On Kanye West’s “Graduation,” you find a story about a man’s journey through a college experience of his own. The record holds moments of exploding confidence that shaped the controversial emcee's career.
But what about those rappers who actually did orchestrate their careers during their time in lecture halls?
Meet Vessle and Jetley.
Both Battle of the Bands participants during their senior years at the University (Vessle was the winner in 2017 and Jetley was a finalist in 2018), these artists used the resources and people around them to build a following and local clout.
Now, they’re continuing their rise in the rap game during post-grad life.
“The real world don’t give a fuck about you, when you get out here your constant support isn’t there anymore,” sociology graduate Vessle said. “The organic support is there, you just have to invest in it.”
Solidifying support during his time as president of the Black Student Union, Vessle crafted a following that was ride-or-die while at school. Having had a solid number of supporters at shows everywhere from The Whole to The Red Sea on West Bank, the artist says curating friendships is crucial to rap success post-grad.
Your music, though, has to slap too.
“I honestly think the music on this new EP could change my life if the right person heard it,” Vessle said. “I feel [this] way about all of my music, but this content especially.”
Not a dime is going into promoting these new tracks, either. The Milwaukee native references 6ix9ine and Bobby Shmurda as examples of careers gone bad, and he's guaranteeing a different path for himself.
“I didn’t know in school what I know now: to capitalize on a release the best way possible is a skill,” Vessle said. “It’s coming around again, and now I know what I’m doing. You need a plan.”
Tactfully charging his career with matured precision, Vessle stresses that a slow rise equates to stability.
One such calculated move was to gain inspiration on a trip to Nigeria. While the Minnesota scene is superb for harboring a following, its legacy in hip-hop is skewed from fundamental tradition.
“Minnesota has a weird relationship with itself [ ... ] that creates this ambivalence and ambiguity to representation," Vessle said. "How do you reflect something like hip-hop in a place like that? You made it yours, but it’s not yours.”
Mixing up recording locales is common for Midwest hip-hop artists.
Jetley, a management information systems and marketing graduate, packed his bags for New York City, the homeland of Biggie and the A$AP Mob once his diploma was in hand.
“I hustled to get my business degree and put out two full-length projects in music,” Jetley said. “While focusing on music, I still did internships within marketing strategy and consulting to help curate my business prowess.”
This grind drew heavily on Jetley’s upbringing in New Delhi, India. He says location has a massive influence on his music, and moving to a larger city like New York was always the goal to pop-off his career.
“Thinking outside of the realm of what is perceived as acceptable and speaking my truth about where I came from is the vibe with all of my tracks,” Jetley said. “I wrote like this in Minnesota, and I’ve stayed true out here.”
This one-of-a-kind mentality shows. Fans of both Vessle and Jetley note how the artists' sounds relate to their unique perspectives.
“UMN artists have this boldness to be different,” said Dhruv Methi, a Battle of the Bands-goer and sophomore computer science and management information systems major. “These two are so ready to chart their own path and ready to leave their own impact instead of just trying to replicate what other people are doing.”
Being a citizen of India, the rapper’s tenacious drive has only inspired his music further.
“Shit, grinding [the work] out from Minnesota made it even colder,” Jetley said. “I actually doubled down and really got focused on my music during my time at the U.”
Like Vessle, Jetley constantly drew on support from the friendships he made at school.
“By the end of my four years, I couldn't walk into a party without someone turning on ‘Jetley's Back,’” he said. “You just can’t stop. I work on all my crafts every day and don't take no for an answer.”
Jetley wants to hit a new note within the Minnesotan rap scene. Potentially working with Vessle on future collaborations, the two have the potential to flip the switch.
“It's time to put the 'So on the map,” Jetley said.