Buffalo Game Changers: Edreys Wajed
Edreys Wajed, known to many as Billy Drease Williams, is one of Buffalo Spree's 2012 Game Changers
Music lovers will know him by his stage name, Billy Drease Williams. In 1999, he won Best Hip Hop Artist at the Buffalo Music Awards. In 2008, he became the first hip hop artist to be featured in WBFO’s Live Concert Series. Music critic Jeff Miers has described him as “the most promising, adventurous, nigh-on-visionary hip hop artist Buffalo has yet produced.” Famous for his clean lyrics and positive themes, Williams signed with DeepThinka/DTR45 Records, a locally based independent label, and has enjoyed success on MySpace and YouTube.
He was born Edreys Wajed. He grew up on Buffalo’s East Side and credits his mother, a former banker, with instilling in him a set of strong moral values. “She’s always guided me to be mindful of my deeds, grateful for even the smallest gifts and blessings, honest in my dealings, and to be an example of how I would like things to work in the world,” he says.
The thirty-eight-year-old musician, who earned a degree in graphic design from Buffalo State, has added a new position to his versatile resume: instructor of visual arts at Tapestry Charter High School. “Mr. W” dubs his classroom The Can Lab, and his teacher’s website makes it clear: “The art room is to be considered a laboratory in which to experiment and discover new things, where the word ‘can’t’ is not allowed.”
In addition to teaching impressionable adolescents, Wajed is the father of two boys, ages eight and ten. As his own sons near puberty, his passion for spreading uplifting messages only intensifies. He exposes his Tapestry students not only to art, but also to alternatives to today’s often cynical music. As they work, students enjoy their teacher’s eclectic soundtrack—including the songs of the late Fela Kuti, a Nigerian pioneer of the Afrobeat movement.
“There’s a great deal of music being released regularly that is certainly detrimental to the community and negatively affecting our youth,” Wajed says. He is critical of contemporary artists who glorify drugs and violence and cites the dangerous example of Rick Ross. “This is the sort of artist that the kids love and buy into, which would be fine if only they were able to identify the fine line between reality and entertainment for the sake of record sales.”
Wajed doesn’t shy away from speaking plainly on uncomfortable subjects. Without a hint of bitterness, he recalls the time he and his wife, Alexa, ran a store on Elmwood Avenue and some would-be customers walked in, took one look at who was behind the cash register, and walked right back out. If he could change Western New York’s game, he’d find a way to erase our color lines and desegregate the city. “A friend who recently moved to North Carolina from Buffalo made an interesting statement: ‘Buffalo, the City of Good Neighbors ... as long as you stay in your neighborhood.’ I believe there is an unfortunate truth in his words.”
Wajed would also love to develop a program in entrepreneurialism to help teenagers participate in local small business startups. Finally, he’d collaborate with visual artists, musicians and craftspeople to showcase unique talents year-round.
The Buffalonian can’t pinpoint a specific city, but if he and his family weren’t here, they’d probably be in another country. Picking up and moving abroad for a few years appeals to him. Just as he has sought to broaden listeners’ understanding of hip hop and their own self-worth, Edreys Wajed is passionate about enriching his own outlook on life.
“Ya need a winnin’ team and stop hangin’ with the losers.” —from “Just Doin’ It” (2010) by Billy Drease Williams