STICKZ GREENZ: Coming of Age
Tony Quarless is a never say “quit” kinda dude from Crown Heights. He’s the guy who ran away from home at age 16, and now you can add lyricist to that list.
Words & Interview: Darrion Beckles
Images: Ashley V. Reid
While many youngsters his age were worried about tuxedo rentals for prom, the SATs and detention, Stickz dodged the cops, slept in parked cars and hid out on staircases in tough-as-nails Ebbets Field (apartment complex). A different kind of slugger, Stickz was born a rebel, sacrificing hot meals and a roof over his head without blinking, and choosing homelessness over a place he felt was suppressing his freedom. These days as an up-and-coming lyricist, he’s more ready than he’s ever been to roll the dice again.
How did you get the name Stickz Greenz?
It came from a lifestyle; I was given that name on the streets. I was kind of rough and doing some things. And they were calling me “Stickz.” I don’t know if I want to get into it all. It was a real part of my life that I’m not proud about. I kind of leave it behind me but… I’ll kinda share with you.
When I was young I made some bad decisions. I was young and I was immature. I was homeless, and like I said, I made the bad decision of not wanting to, but needing to, or I felt [like] I needed to take from other people in order to feed myself. So everyone started calling me “Stickz” like stickup kid. “Yo, that’s Stickz right there.” It kind of wore on my conscience so I stopped doing that and started to dabble in other things. So they called me, “Yo that’s Young Greenz!” So some people called me “Stickz,” and some people were calling me “Greenz” and then it just came together and people just started calling me “Stickz Greenz.”
Your style is versatile, but I can’t really describe what it is. How would you describe it?
My style is definitely unique. I’m an individual who’s a true individual, not only in my music, but my personality. I feel most people are to a certain extent, but they don’t express that for the masses or the consumer because they feel they have to be the gangster rapper, or the conscious rapper or the backpack rapper. You’re kind of depriving your fans of who you are.
I’m a multi-faceted individual so I like birds, babies, people… But I’ll still smack the shit out of you if you disrespect me. And I’m not afraid to express that in my music. So one song you may hear about a woman who is dealing with the conflicts of an abortion she just had, and perhaps you’ll hear another song for a stripper. Because one day you might find me in the strip club and another day you might find me in a conversation with a young lady about her personal problems. So it’s everything based on who I am truly as an individual. I’m a person, and I’m vulnerable and strong. I’m a human being and that’s what I express in my music.
So then how do you want people to see you? Are you a rapper? Are you signed?
I write pop, I write rock, I write alternative and I also write rap as of right now. My career will eventually grow to a point where I can do the things that I want to do in terms of expressing myself creatively. Right now I’ve got some things in the works, I’m in the process of negotiating a contract. I’m not really going to disclose that… but I’m in the process of signing a deal. Everything just happens so fast.
I hear you’re obsessed with words, reading, really…
I have to attribute that to my mother. I never connected with my mother or father that much. [But] My mother introduced me to books. She would lock me in a room—as punishment—filled with books and I had nothing left to do, but read. Mark Twain would become my friend. Huck Finn was my friend. Tom Sawyer was my friend. So I would read a lot of Dickens, Mary Higgins Clark, John Gardener. Books I wouldn’t have read if I hadn’t been locked in the room.
Is that how you kept your sanity when you were living on the street?
There were times where God and music kept my sanity. I didn’t have anything to go home to because I didn’t have a home. If everything was going awry that day, if nothing went right, if I felt [like] nothing was going my way, I could always depend on music. I could confide in them both.
I never stopped writing. Actually, sometimes I wouldn’t be able to write because I didn’t have a pen. I would always construct songs and compose them in my head and that’s how I learned how to maintain a certain focus. But I’ve never neglected music; It never neglected me. I may start a song in silence. I would knock on surfaces and developed the concentration to keep a beat going while thinking, so I have calluses and very rough hands from beating on surfaces. And I would think of a word and that word would have me thinking of a story.
When did you discover you could write?
When I was seven years old, I wrote my first song, which was hilarious… My first song was about buying a girl cable TV. When I got a little older, it was songs about wanting to cut school or meeting the girl that you like and not knowing how to talk to her because those were the things I was dealing with. And it evolved from that. At 11 or 12, the songs turned into how to talk to a girl. Fourteen and 15, I had started to hit the streets and that became a part of my music. Fifteen to 16 I’m still talking about the streets. Now, I’m still a street dude, but I’m not in the streets anymore. Now my music has taken a third-person perspective, expressing to people the harshness of the streets that I know, that I’ve experienced but that I’m not living right now. I can still relate to it as it pertains to somebody’s life. Now I’m 21 and up; I can drink legally, so I can talk about being in bars and parties and people having fun, having your heart broken, experiencing love for the first time. My life has just transcended into my music.
Who influences a lyricist like Stickz Greenz?
Bob Marley, Sade. I used to play Sade when I was little to fall asleep. (I used to sleep with my little discman). A lot of Biggie, a lot of Lox. A little bit of pop—Jewel… I love the Black Eyed Peas; I got a crush on Fergie. Fleetwood Mac. Stevie Nicks… if I could go back in time, I would snatch her form the ‘70s and bring her to 2000 and change.
Images by Ashley V. Reid.