StankNasty the rapper exudes a bravado intrinsic to the art form and learned from musical icons such as Jay-Z and Eminem.
But Frank Stankowicz the man understands the responsibility that comes with working within a culture that’s not his own.
“There’s racial and cultural underpinnings of hip-hop that I’ve really learned to understand and be careful with, especially as a white artist in an art form with foundations coming from the Black and Hispanic community,” Stankowicz said. “When you’re rapping, you’re able to say things in such a way that you can’t communicate in any other way for it to have as strong of an impact. That’s the power of hip-hop and rap. You’re able to send a message or highlight something … that if you tried to communicate it in any other type of way or dynamic would not have the same effect.”
Now living in Round Lake, Stankowicz, who took his stage name from a nickname Coach Thomas gave him during his freshman year in high school, taps his childhood in Wheeling for the roots of his craft.
He said his family was always listening to music when he was younger, and a VHS tape with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video was a cherished possession in their household.
“Where I grew up, diversity was a big thing and something that was very normal. So that comes with hearing lots of different hip-hop, being exposed to different kinds of music. And I grew up doing dance battles and stuff,” he said.
Through high school literature classes and poetry studies, he said he found he had a knack for writing. So when he heard legacy artists like NAS, Tupac, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole, their music struck just the right note with him.
“I saw what they were doing. And I was like, ‘Wow, they’re really saying something in a creative way.’ They’re painting a picture I can relate to,” he said. “What if I give this a try?”
Partnering with his best friend Mike Barrera, who was skilled in reading and creating music, the duo set off on their musical journey.
Now nearing his 30s, StankNasty has a line of songs and videos out, including the uplifting “About That Time” and the recently released “My Own Lane,” featuring vocalist Armando Gutierrez (MVNDO). And he credits much of his sound and production to his regular audio engineer and recording partner Gerald “G-Nitz” Leibnitz at Soundation Studio.
During the day, Stankowicz works as a psychiatric nurse assisting patients with debilitating disorders that prevent them from leaving their homes. That — as well as his three years on staff in the behavioral department at Loretto Hospital on Chicago’s West Side — has honed his innate sense of empathy, a gift he brings to his music.
“A lot of it is very much like counseling, so I’ve had the privilege to live vicariously through others and be able to see what other people are experiencing,” he said. “And get lots of perspective from walks of life that are very different from my own.
“That was a very eye-opening experience for me especially. And it helped strengthen my relationship with hip-hop as an art form,” Stankowicz said. “Being able to be in the unique position to take care of members of the Black community who have suffered from traumas of gun violence and drug use and growing up in gentrified communities. Working on the West Side of Chicago was probably one of the most life-changing things that I experienced.”
Through his music and his persona StankNasty, he said, his goal is to bring eyes to some of the struggles people are facing, to advocate for change and to help people who relate to his music to navigate their own complicated lives.
“I want my music to make other people feel empowered, because that’s what hip-hop music has done for me,” he said. “Throughout my life it’s made me feel empowered and made me feel like I can go after and achieve things that may sound very difficult.”
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‘PURE VNM TOUR’
featuring Mic Fort & Dee-Jay with DJ Cory Ether, Just Jana, Tr3nt, Orlando Coolridge, MVNDO, Deen Akbar, D3V and StankNasty with host Robin Evette
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10
Where: Ambitions Entertainment, 4024 Sauk Trail, Richton Park, eventbrite.com
Tickets: $20-$35 for general admission; $60-$100 for VIP or meet-and-greet packages