Niyi: Why I quit rapping to go to Cambridge university

Adeniyi Adeyemi Adelakun – aka rapper Niyi – gave up a life of touring and partying with the stars to study English at Cambridge. So how was his first term? Not easy, he says. This is an extract from the Guardian…

I counted how many people I have “looking after” me as a Cambridge undergraduate, and for this year alone it was 11: the bedder (they don’t only make beds), the chaplain, the nurse, my director of studies, my senior tutor, and six supervisors who all have impressive “Dr”s before their names and various other letters after. This is just as well, because my first term here was a real struggle.

I went from rapping, DJing and producing to reading, writing essays, more reading, plus regular grilling from professors, in the space of a couple of months. On my second day here I found myself in a tuxedo and gown, listening to Latin prayers in a Harry Potteresque dining hall, followed by the sounding of a gong to signal we could begin dinner. It was all rather odd. This coupled with the workload made my first term here pretty difficult to cope with, but the wonderful thing is that the pressure I was feeling was picked up on and totally dealt with. The director and the chaplain both gave me their mobile numbers, and I speak to them often. The bedder always asks how I am, and I think she genuinely cares. When I was missing my deadlines, I really felt like I had made the wrong decision to come here, and there were tears (manly tears, of course), but everyone rallied round. I realised that if I was going to complete a degree anywhere, it was probably going to be at St John’s.

I often think about the 13 countries I toured in, the parties I went to, the “famous” people I used to hang out with – and I think even then, deep down, I knew that I wasn’t going to be in the music industry for ever. I was signed at 19 years old – I wanted to change the world, and was convinced I could, one iPod at a time. I wore kerr-a-zy clothes, rapped about my love of poached eggs and went on about fancying my best friend’s mum. I basically wanted people to sit up and notice a representation of black people that didn’t involve jewellery or over-inflated backsides … and it was working! Lady Gaga’s record label asked if she could perform her first UK show at my club night in Soho (I obviously made sure I played as well), and I supported when he was in London on tour – I even got to sing the Cheryl Cole bits when he was DJing, for goodness’ sake. Lo and behold, the grand plan was finally coming together – or was it? Hmmm, not really. The world didn’t seem to be getting better: the misogyny was still there; the violence was still there; the homophobia was still there. Sure, rappers were wearing brighter colours and kooky outfits, but I felt like a spoilt teenager. Sure, the music industry were dressing people to look like they were a bit more interesting, but they just didn’t understand! (Sulky face.)

My motive was still as strong as ever, but I knew I had to change my method. I “left” my career (obviously no one noticed; they never really do in music) secretly to do my A-levels in the space of nine months. I secretly applied to Cambridge, and secretly got accepted. I couldn’t have done it without three outstanding English Literature teachers (shout out to my Nusret, Nora and Alison galdem) who totally inspired me, and made me realise what a difference a teacher can make, and how much influence they have in creating change from the bottom up.

I’m now studying Education Studies with English Literature, with the hope of becoming a teacher when I leave. I feel as if I really have found my new “method”, and I can change the world after all.

But anyway, back to this week. I was sitting in the exam hall on Thursday and I was stuck. I had hit a brick wall. All I could think was: “Quelle surprise, Niyi – can’t think of anything else to say? SENT DOWN!”

But then I heard the most beautiful voice. It trickled in from nowhere; working its way, drip by drip, through my empty, frazzled dome. It was Mariella [Frostrup – who ignored him once coming out of a nightclub and he vowed to stop listening to her on Radio 4 only for his tutor to insist he listen to one of her programmes as research for an essay]. She wouldn’t stop talking – this about Conrad, that about Conrad, this and that about postcolonial criticism – it was music to my ears. Yes, I did see the occasional hairflick, but it didn’t matter – I needed that hairflick. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, and Mari – I owe you. Don’t worry, I am totally willing to overlook that afternoon in Notting Hill. All is forgiven. By the way, have you ever thought about doing a show on how developments in neuroscience over the past two years can help us in the education of children under the age of eleven? I have one more exam on Tuesday. Love you. Thanks.

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