Rising from the ROC

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Micah Walker

To call Micah Walker’s determination “a chip on his shoulder” would be too aggressive of a phrase; it isn’t from a place of anger that he draws his strength.

Not that he doesn’t have good reason to feel upset. Part of him has always felt at odds with the rest of the world, says Walker, an artist and musician.

Growing up, his family moved from Gates to Spencerport; to a school where he felt isolated as one of the few Black students. (Currently, about 5 percent of the student body is Black) He remembers being bullied and then suspended after defending himself.

Walker’s redshirt senior transfer to Division I football at Syracuse University was “a dream opportunity” that ended after he was suddenly cut in what seemed like a move designed to make an example of Walker for the rest of the team.

“I really felt like I had lost everything. To be there in the locker room, practicing every day, it was surreal to be living my dream. Then it was even more surreal to have it taken away,” he says.

Returning to Rochester, Walker found a calling in a teaching position at the Joseph C. Wilson Foundation Academy, where, even in technology class and as a girl’s varsity track coach, he focused on literacy, unlearning helplessness, and fostering confidence.

However, his lack of a teaching degree meant the position was temporary and he had to leave after forming a strong bond with students there.

“I told them, ‘I will always be honest with you.’ So when I learned I had to leave, I straight up told them, ‘This isn’t because of you. I want to be here but legally, I can’t,’” Walker says. “They were definitely upset and, I won’t lie, there were definitely tears in my eyes when I left.”

Still, thanks to grit and dedication, Walker continues to bounce back. Currently, he only has a half semester left at SUNY Brockport for his teaching degree. It’s an element of his character which clearly shows in his music and artistry as Senojfromtheroc.

Under that catch-all moniker for his creative projects, he released his debut album, “Expensive Juvenilia”, in 2022, and has kept up a steady stream of single songs since then. Most recently, he launched The Rocheputter Project, an art project originating from doodles he used to draw as a young person. While his current focus is on getting his degree, Walker says more from Senojfromtheroc is just on the horizon.

Micah Walker performs at Flower City Station

“It feels like a level up,” he says. “2023 was an amazing year. Between building the website, launching Rocheputter, getting the (Local Sound Collaborative artist) grant, it feels like things are coming into place and I’m in a place to create even more.”

Like many musicians, Walker’s childhood was a hot and cold relationship with the art form. He showed plenty of natural talent, learning drums and then piano by ear. However, Walker was shy when it came to performing on his own to crowds and never sought out the spotlight in that context.

Ultimately, creating music stopped being as significant in his pursuit of football and track. It was only after leaving Syracuse that he started considering music again. At first, he started with what he refers to as “Refixes,” remixes of artists’ work but done in his style.

“But respectfully,” Walker adds. “It’s how I would have done things if I was working with the same beats and melodies.”

When developing songs, he starts with the music, constantly listening to the beats and melodies in his car. After mastering the music, he finds the lyrics to match. The voice memo app on his phone is a meticulous system of vocals organized by project that is constantly filled to the brim. 

The style of Senojfromtheroc blends elements of jazz, soul, R&B, rap and hip-hop, so that, for example, he is harmonizing on a chorus with a horn line in one moment to deep in a flow of lyrics in another moment.

It’s a style that allows him to nimbly tackle a variety of topics. Songs range from the joy of early love of “Link”, to a belief in one’s skyhigh potential in “Hallelujah, Got Dem”, to being willingly seduced in “Yellow”, to the dire state of Rochester, a city Walker deeply cares about.

His most recent song, “All I need” begins with news reports on the death of Daniel Prude overlapping with police sirens, an element Walker knew he wanted immediately after working with the sample.

Amid a choral refrain of voices singing “All I need”, Walker weaves together issues of over policing, crime, poverty and violence in Rochester.

“On God, my city burns and to the dust will the ash return/Mothers yearn they playing a game of pass-the-urn/The masters learned to give us guns and the masses/turned Brother on a brother, we shipping bullets with fast returns,” Walker sings.

At the end of the song, Senojfromtheroc, in the perspective of a young person, or perhaps the city itself, answers the question of “All I need” in the final refrain. 

“All I ever really needed/(Was) Somebody who love me still/All I ever really needed/Somebody/Who love me,” he sings, his voice now joining the chorus.

“Rochester is too small a city to have these types of ‘big city’ problems,” Walker says. “It connects to coming up against systemic racism, which is a word everyone throws around to the point that whenever it gets brought up, Republicans immediately discredit it. But it’s true.”

He links those issues with police brutality and a housing system focused on displacement into what is at the root of the problems, the current “neoliberal capitalistic structure” of society. Even with those problems, Walker plans to stay here.

Micah Walker (Photo by Jack Connolly)

“People ask me, ‘Why haven’t you left? There are more opportunities out there (for artists) in different cities,’” he says. “I have to tell them, it’s because the work isn’t done here yet.”

His latest art endeavor, the Rocheputter Project, is aimed at supporting the city through positive, provocative, and socially progressive sentiments. The art pieces combine bubble-like, Keith Haring inspired doodles Walker created as a student with simple, but weighted statements like “Protect Black Women,” “Give Peace a Chance”, and “Black Lives Matter.”

Fine art prints, magnets, stickers and pins of the project are now available, but, more importantly, Walker hopes this effort serves as part of a greater social movement.

“Talking to myself it felt like ‘Okay, so what? Who cares? You draw. Great, everyone draws. This is shallow.’ So I knew I had to make it about something bigger,” says Walker. “It’s about setting an example of what you want to see for the generations to come.”

Walker is excited to return to “those generations to come” after he completes his teaching degree. When he came back as a substitute teacher for a day at Wilson, he described the students’ reaction feeling like a “hero’s welcome.”

“The key to restoring our cities’ future lies with the youth. I believe with every conviction I have,” Walker says. “So we need to keep educating them, providing them resources, supporting them in whatever they need.”

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and data journalist. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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