Unstoppable: Despite Challenges, MATC Audio Production Graduate Finding His Groove

Milwaukee native writing songs, releasing albums, making videos

Mark Feldmann, feldmam1@matc.edu

March 02, 2023

To me, unstoppable is more than just a word, it's a mindset. It’s a promise that no matter what the obstacles, you will keep pushing to make your dreams come true.

Jaquawn Gaston, known as Rap J MATC Audio Production graduate

MILWAUKEE – On a raw winter day several years ago, Michael Neumeyer and Jaquawn Gaston made their way from the Milwaukee Area Technical College’s Downtown Milwaukee Campus to a nearby recording studio.

Snow, sleet and cold made the trek tricky and taxing. Neumeyer, a music occupations instructor at MATC, walked, plodding through the elements, carping all the way.

Gaston, an audio production student who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, struggled even more to traverse the uneven, ice-covered sidewalks.

“I complained the whole way,” Neumeyer recalled. “Jaquawn just smiled and rolled along and said to me: ‘don't sweat the small stuff.’  I just felt very inspired and realized I had no real big reason to complain.”

Jaquawn Gaston hardly ever complains, even though he could in the bitterest ways. Cerebral palsy makes simple motor skills difficult, if not impossible. He needs a wheelchair to go anywhere. His body might be constricted, but his mind and spirit are free, and they overflow with creativity, artistry and positivity.

Gaston graduated from MATC in 2021 with an associate degree in Audio Production and today writes, performs and produces rap songs, albums and videos under the sobriquet Rap J. And in June, he’ll perform live for the first time, at a concert at Milwaukee’s Shank Hall. 

Get tickets to Rap J's June 10 show

"If you think you can be great at something, then you can be great," Gaston said. "I have a positive mindset. I keep pushing through any challenges, and many times, I prove people wrong."

Loving music for early on

Gaston was born and raised in Milwaukee, the oldest of four children. He needed a wheelchair at a young age and attended Milwaukee Public Schools and graduated from MPS’ Marshall High School in 2016. “The chair has been a part of my life ever since I can remember,” he said. “I accepted early in life that this is my condition.”

The other constant in his life has been his love of music. He said he busted out his first rap when he was six years old. “Music has always been a way to express myself,” he said. “With music, I feel so free. Like I have no disabilities, no limitations.”

As a teen, Gaston listened to Tyler the Creator, Biggie Smalls and Michael Jackson. “When I watched Michael on stage, it was magic,” he said. As a teenager he decided he wanted to feel that magic as well. He started writing songs, making music, and after high school, enrolled in MATC’s Audio Production program. 

“Going to MATC was tough at first, but luckily I made some great friends and had great instructors who were always ready to help,” Gaston said. “They were very patient with me. They treated me like everyone else.”

Matt Smith, an audio production instructor at MATC, remembers Gaston well. “Jaquawn faced adversity that most of us could only guess at, and always had the most positive attitude,” Smith said. “He never used his struggles as excuses.”

Gaston’s upbeat personality made a significant impact on Neumeyer, another instructor. “Jaquawn showed me how to be positive about life and live it to the fullest,” he said. “He doesn't let any situation get him down and is a mega inspiration to all.”

Breaking into the business

Since graduating from MATC, Gaston has composed dozens of songs, released two albums and produced several music videos. “I have a unique creative process,” Gaston said. “What I do is based on feel. When I feel a beat I like, I start adding the words. I kind of freestyle through the whole beat. Whatever sticks with me I’ll use. I go with the flow.”

He is especially proud of the joyous vibe he captured in his song, “You’re So Beautiful” from his album “Unstoppable.” “There was so much fun, so much smiling, so much happiness in that,” he said. 

While making music, he often mused about where he might play his first professional concert. Summerfest? Fiserv Forum? Madison Square Garden? He recently got his answer: Milwaukee’s own Shank Hall on June 10. Doors are scheduled to open at 7 p.m. and the show set to will start at 8 p.m. 

“I just need to keep pushing through any challenges and adversity and keep making music. That is my dream, and I don’t care how long it takes to happen. But as long as I’m breathing, I’m going to be working to make it happen. Dreams really do come true if you believe in yourself.”

Alice Piovesan, a friend he met at MATC, believes Gaston will find even more success. “He’s been writing music his whole life and following his passion,” said Piovesan, who now lives in California. "Any goal is achievable through faith and consistency, and he has both.”

“To me, unstoppable is more than just a word, it's a mindset,” Gaston said. “It’s a promise that no matter what the obstacles, you will keep pushing to make your dreams come true.”

Find Rap J’s newest single “Paradise” on all major streaming platforms. Follow his YouTube channel @mynameisrapj and Instagram @Bigtimerolla to stay up to date with new releases. 

Find out about MATC's audio production program

About MATC: Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 25,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 170 academic programs — many that prepare students for jobs immediately upon completion and others that provide transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Rap J