As Rene Vasquez leaned in to kiss his wife goodbye, he noticed tears slowly rolling down her cheeks. It was a Sunday morning and a Fred Hammond song was playing in the background.
Although multiple sclerosis (MS) has robbed Melissa of both her voice and mobility, Rene knew this was only one of a handful of emotions she can truly display at this stage of the disease. She cries whenever she hears babies on the television or gospel music on the radio.
“I don’t know if it’s because she misses it, or she wants to get up and play the tambourine, or just because how much she loves God,” Rene said. “I do know when I joke with her she laughs – especially when I say bad words. She thinks it’s hilarious.”
Yes, despite two decades as husband and wife (seven without her being able to speak), Rene is still trying to surprise Melissa and make her smile. He also wants to share her story and use it to fight against MS.
His latest project leverages the more than 25 years of experience he acquired as the audio artist known as Peace 586. The result is The Honey Bee – a new beat tape named for and inspired by Melissa. Rene has committed to donate 100% of the profits from its physical and digital sales to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Peace said when Melissa was first diagnosed she lost her ability to walk. Through steroids and therapy, she was able to relearn this process – enough so that she was able to do a MS charity march with the help of a cane. She also asked him to continue to contribute to the MS Society no matter how much her own condition deteriorated.
“At the time I agreed, but I had never really put thought into doing something specifically to raise up proceeds until now,” Peace said.
His initial plans were simply for a compilation record that would showcase his production and feature the raps of talented friends like Jurny Big and Propaganda. However, he felt creatively road blocked until he decided to make Melissa his muse.
“Every song I sampled would just fit and they felt right together one after another. I just said ‘Okay, I’m going to do this and try my best at it,” he said.
And try he did.
But eventually the spark began to fade. As a philanthropic effort, Peace was mostly leaning on the generosity of others to contribute verses or mixing and mastering services. Such pro bono work can get often get pushed to the back burner, and several preset deadlines were missed.
“I had to pick out a mortuary…”
On top of that, the improvements Melissa seemed to receive from various trial medications appeared to plateau. Peace said that over a year ago he and his mother-in-law made the hard decision to discontinue such treatments and “let God be God.”
He said the neurologist told them Melissa would likely relapse and she would pass in a matter of months. As a result, they called in hospice care and he began to plan for the worst.
“I had to pick out a mortuary and pay for it”
Peace paused to clear his throat.
“That was tough.”
Despite such preparations, Melissa hung on to life.
But The Honey Bee beat tape was another story. Peace decided to shelve the effort – a casualty of the last year’s emotional roller coaster, his perfectionist ways, and continued delays from associates who pledged to help, but who had not yet fulfilled their promises.
Shames Worthy, a member of Peace’s Tunnel Rat crew since his teens, committed to help mix half of the album. But as other agreements fell through, he ended up handling the bulk of that workload.
Shames also acted as both a confidant and coach – pushing his mentor to complete the project Peace frequently threatened to abandon.
“It really came down to [me saying] ‘Let’s finish it. Not necessarily to release it, but this is the one thing I don’t think you can let yourself quit on. You can’t quit on her. You don’t want to quit on her. And even if you did, it would only be a matter of time before that itch would come back again,’” Shames recalled.
The gentle pushes from Shames and Peace’s producer friend Dert eventually got him over the hump. He finalized the tracks and began to focus on how to organize the songs to best tell Melissa’s story.
The sound captures the 90’s R&B vibe she cherished. All of the titles relate to her life and relationship with Rene.
“Rome, New York” celebrates her birthplace. And “PK” hints at her early years as a “preacher’s kid.”
There’s darkness too in songs like “The Diagnosis” and “Pain.”
“This diseases not only affects her, it affects the kids… it affects me too. A while back I just went crazy. I rebelled and made a lot of bad decisions,” Peace said.
But two years ago, he made plans to renew his wedding vows. The ceremony was an intimate one held at Melissa’s bedside with only a few friends and family gathered around Peace and her two adult children he helped raise since they were in grade school.
“It’s been hard, don’t get me wrong. But I can honestly say I love my wife more now than I ever have in my life,” Peace said.
The highlight of the project is undoubtedly the title track – one of only three songs that include lyrics. “The Honey Bee” features the Grammy-nominated voice of Crystal Lewis and rapper/singer Christon Gray.
“I literally tried to speak as Rene,” Christon Gray said of his writing process. “I want this to be his anthem as he loves Melissa until her last breath.”
Peace calls it one of his favorites.
“Every girl that I’ve played it for immediately starts crying. I know if Melissa heard it and she understood it she’d definitely have it on repeat.”
The Honey Bee beat tape will be available on Peace 586’s Bandcamp page starting
October 14, 2016 today! You can stream & purchase at his Bandcamp page.
Sketch the Journalist is a freelance hip hop writer living in the thriving country metropolis of Cut-N-Shoot, Texas. Published in Relevant Magazine & ChristianityToday.com. Regular contributor to the Houston Chronicle & Wade-O Radio Show. Website: ITalkToRappers.com. Follow him online @SketchtheJ.