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Music Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How NiSPLASH Is Helping To Change Our World

I haven’t gotten to personally visit any of these Access Centers nor meet any of the students that use them. However, I know that when the Philly Tech Initiative began, less than half of the students at these access centers had headphones. With the funds that the initiative has raised, they were able to distribute gadgets and resources to many more students who were struggling to pay attention in classes because of distracting background noises. Closer to home, I have younger siblings who are trying their best to make the most of online classes and having a hard time despite the fact that we are able to enjoy more privileges than most children in Philadelphia.

As a part of our series about music stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing NiSPLASH, an up-and-coming independent artist out of Chattanooga, TN, based in Philadelphia, PA, with a new and original sound. In his music, he strives to navigate the intersection between deep lyricism and surface-level appeal to pinpoint opportunities to penetrate people’s minds and hearts as he uses his platform to further social change.

“The Movement,” which began as an experiment in a high school dorm, has since evolved into thousands of streams worldwide across various major platforms, live shows, music festival appearances, and more.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

I was born outside of Chicago, IL. Then I would move around the world in Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and throughout Europe before ending up in Chattanooga, TN **the center of the universe** where I’ve lived since the end of elementary school. Hip-hop and rap have always played a big role in my life, but beyond just music, my parents made sure I had broad exposure to all sorts of experiences, ideas, and perspectives. I have no doubt that my upbringing influences the way I approach music.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Throughout my life, I have always felt a deep connection to music. Even as a kid, I loved making up songs on long car rides, and by fifteen or so, that turned into creating more sophisticated compositions for piano and viola. In terms of rap, I could always freestyle, but that was more of a hobby and an occasional party trick.

Despite the integral role that music played in my life, I never once thought about becoming a recording artist myself. Even when my high school classmates urged me to give it a try, I felt as though becoming a rapper was an intangible goal, especially since all the people I knew who had tried weren’t very dedicated and seemed to only halfheartedly try because the barrier to entry was so low.

Additionally, I was a competitive basketball player and that was a big part of my life, so I felt there was no reason for me to divert my attention to a different craft altogether. But because my friends kept pushing me to try, after giving out nearly 100 “no’s,” I finally agreed to record my first song.

What started as an expressive outlet to escape the issues and injuries that were threatening my hoop dreams at the time, led to three-plus years of rapping, performing, and producing.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?

I think a lot of people would be surprised to know that I was the “real-life Hannah Montana.” Despite landing my first song on the radio, releasing my first full mixtape, performing at my first live show, recording my first music video, and even selling my own merchandise, I managed to keep my dual life mostly under wraps, hidden from my parents, against all odds. At the height of my underground fame, my whole operation was foiled by one enthused PTA mom. Apparently, my latest release at the time was one of her favorite workout songs, and when she shared this with my mother, my mother then proceeded to call downstairs and ask me, “what is this song Julie is talking about?” To which I responded, “a project …” (not a lie) which was enough for her to return to her phone call for an extra few seconds before calling back down saying, “she says there’s more than one” at which point I sank into the couch. Alas, I had been unmasked like a Scooby Doo villain and I could’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for that meddling mom.

Whether or not I got the best of both worlds, I’ll leave that to the readers to decide… What I learned from this is that a mother knows, and if she doesn’t, another does.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

Choose wisely who you surround yourself with. The beginning path to success in any field is going to inevitably consist of LOTS of trial and error. To this point, it is extremely unlikely that you’ll be great at something right off the bat, and definitely not in the grand scheme. Many people are starting to preach the hypothesis-driven approach to entrepreneurship and innovation: “try often and fail usefully,” but in creative contexts, it’s especially important that you surround yourself with people who make the early growing phase more enjoyable than embarrassing. I believe that many people have the ability to reach some level of success in a craft, but the storms that flush out the majority of aspiring creators often come from not having the right mindset, support system, or infrastructure to weather the learning curve. Ultimately, your inner circle is essential during your early career when you have to put an enormous amount of work and care into what you do with seemingly little to show for it, and additionally being more closely scrutinized in comparison to the already well-established players. For me, what helped me make it past recording and editing on Apple headphones to the fancy gadgets I have now was a group of people that wholeheartedly believed in my craft and saw things in me that I didn’t always see in myself. In short, you need to surround yourself with honesty, belief, and a win-or-learn mentality.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

Building off the “win or learn” motto, I try to view failure as a sometimes necessary step to success. This life lesson propelled me through the most rewarding challenges I’ve faced in basketball, school, business, and of course, music. To this point, my journey as a producer is the epitome of this “Life Lesson Quote.” When I experiment with my beat-making, sometimes I can end up with hot garbage. However, I find that the insights, skills, and techniques I develop from even my most dead-end beats lay the groundwork for what becomes my next best beat. That said, I would encourage people to take their losses in stride and make them worth the pain, frustration, and air-punching.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’d have to pick my parents because their contributions go hand in hand. I’m grateful to my mom for making sure I always understood the importance of the arts and sciences and their usefulness in expressing and exploring myself, even when that meant car rides full of humming that would drive my dad crazy. She taught me how to unapologetically be myself and embrace everything that that might entail. My father is arguably the most legendary tactical mind I’ve ever known. He compliments my mother’s warm, fuzzy, nurturing encouragement with a sort of tough love and practicality that pushes me to make the most of my individual gifts. He’s helped me learn that a dream is nothing if you don’t have the craftiness, conviction, and mental toughness to make things happen and that once you do, there’s no ceiling to your success.

All in all, my mom taught me how to dream big and my dad taught me how to make big dreams come true. Together, these two lessons have enabled me to achieve things I never would have dreamt about.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

My vision has always been to grow my platform so that I can shed light on the causes that popular culture, sensational news, and commercial enterprises fail to recognize. Throughout my career, this has manifested in me doing numerous performances and initiatives to raise money and awareness for causes like WAR, ALS, and BLM.

Most recently, I partnered with the Philly Tech Initiative to help out with their fundraising efforts. This initiative, started by students for students, works to address the digital divide that has been exacerbated by the abrupt transition to remote learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The collected donations are used to help meet the needs of diverse students in the Philadelphia area, namely by providing headsets, webcams, and microphones. These headsets are used to equip children learning from Access Centers, where at the time this initiative began, half of them had access to headphones for their online lessons. The webcams and microphones go to adult learners who otherwise can’t participate in online classes and sit their GED examinations. I was able to use my platform through music to put together the largest merch raffle I’ve ever held to raise a good sum of money and awareness about this cause.

In my “day job,” I use my platform as one of the few Black, Ivy engineering students to enact change on the institutional scale with the goal of continuing to elevate the culture for future students like me, as past trailblazers have done for me.

Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?

I have two siblings in middle school so I’ve seen firsthand how hard the transition to remote learning has been, and they’re significantly more privileged than the average kid their age. Recognizing these hardships along with my own history of struggling to pay attention in English class sowed the seed for my desire to help. After seeing a friend of mine find a way to make a difference in a similar capacity to facilitate increased accessibility of technology and Internet connection in Philadelphia all the way from her home on the West Coast, I felt inspired to leverage my opportunities and resources to pay forward the very same thing that has led to my achievements with music — the reinforcement that somebody is supporting and rooting for their success.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

Taking action has been a major theme throughout my career as an artist. Up until this past year, the performances I had done to raise money for causes were all set up by other groups, organizations, and all I did was use my platform to help bring more attention and people to the table. However, this summer I took action myself to help promote the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) by releasing my first entirely self-written, recorded, produced, and audio-engineered single “Going with the Flow” and donating the proceeds to BLM. After seeing how easy it was to mobilize my humble yet loyal audience, I got even more inventive and motivated when a friend approached me about taking proactive action with the Philly Tech Initiative. I immediately began looking to see how I could push the issue.

Despite having had my “aha moment” for this cause, I was not aware of the impact until the height of the raffle when I realized that without my music and my NiSPLASH platform, I wouldn’t have been able to raise as much money as I did with nearly the same ease. This is when I was able to clearly see the return on my friend’s long-time investment in my music in the form of the funds I raised for his important initiative.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I haven’t gotten to personally visit any of these Access Centers nor meet any of the students that use them. However, I know that when the Philly Tech Initiative began, less than half of the students at these access centers had headphones. With the funds that the initiative has raised, they were able to distribute gadgets and resources to many more students who were struggling to pay attention in classes because of distracting background noises. Closer to home, I have younger siblings who are trying their best to make the most of online classes and having a hard time despite the fact that we are able to enjoy more privileges than most children in Philadelphia.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Yes! The three things would be to visit the GoFundMe, learn more about the Philly Tech Initiative, and then find similar Access Centers near you that are struggling with supplying students for online learning and donate to them as well!!!

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Your bad songs make your good songs great

It’s truly a numbers game… get your reps up!

2. Honesty is a prerequisite to success

In order to reach your goal, you have to have a strong sense of honesty throughout your journey. Whether that comes from within you, your friends, or your family. I imagine the process like it’s a road trip where the destinations are the goals you set for yourself. You can never expect to get there if you aren’t realistic with your GPS about where you currently stand. Fearing growth or the work necessary to grow can be a major roadblock because contrary to how your grandma may make you feel, engagement-driven by sympathy for the time you put into your product is not a reliable business model for real success.

3. Nobody is going to invest without proof of concept

In music, proof of concept takes on the form of engaging people with your brand. If you can’t effectively build a following with your music organically, even on a small scale, shoveling money into promotions could actually stunt your own growth. In other words, if you plan to be the best in the world, you should start with becoming the best in your backyard.

4. Do you and you’ll never be outdone

It can be all too easy to have your respect and reverence for your idols make you lose track of your own path. If you look at the most influential figures of any field, their common thread is that they carved their own place for themselves. This is especially important in music and performative arts. The late great Juice WRLD, one of my all-time favorite artists, was the poster child for making your own way. His music will be remembered for years to come because of his bone-chillingly authentic approach to his music. Conversely, if you do anyone but you, you’ll never be more than second.

5. Don’t be afraid to leave the garage

Nothing worthwhile can ever be accomplished alone. If you’ve followed the previous nuggets of advice and you believe you’re the next Steve Jobs of whatever you’re doing, it’s important to remember that in order for Apple to become a fortune-500, Jobs had to step out of his garage, take action, and assemble the right people to help bring his dream to fruition.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I would start a movement that helps people find or build creative communities given the enormous role the people I’ve surrounded myself with have played in my success. More specifically, a community geared towards helping like-minded content creators meet one another and use their platforms to empower themselves and their communities. It’s saddening to think about all the innovations, ideas, and advancements we could’ve had if aspiring independent creatives had found the right people in time. I believe a movement like this would be great for elevating artists as well as the communities they represent.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

I pick Jay-Z. In addition to being a living legend and one of the GOATs of rap, he’s always making culture-defining moves in the background. I think a single meal with the HOV would be all I need to communicate his return on investment in my success. Aside from all the other invaluable resources that you gain by becoming a hip-hop icon turned business mogul, direct access to that level of insight alone would be a game-changer…

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!

About The Interviewer: Growing up in Canada, Edward Sylvan was an unlikely candidate to make a mark on the high-powered film industry based in Hollywood. But as CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc, (SEGI) Sylvan is among a select group of less than ten Black executives who have founded, own and control a publicly traded company. Now, deeply involved in the movie business, he is providing opportunities for people of color.

In 2020, he was appointed president of the Monaco International Film Festival, and was encouraged to take the festival in a new digital direction.

Raised in Toronto, he attended York University where he studied Economics and Political Science, then went to work in finance on Bay Street, (the city’s equivalent of Wall Street). After years of handling equities trading, film tax credits, options trading and mergers and acquisitions for the film, mining and technology industries, in 2008 he decided to reorient his career fully towards the entertainment business.

With the aim of helping Los Angeles filmmakers of color who were struggling to understand how to raise capital, Sylvan wanted to provide them with ways to finance their creative endeavors.

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