It was freestyle battle rap. People would square off and improvise takedown lyrics in front of an audience. On one neighborhood block in the Dominican Republic about 13 years ago, the most feared rapper on the street was a 6-year-old girl.
Shelsy Vicente Gross '25 remembers two passions growing up in the Dominican Republic: baseball and rap. When she was seven, her family moved to Queens and then on to the Bronx, but in her native country, she was always involved in one of two past times.
"Baseball is huge in the Dominican Republic. We would take broomsticks and use the caps of Coke and Pepsi bottles as the ball. When I wasn't playing baseball, I was rapping."
There was a rap revolution in the DR during Shelsy's short time living in the Caribbean, and she was brought up at the center of it. Her dad produces music and performs, and her aunt is one of a few women to gain any sort of notoriety as a rapper in their native country. The talent was passed down to Shelsy.
"We would get into a circle and go against each other. I'd have to eliminate them one-by-one. I'd attack their clothes, stuff like that. We were just joking around, but I was pretty good. I was the youngest one and I was the only girl. My family said I was too smart for my age."
In elementary school, Shelsy moved with her family to the U.S., and by middle school, she started writing poetry. Her school offered a program called Building Beats, a nonprofit organization teaching music production to underserved kids in New York City. One day, Shelsy walked in with a notebook full of original poems and essentially told the director, "Let other students build the beats, I'm a rapper."
"Music has always been my voice. I can say anything through a simple song and it can reach one person and change their world. When I was younger, I heard a simple phrase in a song and it called my attention and inspired me to my craft. I want to reach people with my music. I wouldn't care about the money, but if people are hearing my music and singing my songs back to me, that's where I want to go."
Shelsy was able to rap for music producers in high school, and garnered plenty of attention, but college was always going to come first. That's a promise she made to her mom. It was Shelsy's other passion that influenced her college choice.
"When I came on tour and we went into the library and I saw the Million Dollar View of the baseball diamond, it reminded me of my grandfather Pascual Pérez, and that's when I made up my mind to come to Siena."
Last year, the communications major performed on campus twice, first at Expoze, then at Siena Fest. This year, she plans to record many of her songs, with help from Miguel Alvarado, assistant director of financial aid. Once her music is out there for the world, who knows what will happen next. But if the music producers come calling this year (see the quote below)...
"I'm a dreamer. I've been thinking, let's say I blow up right now and everybody is streaming my music and listening to it. Let's say I get signed. I know I have to finish school first. That's always been the plan, and that's the opportunity I created for myself. I definitely made the right decision to come to Siena. HEOP has given me so much. Siena has become my home, and I know it will forever hold a special place in my heart because of the people I've met and the opportunities I've received."
Shelsy Vicente Gross '25
The Siena Fest Stage
Shelsy's friends saw the audition announcement posted on flyers around campus before she did. They demanded a show.
"My friends kept saying, 'You've got to perform.' They talked me into it. I was super nervous during the audition. As a rapper, you never know how people will react to your music. A few days later, I found out I'd be performing at Siena Fest."
Hundreds of Saints listened to Shelsy Banks (her stage name) from "Padua Beach," plus there was an online crowd watching via stream, including Shelsy's family.
"People came up to me afterwards, and they were saying 'congratulations' and asking where they could buy my music. They kept telling me that I appeared so confident, and honestly, I wasn't sure if I could do that. I proved it to myself. And then I remember thinking, 'Have I made it?' And then my aunt called and told me how proud she is of me. That's when I literally cried to my roommates. I couldn't believe it all happened!"