Music helped Flint artist overcome homelessness, depression and find purpose

CW: Suicidal ideations
FLINT, Michigan -- Richard Simpson, 20, represents his rockstar personality by strolling down the streets of Flint with his grunge style and dyed dreadlocks. While you take a glance of him in his vibrant “Legends Never Die” t-shirt, he is channeling his inner alter ego, “Rocko Tesla.”  

“Richard seems so foreign,” said Rocko as he explicitly defines the true meaning of his stage name. “As someone who’s really been into cartoons, you can tell through the influence of my music, many anime references. Rocko, ‘Rocko’s Modern Life’ and Tesla, lightning, I wanted to keep that aspect of earthly mysticism. Rocko Tesla was just an accumulation of my thunderous personality.”

Rocko Tesla is a rapper/songwriter and social influencer who writes, records, and engineers his own music in his basement home studio. His main genres are rock, trap, R&B, Lofi, boom bap, and even more niche genres. The sounds of his music range from “whimsical sample turned trap” to “a beautiful ballad over a haunting piano melody.”
The journey to becoming confident in the Flint music scene took struggle and passion. His alternative urban flare boosted him to consider himself more than just a rapper/songwriter.  “Saying you a rockstar, that means you’re a star,” said Rocko. “That means you above the Earth, so I don’t take it lightly when I say it.”
While being in the music industry for some time, Rocko has done collabs with big Flint artists like YSR Gramz, YJM, and GS Tha Dream.  In addition to his collaborative projects, Rocko co-founded a rap collective of nine musicians known as Faint CRW. Patience and attentiveness were key in building his own studio and working with other local artists.
“Sorry, I Like You” produced by Burbank is one of Rocko’s most played songs with over 5,000 streams, more than 70 likes, and over 10 shares on Soundcloud. He has written several other catchy songs, including one called “Dave Chappelle” after the famous comedian. It is described as a “knocking, banger of a track that rattled your brain at first listen.” 
“I feel like my reason is to spread a message to the youth that you’re not alone no matter what you’re going through or your circumstances.”“I was looking for a way to express myself,” said Rocko, explaining how he got into music. “And through my music, I channel not only my own emotions and experiences, but everyone I can empathize with.”
Growing up, Rocko bounced back and forth between Beecher and Flint. At a young age, he and his parents were homeless and finding shelter in abandoned buildings. He dealt with more hardships at school and after school while wandering the streets to escape his daily troubles.  Parents dealing with underemployment and a lack of afterschool activities were a few influences that forced him and his friends to partake in street activities.

“My time here in Flint has definitely [given] me a lot of crazy stories,” explained Rocko as he continued to open up about his past struggles. “Dealing with a lot of bullying in school just for being different, it took me to a very dark place as a youth. Suicidal thoughts, depression, things like that and not only for myself, but through a lot of my friends who also dealt with a lot of the hardships in the city.”
Some of Rocko’s biggest influences include Linkin Park, Kanye West, and Drake. Their aura of being confident performers inspired him to put his own music out. Now that he has caught a feeling of what being an influencer really means, Rocko himself looks forward to being an inspiration to youth someday by using his platform and music. 
“If I can make it through that, I can make it through anything, I’m here for a reason,” said Rocko as he expresses how overcoming his suicidal ideations and depression allowed him to find and believe in his true purpose. “I feel like my reason is to spread a message to the youth that you’re not alone no matter what you’re going through or your circumstances.”
Music was an outlet and lifesaver for Rocko.

“Music definitely saved my life,” he said. “Couple of specific artists I attribute to that would be Chester Bennington from Linkin Park (Rest in Peace), XXXTENTACION (Rest in Peace), and Lil Peep (Rest in Peace). Nonetheless, they inspire me to do what I do. I tell myself every day, for them, I will keep that energy alive no matter what.” 
This summer, Rocko plans to release his new album, “Love Like Yours” which will include features from Flint artists YSR Gramz and Yama. “Love Like Yours” will be available on all streaming platforms. 

For more information about Rocko Tesla, visit his website, Facebook page, or Instagram page. His music is available on SoundCloud and all other streaming platforms.
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Read more articles by Miriam Bingham.