“This one’s for my man with the red tie!” exclaimed David, doing what he’s always done when interacting with a crowd. But Real Mus-IQ had never performed like this before. It was their first stage gig. It was at the Empire Theatre… during DreamWeek… for the Mayor’s Ball no less. With Mayor Ron Nirenberg (a.k.a the man with the red tie) in attendance.
Warren McDonald (Mac) and David Rhodes (Tre) laugh about it in retrospect. The two lead vocalists of Real Mus-IQ had planned to call Ron Nirenberg by name in their freestyle that evening, but Tre got caught up in the moment and gave him an off-the-cuff shout out, same as he would for any passerby watching one of their performances on Houston Street.
The Mayor connected with the group after the show, exchanging emails and communicating a hope that they could work together in the future.
Real Mus-IQ founder Derek Rhodes aka V-Town poses for a photo on Houston Street. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
It's incredible to think that Real Mus-IQ began as four friends who created music in their own homes. Derek Rhodes (V-Town) formed the group. He's on the bongo and sticks and also runs the business side of things. Mac raps and fills in where needed while his fellow vocalist Tre plays piano and writes music. The soft-spoken Vinny Hargrove (Lowkey the Great) rounds out the group with percussion, freestyling on occasion.
Performing downtown allowed them to graduate from performing in their bedrooms to spreading their message to a larger audience. "That's what keeps us down there on the streets- the love," says Mac. What's most important to Real Mus-IQ is spreading positivity to affect change in their environment. Mac uses one of their lyrics as an example:
“It's gonna take you and me to put the unity back in
"I just want to change the world, one crowd at a time," the lyrics continue. And that's what Real Mus-IQ does on a regular basis on the streets of Downtown. Travel up Alamo Street past the Mission Chapel and turn left on Houston Street. You've just entered Real Mus-IQ's current stomping grounds, which hosts many performers throughout the week.
Real Mus-IQ Freestyer and Rapper Warren McDonald jokes with fellow band members during a photo shoot on Houston Street. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Spreading positivity manifests in different ways while performing. Mac and Tre improvise to engage the audience with their lyrics, often greeting people in the crowd. It goes above and beyond that sometimes. There have been a couple of instances where people have asked them to help out with marriage proposals. "Someone's going to get engaged, so for an hour we're trying to keep a crowd," laughs Mac.
Real Mus-IQ Percussionist Vinny Hargrove (Lowkey the Great) poses for a photo on Houston Street. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
It's not just the crowds that feel an emotional attachment to the music, but the performers themselves. "I'm not even the same person when I'm out there, I get to be my own self," says Vinny. "When we get together and we're playing, there's that moment where I forget all my worries," adds Tre. And as V-Town observes: "I'm not super talkative but I can express everything I feel through a song." Each member experiences performing differently, but have common purpose in the moments they create for people.
Real Mus-IQ Pianist David Rhodes (Tre) poses for a photo on Houston Street. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
"When we get there [Downtown] we get accepted," says Mac, "And when you get accepted people listen to you. And when they listen to you, you got power in your words." Those powerful words have had an impact. Mac says he's seen a diverse crowd of people enjoying their performances. There's a certain equality in being a member of an audience. For a moment, they're just people and "Everybody's sitting there listening to us," he explains.
Recently, Mac was walking downtown when he heard a man calling him. He showed Mac a picture from three years ago of the two of them after one of Real Mus-IQ's street performances. Apparently when the man returned to Downtown San Antonio, he had been looking all day for Mac. "That showed that someone went home and remembered us," he observes.
And their message of positivity spreads with each person who takes a little of their performance with them.