They affectionately called him “White Boy” and “White Chocolate,” this middle school boy who hung out with kids of all ethnic backgrounds and loved rap music.
When he joined Tama Brisbane’s slam poetry group, he assumed other names. “White Picket Fence” and “Second Nature” came his way.
Now, Mark Gavigan, who goes by the name Gark Mavigan as a rapper, poet and writer of prose, can simply be called a success.
The 28-year-old, who barely graduated from Lincoln High School with his 1.4 grade-point average but found college enlightening — first at Delta College then at the University of California, Berkeley, — just released a new album called “Good Choices” and he’ll perform at 7 p.m. Sunday in Stockton at The Sanctuary, the recording studio of his friend, fellow rapper Steven Spiffler. It’s located on the second floor of the building at 110 N. San Joaquin St. in Stockton. Tickets are $10 and everyone will receive a free recording of the show.
“Stockton is in my heart,” Mavigan said. “I take it with me wherever I go.”
He continues to come back to Stockton, too, to see his mom and younger brother and friends.
He also gives back. Part of the proceeds from “Good Choices” will be given to With Our Words, Brisbane’s slam poetry organization, where Mavigan got his start. The rest of the proceeds will go to San Francisco’s Lyrical Opposition, which also is a nonprofit arts group that has supported him.
“He is one of my favorite people on this blue rock,” Brisbane said. “Mark is what we call a legacy poet, a member of our first With Our Words slam team. He is an amazing human being.”
He’s also a rare talent, what she calls bilingual, because he can rap and write slam poetry, which are very different art forms. He also writes prose and is working on a memoir.
“Mark was put on this earth to be a writer,” Brisbane said.
Writing seemed to come easily for Mavigan, beginning when he was at Sierra Middle School.
“I would write raps in my journal for English and then turned them into songs,” he said.
He vividly remembers buying a Run DMC Greatest Hits CD at Walmart when he was a kid.
“That was in the CD deck of our car for months,” Mavigan said. “I come from a church background. I went to church a lot. My mom wasn’t into cussing. I admired how older rap artists like Run DMC and others in the mid-1980s and ’90s did rap music without cussing or talking about risqué subject matters. I liked that.”
His raps tend to follow that model.
Mavigan was introduced to Spoken Word Poetry when he was in high school and saw a flyer for the All City Poetry Slam event.
“There were like three rounds in the first City Slam, and for the first two rounds, I took in my lyrics,” Mavigan said. “What I did was slow it down so the way I delivered it was slower than when I recorded them on a song. I delivered them with a poetic cadence. The night before the final round of competition, I wrote a piece and memorized it, somehow. It was about my experience. It was my first spoken word piece, the first actual spoken word I’d written. I called it ‘White Boy,’ and it was about my experience growing up in Stockton as a young white rapper. It resonated with a lot of people.”
Brisbane remembers Mavigan coming into a gathering of her young poets on the second floor of the Podesto Impact Teen Center in 2008, the first year she took a team to the Brave New Voices competition in Washington, D.C., and sharing a piece about a girl he loved.
“Every girl in the room, black or white, went ‘aaaah,’” Brisbane said.
The subject of that piece was Vicky, and Mavigan married her last Oct. 25.
That was the inspiration for “Good Choices.”
“The album is about the best choice I ever made, getting married,” Mavigan said. “I worked on this album for a year and a half. I have a Monday-to-Friday 9-5 job (at a public relations firm in San Francisco, where he lives). What makes it so special is all these crazy things happened while I was making the project. I proposed, I got married, I bought a pet hedgehog, which passed away recently. My grandpa passed away. It was rewarding to get it out the door. It’s interesting to work on songs for such a long time, you perfect the sound, and you get to push it out to the public and hear people’s thoughts.”
Mavigan is clearly proud of “Good Choices.”
“It’s the high level and scope,” Mavigan said. “I really wanted this project to be big in terms of collaboration, with each song sounding big musically. I wanted to collaborate with a lot of people.”
That includes singer Leslie Carron, who is on a couple of the tracks, including “Meryl Steep,” about drinking tea, not to be confused with his earlier tribute to coffee drinkers, “On My Grind.” He also collaborated with the Detroit Children’s Choir on an adorable number called “Picture Day” that evokes memories of getting dressed just right for school pictures and how they ended up in frames on the mantel and in wallets.
“I’m Ready,” with backing from Sponge Bob Square Pants, includes Mavigan’s marriage proposal.
“The whole point of the project is to give back,” Mavigan said. “It’s called ‘Good Choices’ and that informs the content. But It’s also like a meta thing. I’m making the choice to donate proceeds to organizations that helped shape me as an artist and are helping to shape other artists. It’s very rewarding.”
Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lorigrecord.