Lyrical Leadings

(Photo by Duane Zehr)

Matt Hawkins
April 23, 2018

Budding musician Tony Briones once borrowed $150 from a friend to launch a clothing line. Within a year, the music and entertainment industry (MEI) major from Dallas paid back his friend double.

The transactions, made during his junior year of high school, marked a career path change. He grew up with recording industry aspirations but became interested in the industry’s business side as he developed the apparel line.

“I thought music was the only thing I’d do,” he said. “I never thought I’d shift to business only. It’s ironic considering how seriously I took music.”

Briones blossomed as a childhood writer, with elementary and junior high projects drawing frequent praise from teachers and peers. His creativity eventually spilled into music, where he dabbled in songwriting. Influenced by Texas-based rappers Z-RO, Paul Wall and G.T. Garza, he saved money to record and market his first single in eighth grade. Positive feedback from friends and social media encouraged him to keep writing. Another single followed his first year of high school.

Entrepreneurial interest surged early in high school. He added $50 of his own to his friend’s original $150 loan to design a T-shirt line as a first-year student. His initial products blared the slogan “business before pleasure” and became popular in school.

“Work was a priority to me,” he said. “I was praised for my work ethic and ‘hustle’ in school, entrepreneurial endeavors and the way I carried myself. Friends and teachers brought this to my attention before I realized it myself.”

Music became Briones’ way out of Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood, an area with a historic reputation for violent crime, though it gentrified during his lifetime. In pop culture, Oak Cliff is known for launching musicians T-Bone Walker and Stevie Ray Vaughan, as well as basketball star Dennis Rodman.

His mother left inner-city Dallas to attend Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia and returned with a degree and one-year-old Tony in tow. The two temporarily relocated to Fort Worth so she could pursue a legal degree during Tony’s junior high years. With his mother’s influence, Briones pursued music dreams and looked for a college destination outside the city.

Briones found Bradley on a college search and noted the music business program. Even though he didn’t play, he liked the challenge of learning an instrument or taking voice lessons. Then, the university added MEI before his first year. The new degree enabled him to explore industry business and marketing without needing a classical performance background.

“I was willing to take a risk if I had to because I knew it’s exactly what I wanted,” he said. “I haven’t looked back.”

Briones’ mother inspired him to add a women’s and gender studies minor. The courses helped him understand her struggles as a single parent and issues facing men in his neighborhood.

“The minor challenged the way I think as a person from inner-city Dallas,” he said. “While a lot of my guy friends never made it out, I was surrounded by women role models. I gained new appreciation for my mother and women like her who overcame obstacles to earn college degrees and be successful.”

Music will pave Briones’ way back to Oak Cliff after college. Though he wants to pursue a career away from home, he also wants to be an advocate for his neighborhood. He has stayed connected with educational mentors and is an occasional guest speaker at his alma mater.

“I see a need for artistry to help kids express themselves because I’ve seen too many people who don’t express themselves well,” he said. “When they do express themselves, it’s in unhealthy ways. I can use my passion to empower youth to become their best.”