Military sergeant, rapper connects own fate


Special to / The Advocate

Former and future Contra Costa College student Matthew Pruett plans to transfer to Cal State-East Bay after completing classes at CCC and DVC.

By Jose Jimenez, Spotlight Editor

One year before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, 34-year-old former and future Contra Costa College student Matthew Pruett was enjoying the beautiful shorelines with the 125th Signal Battalion in the Hawaiian Islands, 2,400 miles southwest of his hometown in Sacramento, Calif.

After years of being surrounded by gangs, drugs and crime in his neighborhood, Pruett decided to join the U.S. Army.

Influenced by the art of music, Pruett said he found a balance in his life after years of struggles associated with fighting the war on terrorism.

He said he wants to create important music for every enlisted man, veteran, military official and individual who has made an impact on his academic or military career.

“I remember when Matthew and a group of my students were hanging around one afternoon in the computer lab listening to a sound I’d never heard before,” CCC computer information systems (CIS) professor Randy Watkins said. “When I walked over and saw what they were listening to, I asked the group of students, ‘Who is that?’”

Unbeknownst to Watkins, he was being introduced to CCC student “P-Funk the Mechanic,” AKA Pruett, a retired military mechanic/recovery specialist simply known as “Funk.”

Watkins said he never expected that type of music out of a well-dressed military officer.

“Pruett always showed professionalism, was sharp (in clothing style) and always talked about God while attending my computer classes here on campus,” he said.

Watkins said he was pleased to learn Pruett was the mastermind of the lyrics he heard  — an urban, up-tempo sound.

Pruett took CIS 135 — Introduction to Computers — class in the CCC computer and related electronics department. He is majoring in business entrepreneurship at Diablo Valley College, but said he enjoys taking classes at CCC to complete his transfer to Cal State-East Bay.

He said he is currently enrolled in Business Management 120 and Business Law 194 at DVC, working on a degree in business entrepreneurship not offered at CCC, but will return to CCC to take some degree required classes because he “loves the atmosphere.”

While serving his country after the 9/11 attacks and during the invasion of Iraq as a mechanic/recovery specialist for his battalion, Pruett began to create his music.

P-Funk can be defined as a shorthand term for the repertoire of performers associated with musician George Clinton and his Parliament-Funkadelic musical group of the 1970s.

The group was known for its soul, rock and funk music. Pruett, however, said his version of P-Funk music “has two sides to every story” as his 2013 mixtape is titled.

He said his alter ego, P-Funk the Mechanic, mixes the nickname his uncle’s gave him while growing up, and his military career.

“Growing up I thought the violent gang lifestyle was cool. But in the end, I knew I wanted to do more to help veterans,” Pruett said. “I was hanging around a lot of people doing nothing constructive when high school finished. I remember moving back to Sacramento and not really seeing shit there for me except gang affiliation. I was about 17 years old when I decided I was going to enlist in the army. I began freestyling well before high school to help ease my mind. Not a lot of people know I’m a rapper.”

Pruett’s mother, Barbara Jane, moved her family to Auburn, Calif., about 30 miles north of Sacramento, after he said she began to see a negative trend of images associated with “gang-banging” when her son was 10 years old.

He graduated from an alternative continuation school — Chana High, and today Pruett thanks his mother for everything she did to keep him, and his only sister, 30-year-old Kimberlee Lizarraga,  safe from the urban streets in Sacramento during the late 1990s that was associated with underground music during that era.

Pruett said he decided to move back to Sacramento and found himself in the middle of what would be a street war fought using gangster music and an independent recording music company labeled, “Black Market Records.”

“Death has always followed me,” he said. “If I stayed in that environment when I moved back to Sacramento after high school, I was going to die. Rappers Brotha Lynch Hung, Mr. Doctor from Garden Block, and Homicide were influencing certain individuals in my surroundings. Even one of my cousins knew Homicide personally. Looking back now, I feel that type of music had a huge impact on me and my decision to enlist in the army, and enroll at CCC.

“Music just connected everything positively for me during my dark times of our country’s invasion of Iraq and war against Afghanistan in the 2000s.

“The music came naturally to him,” close friend and producer, Earnest Russell said. “I remember how quickly he picked up on the editing, producing and the overall concept of how making good music should be done. We ended up featuring him on my label record company titled, ‘Prospect Records.’”

Pruett credits Russell for everything he learned in music while the two specialists were in Hawaii with their battalion.

Pruett said he embraces the brotherhood they have kept even as Russell currently works in Alabama.

After being deployed to Kuwait, Pruett said he often reminisced about the coast of Hawaii, the streets of Sacramento and collaborating with Russell through music. He said in 2003, his battalion convoyed from Kuwait to Iraq for two weeks.

He said he will never forget the horrific images he witnessed.

“Our mission was to relieve the first wave of soldiers who went in,” he said. “As a mechanic/recovery specialist I was driving this big old 5-ton wrecker that is a part of the M809 series of military trucks. When we arrived in Iraq I was scared. People were getting killed everywhere. I turned to religion and started to believe this is it. This is the end.”

Pruett said he has seen the darkest of hell, frozen over earth, and said the greatest disparity American civilians and politicians have is the overall objective after the 9/11 attacks — to restore order for Iraqi civilians.

“The number one priority we were instructed to do was to help the Iraqi residents re-establish their government because of dictator Saddam Hussein,” he said. “I believe people shouldn’t be judged based on their religion or beliefs. We didn’t go out there and fight a war on the assumption of religion or weapons of mass destruction. We went out there as help and were just doing our job. Soldiers don’t ask questions under superior leadership and superb training. We just get the assignment done.”

After Iraq, Pruett remained stationed in Germany until 2007, with the 272nd Military Police Company, and ultimately was promoted to staff sergeant. Pruett retired as staff sgt. E-6 in 2010. The E-6 rank in the army is just above sergeant, and below sergeant first class, respectively.

“I saw a lot, bruh,” a humbled Pruett said. “I lost friends, seen killings and learned a lot from all my leaders and peers. You don’t get a lot of that in the regular civilian world.”

Pruett said he finds himself now toward the end of his community college “duty.” He plans on continuing to make new music after college, through programs associated with veterans all over the world.

He said his music will help vets cope with the struggles they live with trying to adjust to civilian life after serving their country.

Pruett said DVC’s veterans program offers more support than CCC’s but he plans to come back to the San Pablo campus in this fall to finish up his degree, and hopefully, create his own version of a veterans club on campus.