz wants his listeners to ask, “what is oppression?” He wants people to have conversations around it, and speak in the midst of it. Avestruz also recognizes oppression happens in various aspects of identity, or rather, it compounds when identities intersect within each person, as is the case with people of mixed backgrounds and/or sexual orientations.
“To truly fight oppression is to fight oppression of all forms,” he said. “If the only thing you fight against is racism, you’re not fighting against oppression. To truly be down, you gotta be down for all forms. I try to just include that in my raps as much as I can, with my words.”
Many people, Avestruz explained, are surprised when they hear he’s 17. Sometimes, people doubt his abilities. “People say ‘you shouldn’t do that, you won’t make it,’” Avestruz explained. “But the only reason they’re saying that is because it’s what people told them when they were young.” For Avestruz, his dream is ultimately overcoming these stigmas. It’s more about how much he cares about music and how badly he wants to do it for the rest of his life.
“What everyone else says, it doesn’t really matter,” Avestruz asserted. “When people see my passion, they’re like, ‘wow.’ I want to influence other people to hold up to their passions too, like, fuck what anybody else says.”
He recognizes, however, that the older people get, the busier they get and the more responsibilities they carry. Regardless, he’s adamant age is just a number. “It’s just how much I can get done and what things I can bring to the table,” Avestruz said. “Age doesn’t indicate anything in a person other than how long they’ve been on earth. Age doesn’t define my work ethic or responsibility or any of that stuff.” But he did express frustration toward 21+ exclusive shows.
Avestruz dabbles in more than just beats and hip hop, however. His musical path began when a family friend taught him to play the drums as a child. The introduction paved the way for a smooth transition to beats, which also easily translated into rap. Eventually, the stars aligned in Seattle for him to meet some of his most idolized local hip hop artists (Blue Scholars, comprised of an Iranian-American producer and a Filipino-American rapper in the South End).
But hip hop is more than just music and Avestruz deliberately practices all of its forms: graffiti, drawing, poetry, DJing, and rapping. His next mission? Breakdancing. This also permits him to lean into other artforms if he reaches a creative block.
Ultimately, Avestruz wants to make a living off of music. “I really don’t care about numbers,” he said. “If I can live off it I’m good. My end goal is to inspire and influence as many human beings as possible through my work.”
Avestruz lives for the moments he inspires others to create.
“At the end of the day, every single person has a different story,” he said. “All I’m doing is telling my story through the art forms I prefer. If I could influence other people to do the same for their own stories, that just means the world to me. I also want to inspire people to just educate themselves and open up their minds and souls.”
He summed up his work by saying, “I have 7.5 billion people left to inspire.”
Photos courtesy of Carolyn Bick