It’s not that Joey Medina grew up with a hard life, it’s that he grew up with a hard time.
In West Hall, a laptop sits by a microphone attached to a stand, clamped to the side of a desk. This is where Medina produces rap beats and lines under the moniker FiveSix. The atmosphere of a college dorm contrasts the harsh environments in which many well-known rappers grew up and found inspiration.
A freshman in computer science, Medina didn’t grow up in drug-littered streets like the Notorious B.I.G. He was not one of five children raised by a single mother like Ja Rule, was not subject to racism like Biggie Smalls and Tupac, nor did he reside in Detroit housing projects like Eminem.
Instead, Medina grew up in Wichita, went to a private high school and had an objectively easier path through life than those of his idols. Still, Medina faced his own struggles.
During high school, Medina grappled with maintaining a healthy relationship with his father. He endured what his sister Lindsey called a “toxic” relationship. And he felt insecure about his 5-foot-6-inch frame.
Medina said his interest in rap was not rooted so much in “gang affiliations” or “hard hip-hop,” but rather in the music itself.
“(It was) something about the music,” Medina said. “I was really immersed in it.”
He recalled childhood car rides home from school with his dad, listening to 2000s emcees and going home to watch MTV.
At age 12, Medina watched “Notorious,” a 2009 film on Biggie Smalls that he said was the genesis of the multiyear musical fervor that followed.
“(The movie) did something,” Medina said. “I don’t know. It got me really charged up and really wanting to make music.”
So he did. Medina downloaded production software and cranked out beats he now calls “amateur.”
“They kind of got the job done for me,” Medina said with a smile. “I was really happy with what I was doing, regardless of the quality. I thought I was doing really well.”
Still a novice then, Medina continued to produce beats — while setting aside his passion for computers — and started to publish them on SoundCloud, an online audio-sharing platform. His first, titled “Inspirational Hip-Hop Beat ‘Dream On,’” produced under the name DJ MoJoe, remains on YouTube.
“That was a weird time,” Medina said.
For a while, Medina’s habit was to put together instrumental pieces and set benchmarks for numbers of YouTube followers. Eventually, his mind began to wander toward recording raps he had written but never recorded.
In the summer of 2015, before his senior year at Kapaun Mt. Caramel Catholic High School, Medina revisited his previously-written lines, which he wasn’t proud of at the time. He said he thought they were “trash.”
Determined to improve, Medina looked through YouTube for beats he would feel comfortable rapping. He said he liked the idea of telling a story with his music and making “life elements” spring to life in songs.
His first experience with the idea came in video form. Medina connected with a high school classmate, Rithwick Chary, who shot Medina’s first music video, a “I Hate You I Love You” remix.
The video portrays what Medina said was a “rollercoaster relationship” he was entrenched in during high school.
His sister Lindsey said she remembers Medina as sluggish at the time of the relationship.
“It was taking a toll on him to where he wasn’t taking the time to do things for himself,” Lindsey said. “His mental health spiraled out of control. He was really depressed. He wasn’t functioning.”
Lindsey said her brother’s daily routine was to leave for school, come home and almost immediately go to bed.
But Medina’s friends took notice. His sister said they began to ask him for help with producing beats and the music scene as a whole, eventually lifting him out of depression.
Still, Medina’s struggles persisted. Around the same time, Medina began to have an adverse relationship with his father, Bert. They fought and argued.
“They would rather not talk than talk,” said Jenna Rossillon, Medina’s girlfriend. “He hated being at home because he would have to talk to his dad.”
The forgettable relationship led Medina to later record “Half A World,” a song about his tumultuous relationship with his father. The lyrics included, “Seems crazy to me I was stressed out / I’ll take all the blame for it, took a bad route.”
Rossillon said that eventually Medina “sucked it up” and began attempting conversation, and the father-son relationship began to heal.
The journey forward
Medina’s life in general began to improve. With his struggles and relationships behind him, Medina conquered his height insecurity by taking the FiveSix moniker and shooting more videos with Chary.
Medina’s friends said he showed personal growth and increased confidence, productivity and expression.
The “new Joey Medina” now has more than 369,000 SoundCloud plays on his “I Hate You I Love You” remix, is in a healthy relationship with Rossillon and is about a month away from releasing his extended play, “Smile.”
The five-song extended play will release on Spotify, Apple Music and SoundCloud, which consists of a striking and smile-like sound compared to his previous moody singles.
So what inspired the new sound?
“I was out one day, and I was like, ‘It’s all in your mind,'” Medina said. “You have to put the effort forward if you want to be feeling better, and you want to be making the best out of your life.”
Medina said his life remains far from ideal, but it has certainly taken positive strides. And with a new project on the way, set for a late April release, Medina said he continues to see things trend upward.
“I haven’t really had any of those party tracks,” he said. “It’s something to just let loose. It’s really exciting.”