Bryan “Infidelix” Rodecker considers himself a “busking ninja.” Berlin is his playground. It’s been his playground for a couple of years now, since the Denton artist arrived in Europe in 2014.
Rodecker’s street music has inspired people to join him in song. Sometimes they’re wanting to promote their art. Other times they’re simply drunks and junkies moved to join his groove before delirium overtakes them.
But when vacationing Silvia Rodriguez saw him rapping near the Pankstrasse station in Berlin, the chance encounter changed their lives.
“We heard bits,” she says. “Then after the first word of Infidelix’s rap, I couldn’t help but turn around and walk towards him. We listened to a few songs he rapped. Very emotional, and I felt an inspiration. I wanted to sing with him.”
They sang a song he’d been perfecting over the years. But his video busking with Rodriguez garnered more than 2 million views on social media. And then it mysteriously disappeared from YouTube.
The strangers now had to find a way to deal with something unexpected — sudden success.
Rodecker quit his job as a waiter at Chuy’s in Denton, cashed in his life savings on a one-way ticket to Spain and crossed the ocean to pursue a dream. “One of the coolest things I love the most about street performing is allowing strangers to enter into my life and help me create magic in the moment,” he says. “It makes street music special and interesting.”
Phantogram, a Greenwich, New York duo, provides the musical foundation to the track that Rodecker streams through an amp powered by a car battery. It’s a song called “When I’m Small” from their 2009 album Eyelid Movies. “For some reason, the first time I heard the song, it touched me and gave me a feeling that I had to write to it,” Rodecker says. “It is a sad song, a song about real life situations, a song that everyone can relate to.”
Rodecker isn’t sure why he chooses to write about some of the things he weaves into his songs. He says he just puts the beat on, and his brain goes to a different place. It’s a place producing some well-mixed songs such as 2013’s “L.I.F.E” and 2016’s “Gold.” It’s a condition affecting him since he was a child in the '90s, dressed in a Superman outfit and jamming with a red electric guitar.
“If you were to ask me years ago as a child, if I would have been a rapper, I would have looked at you like you were crazy,” Rodecker says in the short documentary Infidelix: Rapmusik von Houston nach Berlin. “But for some reason, when I started expressing myself through art and started writing, it just started coming out in the form of rap songs and rap-oriented material. It’s my way of expressing myself to the people.”
Rodecker says he’s made too many sacrifices to get this chance. “I miss my dog,” he says. “I miss my friends. I miss Mexican food.” He’s been traveling across Europe, spinning rhymes in the street in hopes that he’d gain recognition for his art. He’s panhandled CDs, taught youth center kids to rap and connected with talented European rappers such as Papke, Ste Byrne, Visy and Andre K’por.
Videos of his performance uploaded on his CitizenSoldier Entertainment YouTube page usually garner between 20,000 and 60,000 views. But nothing ever in the range of his impromptu street rap session with Rodriguez at the Berlin subway stop.
Silvia Rodriguez says music has always been part of her life, but she didn’t start performing until later in life because of “scenic panic.” She only performed her own songs secretly. She performed in front of people for the first time in 2013 at a party at the University of Barcelona. Since then, she’s created a Facebook page under the moniker “Elland-M,” but only performed at restaurants until the subway stop where she discovered Rodecker and social media fame.
She tells the Observer that she knew at the time what she was creating with Rodecker was something special. “But I didn’t expect it to be special for the others who were watching us. I actually realized that it was special when I finished and looked at so many people clapping and cheering.”
Social media commenters asked her about the inspiration behind the lyrics she performed with Rodecker. But her performance was all improvised, she claimed in a Sept. 5 response video posted to YouTube shortly after their duo in the subway had gone viral. Like Rodecker, she was lost in the music, following a different vibe. “I just said sentences and phrases that came to my mind,” she says. “This is what music does.”
She points out that people who felt the vibe stopped and listened. One woman dropped a few coins in Rodecker’s coin bucket. “She literally said that we had made her feel things she had never felt before,” Rodriguez says.
A few days after she posted her Sept. 5 response video on YouTube, the original busking video with Rodecker disappeared from YouTube. It’s unclear why. She never answered the question.
The Observer reached out to Rodecker who wrote, “She was a tourist walking through, who interrupted me to sing on one of my tracks. It’s once she sold the rights to a licensing company, then refused me anything is where the problem started.
“I’m a street artist,” he added. “I return bottles for change. … Like gimme a break, and let’s make this fair for each other.”
Dallas-based copyright attorney John G. Browning points out that YouTube does have a way to generate revenue. Yet it’s not just a revenue generator, he says, and gives an example of the viral YouTube video of a lady who recently sung the national anthem at the Jefferson Memorial. He says she’s been bombarded with offers since the video went viral, including a recording contract.
Browning says the problem arises when Rodriguez uploaded the video to her own YouTube account. Their performance would be considered a shared copyright, but copyright laws allow certain protections for an artist’s right to protect the integrity of his work.
“Keanu Reeves’ Devil’s Advocate included a scene that was filmed against a sculpture that special effects caused to move,” he says. “The sculpture in question was fairly well known, but they (the movie officials) never approached the artist, who didn’t think his art should belong with what he thought was (the movie’s) questionable values. So he blocked the distribution of the movie, and they had to work out an arrangement. He had the right to protect the integrity of his work, and he exercised his veto power.”
Browning provides another example involving a Christian recording artist who uses snippets or samplings of another artist’s work. They are almost forced to arrive at a shared copyright arrangement. He recommends artists educate themselves with their rights and responsibilities when it comes to copyright law.
“We’ve seen this with music sampling,” Browning says. “It’s become an almost requirement. In the early days, artists were having to file lawsuits to protect their work and receive what they see as a fair price for their original work. It’s been difficult and there aren’t a whole lot of set rules.”
For example, if Jay Z uses a sample to create his new and original work, he has to pay compensation, he says. But they usually work it out in advance.
“Years ago, MC Hammer was quoted as saying that if he takes a sample of Stevie Wonder, then he’s got a check coming. If I just take one guitar chord or a quick riff from your song that is a couple of seconds, don’t expect a big check,” Browning says. “It’s not a hard and fast standard. But no one likes the alternative: someone potentially suing, claiming infringement and holding up the song’s release.”
Rodecker and Rodriguez claim they have been bombarded with offers since the video went viral earlier this month. “I have no words to express how it has been,” Rodriguez says. “There has been a huge response. I couldn’t be happier. I’ve never experienced anything like this before, and I am really grateful to all the people who believe in me.”
"In life, you have to push hard," Rodecker says. "People will never have faith in you until you prove to them that you are able to actually pull it off. So many people had their doubts about me rapping. I never gave up. I will never give up. It just shows that if you believe in yourself, eventually, after years of doubt, people will start believing in you, too."
Rodecker claims the original YouTube video on Rodriguez's Facebook page will be available again soon. He says he’s buried whatever hatchet had been raised and didn’t really want “to stir up the pot again.” But he did go ahead and upload a version on his CitizenSoldier Entertainment YouTube page.
“Everything’s fun and games until money gets involved,” he says. “Fuck money. It can ruin good things. However, this isn’t ruined. It’s just the beginning. We’re talking things out. Hopefully, she’ll agree to what I am asking. Things at least look that way.”
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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.