The Fort Hayes-based Paragon Project releases new music Friday, hosting a virtual listening experience. Friday night's virtual release takes place at 7 on the group's social media channels and YouTube.
Under the direction of assistant principal Dr. Tony Anderson, the Paragon features students who write and record their own songs. Although the material for the Paragon's fourth edition evolves through a fictional character, Anderson says the students all relate to the topics on the album.
"Art is a re-creation of life, what it is and what it could be," Anderson said. "Sometimes life experience is the best teacher, and urban youth have a lot of life experiences that often never get shared in the traditional school environment. This way they are able to explore these topics and not wear the badge of ownership of those topics. So for some of them, it's true. For some of them, the songs have a different meaning than how they actually play out on the album. But what is consistent is that students are saying this is the most relatable Paragon Project to their experience because of the different things happening with this character on the album."
Don't Wannna Talk About It plays...
The album chronicles parental conflicts, peer pressure, and the temptation to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Mace'ya Peterson tackled the topic of social media obsession and addiction.
The Likes plays...
"It's about an average teen around my age being peer pressured to posting certain things to get their views and likes up," Peterson said of The Likes. "You just have to be your own person. So I basically wanted to tell people to be your own self, and don't do what everybody else does just to fit in."
Emma Arnold's song Cause and Effect deals with the guarded and defensive personality she had at times after being put in some toxic family environments at a young age.
Cause And Effect plays...
"I got myself put into these situations where I was deprived of a basic need like housing or food or water or electricity," Arnold said. "I was just stuck with it because I didn't know what to do since I was at such a young age. I transferred to ten schools within one year. Half of them I kept getting kicked out, and the others are because I kept moving from city to city. When I got to my first year of high school, I didn't realize how guarded I was. But once I realized there were people I could trust and there were people I could go to for my problems and have a shoulder to lean on, I realized how my walls were really blocking me from living."
Mahki Black's song I Need New Friends reflects on the toll he witnessed drugs take on so many of his friends and relatives.
I Need New Friends plays...
"From the start of July, I've been through 7 funerals already," Black said. "Every one of them were younger than 25, cousins and friends growing up. I know if I was still on that path growing up, I would probably be with one of them unfortunately or in jail somewhere. I'm glad my mom and my grandma and my whole family helped me stay away from that. Being a young black male in today's society, you're looking for any way to come up really. I'm glad I tried the legit way. I feel like I'm on top of the world right now, and the whole world is mine right now. I feel like I could go anywhere and do anything."
The album ends with the featured character graduating high school and looking to the future, but even that's not enough to garner praise from the fictional parent heard throughout the record. Dr. Anderson hopes the songs inspire intergenerational conversations.
"Right now in contemporary music, it's very difficult for families to listen and enjoy the same thing," Anderson said. "That's kind of a lane that the Paragon is trying to fill that really doesn't have its own category. This is meaningful music that's trying to generate dialogue between families. If you're an educator or somebody that's working with youth groups and you're having difficulty approaching certain topics, use the Paragon's music to engage your students."
The Paragon musicians hope listeners see their younger point of view. This year has been unlike any other with COVID-19 shutting down months of in-person education. While Paragon had finished recording before the suspension of classes, the lingering pandemic hindered the group's ability to perform in front of fans. But it doesn't seem to bother them. Perhaps the reason stems from the family atmosphere students past and present say the Paragon permeates. Arnold captured it best.
"Paragon is literally nothing but straight love," Arnold said. "I've really understood what it meant to have a family out of them. Even though we're not here together physically, we're definitely all connected emotionally and mentally. I love those guys so much."
Nerdcore rapper Mega Ran and Truck North of The Roots also contribute to a couple songs on the new release.