When it comes to art-making, Christian Medina Beltz is known for his work as the Senior Communications Manager at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. The rapper, poet, teacher, and father is a “truth teller looking to use arts and storytelling as a way to advocate for cultural progression.”
He has been involved in activation spaces like The Healing Project, which was “a constellation of creative works [exploring] the daily realities of violence, incarceration, detention, and policing in communities across the United States” to reveal the full humanity of those that have been historically misrepresented or erased.
He also helped facilitate Pedagogy of Hope, a gallery exhibit that traced the history of exclusionary practices by the US government towards immigrant populations, specifically migrant children who have been caged along the border—demanding their immediate release.
In every genre, Medina’s work has centered on justice, liberation, social awareness, and the dissimenation of factual information in order to build bridges towards empowerment for diverse audiences.
Now, Beltz is offering his artistic worldview in the form of a debut studio album, Knights in Tropicana. Though he has released three mixtapes and four EPs, this is his first full-length LP. And in the tradition of Chuck D and Public Enemy, Medina believes his rap is the “journalism of the streets.”
His dreamy lyrics are stacked on top of slick, jazz-infused beats, provocatively exploring what it means to pursue success as a Bay Area Latino. With Knights in Tropicana, the Frisco spitter seamlessly transforms into Cold Medina, partnering with producer Matt Kelly to offer a multi-layered experience and fictional world that fuses sun-soaked pleasure with the life goals of a city hustler. The result is a hybrid sound that stands apart from traditional rap in our region.
I caught up with Medina about this project and what his experience has been as an emerging artist who wears many caps.
48 HILLS You recently got back from South Florida. What were you doing down there?
COLD MEDINA My producer and I both have strong ties to South Florida. Even though we met out here in the Bay, he recently moved back. I was down there for our album release party at a club, Respectable Street in West Palm Beach. We also had a show in Miami called Soular Sundays, which is a monthly show my homie organizes that partners rappers and vocalists with a dope live band, Clean Cut. It was just an opportunity to share music from the album and rock in front of different audiences. It was definitely a success just to be able to travel and get a mini-tour out of everything.
48H Your album, Knights in Tropicana, has a dope, tropical vibe to it. You rap about partying, beaches, and weed in Spanish, English, and Spanglish, then switch it up with a complex flow about family, generational wealth, and working for your community. What were your inspirations for this project?
CM Generally speaking, this album is about the road to success. “Tropicana” represents paradise or that pinnacle of achievement we all are striving for. The album is about navigating the journey, understanding that there will be highs and lows. So the album has moments reflecting all of the emotions and feelings that come with that. The stories and subject matter definitely come from a real place with real experiences, but there is a fictionalized element. It’s my perspective on the triumphs and tribulations we all go through in our personal journeys to find ourselves and create a better life.
48H The production on this album is icy. It’s a mix of retro arcade, beach lounge, old school boom bap, and new age space funk. What was it like to collaborate with producer Matt Kelly to shape this audio soundscape?
CM This project was more than just making an album; it was about creating a world for the listener to immerse themselves in. Tropicana is a fictional place but we wanted the album to have a Miami and Bay Area vibe, since both of those places have significance in our lives. Crafting the album with Mat was dope because even though I’ve worked with other producers before, he forced me to think bigger and get outside of the boom-bap I usually fall back on. We would meet up weekly and go through everything with a fine-tooth comb, whether it was the drums, the samples, the lyrics, or the delivery. Everything was done intentionally and I think that’s reflected in how the project sounds as a body of work. I’m very grateful to have a collaborative partner who pays as much attention to details as Matt.
48H What’s your connection to Latinoamerica? There are direct references to Mexico City and allusions to other places you’ve traveled to outside of Northern California. How do those international places fit into your life and in your album?
CM I’m Mexican and Nicaraguan on my mother’s side. For me, it’s important to represent that cultural pride in my music. When I first started rapping and making music, I was emulating artists who I enjoyed listening to. But as I got older and started finding my own voice, I noticed the positive responses whenever I wove in Spanish or some cultural references. My cousins told me how dope it was for them and to keep pushing that. I don’t think every Latino rapper needs to be overt about putting their culture in the music, but for me it was important. The people I wanted to represent told me the material resonated with them. Plus, I’m hella proud so I’ll always talk my shit and wave my flags whenever I get the chance.
48H Songs like “Tiempo Divino” have a deep philosophical outlook on the longevity of life, while tracks like “Die Rich” are focused on material wealth and living fast. Why is it important for you to make space for contrasting tones in your music?
CM I’m a full person dealing with the peaks and valleys of the human experience. This album was meant to reflect that journey to success, paradise, and all the emotions that come with it. Life is about finding balance and that’s what we tried to do with this project. We wanted to tell the hustler’s story, the poet’s story, and the playa’s story because they are all aspects of myself and are part of the fabric of places like California and Florida. Matt and I also wanted to showcase our versatility and create a vibe for every aspect of daily life. Some days you are gonna want to ball out, other days are about self-reflection and building community. We just wanted to make music for every occasion.
48H Tell me about Good Problems Production LLC. Is that an indie group? How are you affiliated with them?
CM Good Problems Productions is essentially the business branch of Good Problems Collective, which was started by myself and Matt Kelly. Throughout the process of creating this album, we learned about the importance of ownership. There were some talks with other entities around distribution, but ultimately we wanted to have full control of our entire output. This led us to create the LLC to safeguard our business interests and protect ourselves as artists and creatives. The music industry isn’t known for taking care of artists; we have to take care of ourselves.
48H You’re a rapper, but you’re also an arts educator involved at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. How do all your roles intersect and inform one another?
CM Ultimately, I always knew I wanted to have an impact in the arts and music space. The arts have power to drive culture forward and create societal change, more so than politicians. I’m taking my knowledge and values as an artist and applying that to my role at YBCA. As an institution, YBCA has a lot of incredible programs. I am lucky to be part of it and help amplify through my own work. I constantly take what I learn at YBCA and apply it to my artistry—and vice versa.
48H What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?
CM We are currently pushing the album. We’ve got another music video dropping in the near future and we’re working on putting out a deluxe version. You can definitely expect more music and visuals coming. Aside from that, I got music with my brothers, oddblueroses, which is a group of artists I work with out of Miami. Just trying to keep the creative momentum going and my foot on the gas.
You can check out Knights in Tropicana here.