The multidisciplinary practice of hip-hop, religion, art and social justice is a niche one, and at its forefront is senior rapper and activist Kenyon Smutherman (SFS ’17).
Smutherman organizes “Magis: Jamaica,” the Office of Campus Ministry’s trip through the Alternative Breaks Program, which aims to provide a group of students with a unique opportunity for self-exploration and service with a higher purpose.
The trip is an exploration of growing inequality in the world and focuses on the intersecting currents of art and religion, something near and dear to Smutherman.
Having gained a following around the country for the hip-hop music he has created, Smutherman is now embarking upon a new series of projects through his raps and his unique academic focus on generational development.
Smutherman’s first encounter with music occurred during his senior year of high school, when a friend wanted to perform in their school’s talent show as a beatboxer but was afraid to go up by himself. Smutherman jokingly offered to get up with him and rap and ended up doing so, albeit reluctantly.
“I was absolutely terrible; it was a mess. … But over time, me and my brother started making songs and rapping a little bit,” Smutherman said.
A few months later, Smutherman came to Georgetown, where he became involved in more opportunities to work on his music and performances.
“I started getting more and more into it, doing a little bit of recording engineering … learning about how to structure a song, getting a little more into office production. … It just kind of snowballed from there,” Smutherman said.
The summer after his sophomore year, he posted his first song on SoundCloud, where it gained popularity — a huge motivation for him to keep moving forward in his musical discovery.
Smutherman is now involved in a series of new musical projects, moving away from his original, “very laid – back and chill” style.
“At that point, where I was, that was good for me, but now I want to innovate,” Smutherman said.
He strives to connect emotionally with people through an energetic approach to composing new songs.
“I’m focused on creating something different. … The music I’m creating now is a lot more progressive, a lot more high-energy. It has more power behind it.”
Drawing inspiration from a variety of artists like Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Earth Wind and Fire and The Beach Boys, Smutherman hopes his music will have a positive influence on a large group of people, while not necessarily imparting a pointed message through his lyrics.
“I don’t want to say something meaningless, but I feel like a lot of time people are trying to lecture through their raps, and only people who agree to it are going to listen,” Smutherman said. In an attempt to reach people of varied beliefs and perspectives, he focuses on the sound and energy of his songs.
Although Smutherman still wants to advance his music career, he sees it more as a complement to his overarching goal of facilitating personal connections, encouraging individual action and making systemic changes to alter large-scale inequality.
“People who are consummately artistic, they feel a need to create. That’s not necessarily me, but I love art, and I love the ability to be able to intertwine that with what I want to do,” Smutherman said.
“Twenty, 30 years from now, [what I want to do] is probably not music, it’s probably going to be something like policy, being able to create large-scale change, but if music can be a vehicle to make that happen, that’s okay.”
After all, Smutherman believes his desire to better the world around him through individual connections can be supported by his musical endeavors. His projects outside of music focus on his goal of creating more opportunities for future generations to move beyond structural poverty.
“I aim to create systems to benefit future generations and help break cycles of poverty.”
There is an apparent passion in his voice whenever he talks about all the reforms modern societies need. Among the pressing issues he identified are “investments in education, investments in infrastructure, understanding conditions of poverty, understanding how nutrition plays a role in childhood development.”
Although Smutherman has achieved recognition for his music, he does not share songs and projects through his personal social media. His Facebook page, “Kenyon Lee,” has only shared one post in the last year, and his SoundCloud seems to be the only way to access his music.. In response to his low profile, Smutherman said that he is not one to self-promote, because he likes “having [his music and personal life] be in their separate, different zones.”
According to Smutherman, this clear separation between his studies and his music is a testament to his unwillingness to categorize people and his wish to continue pursuing different paths in his life — politics, arts and music — separately.
Smutherman is not sure what lies ahead after graduation, but “it’s not scary,” as Georgetown has prepared him for whatever that may be. The key to succeeding, for Smutherman, has been to connect with like-minded individuals on campus.
“There are very artistic people around Georgetown, who largely influenced my musical career,” Smutherman said. “You just have to go out and find them.”
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