Thursday, January 20, 2011

Iowa man with Down syndrome tells of his life through rap, cuts first CD

From the Des Moines Register:

With help from a friend, having Down syndrome is no obstacle to the 24-year-old's passion for rap.

The music starts and the song sounds like any other pretty ballad: A woman's soprano voice floats over a soft instrumental. The sound goes on for a few measures, but then it changes.

Suddenly, you're listening to a rap song, but it has a different sound. The performer stammers a bit, then shouts a few times; his speaking is slightly impaired, so making out all the lyrics is difficult. Two lines, though, are loud and clear, and he sings them again and again: "This is my life. This is my song."

The song belongs to Jake Tyler, 24, of Johnston, who just cut his first rap CD. Tyler also happens to have Down syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality that causes cognitive delays. Individuals with Down also share marked physical characteristics and can be at risk for certain medical conditions.

Thanks to his own perseverance and a special friend he calls Boss, none of Tyler's challenges have kept him out of the recording studio.

"I love rap, and Boss, he made my dream come true," Tyler said.

"Boss" is Paul Maciel, also 24, who came into Tyler's life through a Des Moines-based company called Mosaic, which helps provide care to individuals with a primary diagnosis of mental retardation.

Tyler and two roommates, all graduates of Johnston High School, live independently of their parents in a Johnston apartment; caregivers from Mosaic help transport them and assist them with such daily-living tasks as shopping and cooking.

In the case of Tyler and Maciel, clients and caregivers also can become friends.

"Jake has changed my life," said Maciel, who lives on Des Moines' north side. "He is content with what he has. As long as he has his family and his roommates, he's happy. He's teaching me not to care so much about acquiring material things, which is something that used to be a big part of my life."

Maciel, a 2004 North High School graduate who works for Mosaic while studying at Grand View University, is also an aspiring rapper and part of a group called Nostalgia. He operates a small recording studio and often has shared his music with Tyler, who decided just before Christmas that he also had what it took to pick up the microphone.

"He had been asking me, 'Boss, when am I going to be on your songs?' " Maciel said of Tyler. "I kept saying, 'Soon, buddy, soon.' I finally told him, 'When you can write a page of lyrics on your own, I'll bring you into the studio.'"

Tyler rose to the challenge and filled a page of legal paper in two days with row after row of impeccable printing. Maciel helped him form a chorus to the song, then took him to the studio, enlisted the help of some fellow musicians, and turned Tyler loose on the microphone.

"The studio, it was pink, and I wore a nice shirt with a pocket on the front," Tyler said.

He said he worked hard to achieve his goal.

"I like to rap," Tyler said. "I kept practicing. It was fun."

Maciel said other than Tyler's tendency at times to want to sing rather than speak his lyrics, the recording sessions - five in all, to get the song ready to distribute by Christmas - went smoothly. Maciel and his sister-in-law, Emma Frank, sang backing vocals, and Tyler's earnest words about family, faith and his dog filled the rest of the track.

"He didn't give up; he had in his mind what he wanted to do, and he worked hard," Maciel said. "God gave him the desire to make his dream come true. I was just an instrument to help make it happen."

Once the track was finished, Maciel packaged it with a label and a case, then gave Tyler a few copies to hand out as Christmas presents.

Tyler's mother, Shelly Tyler of Des Moines' northwest side, couldn't have been more surprised.

"Jake gave it to me and said, 'You're going to cry; it's very touching,' " Shelly Tyler said. "He was right; of course I cried. Paul is very committed to Jake, and he has a huge heart. He's done a wonderful thing for him."

Tyler said he hopes to go back into the studio someday, but for now, he enjoys spending time with Boss - so named because, in Tyler's words: "He's the boss. He helps me to do what I do."

Tyler said his favorite activities with his friend and caregiver, aside from their rap music bond, are watching horror movies and eating at Tasty Tacos.

Maciel said he gets just as much out of the relationship as Tyler does.

"Jake is smart, and he gives you his trust and always tries to do the right thing," Maciel said. "Before these guys, I never knew anyone with special needs, and I learn something new every day. Helping Jake be able to rap meant so much to him that it will always be worth it to me.

"For me and my life, Jake is a role model."