Ramel J. Wallace is busy. He has a day job working with kids, runs a music label (Holyfield Records), helped co-found an arts center in Barrio Logan (ThChrch) and spends his "free time" recording rap songs. But on Feb. 8, Wallace -- aka Real J -- took a break from it all to attend the 57th Annual Grammy Awards.
After being selected to participate in Delta Airlines' Innovation Class, Real J boarded a flight from Seattle with four-time Grammy Award-winning producer Ryan Lewis (of Macklemore and Lewis fame) and flew to Santa Monica to watch the show.
"It was basically a contest ... you win a mentorship with an artist who won a Grammy," the San Diego rapper said. "You're having an experience when you're in the air."
Wallace entered the contest via Twitter and found out a few days later that he had made it past the first round. Even though there was an interview and a Skype session, he still didn't think it was legitimate. After being asked for his Social Security number and eventually giving it up, Real J was sure he had been scammed and was positive he was broke. But that wasn't the case -- not at all. Delta called back after what the rapper described as "two of the longest days ever," and told him he had been chosen to attend the Grammys.
Spending a week in a posh Santa Monica hotel, Wallace kicked up his feet and just took it all in. There was a Young Thug sighting at the airport, and even though his request for a photo-op was denied, he was able to meet the Roots' drummer Questlove on the red carpet at a Grammys pre-party event. It was also his best chance to talk with seasoned veterans and network with industry insiders.
On the night of the actual awards show, Wallace wasn't front and center or close enough to icons like Jay-Z to shake hands, but no matter -- he was thoroughly impressed by the production.
"It was a whole other world," he said. "[And] the sound was amazing."
It's something he now wants to incorporate into his own work. Despite his night of rubbing elbows with the music industry's best, Real J remains grounded and the 26-year-old's easygoing chuckle hints at a sort of "pinch me so I know it really happened" vibe.
While he's humbled by it all, he does admit: "It just makes me want to run a little faster."