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The Yogi and the DJ: Two Brothers' Separate Paths to Music Stardom 

Wednesday, May 25 2016
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On a Sunday evening in April, MC Yogi, a 37-year-old rapper and yoga teacher, bounded across the stage of The Independent, wearing a short-brimmed fedora and his trademark rectangular eyeglasses. It had been a long weekend. Early that morning, he had risen "at the butt crack of dawn" to host a New Age triathlon — a 5K run and a yoga class, followed by a meditation session, hosted by the music and yoga festival Wanderlust — for more than 4,000 people in Golden Gate Park. The day before, he'd done the same in Mexico City, snatching only a few hours' sleep after his flight landed at SFO on Saturday night.

As images of lotus flowers and OM symbols flashed across a screen behind him, MC Yogi told stories of his childhood in Marin — where he was born Nick Giacomini — and how he met his wife, Amanda, in a yoga-teacher training course 16 years ago — before launching into the first song of the evening: the Indian-inspired electronic dance rap "Clear the Path."

Throughout the night, he performed selections from all six of his albums, spitting positive, life-affirming messages like "Only love is real," "Spiritualism above materialism," and "Swallow your pride and you'll become whole" over exotic beats. In the packed crowd, fans clad in yoga pants and prayer beads danced and struck a few impromptu yoga poses.

"People said it was like a TED talk on acid," he said later.

Among the Namaste-ing crowd were a middle-aged couple — MC Yogi's parents — and their youngest son, a 33-year-old dressed in a hoodie from his own clothing line.

Known as DJ Amen, Adam Giacomini is a DJ for two of California's largest hip-hop radio stations, the Bay Area's KMEL 106.1 and Los Angeles' REAL 92.3. He has also earned a reputation as an early supporter of up-and-coming artists and has consistently been the first DJ in the country to play a number of Bay Area records that later became hits, like E-40's "Function" and Sage the Gemini's "Gas Pedal."

Though the two musical brothers say they're close — Adam, the more reserved, less hyperbolic of the two, believes they're "just two normal brothers," while energetic and empathetic Nick describes them as "like, best friends" who "text all the time" — they don't see each other very often outside of family events.

Like his brother, San Francisco-based Amen spends much of his time traveling, mostly between the Bay and L.A., making it hard for him to attend his brother's shows, and vice versa.

Still, the brothers share a fair amount in common. They were both troublesome teenagers who dropped out of public schools to attend the same boarding school for at-risk boys in Sonoma. They also both collect sneakers and comic books and love anything related to Star Wars or the 1980s.

Perhaps the biggest thing they share is their love for hip-hop. Within the music industry, they have carved out their own niches: Nick as a self-taught producer and sui generis rapping yogi, and Adam as a champion and harbinger of new talent in the rap and hip-hop world.

As a result, their careers have taken separate arcs. Both are self-taught and self-driven and have achieved success independent of the other. While they have mutual respect as artists, they've only collaborated once when they were teenagers. Adam has never played an MC Yogi song on the radio, and Nick has never asked Adam to open for one of his shows.

"As far as my career and his career, they've been totally separate," Adam says. "We did it on our own without each other's help."


Along with their sister, Melissa, the middle child, the Giacomini brothers grew up in Marin and Sonoma counties, their family — best known for a multi-generational, family-owned trucking company — frequently moving from town to town looking for "affordable places to live," Nick says.

When Nick was 8 and Adam was 4, their parents divorced. Shortly after that, their father, Chris, came out as gay.

After that, he "seemed to be in a much better place," Nick says, "as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders."

Though there is no history of making music professionally on either side of their family, both brothers latched onto music from an early age, thanks to their parents.

For his sixth birthday, Nick's parents took him to the Santa Cruz boardwalk, where they bought him his first cassettes — Beastie Boys' License to Ill and Run-D.M.C.'s Raising Hell — which became "the soundtracks to my youth" he says. Their father, who used to play a piano in the family house as a means of waking the children up for school in the morning, bought Adam his first DJ set for Christmas when he was 14. (It was Nick who bought his brother his first high-quality turntable soon after.)

Things started getting tough for Nick in middle school. Overcome with what he says was hatred for himself, he began getting into trouble and became what he called "a bad kid."

"Everything about myself, I wanted to destroy," he says. "I didn't like the way I looked, I didn't like the way I sounded, I didn't like the way I spoke. I wanted to be gone."

He started ditching school and would often steal his father's Chevy Blazer and drive into San Francisco. Always a fan of graffiti art, he was arrested in high school while tagging the Twin Peaks Tunnel in San Francisco, and he started hanging out with teenagers using crystal meth. Though he never tried the drug himself — "I always knew that the only thing I should ever put in my nose was my finger," he says — he helped them sell it, and witnessed firsthand the effects that it had on his friends and classmates. Kids he knew were dying from meth overdoses or suicides, and friends starting bringing guns to school.

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Jessie Schiewe

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