While walking through a swarm of students released after a morning class, the sun highlights a book and freshly written essay in a student’s hand. But a dual role emerges as the student’s book turns into a microphone, the essay into a song, the sun into performance lights and all of campus into an audience.
November marks Hip-Hop History Month. Hip-hop turns 37 this year, but artists commemorate the genre every day while working to make names for themselves.
Sophomore Terrell McDowell, who also goes by the stage name T-Bugsy, attends Youngstown State University as a pre-business and accounting major.
Besides studying at YSU, McDowell claims the title of local rap artist and record label CEO.
He runs 5-TRE, an entertainment company that focuses on finding and promoting music-based talent. His job duties involve performing live shows, as well as throwing parties and events.
Freshman Tyrell Williamson, or Young Blizz, studies business administration and serves as a 5-TRE artist and hype man.
The rappers market themselves and the brand through social networking, with a focus on out-of-state audiences. They spread word by participating in radio and Internet interviews.
Born and raised in Youngstown, McDowell said the hardest thing about being a local artist is gaining recognition.
“It’s hard to get looked at as a potential success because, businesswise, not a lot of people make it,” he said. “We have to deal with more stereotypes here, compared to other places that embrace the underground movement more.”
McDowell said it’s hard to get the community behind an independent record label.
He said promotion is vital to a budding artist’s career. McDowell and his colleagues primarily put on collaborative shows, but also branch off for individual performances. It’s an attempt to get people on board so that others in the community will follow.
“People tend to do what they think everyone else is going to do,” McDowell said.
McDowell combines his experiences in education and music. He said he hopes that using both will lead to success.
“I want to develop more of a business sense of entertainment and obtain enough success as a rapper or label CEO,” McDowell said. “I want to be able to live comfortably and spread word of my knowledge.”
This knowledge will be expressed on his album, “Hand on the Bible,” which will be released early next year. McDowell turns the difficulties of his past into lessons with his music.
“The album is me spreading what I feel is my truth,” he said. “That is where the title comes from. I’ve learned a lot of truths from where I came from and where I am today.”
Growing up, McDowell never thought education was in his future. As a sophomore, his outlook has changed. He said he now believes education is imperative to his success.
“I never looked at school as an option,” McDowell said. “Now I’m in school and obtaining knowledge. I want to spread the knowledge that there are other ways to be successful.”
Also viewing education as a primary focus, Williamson said he would love to make it big in the music industry, but a degree comes first.
“A degree is more for sure,” Williamson said. “Music is more of a hobby, but if I could put business with my music I would.”
5-TRE consists primarily of rap and hip-hop artists. However, its genre composition may expand.
When finding artists, McDowell looks for ambition, drive and loyalty.
As a label member, Williamson said he thinks that involvement with team projects yields greater benefits than flying solo. He says the group tries to stick together as one movement.
“If one person makes it, everybody makes it,” he said.