Take a passion for music, a talent for producing, and an alternative high school that emphasizes readiness for working in the real world and what do you get? A 26-year-old North Bergen resident who is blazing his own trail in the music industry.
KAS Prep graduate and North Bergen resident Justin DeSantis was recently signed to a publishing deal by Warner Chappell, a division of Warner Music Group, after a track he produced was chosen for a song by Cuban-American rapper and songwriter Kat Dahlia. The song, called “Gangster,” is on its way to becoming a national hit with over three million YouTube views.
DeSantis, who graduated from KAS (Knowledge and Advanced Skills) Prep in North Bergen in 2004, became interested in music production while taking a class in audio technology taught by Wilkis Figueroa, who became a friend and mentor.
“I’m very proud of him and I wish him the best,” said Figueroa. “It makes me know I did a great job as a teacher, because I was able to help him achieve his dreams.”
He looks forward to DeSantis’ return for more mentoring, as his students always do.
“When you have a kid interested in something, there’s no telling where it can go.” – HCST Superintendent Frank Gargiulo
KAS Prep is an alternative school designed to give students who excel in a non-traditional environment access to the same high standard of public education available to all students. It meets all state core curriculum standards and operates out of the district’s North Hudson Center in North Bergen.
The superintendent said he believes the school’s emphasis on career readiness helped DeSantis on his path to success.
“For the most part, a lot those kids are written off. But here they’re given an opportunity to succeed in a different way,” Garguilo said. “Interest drives all learning. When you have a kid interested in something, there’s no telling where it can go.”
DeSantis’ interest in music was strong in his youth, but it was mostly as a vocalist in local groups. His classes at KAS lit a fuse for him in the area of music production.
“I was always in bands growing up, but taking the audio technology class at KAS Prep showed me a whole different side of the music industry and opened a lot of doors for me,” said DeSantis, whose deal with Warner Chappell includes publishing rights for four songs. “I learned the foundation of audio engineering and production and the basics of the skills I am using now in my career.”
DeSantis’ collaboration with Dahlia, 22, goes beyond producing “Gangster” – he gave the singer one of her first opportunities to perform in front of a large audience at a recent showcase for local artists he organized. DeSantis also produced the title track off of Dahlia’s debut album, “My Garden.”
Gargiulo said the KAS model helps motivate interested students to be successful.
“I’m really proud of the staff down there, and the student in particular,” he said. “But I’m not surprised.”
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.