Jonathan Sims is a media producer and former appointed official at the Pueblo of Acoma. He covers news and writes a column on Indigenous People's issues for The Paper.

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To be immortalized on a wall is to be remembered. It’s an honor. It harkens back to the roots, the streets, and the community. People tag their homies or loved ones now gone, some put up full-on works of art to celebrate their life. Who are these figures on these walls? In this town it’s Cesar Chaves, MLK, Delores Huerta and Johnny Tapia. Legendary figures that have stayed in the hearts and minds of our community. Add one more to that list. Wake Self. 

If you don’t know the name Wake Self, that’s ok. You’ will ‘ll get an education today, which is fitting if you knew the brother. November 7 is officially “Wake Self Day” as proclaimed by Mayor Tim Keller last year.

Wake Self, or Andrew “Andy” Martinez to his family, was and is a remarkable figure in New Mexico and Southwest hip-hop. The MC toured the country, shared the stage with legends and created an “Ode to NM” song and video that stands as the best love poems to this state anyone will ever see. His music journey was cut short one November evening in 2019, just days out from the release of his 4th solo project “Ready to Live”. A drunk driver cut that dream short after he ran a stop sign and killed him. 

Very few people have staying power, let alone staying power after death. At a show early in the year, local hip hop OG Speed One took a moment to big up the memory of Wake, while Def-I, collaborator and Wake’s right-hand man for many years hosted the show. The entire crowd stopped for a second and gave respect, young and old heads alike. The love and respect from the audience was palpable at that moment. Wake Self had transcended space and time. Those murals from Gallup to Albuquerque are the visualization of the love the community had for him.

The Paper. reached out to the family first out of respect to talk about Wake Self. We spoke with his older brother Eric Martinez, who was his biggest fan. “We’re only two years apart, so we did everything together. Like all my early childhood memories, you know, it was me and me and Andy.” Eric was the one rhyming initially and encouraged his brother to bless the mic. One night that encouragement came from another young MC in the room, Native hip-hop artist Def-I. “He came out to the jam that we’d have and he was really shy. I was like, “Yo, you want a freestyle on the mic?” He’s like,'” I’ll wait till after.” But he was like really calm and from the moment he spit, you could tell he was dope.”

Soon the two were inseparable and hit the road together. They drove around the southwest entering MC battles. That work set the foundation for music collaboration and eventually the group Definition Rare. “I was a couple of years older than Wake so I was able to drive. So his mom and dad would let me pick him up at his place and we would drive out. But man we were so young. We got pulled over a few times and the officer kind of really thought we were runaways cuz we were so young.” Those long drives from stage to stage once culminated in an overnight dash to Austin’s SXSW to stand in line at 6 am for a spot on one of hip-hop’s most famous shows, The Wake Up Show on Sirius XM. Show host Sway blessed them as certified “hyenas” as he did for only the most deserving MC talent.

That drive and the love of the art form grabbed the attention of many. Speed One was one of the first to really run into them continuously. “They were popping up all over the place man. I just remember seeing him (Andy), well both of them, Def and Wake, they fed off of each other. It was cool, man. It was a cool vibe because they were both good, not one of ’em was better. They were very equally fucking seasoned. They were both equally sharp, and they were both equally showmen, and they were both equally fucking serious about what they were pursuing.” That drive was apparent from the moment the first album dropped. Then another and another. Many artists never create a full album, and these two were doing it on their own and had a vision of how they wanted to portray themselves in a hip-hop world that often glorifies the ills of life.

Eric saw that work ethic firsthand, “you know, the work speaks for itself. It’s like they created a blueprint for younger artists. So it’s like, if you really want to get out there, if you really wanna make it, if you’re really true to your craft, all you gotta do is look at Wake and Def, they put in the work.” When asked what set them apart, Eric mentioned, “ I would say to the young, look, this is how these people move. This is how you’re supposed to do it. If you wanna rap, you do it, rap. You want to produce beats, get in a lab, produce them beats. It’s not about flare, it’s not about fame. You know, it’s not about what record label you sign to. It’s about you truly having the talent, and do you truly have what it takes? And if you don’t, are you willing to put the work in for it? They did it a lot differently than anybody else did. You know, you have hip hop, you have people that are glorifying a message of materialism and greed, and saying things like that. And then you have these cats (Wake and Def) out here that were the complete opposite.”

Coming from the golden era of hip hop this change in direction was apparent to a seasoned vet in the game like Speed One. Speed spent some time with Wake as he worked the album Malala. “Wake was a whole different entity. He was very conscious. He (Wake) was like, “Okay, look, I have a platform and I can speak on anything I wanna speak on. And I know some people ain’t gonna want to hear this, but I’m gonna tell you to love your mom. I’m gonna tell you to treat women correctly. I’m gonna tell you to look out for the kids in your neighborhood. I’m gonna tell you that abuse is not going to be celebrated around here. Whether it’s physical abuse, whether it’s substance abuse, whether it’s verbal abuse, whatever the case may be, that brother fucking wore it on a badge, on his fucking sleeve. He was going to use everything in his creative power to make the world a better place. That was so fucking sobering and new. It was refreshing.”

Music is medicine, and Wake Self was the Medicaid of hip hop as his brother puts it, “He did great things for the community and he did great things for people when he created. He didn’t know the individuals whose lives he touched. He just knew that his job was to create this vibe and to create wellness in hip-hop. He was like the healthcare system of hip hop, you know what I mean? You could turn on his album and it was healing bro. He didn’t know who he was writing it for, he just knew that he was writing it for himself.”  

Healing is a long process. Def-I lost his right-hand man, his homeboy that November night. As Speed shared online, “there are times you see Def perform and you notice every once in a while he looks to his side, where the next verse would be Wake’s, and he’s not there. That missing piece of the puzzle you know?” As Def elaborated, “An amazing soul, amazing talented person that I felt like it was destined, the kind of group that we formed and I was just thankful for all the time.”

Def-I has continued on his musical journey without his partner by his side. “Sometimes I feel like, he is still there guiding me, opening doors. He is always present in what i do.” Def’s work ethic has only increased in the past three years, already the hardest-working MC in NM and possibly the country, he crisscrosses the nation and the world now as a member of the Recording Academy and a State Department-sponsored Global Hip Hop Ambassador. Def-I dropped a new solo album this August and continues to tour and teach kids about the art of hip-hop and the positivity it can bring. “I think that kind of helps me carry on today cuz I know Andy and I really loved just the art of being a poet and storyteller and mc. So I think he put his, our heart into it all. So anybody who can tap into that, hopefully, can feel and maybe see that there’s a legacy there that is still living.”

That teaching, sharing, and healing legacy Wake left lives on. Eric has found himself an advocate for DWI awareness after all of this. He often is asked to share Wake’s story with others, but for the most part, he shares his with those groups his brother’s music. “Whether it be for law enforcement, first responders, or whatever the case may be. Music is medicine. Andy made music with the intention of healing people. I encourage anyone who’s going through it, feeling down, anxious, sad, or uninspired to throw on any Wake Self album and really listen to the message. As Wake once said “no discounts on my self-worth!”

Oddly enough, as we began to approach this story, we learned one of those murals in Gallup had been removed by a new building owner. His brother expressed that he was not upset by it, but made a poignant statement, “walls come and go over time, but the memories and his music remain.”