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After Starring in a Film in Oakland, Another Talented Entertainer Heads to LA

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Marsalis Burton plays the role of Dre in the film My Own Mecca
Marsalis Burton plays the role of Dre in the film My Own Mecca (Via My Own Mecca)

The film My Own Mecca opens with a collage of shots: dirt bikes, street ballers, Victorian houses, the Port of Oakland and shoes tossed over a telephone wire next to a liquor store as BART runs in the background.

The ten-minute movie was shot on actual film by cinematographer Jon Warfield Harrison and directed by Alba Roland Mejia, who were both featured on the Rightnowish podcast in March as part of our “Reel Talk” series with Bay Area filmmakers. This month the film was added to Vimeo’s Black Artistry in Film page, a curated channel that features artistic short films made by folks such as Barry Jenkins.

My Own Mecca is a beautifully shot portrait of an African American young man from Oakland who is at a fork in the road with an old childhood buddy, Walt (Errick Thompson). In addition to that, the main character, Dre, is dealing with run-ins with the cops, community members’ irrational paranoia and understanding the significance of a loving relationship with his girlfriend. You know, everyday life—but intensely dramatized.

Dre is played by Marsalis Burton, an actor and MC who goes by Cello Miles. Born in Hayward and raised in Antioch, he’s a Sacramento State grad who currently lives in the state capital with his real-life childhood best friend, Rio Westside.


Last month the duo dropped the album Vertigo II, their second project of the year. The album is a 13-track boom-bap rap and jazz-influenced EP that features instrumental interludes between lyrics about isotopes and intergalactic travel.

The slappin’ bass line of the song “Yadida” and the auto-tuned hook of “Wait 4 Me” make them both standout tracks. But it’s the song “Plentiful” that catches me. On that track Cello Miles mentions the need to get out of this region, “Yes, we gon’ need plenty more / Imma have to move up out my town/ Too big for the city’s scope,” he says.

And in real life, he’s doing just that.

“My motivation to leave,” says Miles during a phone call, “is knowing that in L.A. the resources are vast.” He says the Bay has networks and connections, but “not all of the tools necessary for all artists to flourish.”

This is something I hear often, and each time the truth hurts. The cost of living and the over-policing of hip-hop venues are just two of the many elements that make it hard to have a sustainable infrastructure where artists can grow out here. That, plus Los Angeles was built for show business.

Despite efforts from folks like EMPIRE’s Ghazi Shami, who told me earlier this year that he purposely keeps his highly successful label headquartered in San Francisco in effort grow the local industry, it’s still a pretty clear that this region is constantly exporting creative talent.

An interesting conversation on this topic took place on Twitter a few weeks back, when The Thizzler’s Russell North posted, “Bay Area artists need to leave in order to touch the masses. Not saying you have to move. But once you [conquer] home, you have to expand or you stay stagnant.”

In the comments, some people complained that rappers have to have “The Bay sound” to get local support. Others argued that getting away from your home in order to grow is applicable to all forms of art.

It makes sense for a lot of artists. Pinole’s P-Lo, who lives in L.A., had his imprint all over the Space Jam: A New Legacy soundtrack from last summer. Earlier this year, Richmond’s Jane Handcock told me she’s moving to Southern California. A few weeks later, she had multiple features on Snoop Dogg’s latest release, Algorithm.

Atlanta has been a second home for Bay Area artists for decades—Too $hort spent time there in the ’90s, when his career was at a pinnacle. Recently, East Oakland’s Capolow told me about the benefits of moving there.

Even New York is a viable option for artists like J-Walt, who is attending college at NYU. He’s one of the many bicoastal creatives who come from the Bay. He maintains balance by doing things like freestyling with Sway last week and doing a show in San Francisco this coming weekend.

Cello Miles also plans to go back-and-forth between his old neighborhood and Hollywood. But he’d rather that be home for now.

“It feels like it’s time to leave the nest that raised me,” says the 25-year-old, who has called Northern California his home his whole life. He’s lived in multiple spots in the region and is just getting started in his career, but he says the work he’s done thus far has paid dividends.

His experience on the set of My Own Mecca helped him understand the moving pieces behind creating film. “Everyone is vital: the gaffer, the second PA, et cetera. … It does take a village to create art on screen,” he tells me.

He’s also seen that concept come to life while playing an extra on the Blindspotting series. He was one of the many recognizable faces who were in the sideshow scene in the first season. (Miles is sitting on the old school car in the jean jacket.)

Miles is at a fork in the road, much like his character in My Own Mecca. By making the choice to move, he represents yet another budding artist leaving the region because the industry demands it.

But before moving at the top of the year,  Cello Miles and Rio Westside are slated to rock the stage in San Francisco this Friday. They’ll be performing at The Knockout along with Afterthought and Baghead.


If you’re looking for some live music, check out the aforementioned event. If you’re looking for a film to watch, My Own Mecca is available online. And if you’re looking to make it big in “the industry,” you still have to leave the Bay, evidently.

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