By Kiara Ventura
“Y’all ready?” Chris Hearn, a 19-year-old rapper who is a sophomore at NYU, asked. The crowd, who were lounging around in couches with beer bottles in hand, clapped in response. The 5’3 young man in his red Nike hoodie and fitted cap began spitting lyrics into the mic as he occasionally closed his eyes. His left fresh Nike sneaker tapped the carpet floor, and his eyes then scanned the crowd. Beanies and oversized glasses were swaying to the chill beat. “Doing one hunnit’ on the freeway, pedal down to the ground. Doing 700 in the PJ, flying into the clouds,” he rapped as he tightened his grip of the mic, “I'm on my way to the mountaintop and I`m going 500 miles…”
His latest album called “500 miles,” which is the distance between Columbus and his dorm at NYU, was written, produced, and created in his hometown over the summer of 2015. He created the rap name, Ceezar, which stands for “Create Everything Excellent with Zero Acts of Recklessness." Ever since, Hearn has been promoting his album throughout the city at NYU events and small intimate shows some organized by SoFar sounds, a company that gathers underground performers to create intimate live music shows across the country, and Pianos NYC, a well-known music venue in the Lower East Side.
“I`m doing things here [in NYC] with the goal of going back over there to help my people,” Hearn said. “My family and friends did not even know what NYU was because a lot of people in my city don't get the opportunity to even go to college at all. There's this sense of being trapped because people get raised in the city and stay there forever.”
“I did not leave because I did not like it, I left because I loved it.”
Columbus is the 15th largest city in the US and according to Neighborhoodscouts.com, its crime index is rated a 8 out of 100; 100 being the safest. Hearn said that the neighborhood he grew up in, the Northeast Side, has a high population of African Americans and low-income minorities. He is one of the very few of his neighborhood to leave and attend a college outside of the state. His attendance at NYU was also made possible by the MLK scholarship.
As a young boy he used to live in the “hood,” as his mother would say. At 4 years old his “Uncle Brandon,” who was a producer, would encourage him to freestyle. As a 7-year-old, he used to run up to his mother, who gave to birth to him at the age of 16, and rap about how he performed on the basketball court that day. At 9 years old, he wrote his first verse with a pink highlighter on construction paper that is hanging on his dorm wall today.
Now, he is mentoring a 14-year-old boy, named Mamadou Diallo, as part of his participation in AAP (Academic Achievement Program). “When I grew up, it was just me and my mom, and I didn't have any siblings in my home,” Hearn said as he glanced at his mentee. “I'm the first person in my family to go to college. I was just on my own. So that's why I wanted to do a program like this because I knew there more people that were in my situation.” Like Hearn, Diallo, a slim high school freshman from the Bronx, is a young black man who grew up without a father. “I chose to be a part of this program because I felt like I did not have nobody else to help me out,” Diallo said. “It is only me and my three sisters in the house. So I try to do enough to support us.”
Hearn, along with with other AAP members, visited the Bronx Lighthouse school every two weeks to meet up with their mentees. He became Diallo`s mentor during the fall of 2015 and even though the mentorship program ended in November, they still plan to keep in touch. “From meeting with Chris, I learned to always do my best. Not just pass by with all Cs or get passing grades. I learned to always try to do better...He has a good heart. He is always there for me,” Diallo said as he looked down at his khaki uniform pants then up at Hearn.
Even though, Mamadou felt like Hearn has been there for him, Hearn`s hometown has felt otherwise. His community back in Ohio seems to have a tough love relationship with him because he chose to leave it. The rapper even responds to his community's negative reaction with his song, “HOLLYWOOD CEEZ,” included the 500 miles album. “I went 500 miles just to try and make a name. I came back to my city and they said I`m not the same. They said I changed. When I ask them to explain, they just say that I went Hollywood. Hollywood! Hollywood!” the song goes.
He explains that “his people” reacted in this way because he was no longer accessible to them due to his busy schedule here in NYC. Even his mother, Teagan Hearn, commented on his big move. “There are two sides of me,” she said. “One side of me really hates it. But the other side of me, the logical side, is really happy for him. Even though I am a worrier, I believe that he will do just fine.”
When talking about his community, the young rapper repeatedly stressed,“I did not leave because I did not like it, I left because I loved it.” He stressed that he loves his city and community so much that he desires to go back and inspire others to go after their life goals, especially “for the children.” “I`ve felt like I owe it everything because it raised me and the people within it put me in the position that I'm in now,” Hearn said, “The ceiling for my people is set so low that I just want to bring back information and the belief that they can really get out there and go accomplish their dreams.”
To find out more about Chris Hearn and his work, visit ceeztheworld.com.