Seemingly, HBCUs are hesitant concerning anything related to hip-hop—well anything outside of the homecoming concert. While the relationship can be difficult the relationship is undeniable. I mean really, how many times have you heard Howard University mentioned by your favorite rapper? Quite a few, I’m sure—Hi Drake.
Lonnie “Common” Lynn, Jr., emerged on the hip-hop scene as Common Sense in the early 1990s. His voice—music and lyricism—defied the era’s standards and would later make room for similar artists. His first album, “Can I Borrow A Dollar?” released in 1992, gained the Chicago born rapper a significant underground following. This later translated into his first album on a major label, “Like Water For Chocolate” sold nearly one million records and earned him a 2001 Grammy nomination for the track, “The Light”. Common earned his first Grammy two years later for “Love of My Life An Ode To Hip-Hop” with Erkyah Badu. This track was also featured in the 2002 soundtrack for Brown Sugar.
With continued Grammy success, (2006 nomination for Best Album; 2007 award for Best Rap Duo or Performance, this Florida A&M University alum, expanded his brand and began acting. His major film roles include Smoking Aces, Fast and Furious and Just Wright.
Lavell “David Banner” Crump, rapper, producer and actor and die-hard Mississippi representer served his alma mater Southern University as the SGA president before attending University of Maryland to pursue a graduate degree in education. Banner left school to pursue his rap career, as one half of the duo Crooked Lettaz and later released his first solo album, “Them Firewater Boyz” in 2000. His 2003 album, “Mississippi: The Album” earned his first appearance on the Billboard 100. Later in 2003, Banner released the follow-up, “MTA: Baptized In Dirty Water”. Singles from his 2005 project, “Certified” again found their place on the Billboard 100.
Banner’s musical success extends beyond his career. He had produced tracks for Southern Hip-Hop pioneers, 8ball & MJG, Pimp C of UGK and Trick Daddy, for Too $hort, gospel duo Mary Mary, R&B singers Anthony Hamilton and Estelle.
Little Brother, was formed on the campus of North Carolina Central University by Phonte (Phonte Coleman), Rapper Big Pooh (Thomas Jones) and DJ/Producer 9th Wonder (Patrick Douthit). In 2003, first studio debut album, ‘The Listening” was released too much critical acclaim earning the group national recognition and affording 9th wonder the opportunity to work with Jay-Z. Little Brother’s second studio album, The Minstrel Show was released in 2005. The album compared rap music and the music industry to minstrel shows of the late 19th and early 20th century.
In 2007, Little Brother left their label and 9th Wonder parted ways with Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh.
There are numerous connections to hip hop and HBCUs. 2 Chainz earned his bachelor’s degree from Alabama State University, Das EFX attended Virginia State University, the late rapper Guru of Gang starr earned his degree from Morehouse in 1983. At this year’s commencement, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Howard University years after he dropped out to pursue is music career.
E. Clare Stewart is graduate of Fisk University and Meharry Medical College, School of Graduate Studies and Research. She currently serves as a Technical Consultant for the Fisk-MMC HBCU Wellness Project. Follow her on twitter at @EClareStewart.