FatRat Da Czar corrects people on the spelling of his name, because it's important to him. FatRat is all one word, the second word is spelled Da, with the last word being Czar. For him, it shows the importance of creativity instilled in hip-hop.
2023 will mark the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. The roots of hip-hop can be traced back to DJ Kool Herc who hosted a back-to-school jam in the Bronx. The movement has now transcended decades and the world, reaching seniors at USC who attend Hip Hop Wednesday, an event that connects students through the genre of hip-hop.
Hip-hop has also expanded across Columbia through events created by residents involved in the hip-hop industry — like FatRat Da Czar — to celebrate the local hip-hop scene.
Today, Czar is a recording artist, producer and hip-hop activist who began his career in the late ‘90s as a member of the Columbia-based rap group, Streetside.
Czar has released eight studio albums and opened for rap giants such as Notorious B.I.G., Snoop Dogg and Lauryn Hill. He is also the founder of the independent label, Czar Records, and he has entered the fashion world through the creation of SODA Clothing Company. SODA, which stands for "Sometimes Our Dreams Align" is inspired by the city of Columbia.
According to Czar, hip-hop is an art form that tells a story comprised of and connecting of all races.
Czar's entire life has been hip-hop. He grew up writing and performing in his mirror, emulating what he heard on records.
Czar grew up listening to Kurtis Blow, Run-D.M.C., Beastie Boys and LL Cool J. He received his first cassette tape by the Fat Boys in the ‘80s from his mother.
"I was mesmerized at what they could say and the message they could translate through spoken word, and it all rhymed, so it made it real fun," Czar said.
Czar said he believed the growth of hip-hop was destined to happen because through it, he discovered far away places that were connected by shared stories of struggle told in hip-hop.
"Whenever there were people that struggled, this music oftentimes was the soundtrack to that struggle," Czar said.
Czar isn't the only Columbia hip-hop legend.
Jabari Evans is an assistant professor of race and media at USC and has been working here since the fall of 2021. It is a relatively lesser known fact that under the moniker "Naledge," Evans released six studio albums selling 300,000 copies worldwide and touring 12 countries.
Evans said growing up in Chicago, Illinois shaped his love for the genre. He released his first mixtape, "The College Graduate," in 2004 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania as a nod to Chicago-native Kanye West's breakout debut album, "The College Dropout."
“Hip-hop is actively growing into being a lifestyle,” Evans said.
Evans grew up in the '90s listening to artists such as Common, Nas and Jay-Z and currently listens to artists such as Wale, Freddie Gibbs, G Herbo, as well as Chicago rappers like Lil Durk and Chance the Rapper.
“Hip-hop is sort of like a religion at this point. It can influence how you talk, how you walk, how you dress and how you move through the world. Rap is something you do, hip-hop is something you live,” Evans said.
For fans, this music genre is one that will forever live with them, and it is something that has never changed in importance — even as the art form and sounds change.
Andres Carrillo, a fourth-year finance student, is a long-time fan of artists like Gunna, Kanye West and Mac Miller, but he feels that their music transcends enjoyment and will be something he values forever.
"Hip-hop is now a staple. I think I'll be listening to it for the rest of my life," Carrillo said.
Carrillo remembers hearing Kanye West’s “Donda” for the first time. Carrillo and his roommates were returning from a night out when one of his roommates saw the release.
“The songs in itself are good, I can't lie, but it’s the stories behind it that I think are what make it great,” Carrillo said. “I enjoy the way you can put aux in your car and it just gets a whole vibe going. Everybody is just bumping and dancing to it.”
Kennedy Henderson, a fourth-year political science student, said the reason she got into the genre is because her dad is a major hip-hop fan who introduced her to both old-school and modern hip-hop. Together they listened to Slick Rick, Eric B. and Rakim, Q-Tip, Nas, Drake and Future.
Henderson said the message in the songs attracted them to these artists. During the days of old school hip-hop, artists emerged and became known for their storytelling style of delivery. Nas, who Henderson and her father listens to, is one of these artists.
Nas' debut album, "Illmatic," is just a couple years shy of its 30th anniversary in 2024. Rolling Stone said the album put Nas into an elite group of MCs because of his sharp articulation and finely detailed lyrics.
“They actually wrote lyrics — it wasn’t just stuff that was pointless. It was a story,” Henderson said.
Today, Henderson listens to artists such as Big Sean, Lil Baby, Cordae and Gunna. Her memories of these songs and the artists helps her pinpoint where she was in her life, Henderson said.
Ryan Bowen, a fourth-year retail student, said he grew up with older cousins who listened to hip-hop. Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole are two of his favorite artists.
Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole are artists of the newer generation of hip-hop who possess storytelling deliveries reminiscent of the artists who emerged during the era of old school hip-hop.
“I love their tenacity and their attitude towards rap culture — not being afraid to push the envelope and be pioneers in the game,” Bowen said.
Bowen believes rap has a bright future because more people are paying attention to what artists are saying and their lyrics.
“Hip-hop makes the world go around so it will always be relevant,” Bowen said.
According to Billboard, hip-hop has been the dominant music genre on its charts in the United States, becoming the definition of modern popular music.
Those like Czar are very happy with the growth of hip-hop over years, as students continue to enjoy it and it becomes more popular than ever.
The forefathers (of hip-hop) created hip-hop as a way to heal our community ... with love, peace, unity and having fun,” Czar said.
“As long as there is a struggle and as long as there is a voice of the youth, there will always be a new sound coming out, and for my generation that was hip-hop," Czar said.