Tag Archives: Keith Rodger

Brenton Gomez

December 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Derek Joy

Local rapper Brenton Gomez—aka Conny Franko, Conchance, The Wooz, Daddy Woozbuckz, Conny Chrondracula, Chronny, or Econnyome depending on time, place, and project—is a wiry and reflective man of letters with deep roots in South O.

Gomez needs many names to represent the many aspects of his artistic identity. A 31-year-old with world-weary eyes, he carries himself with the quiet energy of stillness before the storm, like a flyweight boxer prior to a fight. Gomez’s best punches are thrown conversationally, philosophically, and intellectually. He can lay down a freestyle critique of commodified American culture and the individual’s role in it that would make C. Wright Mills glad he didn’t go into insurance.

His first real job came at age 10, shining shoes after prom for $5.25 an hour (off-the-books in a tuxedo shop). This character-building experience informed his worldview, education, and artistic messages by awakening his sense of working-class consciousness.

The Millard West and Metropolitan Community College alumnus graduated with honors from UNO with a bachelor’s degree in international studies and a focus on Latin America and business. While business now seems a less-than-perfect fit given his ideology, his side excursions into the social sciences and philosophy seem to have paid off in wise dividends. Art, after all, requires experience, knowledge, culture, and community to thrive.

“If you don’t have something to say, you’re just pissing in the wind,” says Gomez about what makes art meaningful. “If you don’t have a historical context for how things developed and how things were colonized or industrialized then you really don’t have a f***ing clue about what’s going on now.”

A skilled rapper whose heart lies with the DIY community, Gomez thinks of himself principally as a writer with multiple projects going at any one time: zines, chapbooks, poetry, and essays as well as rap. Music has provided an outlet for his American experience since 2000. In 2007, he played the Slowdown.

“The first rap artist to play there was Redman, and then it was me. It just shows that I’ve been kicking rocks around in this city for a long time,” he says of his ascension in the Omaha music scene. “Sometimes people identify with what you’re doing—and sometimes you get stepped on—but I do art because I need to be doing it, not to get some kind of social capital from it, you know what I’m saying? The portfolio of your lifetime is your work.”

Gomez is glad to play any stage, as M34N STR33T (his group with Adam Robert Haug, aka Haunted Gauntlet) or rapping solo alongside local producers Keith “DJ Kethro” Rodger or Juan Manuel Chaparro, aka “DJ Dojorok.” Getting paid is its own reward, of course, but it is not the only reward, especially for a grounded artist like Gomez and his passel of identities.For the sake of his art, he returns to the DIY community to recharge on the culture that motivates his work. Making art and speaking for his community as best he can are personal as well as professional priorities.

“I’m glad to see people be successful, but I also like to see communities respected,” says Gomez of the changing face of neighborhoods like Benson and Blackstone. “It’s always nice to get a check. Money is a variable. I need to get it because I’m in a capitalistic society, so I might as well. But at the same time, there are other things that are important, too.”

For the most part, Gomez says he would rather play the DIY circuit. It is by and for the community (and the kids who consume the music), which in turn fosters the local music scene.

“You do it for the culture rather than for looks and likes and analytics. A lot of times, I just want to make noise about my community and about myself and do it with integrity to art rather than, you know, with some hype,” Gomez says. “I’d rather have something that makes people just listen to it and gain something from it. Sometimes that’s movement, sometimes that’s knowledge and perspective. It’s where I’m seeing my music career going.”

Gomez’s albums with M34N STR33T are available on digital platforms and sold locally at Homer’s and Almost Music. The group’s third and latest album, Don Quixote’s Lance, was released in April 2018.


Visit m34nstr33t.com and soundcloud.com/connyfranko for more information.

This article was printed in the January/February 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Roots Down

September 5, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Ask Keith Rodger where he got his sharp musical tastes and his answer will be simple—from his mother. The 28-year-old Omaha musician, recording engineer, and co-owner of Make Believe Recordings grew up with an eclectic range of influences, which truly shaped his preferences.

“My mother always had a solid taste in music,” Rodger explains. “She gave birth to me as a teenager and I think that had a huge difference on what I was exposed to compared to other kids my age. She was never a musician, but always had an ear for interesting music. She introduced me to the reality of Prince’s lyrics, the anger of Prodigy’s sound, and the essence of Bjork’s personality. There were few limits in our household.”

He also credits his older brother, Alan, with inspiring him to pursue music despite the fact they grew up in separate households.

“When he visited with a guitar and amp one day is when I really wanted to become a musician,” he recalls. “He also introduced me to computer software that was used to make beats, which was what really changed my life forever.”

As he stumbled through various phases of what he refers to as “extreme attachment” to a bevy of different musical genres, he quickly realized there was an infinite amount of exploring to do. He tasked himself with learning the history and adapting to the culture as a young, inquisitive student.

Rodger eventually met Motor City native Rick Carson, another aspiring entrepreneur who was obsessed with music and had recently completed a course in recording/audio engineering at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida. The two would establish Make Believe Records and Make Believe Studios in 2012.

“I met Rick in a dusty basement when I was in a band called Lightning Bug while recording our first record,” he says. “I really enjoyed his vision for the music industry and Omaha. What he was trying to build aligned with what I was interested in pursuing as a career. We came from completely different backgrounds and share very different interests in music, but our goals and views are very similar.”

Make Believe Records has been steadily working its way into the publishing realm. The masterminds behind the label have hit a point where their catalog is ready to be launched into the musical stratosphere. With artists like rapper Conny Franko, hip-hop duo BOTH, and soul group Sam Ayer & The Lover Affair—as well as Rodger himself—on the roster, there are several full-length projects on the horizon.

Similarly, Make Believe Studios is buzzing. Carson recently engineered Grammy Award-nominated artist Terrace Martin’s 2016 album Velvet Portraits, and recently mixed and mastered Danny Worsnop’s 2017 effort The Long Road Home. There’s a sense of exciting things coming together behind the scenes.

“We are busy, busy, busy,” he says. “We have some projects coming through this year that I never would’ve imagined getting the opportunity to experience.”

For now, Rodger, Carson, and Tristan Costanzo are hard at work on one of their latest endeavors, the Kismet production team, which recently scored a documentary series for boxing promotions company Top Rank about boxer Terence Crawford and his team at B&B Boxing Academy. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“I’ve also been working on an EP and film titled Evoleno,” he says. “This has been a project years in the making. It took me several attempts to try to lock in a concept that was worth pursuing to become my first release. Over time, I got the opportunity to work with a wide variety of musicians that helped me shape my ideas into the concept it has become.”

“I also recently locked in a very small crew for this film to keep our ideas consistent and confident without our own bubble,” he adds. “I tapped Miguel Cedillo to direct and Maria Corpuz as one of our main characters. These people believe in the project as much as I do, and I believe we will make something that challenges everything we know about making a film that is timeless.”

Rodger has undoubtedly blossomed into a key player in Omaha’s consistently evolving music and art scenes. From touring with The Faint as a stage technician and DJing for Omaha Fashion Week to writing music and co-helming the Make Believe Records empire, his tireless work ethic parallels that of any successful artist or entrepreneur. However, he always sees room for improvement.

“I think it’s growing into a scene that is more diverse sonically,” he says. “I’ve noticed there are more younger people embracing new types of popular music, and putting down guitars and picking up synthesizers. My inbox is usually filled with musicians asking me about sound design and I find it exciting and refreshing.

“I truly wish there were more women creating electronic music,” he continues. “I always try to encourage parents to allow their daughters to learn how to program and edit in a DAW (digital audio workstation). Fair balance between genders, race, and cultures helps create better ideas within communities.”

The ambitious Rodger finds surrounding himself with creative individuals, staying focused on his goals, adopting routines that exercise his mental and physical health, and teaching others is the way to reach his ultimate nirvana. He’s ready to put in whatever amount of work it takes.

“Omaha still has a long way to go as far as musicians’ and DJs’ careers being taken seriously by people outside of the music industry,” he says. “We plant seeds and starve during their growth, but when they bloom, we will have a garden to feed families. Music is about to change very drastically for consumers and creators. I’m very excited about the future and want to be a part of it when it happens.”

Visit soundcloud.com/kethro to hear some of Rodger’s music.

This article was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Encounter Magazine.

Keith Rodger