PICTURED: Dexter Nunnery organized the ROUND4 hip-hop event to take place at Studio Channel Islands on April 16. Photo submitted

by Marina Dunbar

The past two years have been trying for everyone, presenting both precedented and unprecedented obstacles for American residents and beyond. Within Ventura County, local leaders and artists have stepped up to the challenge of ensuring that the changing social climate is changing for the better. One such creative mind is Dexter Nunnery, who’s upcoming ROUND4 hip-hop event is a prime showcase for the power of music and creativity to uplift and expand a community.

Mic Bles Photo submitted

After the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd in 2020, a group of artists were motivated to create an exhibition of images and recordings titled E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, One. Once this exhibition made its way to Studio Channel Islands in Camarillo, SCI contacted Nunnery to create a presentation in conjunction with the exhibition. Hence came the inspiration for ROUND4. 

ROUND4 is a boxing-inspired platform which features four of the county’s most virtuosic rappers lyrically battling it out within the ring. Nunnery came up with the presentation as a clever way to subvert a typical boxing or WWE-type event. Normally fighters are introduced with signature hip-hop songs, but at ROUND4 the hip-hop artists will be the ones entering the ring.

Nunnery grew up in McComb, Mississippi where hip-hop had a huge influence on his upbringing. After cultivating his creativity in Mississippi, he decided to move to California in order to create.

“I went to Jackson State University where I majored in creative writing,” explains Nunnery. “I’ve always had that passion for creating new things, whether that be creating stories or just new ideas and concepts. It really allowed me to do multiple things at once, which you kind of have to here in California, with the cost of living and all . . . With where I come from and where I am now, I feel that it’s really given me the ability to create things with minimal help and minimal finances.”

Lord Sanctus Photo submitted

The ability to create great things with limited resources could be considered the very ethos of hip-hop. 

“Getting to see firsthand how hip-hop has changed over the years, and how the ways people viewed it has changed, really affected my approach,” says Nunnery. “I’m the type of person where I can’t just sit back and complain when something is broken, I’ll want to step up and fix it myself. Just seeing the way hip-hop is portrayed and received by younger generations, I felt that they were missing the culture aspect of it . . . I was afraid that it would die if something wasn’t done. That’s the main inspiration for me, using my platform to represent and preserve the culture.”

For several years now, hip-hop has been the most popular genre of music in the world. Rap as a medium was created to convey the hardships that these rappers faced in their childhoods through adulthood. So, it makes perfect sense that hip-hop is now being used as an anthemic backdrop for these trying times. It is a reminder to never stop fighting for a better life.

Kontra Mantis Photo submitted

“Hip-hop definitely has the space and the platform to be a part of social change,” says Nunnery. “At the same time, it’s too big for one artist to take on that entire challenge. There are a lot of artists who are doing that type of work behind the scenes, but they don’t necessarily have lyrics that are explicitly politically or socially conscious. The people who want the music to have a stronger message are usually not the people who actually control the vehicle [of who gets popular]. You have to be aware that only certain songs will make it to the mainstream, will get played on the radio.”

The four artists who will participate in the ROUND4 event were specially chosen by Nunnery himself. He emphasizes that he not only listens to the lyrics and underlying message of a song, but pays close attention to the rhythm and type of beat that is used and whether it serves the song overall. He has certain standards that he expects an artist to be capable of bringing to the table. The chosen artists are the skilled lyricist Mic Bles, the versatile musical mind Kontra Mantis, the futurist emcee Lorde Sanctus, and the master of hype himself D BANKS.

ROUND4 will take place on Saturday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m. at Studio Channel Islands, 2222 E. Ventura Blvd., Camarillo. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at www.eventbrite.com/e/round4-tickets-276131575977?aff=odcleoeventsincollection.