Students find lyrical outlets as aspiring rappers


Zac Thomas

Erin Zaranec

“In the best of ways / we ain’t even seen the best of days / that’s why I pray, that’s why I’m rappin’ like a holiday / that’s probably why I got so much to say.”

As mentioned in the lyrics of his first single of 2017, “New Genesis,” senior Pan-African studies major Zac Thomas does have a lot to say — and he finds that he best voices his thoughts while rapping.

Thomas may be the name called during class attendance, but Zac 1st is the name heard in live performances, on singles and in the studio.

“I consider my music my life. My soul documentary, my autobiography. It’s all about me — my life, and my growth in life, as well as my music,” Thomas said. “These are all my 3 a.m. thoughts, my responses to media in that moment and anything that moves me to speak aloud on the topic.”

The 23-year-old was paving the way for this music career from age 5, taking inspiration from his uncle Anthony Henderson, better known as Krayzie Bone of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony.

Surrounded by musical talent from a young age, Thomas, then a kindergartener, began rapping and singing into karaoke machines and playing it back to himself — all while learning his ABCs.

“When I took it to school and people told me I was good at it, I never stopped,” Thomas said. “It got real in 10th grade when I got in a professional studio and saw what I could do.”

While the majority of his songs exist as singles, Thomas released “Zasquiat,” a seven song EP, in August 2015.

“After years of trying to find myself, musically and as a person, I have come up with this piece. Past the views of others, past current trends, past doubt. I have decided to talk about what’s happening. Right here, on our back porches. It gets deep ya’ll. I really just want you all to take a trip through my exact mind,” Thomas wrote on AudioMack, describing his first EP.

While Thomas is currently in his senior year, he would hesitate to label himself as a student before a musician.

“I definitely focus a lot more on music than on schoolwork. I’m not ashamed to say that because, well, it’s my passion,” Thomas said. “I still make sure I’m on top of my business in school, too, though.”

While he may spend more time perfecting lyrics than perfecting homework assignments, Thomas does take the time to make sure some of his pieces can be educational, using his voice to speak on social issues.

“My music is experimental. I like to try many different sounds from smooth to hype, from lyrical to vibey. But I always make sure I talk about real life. What’s real, what I’m really dealing with and my people,” Thomas said. “As a Pan-African studies major, I like to use my music, in a lot of cases, as a form of black activism.”

Thomas is not currently signed, but works with music group BE$T REGARDS. The group is currently working on becoming an LLC, or limited liability company.

Thomas always writes his own lyrics, but works with Cleveland rapper Kirk Stillz for the beats behind his words. All of his songs are produced by Matt Maunus at Top of the World Studios in Parma.

“I literally am a music machine. 100 percent of the day, I’m either looking for producers, finding beats, writing music or listening to music,” Thomas said. “In fact, I have about 120 songs created in my phone that I got in December. It’s literally my passion.”

His passion has taken him from the classroom to the stage, performing in venues around Cleveland, Akron and Columbus. Upon graduation in May, Thomas hopes to begin travelling more for performances. For now, his music thrives in Kent.

“I think the musical talent at Kent is crazy and slept on,” Thomas said. “We have a bunch of legit rappers, singers and DJ’s that really take the craft seriously. I haven’t seen it to this extent at any other Ohio college or university.”

The rap and hip-hop scene at Kent State may be one of the university’s best kept secrets, but it’s one that allows students to express themselves in a creative outlet.

“This the only way that you’ll ever see the real me / This the only way that you’ll ever see the real me.”

Sophomore marketing major Maxwell Wolford’s voice fades off on his October single entitled “The Real Me,” haunting the listener at the end of the track. Similar to Thomas, Wolford finds rapping is the best way to be heard.

Working with other Kent State rappers like SAV, Hauzzy and Chris Blaire, Wolford has integrated himself into a scene that is otherwise still underground.

“I never would’ve known (about the Kent rap scene) if I didn’t directly meet them to discover (it). That’s where the underground aspect comes into play,” Wolford said. “There is so much talent here, but there is no buzz on campus because there isn’t a place for people to hear all that we put out regularly. As of now, social media is the biggest platform.”

Wolford, who writes his own lyrics but currently relies on pre-recorded beats from other artists, finds the balance between student and artist to be an uneven one as well. Like many other artists, his craft oftentimes comes before his schoolwork.

“It’s tough without a doubt. Whenever I have about two hours-plus of downtime from school work and/or studying, I record, find beats and think of concepts,” Wolford said. “Most of the time I wait until my school work is finished, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t put my music first a good amount of the time.”

Wolford began his music career at 10, growing up in a musically inclined family where he was “basically tossed in a family band” from birth.

The traditional college experience entails taking courses that prepare you for a future career. For Kent’s creative artists, coursework is simply a distraction between studio sessions.

Erin Zaranec is the features correspondent for the Kent Stater, contact her at [email protected]