By Megan Lupo
Hip-hop was immersed in his life for as long as he could remember. His household in Lakewood seemed to thump with the beats of New York-based rappers from Jay-Z to the Lox. His father blared their music every chance he could, either in the car or on television. His whole family enjoyed listening to this hypnotic genre.
And that was when sophomore marketing major Schron Blanchard found his passion.
“The first song I ever wrote was in middle school. It was called ‘Amazing.’ I still remember the hook. I still remember some of the words; it was so basic. I recorded it off of an iPod touch,” Blanchard said. “But it was good because this was a young me just trying to figure how I wanted to rap.”
After perfecting his craft and writing original music, Blanchard decided to compete in Rider Rhymes, a rap battle held on Feb. 9 in the Cavalla Room.
The stage was set up like a boxing ring, with the audience circled around and the performers entering through the side of the crowd onto the stage.
Although the venue impressed performers, it provided challenges for them to connect to every audience section.
“At first, I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this because it was going to require a lot of energy to jump around and give everybody love,’” junior communication major Jordan Cohen said. “It felt like I was a teacher in one of those U-shaped classrooms; nobody could escape. I [had] everybody’s eyes on me.”
The winner of the night, based on audience votes, was junior business administration major Mawusimensah Mears.
Mears started listening to hip-hop in the third grade when his older brother would blast Jay-Z, Tupac and Kanye West.
Falling in love with the music, Mears began to take hip-hop seriously when he was a high school freshman, as a means of showcasing his artistry.
“I had gotten a microphone for Christmas, and all I did was record music,” Mears said. “People used to come to my house every day after school to record.”
For Mears, participating in Rider Rhymes was a way to gain exposure and expand his fan base. He also appreciated the competitive atmosphere and set out to win.
“Hip-hop was born through battle raps and I always try to win any battle,” he said. “I felt accomplished. I never received any accolades from my music or lyrical abilities so I was proud of myself, and I was surprised that majority of the audience voted for me because I’m not that popular.”
Growing up almost 70 miles away from Lakewood, in Livingston, Cohen was surrounded by a similar culture because of his family.
“My dad always used to show me music,” he said, “When I was little, [he] would show me ‘In Da Club,’ ‘Without Me,’ all these great songs, and I would just bop to them.”
Then, Cohen started developing his skills by beginning to write raps when he was a freshman in high school.
Finding inspiration from his surroundings and life experiences, he believes that it’s important to be original but learn from others, as well.
“My favorite song that I ever wrote was called ‘Open Up the Window.’ It’s about what music does to you, what it means to you,” Cohen said. “Let them come out and jam with you. Music brings people together. It’s just a beautiful art.”
Wearing a Phife Dawg shirt, who was the late rapper from the group A Tribe Called Quest, and a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air era-type jersey, Blanchard performed under his stage name, Next-G.
His roommate commented that he was “the freshest one on stage.”
The influencing factor behind his song, “No Name” was from the place where he first learned about hip-hop: his hometown.
“I’m not going to say I had the worst childhood. I think I had a pretty OK one, but there were definitely struggles,” Blanchard said. “I always keep a positive outlook on this. That’s also the circle that I grew up around. Everybody’s just positive.”
He was 4 or 5 years old when his uncle, known as Victorious Vic, was in a rap group in high school called H-5. He was mesmerized and would pretend to mumble verses, and his uncle would be enthused.
His uncle’s friends would exclaim, “Rap battle me, little man.”
“That’s dope. That’s ‘illy.’ You’re killing people my age,” his uncle encouraged.
Over time, his uncle, a fan of Eminem and The Game, encouraged him to analyze the words of rap, not just listen. He fell deeper in love with the music.
He had the instrumentals for the song months before he had written lyrics for it. He polished the lyrics the Sunday before he performed. He is his harshest critic, and he would throw away his written material until it was perfection, he said.
Cohen, on the other hand, spit his “Bonfire (Remix),” which was the first song he ever wrote. The instrumentals were from the song “Bonfire” by Childish Gambino.
Supported by his Theta Chi brothers, Cohen freestyled to the beats that student coordinator for the event, senior finance major Matthew Esposito, gave the contestants a few days earlier.
The key to freestyling well is to stay continuant and calm.
“I learned that from being in theater for so long because the trick of theater is, ‘If you mess up your lines, don’t stop. Keep going,’” Cohen said. Throughout the competition, the audience remained hyped because of the enthusiasm of the rappers.
The reason why hip-hop resonates with the performers is because of the universal feeling of euphoria that rap evokes, which Cohen summed up.
“The beats now are becoming so intricate,” Cohen said. “There’s singing rap, there’s urban rap, there’s lyrical rap, there’s metal rap, you name it, it’s out there. Rap is the thing, and that’s what makes it beautiful.”
See the full photo gallery from this event at theridernews.com
Published in the 2/14/18 edition.