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Campus Celebrity: Kassim Okusaga

Kassim Okusaga is a Maryland native who studies finance at Towson University, but his true passion is music. Many of you may have had the opportunity to hear him rap at the 2014 TigerFest, Paws, or other venues in the Maryland area. He recently dropped his fist indie album A Consumer’s Mind on October 22, 2013, which can be heard by visiting his Sound Cloud page: 


What is your favorite thing about performing?

I think my favorite thing about performing –alright I have a lot –one is the music of course, I just love hearing the songs and performing them. I love looking into the eyes of people when they watch me perform because it always goes from who is this guy to oh my gosh what’s going on. I always have to like stare them down and let them know yes, we’re sharing this moment together, so I love sharing moments with people when I’m performing. I also love being active. I’m very vibrant when it comes to performing. I think the last thing I love about performing happens to be the crowd interaction so like when I say hands up and the whole crowd who doesn’t know me puts their hands up or if I tell them to scream something and they scream and it’s like wow, this is cool.

What was your first performance like?

Horrible. It was in high school I believe and I kept my head looking at my shoes and my shoes weren’t even that cool. I just didn’t want to look people in the face.

Do you ever get sick of performing the same song?

Yeah, definitely. I’m tired of performing my first project. I wrote that two years ago and so I’m a lot better than the person that I was back then.

Are you embarrassed by it?

Yes, I’m very embarrassed by it. It’s like being fit and constantly looking back at the transformation pictures.

So you perform solo and in a group as well?

Yes, I am a single act. My name is Kassim, however I do work with my group of friends and we’re all called 20nvr. It’s Hasani, Young Oceans, Fayson, D-Keys, and I. We’re all from the same high school and we all used to make music when we were young teenagers and now we’re just gonna make this so we can do this forever.

Do you ever get tongue tied when you’re rapping quickly?

I get tongue tied and I’m like woah, why did I write this song? You just have to suck it up and even if you make a mistake on stage, the crowd can’t know.

What’s involved in your writing process?

My writing process is very, very lucid. The way it starts is I just get inspired and then I basically break words down into tiny molecules. One of the new songs is like “anorexic/psychedelic/skinny dipping into ecstasy/that’s what it feels like when you’re next to me” and that small fragment is just to show how I feel when I’m around close people that I care about. It’s so strategic the way every word is played out. Basically it’s just a word bank in my head and I just pick around with words and play with them. I read a lot so that helps give me a lot of words that I could use.

How long does it normally take you to write?

A great verse would take like forty-five minutes to an hour because the first draft will take ten minutes and then I’ll hate it, and I’ll pick two bars out and then I’ll pick something else, and then I’ll hate that. I just keep going until I find something I care about.

Do you ever get stage fright?

No, however I do get worried about the technical stuff. I’m not worried about my music, I’m worried about like the mic messing up, let’s say I’m screaming too loud and they can’t hear, or let’s say I’m rapping too fast and no one can hear, or let’s say I run out of breath. I’m not afraid of performing in front of people, I’m just scared of messing up. Performing in front of people is what I do for life, but I don’t like to mess up in front of people for life.

How do you feel after you perform?

I’m very ecstatic. I call it a performance high. I’m the happiest person right after I perform and I’m just grateful for that moment and I literally just think of that moment multiple times. I just keep smiling, keep being happy and embracing as many people as possible, reaching out to as many people in the audience who respected my performance and asking them what they thought about it, getting their contact info, having conversations with them, instead of saying hey guys, I’m Kassim, performing, and leaving.

Do you feel there are negative aspects and responses to your music?

Yeah, I mean I feel like stuff like that is just bound to happen, but it’s definitely there. Some people liked my last song “OverThink” and some people hated it, but the way I see it is that if a million people like my song and a million people hate my song that means two million people heard my song, so I just keep it going.

What would tell people who say rapping isn’t a practical career choice?

I laugh at them because competition is extreme at any school. Towson is a big education school and those going for teaching jobs have to compete with the rest of Towson, with other schools in Maryland, and with other people from around the world. I’m just like, I’m being more realistic than you are.

Do you have any new music coming out?

I’m working on a new album, I can’t really say the title right now. I’ve been writing this new album since last summer and I feel really great about it. You’re gonna hear a lot of 20nvr influences from the jokes we have to different sounds that we come up with, just having a great time.

Do you have any musical inspirations?

Basically almost anything I can get my ears on besides screamo. I just can’t get with someone screaming at me, but yeah I mean everything: Michael Jackson, Kanye West, Kendrick, Queen, The Beatles, it just keeps going on, it’s a very long list.

How would you describe your clothing style?

Vibrant. Some people say I remind them of The Fresh Prince. I just accept it, I’m not gonna deny the impact that Fresh Prince had on me.

What do you think about the message that many rappers put out there about women, sex, drugs, etc.?

This is going to sound really messed up: I really, really don’t care that much because one, it’s bad, but I feel like the way the media works it out is that they focus so much on rap, but country music does that too, rock n’ roll does that, pop music does that. I mean Robin Thicke has a song about date rape that no one mentions. Everyone overlooks Robin Thicke’s date rape song and then Rick Ross drops one line and everyone is like oh my God, he’s horrible. So it’s a double standard to me in current music in general. That’s the reason I don’t care as much, because to me it’s like a slap in the face to say you can talk about date rape and you can’t. I just feel like there is a stigma towards hip-hop where they only focus on the negative, but there are people like Kendrick Lamar who are saying positive things like I love myself, and people like Drake expressing themselves, J Cole dropping an amazing album and he was talking about things that really matter, but when people talk about hip-hop they never mention them, they always mention like the Chief Keef’s. My defense is if you mention the Chief Keef’s, then why can’t you mention what Britney Spears was doing in the early 2000s? It’s like you see Spears doing things like that and it’s glorified as sexy and you see Nicki Minaj doing the same thing in 2014 and it’s seen as nasty or inappropriate, so that’s the reason I don’t really care.

Why do you think there is a double standard?

I personally feel like that when people can’t understand the culture they try to shove it and say that it’s wrong, when in reality every culture has different moral codes.

Do you still find academics important?

Yeah, I mean it’s different for me. I have a job where I have to keep my grades up so I make sure I do it. I try my hardest to balance it out. I wish I had forty-eight hours in a day because I did twenty shows last semester and I was an RA and I had to keep my grades up, it was rough. I was stressed out.

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

I’m a finance major so I see myself basically finding the best avenue to go independently. I’m always performing, so I see myself making this a lifestyle. Before I graduate, I see another huge album coming from me that would signify what I want to do and I would be glad to perform those songs. I see myself actually going on tour many times, traveling to different cities, hopefully different countries, and then to start my career.

So is finance your backup plan almost?

It’s not a backup plan, it’s more of a tool to use because I don’t want to sign to a record deal and have my creativity controlled due to the lack of funds. I don’t want to have someone say hey, I hired you to make music for the club, not make music for the kids who need a role model. You know what I mean? I don’t want to sound like a radio cliché artist, I want to be myself and the one way I can be myself is be financially free.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

On top of the world.

Do you have any personal goals for this year?

Probably to make sure I’m happier than I was at twenty, make less mistakes even though it’s impossible to not be flawed. Another goal I have for myself is to continue to thrive and just stay motivated. The last is to be as healthy as possible.

How do you stay healthy?

I run almost every day, depending on my schedule. That’s how I keep my lungs intact for performances because performing is really rough. You can really be gassed out. You’re talking so fast and now you have to move left and right.

What message do you want to leave the world with?

One, believe in yourself. Two, everyone is a genius if they do genius stuff. Everything we do could be genius, but people don’t believe in themselves enough to see that. They see people that they look up to and think I could never do that. There have been many times where people say I could never do something, like you could never be better than Jay Z and I’m like why not? And they get stuck and they say because that’s Jay Z. That’s not a valid argument. People let conversations like that hold them back. Also, I want to leave people with the message to love one another. I touch that in my new album. I just want to defy what society thinks because conversations to me are the most powerful tool to changing the world. With my music, I want to have a conversation that can be looped forever.

Photo Credit: Felisa Velasco

You can also find Young Ocean’s music here.

Born in New Hampshire and moved to Maryland to attend Towson University for a degree in Occupational Therapy.
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