Music is why producer Peace 586’s name rests on the cover of his sixth solo album today instead of a tombstone.
“Without music, I’d be dead,” he told Sphere of Hip-Hop. “There are no if, ands or buts.”
This year, Peace used what kept him alive to try to change lives. On Wednesday, he released The Honey Bee, a 16-track LP of instrumentals and songs inspired by his wife, Melissa Vasquez, who doctors diagnosed 12 years ago with multiple sclerosis (MS). Before the disease stole her ability to speak in 2010, she asked her husband to fight it.
The Honey Bee, which in Greek means the name Melissa, is Peace’s fight. He has long donated money out of his mail carrier paycheck, but for the first time he will donate 100 percent of a project’s profits to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
“If it wasn’t for her, there’s no way I would do any of this,” Peace said. “I don’t have the time, patience or energy to do it. But at the end of the day, it’s for her. It’s something that she would want.”
Every song title on The Honey Bee is about her. “041271” is her birthday, “Rome, New York” is her birthplace and “Puerto Rican Italian” is her ethnicity. One track is called “Diamond Boss” because “she loved diamonds, and she’s a boss,” Peace said.
Darker moments birthed “The Diagnosis” and “Pain”, while Melissa’s perseverance inspired “Fierce”.
“Seven years ago is the last time she said a word, swallowed a piece of food or water for herself or moved a limb,” Peace said, “yet even today when you see her, she’ll smile at you and show you love, do her best to try to show you how happy she is. For her to be suffering so much for so long and yet be willing to love everyone that she sees … I don’t know how much stronger you can be.”
I like to make up goofy songs and play with her when I visit. I Record videos so I can continue to watch them throughout the week. These are the highlights of my Sunday's. Be thankful for what you have on a daily basis. Be careful with your words and how you talk to your loved ones. One day… It just all goes away. Then you find yourself alone just wondering what the hell went wrong?! #MelissaDesiree #MultipleSclerosis #Warrior
Music and the Vasquez’s
Peace and Melissa’s relationship itself is the subject of several songs on The Honey Bee.
They met in the summer of 1985 at a barbecue in Riverside, California. The closest person there in age to a 15-year-old Peace — known then only by his real name, Rene Vasquez — was a pastor’s 12-year-old daughter, Melissa. They later dated as teenagers, but Peace wasn’t ready to be in a committed relationship with anyone but hip hop.
In 1989, Peace debuted as a member of JC and the Boyz and worked with another collective, S.F.C., on its debut album Listen Up. Peace soon formed a different group, Freedom of Soul, and over the next several years released a pair of pioneering albums for Christian hip hop, Caught in a Land of Time and The 2nd Comin’, the latter of which introduced listeners to T-Bone and the Brainwash Projects. He also provided production for two of the most influential projects in the subgenre’s history in 1994 and 1995, S.F.C.’s Illumination and LPG’s The Earthworm.
1996 was Peace’s most memorable year yet. He released his first solo album, The Risen Son, and helped produce debuts for the legendary Tunnel Rats and Future Shock crews, Experience and Remember the Future. On Aug. 12 of that year, Peace also started an additional crew, the Vasquez’s.
He and Melissa had remained friends over the years, even after she had gotten married and had two children. However, they hadn’t talked in a while when Peace paid a surprise visit to her church one Sunday. To his surprise, she was divorced.
Peace took Melissa and her kids out to lunch after service, and from that day, they never stopped seeing each other. One random morning after they had begun to date again, they decided to go to court to acquire a marriage license, and Melissa’s pastor father married them in his living room that afternoon.
Melissa had missed Peace’s start as an artist, so she felt weird when fans asked him for photos and autographs. She also told people who called her house to talk to a “Peace” that they had the wrong number. She quickly became a fan too, though, and The Honey Bee is not only made up of songs she inspired, but also ones Peace thought she would enjoy.
Behind ‘The Honey Bee’
The Honey Bee almost didn’t happen.
Following the release of Peace’s latest collaborative effort, The Change Up with The Battery, he felt frustrated with music.
“I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go anymore,” he said. “I just wanted to be a fan.”
Peace was such a fan of the work his friend DertBeats routinely sent him to hear, though, that his desire to improve stayed alive. Peace explored purchasing a new drum machine for further inspiration, the Ableton Push 2, and he learned Dert already had one that he planned to sell.
Soon, the producers were exchanging beats, and Dert told Peace that his new music sounded so good that he should release a compilation album. Peace also sent an instrumental to legendary Gospel singer Crystal Lewis, who he had been friends with since the late 1980’s. She recorded over the track, which was titled “The Honey Bee”, and her performance captured Peace’s feelings about his wife so beautifully that it moved him to flesh out the concept for an entire album.
One of the friends who Peace proceeded to share “The Honey Bee” song with was Christon Gray, who then asked Peace to leave room for him on the final version.
“Nine times out of 10, I want to be on whatever track Peace sends me,” Gray said. “When I found out that this one was about his wife, Melissa, I had to be on it.”
For Peace’s friends, it means a lot to be involved in music that means so much to him.
“It’s a really precious, intimate thing,” Lewis said, “because it’s so scary, and it’s such a vulnerable place for him to be talking about this out loud. I think he’s done such a beautiful job giving the public a glimpse into her suffering, but without it feeling invasive or making you feel bad. He’s very quick to say always, ‘I’m not showing these videos or photos to make anyone feel sorry for me. This is just reality.’ And that’s a vulnerable position to put yourself in, and I so admire and respect that.”
“Peace has been a major inspiration since I started rapping at age 12,” Gray said. “I hope my contribution blesses him and his fans as much as it’s blessed me. I’m also praying that it helps raise money for the MS Society.”
Jurny Big, who’s featured on two Honey Bee tracks, was probably the closest guest on the album to Melissa. Through LPG, The Tunnel Rats and The Battery, Peace and Jurny worked so often together over the past two decades that she became like a sister to him. They even joked he was her “husband No. 2.”
“For me, this is the most important stuff I’ve done really since LPG,” Jurny said, “and what I did doesn’t match the importance of the actual project.”
Without music, there would be no Peace. Without Melissa, there would be no new music from Peace 586, so it’s fitting that right next to his name on the album cover rests hers.
Support Peace 586’s The Honey Bee
Download Peace 586’s The Honey Bee. 100% of proceeds benefit Multiple Sclerosis research. Purchase and support at Bandcamp.