A week ago, he was just a kid with a car that pays homage to the Nike Witness campaign as well as Cavaliers forward LeBron James. Now, we know he is A. Gully, a 22-year old male that hails from Cleveland Heights, looking to make it as the next big local hip-hop artist. While this statement alone can tend to derive some book cover-type thoughts, what lies inside said book would likely put a few more fans in his corner.
Gully, who’s real name is Austin Briggs, is the voice behind the recent video that was featured not that long ago. Spending most of his Heights childhood on the basketball court, the last few years of his life has been spent putting pen to paper, producing rhymes turned into verses, ultimately piecing together full tracks. Though spending the majority of his current days in the city of Kent, Ohio – more on this later – Austin was kind enough to share a few minutes with WFNY. And where else would we meet but Cleveland Heights.
It was a beautiful day to snap a few pictures of the Witness Mobile that many have either seen on the Internet or the occassional news program. Cleveland’s Fox 8 took some time with Austin to discuss his 1987 Cutlass Supreme. Since then, the honks and waves have exponentially increased.
During our interview – which lasted all of about 30 minutes – we were only interrupted on four separate occasions. A couple times from other park dwellers, but also a couple of people that had been driving by and wanted to see the car that they had heard about through word of mouth. A younger boy (he could not have been a day over ten years old) asked to take a picture of the car with a cell phone, and Briggs one-upped him by asking if the boy wanted to get inside the car and Austin himself would snap the photo. Obvious elation ensued.
“These last few weeks have been crazy,” says the Heights native. “The [Witness] video has been getting a ton of hits, leading to the news channels wanting to do different features.”
Which of course led to handfuls of new fans wanting to get a look at the “Cutty.” After all, how could you miss it with the chrome 23″ wheels and the large decals that line the outside of the doors. One individual even left with one of Gully’s CDs – which was not only a nice gesture, but is also the ultimate goal of all of this exposure.
The man behind the steering wheel
A lot of fans may think that A. Gully is just a kid who wanted some attention, took some Krylon to his car and the rest was history. But all it took was a few minutes on the phone this past weekend to find out that this was far from the truth. Our meeting had to wait until Tuesday for two reasons. One, the Cavaliers were finishing off the Hawks that Monday. But the other was because Austin is in the midst of taking his final exams at Kent State University. An entrepreneurial major, he currently sports a grade point average north of 3.8, landing him not only on the Dean’s List, but in direct contact with the Dean of the University.
Briggs himself is the fund raising chair for Kent State’s Collegiate Business Association, the group that is responsible for furthering academic and professional development and participates in several community service projects and academic workshops.
Raised by a single mother, Briggs spent a lot of time on the blacktop where he excelled as a point guard. Playing his first two years in Cleveland Heights, he wound up getting a scholarship to play basketball for Lutheran West. Free school and a chance to play under some brighter lights seemed great at first, but what was to come would ultimately change Briggs’ life forever.
Things were a lot different at Lutheran West, a school that was considerably more conservative than what Briggs had been used to. But it was also one that he described as being a bit less accepting of people that were perceived to be different than the rest. Though he got to play basketball, what went on off the court did not bode well for Briggs.
“I knew that other areas of town had been perceived as racist and less accepting, and heard about how private schools were a lot different,” Briggs said. “But what I experienced my junior year was not anything I had imagined. It was bad.”
A brief detour
Briggs got through that year, but decided that he would then go back to Heights public schools where he would suit up for his senior season of hoops. At least until an accident changed everything.
Briggs lifted up his black Witness MVP t-shirt to show me the scars from the 32 staples that he had in his stomach. What started out as a harmless wrestling match with a friend resulted in a freak accident that caused what he described as some burst blood vessels. The surgery would require time off and Briggs would not be able to play basketball during his senior season.
Without basketball, A. Gully’s life took a turn that would wind up causing a bit of tribulation. Briggs would find himself within a circle of people that were not making the best decisions for their future. Illegal activities would result in the then 18-year old getting kicked out of his home. Sure, he found time to write a few lines, but hustling became a business. After all, without a home, he had to make money – and though illegal, the money was good.
It was this way of life that led to a close friend of his getting killed. That rock bottom moment was a big wake-up call for Briggs, who then got back in touch with his mother. After talking things over, it was determined that Briggs would then go to school to work on his business degree – landing him at Kent State.
Now, you can find him winning business competitions as he will be finishing up his Sophomore year of college.
A. Gully’s Goals
Every good business model has to start with a goal. When we discussed what Briggs would like to come out of this, he listed several items. First and foremost, he would love to have the signatures of all of the Cavaliers on the crisp white hood of his 1987 Cutlass Supreme. When asked what he loved about this team, it was quick-fire answer.
“These guys give kids something to look up to,” said Briggs. “LeBron’s a local guy – was raised by a single mother. I grew up watching guys that turned out to not be the best role models. Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury… You know, not guys who portray the team attitude that we see with the Cavs.”
He already has plans to have his work sent overseas. Knowing well that LeBron James is very well received in China, he has been in touch with other students at Kent State that are of Asian desent that are willing to spread the word back home.
If anything positive came out of the wrong turns that Briggs took during his late teens, he was able to meet some people that are very prominent in the local hip-hop scene. He has been able to get his mix tapes in front of the right people, and with all of this exposure, it can only grow from here.
If the Cavaliers bring home the first championship in team history, Briggs undoubtedly will be putting his car in the parade. When asked if the honked horns and hand waves have increased since the Internet circulation and news reports, Briggs says that it has been crazy.
“But I feel bad because my horn doesn’t work,” Briggs stated. “I can’t return the favor, but thankfully, I can still give them a wave [through the moon roof].”
Along the same line of goals, Briggs realizes that this could be his big break. The big question I had for him was given all of his recent exposure, would he be willing to turn his back on all of the (arguably very successful) work that he has put in at Kent State?
“It depends on the offer,” Briggs says. “Though I grew up listenting to the Tupac [Shakurs] of the world, the one guy I have the utmost respect for is Jay-Z. Not necessarily for all of his tracks, but for his business sense. His ability to make the decisions that will benefit him most.”
Briggs would be willing to turn down some money if it meant that the long-term would be better. But he also realizes that there may have to be some sacrfices as well – only time will tell in that regard.
Though Briggs’ Witness Mobile has been all over Cleveland during the last week, expect to see a lot more of it in the coming days. Once he finishes finals week, he will be in Cleveland full time where he has several features lined up with local networks.
“They’re talking about me in L.A. already, though they aren’t saying too nice of words,” Briggs quipped. “Some of those [Los Angeles Lakers] blogs are crazy.”
But he welcomes any and all exposure. At this stage, he does not care what people are saying about him; any publicity is good publicity. On the outside, you may see a kid in high-top Nike Zoom LeBrons. But on the inside, you have a man looking to take the next step to achieve his ultimate goals. He has been told that his car will get national publicity if/when the Cavaliers make the NBA Finals, as it puts things on an entirely new stage.
That stage will hopefully lead to bigger and better things for Briggs, who has undoubtedly put a lot of time, sweat and money into this endeavor.
WFNY thanks A. Gully for his time. We wish him the best at achieving his goals. For more information on A. Gully and his music, visit his MySpace page.