As KRS-One articulated throughout his catalog and in his many teachings, “Rap is something you do, hip hop is something you live.” As the culture continues to evolve today, many feel it’s not only important, but vital to preserve and honor the fundamental elements: Graffiti, emceeing, breakdancing, deejaying and knowledge. This column called “Each One, Teach One” aims to do exactly that. It will highlight various lessons that can be passed between new and old generations alike.
As another school year wraps, it’s hard not to feel excited for what the future holds for those who powered through balancing rigorous coursework and navigating a social life, while figuring out what they hope to do once they throw their graduation caps in the air.
While countless business professionals and artists have found ample successes outside of pursuing a formal education, it goes without saying that being a student of life is a necessary part of the process and those with a hunger for soaking in as much knowledge and experience as possible are poised to push the culture forward. For those who do embrace earning a degree, the road is not an easy one, but getting to the other side can be a feeling of accomplishment unlike any other.
In hip hop — and music — in general, there is no such thing as a linear path. One person’s journey to the top of the rap game may be the complete opposite of the direction another chose to take. While there are several components that remain constants in majority of artists’ careers — such as talent or consistent hard work or unrelenting passion — it takes a certain secret sauce to help elevate one’s career. For some, that gusto was found within the walls of a classroom, helping propel one path, purpose, and of course, education to the next level.
In the spirit of graduation season, there are dozens of rappers to salute for their choice to go to college and experience all that comes along with enrolling. A handful of rappers have gone the more traditional route and pursed common undergraduate coursework, such as J. Cole earning a Communications degree or 2 Chainz focusing on Psychology, while others, such as Donald Glover and M.I.A. tried their hand at arts-focused schools.
For a handful of esteemed artists, their efforts and accomplishments in the arts were recognized by established and reputed institutions later on in their careers in the form of honorary degrees. Legends such as Sean “Diddy” Combs, Chuck D and Missy Elliott have been awarded honorary doctorates, which are milestones that undeniably doubles as sources of inspiration.
On the other hand, some artists return to college in various ways outside of being technically enrolled as students, such as through guest lecturing or even being the actual subject of an official course. While Bun B has been providing wisdom at Rice University’s School of the Humanities with Hip-Hop and Religion lessons since 2013, artists such as Beyoncé, the Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Kanye West and Master P have all found themselves at the center of courses that students can take at the collegiate level.
Pursuing a college education, whether by seeing it through its entirety or taking a handful of classes, has helped play a role in the genesis of some of today’s most dynamic, successful and overall celebrated artists. Let’s take a look at 19 hip hop artists who did the damn thing, and let’s make way for the hard-earned celebratory BBQs and graduation parties. Congrats also to the graduating class of 2019!
College: St. John’s University
As he weaves into his music on occasion, J. Cole moved to NYC after finishing high school and attended St. John’s University on an academic scholarship. He reportedly graduated magna cum laude with a major in communications and a minor in business.
Childish Gambino / Donald Glover
College: New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts
Degree: Dramatic Writing
Donald Glover graduated in 2006 and went on to land his first network television job straight out of college. Since then, he has become one of the most well-rounded creatives in the business by excelling in music and entertainment.
College: New York University
Talib Kweli grew up in a family that includes an English professor (his mom), a college administrator and sociologist (his dad) and a law professor (his brother), which helped inspire him to explore his own talents early on. He studied theater in college and went on to open the Nkiru Center for Education and Culture along with Mos Def.
College: Aldelphi University
Degree: Graphic Design
As a proud social justice activist, Public Enemy’s Chuck D earned a BFA in Graphic Design and during his time at school, he launched his music career with a show on his college radio station.
College: Georgia State University
Degree: Music Management
Ludacris earned his degree in music management, which was a move that helped him launch his own label, Disturbing tha Peace, in 2000, and pave the way for longevity in the music business.
College: Southern University and A&M College, later attending University of Maryland Eastern Shore to pursue a Master’s in Education (left the latter to pursue music full-time)
David Banner obtained a Business degree from Southern University in Baton Rouge, where he also served as the president of his school’s Student Government Association. He later went on to pursue a master’s in education, but went on to shift his focus to his music career.
College: Morehouse College
Degree: Business Administration
Known as half of the iconic group Gang Starr, Guru studied at Morehouse and earned a degree in Business Administration. His business savvy undeniably helped inform his iconic music legacy.
College: Adelphi University
Degree: Radio Communications and Business
As a radio communications major, Flavor Flav laid a foundation for a career that would evolve into being an entertainer and reality TV star.
College: University of Houston
Degree: Honorary / Psychology
In 2008, Lil Wayne was awarded with an honorary degree from the University of Houston. After getting his GED, he initially attended the school as a psychology major and later transferred to the University of Phoenix to take online classes.
College: North Carolina Central University
Phonte attended North Carolina Central University where he would go on to meet his future Little Brother collaborators Big Pooh and 9th Wonder. He went on to graduate magna cum laude honors.
Chance the Rapper
College: Dillard University
Degree: Honorary Doctorate
In 2018, Chance the Rapper was awarded with an honorary doctorate from Dillard University. He also gave the official class of 2018’s commencement speech, where he touched on civic duty and entrepreneurialism.
LL Cool J
College: Northeastern University
LL Cool J’s body of work and contributions to hip hop were honored in 2014. Even cooler? LL shared the experience with his daughter, Italia Smith, who graduated the same year the college recognized his influence.
Sean “Diddy” Combs
College: Howard University
Degree: Honorary Doctorate
Sean “Diddy” Combs received his honorary doctorate from Howard University in 2014 and also delivered the official commencement speech the same year. During his impactful speech, he touched on how attending the famed HBCU for two years as a business major, before going on to focus on music full-time, inspired him on a deeper level and helped push him to realize his full potential.
College: Phoenix Institute of Technology
Degree: Architectural Drafting
Ice Cube attended the Phoenix Institute of Technology to study architectural drafting, intending to use his love of architecture and design as a plan B in case his career in music didn’t pan out.
College: Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design
Degree: Fine Art, Film and Video
M.I.A. graduated from London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in 2000 with a degree in fine art, film, and video. As her multifaceted career shows, she definitely applied what she learned in school into her art, but in her own individual, unapologetic way.
College: Alabama State University / Virginia State University
2 Chainz attended Alabama State University on a basketball scholarship and played on their team from 1995 to 1997. He went on to transfer to Virginia State University where he graduated and went on to pursue music full-time.
College: Berklee College of Music
Degree: Honorary Doctorate
Missy Elliott was awarded with an honorary doctorate from the prestigious Berklee College of Music this year. After receiving the recognition, she shared her excitement on social media and encouraged her fans to create their own lanes.
College: School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Degree: Honorary Doctorate
In 2015, Kanye West was awarded an honorary doctorate from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. As exemplified in his first three albums, he famously dropped out of Chicago State University and went on to explore an education of his own making. His dedication to the arts remains intact, even raising speculation on Twitter after a series of tweets alluded to him wanting to try his hand at teaching in the near future.
College: Winston Salem State University
In 2015, Common received his honorary doctorate degree from Winston Salem State University and went on to deliver an impassioned 27-minute commencement speech.
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