Walking around Brooklyn in 2015, Ron Sararana, known in the Christian hip-hop community as DJ Efechto, had finished a show in his role as DJ for Christian hip-hop star, Propaganda, one of his best friends. Amid the brownstones and tree-lined streets, Ron revealed his frustration with the direction of his career and financial status. Here he was, traveling the world, living a life steeped in music and doing good and he was barely getting by.
“It was one of those moments I think every man has with one of his friends; that moment when you have to take off the Friend Hat and be real,” Propaganda said. “And I told him that I shouldn’t be able to afford him [as my house DJ], that he should be doing bigger things with his talent. I told him he was the most talented person I know. While I’m successful and I can pay him gigs, let’s be real, I can’t give him healthcare.”
Propaganda put it plainly: while Ron’s humility was one of his most endearing characteristics, it was also hindering him and his career. Though Ron was true to the tattoo on his forearm that read “Kill ’em with kindness,” his friend told him he needed to elevate his public persona, needed to push forward and get what was his.Inspired, the next day Ron pulled a 180 of sorts. Riffing off of Humble Beast, their record label, Ron created Humble Beastro where, slowly but surely, he would develop his love of food as a career. Over the next three years, he honed his talents: from perfecting his stellar food photography to culinary-focused travel, from bonding with local restaurateurs to hosting dinners for friends. His goal was to create a Long Beach-centric food empire with a different approach to food that could bring together a conglomeration of cultures by that most humble, and powerful act of breaking bread with strangers.
But Humble Beastro would never find its way to full realization, not under Ron’s direction. While traveling in Spain to finalize research for his first pop-up in Long Beach, Ron had a heart attack in his rental apartment on Nov. 18 and was later found dead by the unit’s owner. He was 38.
Now, Propaganda, event master Robert Marquez, and The Nest owner Antonio Appling are having to face a life without their best friend while attempting to both honor and further his legacy.
“Even though he traveled the world, home was always where his heart was,” Robert said. “He wanted to bring the world to Long Beach.”
****Whether you knew him as DJ Efechto, or Snack King Cole, or Killapino, or simply Ron, one thing was always clear when encountering him: He was a person filled with a kindness that was attractive if not addicting, so much so that it was common to hear people say they “need more of him.”
“I have never really processed grief,” Marquez said, sitting at Recreational Coffee in Downtown Long Beach, one of Ron’s frequent hangouts. “We were sitting at the counter, we were sitting right there two days before he left for Spain. Y’know, on my way over here, I just kept looking at my passenger seat and—I just couldn’t process that he was sitting there and I am now talking about him not being here. It’s an inexplicable pain.”
Propaganda has been forced to tackle the loss head-on as he watches his children deal with the death of someone they viewed as an uncle. And Marquez, who lost his father-in-law shortly before losing Ron, is facing the complexities of trying to uphold Ron’s past while moving forward. The struggle of their grieving is interconnected perhaps most intimately by the fact that their children shared their love of Ron. Ron’s admirable and amicable personality cemented what, for these boys and girls, was truly their Tito.“Watching my 13-year-old daughter cry is never something you want to see as a parent,” Propaganda said. “Especially the loss of someone who was so inspirational. I didn’t even know he had given her one of his cameras so she could learn photography. It’s like when I found out he had been dropping off a friend’s kid at school every morning. His love of giving was endless and my kids are really feeling it. If I would Facetime my 3-year-old, she would pretty much ignore me and ask to speak to Tito.”
Fulfilling the role of uncle beyond well, Ron would become elated at watching the face of Mateo, Appling’s son, eat Filipino food for the first time or bounce to one of his beats. This was a testament to the fact that, as Marquez pointed out, Ron “served people through food and music”; hip-hop was his language, food was his soul.
“A humble perfectionist,” is how Appling described Ron, having seen him every day for nearly two years. “He was always hard on himself even when he was killing it. I didn’t really know him as a DJ; he was, first and foremost, my brother. Doing life. Accountability. Praying. Fellowship. Family. Food. A talent unlike any other—truly. I feel like I’m still waiting to get that text back from him.”
****Appling isn’t alone in the feeling that Ron’s loss is some surreal, if not outright crude cosmic joke. Many like him, came together from around the globe on Sunday, Dec. 9, to honor Ron. The more than 300 present talked about his influence and temperament which they described as running wonderfully counter to our current culture, where Instagram fame is paired with overt and vapid vanity to garner a following.
Ron eschewed this to his detriment, some said. Then again, the 300, his three best friends, their children and countless others who encountered Ron also proved you can kill ’em with kindness while also killin’ the game. You can be humble and still influence. You can be a beast with your talent and empathy.
“He bled Long Beach,” Propaganda summed up. “And, he bled love.”
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