April 01, 2016
Do we want a color-blind society or one in which we acknowledge our differences? Renowned journalist and human rights activist Charlayne Hunter-Gault asked this question of a packed house in Degenstein Center Theater on Jan. 25. The occasion was her keynote address during Susquehanna’s 2016 winter convocation and Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration. Within a few weeks of her appearance, the university welcomed home Garrett Thompson ’00 and Baktash Ahadi ’05 for lively and thought-provoking interactions with the campus community. Embodying the rich diversity of the Susquehanna family, they are inspiring a new generation and connecting them to the wider world, much like Hunter-Gault has done in her career.
Garrett Thompson says his distinct brand of hip-hop “ties social and cultural mobility to the pursuit of higher education and knowledge.”
A New Kind of Hip-Hop Movement
Some might say fate played a role in the friendship and professional collaboration that grew between hip-hop artist and media scholar Garrett “EVAN BANE” Thompson and musician-producer Ryan Walker. Others may chalk it up to sheer coincidence. But no matter how you slice it, the pair’s unlikely meeting at Susquehanna changed both of their lives—and now they’re using their talent and tenacity to change young people’s perceptions about what’s possible for them, too.
Thompson, a Harrisburg, Pa., native who calls himself an unapologetic “hip-hop child,” transferred to Susquehanna from the University of Delaware in the spring of 1998 to study broadcast communications. That fall, Walker left his Connecticut home to enroll as a first-year music major at the university. Two years later, Thompson graduated and Walker transferred to Full Sail University in Florida to earn a degree in recording arts. But by then, the seeds for a broader creative collaboration had been planted.
“It’s pretty cool to think about how our time overlapped perfectly,” Walker says. “If it had happened any other way, we may have never met.”
During those two years at Susquehanna, their friendship and creative partnership grew. They met through a mutual friend and Susquehanna student Greg “Show-E” Mark ’01, who set up a recording studio in his off-campus apartment. Mark was making records for Thompson and Shaun James ’03, who had a group called The Foundation. Walker was “playing keys” on some of Mark’s tracks at the time, and eventually he joined Thompson and James in their creative work.
Fast-forward seven years: Thompson is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Southern California (USC)and working on his first solo album with Mark. Walker, now a self-employed DJ and producer, has been brought on board to co-produce a few songs.
One day, Walker gets a call from Mark saying he and Thompson need a song produced quickly. The result is The Zone, the first full production Walker did on one of Thompson’s songs.
After that, Walker started sending his “beats” to Thompson for feedback, and their professional collaboration began to flourish. But at one point, Thompson decided to stop rapping. He was, after all, earning a doctorate degree from one of the most prestigious film studies programs in the country.
Thompson wanted his music to be more than a hobby,and Walker understood his dilemma. He, too, was serious about a career in music and was willing to do whatever it took to be successful—including a little begging.
“I had always believed Garrett had something of extreme value to offer the world, and I pleaded with him not to stop [rapping],” Walker says.
Eventually Walker’s pleas were heard, and the two men began work on what would become Scholar Ambition, an album specifically intended to inspire young people to reach their fullest potential.
“To say it started at Susquehanna is a magnificent thing,” Thompson told a group of faculty and staff at a lunch discussion while he and Walker were on campus in February. Their visit also included classroom visits and a performance of Scholar Ambition at TRAX, the university nightclub.