A pitcher for the Kennesaw Mountain baseball team, Chandler, and his music producing partner Jack Betbeze, performed a live concert for the first time on March 15 in front of roughly 150 people at Abundant Grounds, a coffee shop in Kennesaw.
Tucked into a little corner of the shop, Chandler and Betbeze, a cross country runner and pole vaulter for Kennesaw Mountain’s track and field team, entertained the crowd with songs from Chandler’s mixtape, entitled “Einstein.”
One of the songs — “In a War” — captures the feelings of Chandler’s musical journey.
“I don’t do it for da money, man,” the song says. “I just do it for da people. I just do it ’cause I can. I just do it for da music. Momma told me I’m da man. Always knew that I could do it. I just never had a plan. Who’da ever thought I’d be dat dude to hold a mic stand.”
Throughout the event, “Zacky Chan” and “Jackson Gaines” — the alter-egos Chandler and Betbeze use as performers — had the crowd waving their hands, jumping up and down and singing their tunes.
Their first concert was a huge success.
Chandler, a senior, has been playing baseball since he was 5 years old, and he’s been a pitcher since he was 8.
He wasn’t much of a music fan growing up, but by the time he reached middle school, he started getting into rock. Chandler, however, didn’t like mainstream rap music.
“I listened mostly to gospel rap,” he said. “But, by the ninth grade, I started branching out.”
As Chandler’s musical palate grew, so, too, did his desire to write music, and by the end of his freshman year, that’s what he decided to do.
“The more I wrote, the more I realized how much I liked music,” Chandler said. “It became a passion of mine, and I listened to it more and I wrote more.”
Chandler’s lyrics remained rooted in his faith and doesn’t include profane language. The summer prior to his junior year, he showed his songwriting to a friend who suggested that he put the words to music and rap out loud.
“He wanted me to go to the next level and record,” Chandler said.
As fate would have it, a first-semester class during Chandler’s senior year basically forced him into a studio.
“I had a mastery class project where I had to pick one thing to become better at, and I chose rapping,” he said.
Partnered with classmate Jeremy Baiden, the duo visited the studio of a Baiden family friend and recorded Chandler’s song “Popular,” which samples music from the Broadway play “Wicked.”
“(Baiden’s) brother really liked it, and I got a lot of positive feedback from it, so that’s when I decided to perfect my craft,” Chandler said. “I met Jack two weeks after recording ‘Popular.’”
Music is in his blood
Betbeze, a junior, played basketball for as long he could remember, but he stopped when he got to high school because he wanted to try something new.
He’s been a member of the Mustangs’ cross country team for two three seasons and recently joined the track and field team as a pole vaulter. His older brother, Connor, played baseball at Kennesaw Mountain and is now a junior at Penn.
With sports as one outlet in his youth, Betbeze also developed a passion for music. He wanted to learn how to play guitar and he liked rock music, and he’s learned how to play instruments like the guitar, electric bass, bass and piano.
“I just dug into it,” Betbeze said. “Most of the instruments I learned are all self-taught. I watched YouTube videos and read and practiced and just kept getting better.”
With his passion for music in full swing, Betbeze was pretty proficient at most of the instruments by the time he reached the eighth grade, and he started to try his hand at making his own music using software on his computer.
“The more I got better using it, the easier it was for me to play and produce music,” Betbeze said. “By the time I was going into my junior year, I was pretty much at the peak of my knowledge with the software. That’s when Zack approached me.”
Meeting in school
Betbeze joined the audio and video production club his freshman year. Chandler joined as a junior.
“That’s where we met,” Betbeze said.
“I had just recorded ‘Popular,’ and was looking for someone at school to have some fun with making music,” Chandler said. “I needed to find someone to build on what I was trying to do who had the talent to play and produce music.”
After more than two years as part of the club, and with his musical background, Betbeze had made a name for himself.
“I knew Jack played piano and guitar, and someone told me about his skills with music, so I approached him and we hit it off,” Chandler said.
Zacky Chan and Jackson Gaines
Shortly after the Thanksgiving break, Zacky Chan and Jackson Gaines were born.
Zacky Chan is a play on Chandler’s name, mimicking actor Jackie Chan. Jackson Gaines is Betbeze’s first and middle names.
“Once we started working on (music), things really took off,” Chandler said.
The duo collaborated several times, with Chandler rapping and writing most of the songs. Betbeze produces the music, sings and also writes. They describe their sound as alternative or underground rap, and they bounce ideas off each other, including music beats and lyrics.
The duo has a “studio” set up in the basement of Betbeze’s home. It’s a room with a computer, two monitors, several different instruments and a microphone.
“As long as Jack supplies the Little Caesar’s pizza and Dr. Pepper, then we’re good,” Chandler said. “When we’re working, that’s what I like to eat.”
Chandler and Betbeze put 11 songs — including “Popular” — on the first mixtape, which was uploaded onto SoundCloud, a web site they describe as the “YouTube of music.”
“We worked on a bunch of songs and prayed for them to get good reviews on SoundCloud,” Betbeze said. “We used social media and word of mouth to spread it, and the feedback we’ve received from friends has been cool.
“They’ve done more than tell us they like our music. They share it with each other and now they’re trying to expand it to different high schools.”
Other tracks include “Top of the World,” “Up and Away,” “Summertime” and “The Present.”
The duo has planned another concert April 19 at Swayze’s, a venue in east Cobb, and they’re hoping to coordinate a performance on the Marietta Square this summer.
They hope to make money from the concerts and selling T-shirts to pay for sound-proofing equipment to cover the walls of their studio.
Students at Kennesaw Mountain have not only rallied around Chandler and Betbeze and their music, they want them to keep it up. They’re often compared to the Grammy-winning duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
“They work hard during their free time and make some really good music,” softball player Kelli McGrail said. “The school supports them. They play songs you listen to when you’re riding in your car with your windows down.”
“Chandler has come out of the blue with his rapping, but Jack has a past with his talent in music,” added Sarah Schmitt, a Kennesaw Mountain cheerleader. “Their music is great and it’s catchy.”
Chandler’s teammates on the baseball team also support him. His music is even played between innings during home games.
“It was an electric environment at Abundant Grounds,” Reggie Pruitt said. “Zack and Jack work hard and we’re proud of them. We want to see them do well.”
Kennesaw Mountain baseball coach George Hansen is also intrigued by the duo’s music.
“Zack is a happy and fun guy,” Hansen said. “He’s a 6-6, red-headed joy to be around. He flows happiness with everything he does. No matter our tribulations, his music puts a smile on our face.”
The end or the beginning?
Chandler has committed to pitch in college at Savannah State next year.
Betbeze, however, still has one year remaining at Kennesaw Mountain.
Although the duo will be separated, they’re hoping they can still make music together.
“It’s scary a little bit, because we won’t be working together as much,” Chandler said. “Hopefully, we can still work this out.”
Betbeze already has ideas on how Zacky Chan and Jackson Gaines can continue.
“He can send me audio files over (the Internet),” Betbeze said. “We can make it work somehow.”