Joel Bauman is not a rapper, and he’s very clear about that.
Bauman, a competitor at 197 pounds for the Gophers wrestling team, identifies himself in various ways.
“I’m vulnerable, passionate and determined,” Bauman said. “I am an individual, and my goal is to inspire. I will inspire.”
His self-description includes nothing about being a rapper. That doesn’t mean he’s not good at it.
And he’s using that skill to his advantage.
Bauman has songs on iTunes, and his newest music video for his latest song, “Ones in the Sky,” recently eclipsed 15,000 hits on YouTube.
“I would love to make music full time to inspire people, but music is not the goal,” Bauman said. “It’s about impact for me because impact is always greater than success.”
‘Ones in the Sky’
Bauman’s fifth concussion of his career, on the mat in mid-November, reignited his career in the studio.
He has been around the team since then, but he has not been cleared for contact.
Bauman admitted his latest concussion was a low moment for him, but the timing turned out to be perfect.
A few days after he suffered the concussion, Bauman said a representative from a “pretty big” record label contacted him about some of his old music. Bauman said he thought it was a joke at first because he hadn’t written a lyric in eight months.
It wasn’t. That representative mentioned that some higher-ups at the record label had listened to Bauman’s music and loved it.
Bauman picked up the pen and paper after an eight-month hiatus. He wrote “Ones in the Sky” a day later.
He said writing the song was about a seven-hour process. He listened to the beat for about two hours, but the words wouldn’t come out.
“I was about to give up and then I asked myself … ‘If you could talk to the world for five minutes, what would you say?’” Bauman said. “And once I had that in my mind, I wrote the song like that.”
Bauman said that when he wrote “Ones in the Sky,” a female vocalist sang the chorus in his mind. He turned to a woman he’d met less than two months earlier to provide that voice.
Ash Webb transferred to the University of Minnesota from a school in New Jersey this year and met Bauman on the first day of classes.
Bauman had never heard her sing, but he said as soon as he heard her in action, he knew she was the person for the part.
Webb said she had collaborated with others in the past, singing at places like coffee shops. She was surprised when Bauman took her to a professional studio to record the song.
Still, Webb said she had no idea “Ones in the Sky” would turn out to be this huge.
Bauman said the premise of “Ones in the Sky” was going after dreams, and he hoped the music video would help emulate his message.
In the video, Bauman, Webb and videographer Cole Schrupp walked around the Mall of America and asked people to write down their dream on a note card. Then they filmed each person holding the note card with their index finger pointed in the air.
Bauman said he has received positive feedback in the two months since the video dropped.
“It’s beautiful because I’ve got a tragedy over here,” Bauman said, referring to his concussion, “and on the other side, we are out here inspiring and changing lives with music.”
A gift for music
Bauman said for as long as he has written music, he’s never been consistent with it. He said the time away from music varies each time, as do his reasons for leaving it. He said every time he steps away from music, it makes him better.
Bauman’s latest break from music came because of the song, “Ill Mind of Hopsin 5” by Hopsin, a rapper based out of California.
Bauman said he has always been a fan of Hopsin because of the message he sends through his music.
In the specific song “Ill Mind of Hopsin 5,” he speaks out against the current state of hip-hop and challenges the minds of the youth that listens to it.
“That’s kind of the message I want to convey to people [in my music],” Bauman said, “but he beat me to it.”
Bauman said he stopped making music after that because Hopsin had said everything he wanted to vocalize to the world.
It took a concussion and a call from a record label to change his mind.
“I realized I have a gift, and I have to use it,” Bauman said.
Always a dreamer
Bauman said he has always been a dreamer, but he admitted his music didn’t always represent that persona.
He grew up around music and has studied it since he was a young child growing up in Kerkhoven, Minn.
“I’ve been writing music ever since I was a little kid, but I was doing it wrong,” Bauman said. “I was the only African-American in my community, and I saw people on TV that were my color … so I kind of got into music for the wrong reasons.”
Bauman said he used to try to emulate the personalities he saw on television and was never truly himself through his music.
That has changed in the past year.
“I wrote music to try to impress people instead of trying to make an impact,” Bauman said. “That’s gone. … I’m not trying to make people think I’m cool.”
His producer Chad Helmonds said Bauman, who was intense from the moment Helmonds met him, has shown an added fire in recent months while changing his music.
“He’s trying to connect with people and spread that positivity,” Helmonds said, “which is not a common thing in hip-hop business.”
Bauman lives a lifestyle that emphasizes finding the “why” in life. His Twitter handle is @MrWhysGuy, and on Facebook he’s “Joel WhysGuy Bauman.”
“‘WhysGuys’ find their ‘why’ and then they got out there and do it,” Bauman said. “And I think the biggest thing for me is that I’ve found my ‘why’ in life.”
Webb said it’s hard to tell if Bauman makes music because he enjoys it or because he wants other people to feel good.
“I think it’s a combination of both, but he seems more focused on making others happy,” Webb said, “and that’s a refreshing thought.”
Though many sing Bauman’s praises, wrestling teammate Kevin Steinhaus grew up with him and said he’s the same guy he’s always been.
“I know him more on a personal level, so I think people who know him a little less might be more inspired by him,” Steinhaus said with a chuckle. “It’s always good to have a guy like that around the team, though.”
Bauman said he would like to make music his career but wouldn’t necessarily want to be signed by a major record label.
“I don’t want to fit a label,” he said, “because labels don’t want the message that I have to offer people.”