Updated: May 21, 2022 at 2:54 p.m.
Between classes and schoolwork, student musicians are cultivating their innovation and collaborating with other students to create a mix of music genres.
Five students with various degrees of musical experience said while GW’s music community is relatively unknown, the campus offers a tight-knit community of artists, some of whom have worked in the Mount Vernon Campus’ recording studio in West Hall to create their music. The students said they have found a supportive community of independent artists at GW whom they learn from through student organizations and during collaborative recording sessions.
Meet some of the students who have brought their musical ambitions to the campus scene:
Graduating senior Jacy Case is an independent music vocalist for her indie band “Headcase” and the co-president of the Student Musicians Coalition – a student organization supporting the music community at GW. Case said she has planned campus performances like the Day of the Arts Festival in Square 80 this past spring and facilitated music collaboration among students through open jam sessions and live performances. She said she has grown the presence of SMC through the events it markets to connect the GW community to music on campus.
“I started hosting open mic nights, and that would be just me and my guitar,” Case said. “And it was really cool because we started getting all of these people from all over the school. It’s like coming and playing, and then towards the end it would just kind of be like an open jam session.”
Rising senior Nyle Hutchinson, an aspiring rapper, drummer and songwriter, said he broke his way into the music scene by working with student producers on campus, adding his lyrics to pre-released tracks and experimenting with multiple genres of backtracks from rap and hip hop to jazz. Hutchinson said he drew lyrical inspiration from times of grief, often turning rants of frustration into musical expression to demonstrate the emotional and intellectual depth of his writing.
“I like to speak from a place of authentic experiences and communicate what’s impactful to me and important to me,” Hutchinson said. “I found that when you communicate in that way, people, it has a larger impact on them too, and that there’s a transference of energy in a sense.”
Inspired by artists like Joey Bada$$ and J.Cole, Hutchinson said he is currently working to release two or three songs this summer, bringing his writing to life through genres including jazz, rock and rap. He said while continuing to perform as both a drummer and freestyle lyricist, he hopes to merge his talents in a way that allows him to take advantage of every opportunity within the music industry.
Salah Mohammed, a rising junior, said he creates beats and works with GW student artists including graduating senior Collin Cadet and rising sophomore Astrid Nkemla as well as other rising industry artists as a self-made producer. Mohammed said he has engaged with a “rich community” of hip-hop, R&B and rap artists at GW, recording in studios on the Mount Vernon Campus.
He earlier used an at-home studio, so having a place to collaborate with artists on campus has expanded his reach. Mohammed added that GW has provided a space to focus on his music instead of working alongside artists he doesn’t “believe in” just to get his name out there and make a paycheck.
“I’ve had to do a lot of settling.” Mohammed said. “But on this campus, there’s a lot of real artists. It’s such a good feeling being able to connect with somebody on the same wavelength. Because when you do, the art takes off.”
Astrid Nkemla, an independent rapper under the stage name Mafogang, dropped her first song “1, 2, 3” in February in her home country of Cameroon before releasing her second song “Not Hot” one month later on platforms like Spotify, iTunes and Soundcloud. While “1, 2, 3” started as an inside joke with her sister as a classic dig against men, she said “Not Hot” shows maturity in her lyrics and vocals as a musician.
She said that the song itself translates the ambitious and fearless energy she personifies as an artist. Mafogang – a traditional name in Cameroon – means brave woman, someone who is not afraid to take risks.
“Even in the first line of ‘Not Hot’ it says ‘I am not rapping, I’m preaching,’” Nkemla said. “I don’t want people to think my music is rap, I want them to think of my music as art.”
Nkemla said during one of her first times in the Mount Vernon recording studio, she worked with graduating senior Elijah Flores, an engineer who runs the studio, to produce “Not Hot” in under an hour.
Nkemla said her progression as an artist is about portraying her own growth in her music as she continues to learn more about herself and reflect this transformation in her lyrics.
“Now the way I make music is I put a song on, I listen to it for a first time, then a second time and I just see whatever comes to my mouth,” Nkemla said. “I don’t write. I literally just go as the beat goes. I picture myself being outside my body listening to this music, I picture what I want to hear.”
Collin Cadet, formerly known as BLiNK, has been releasing rap music since 2017 after kicking off his artistic journey in high school writing diss tracks against rival schools. He released his first track, “Woke,” which tapped into his passion for social justice after running his high school chapter of Black Lives Matter. Cadet said he took the time to reflect on his work, learning about what art, success and future plans look like for him, which helped him understand his creative process.
Cadet said his music is more than just a song heard on the radio. He said the art of creating music in the moment makes music successful and meaningful, rather than the fame around it. For him, doing what he loves is all that matters.
“I’m sitting here right now, we’re making a painting,” Cadet said during a visit to the Vern’s recording studio. “It’s like you’re sitting with Basquiat right now. Some people come into the studio and they think it’s just awesome rap s—, which is totally fine and fun. But I think for me, it’s a successful moment when you can create.”
This post has been updated to clarify the following:
This post was updated to clarify that Astrid Nkemla’s hometown is in Cameroon.