Naledge Pushes the Limit

Jabari Evans, MSW ’14, also known by his hip-hop name, Naledge, has released his new song and music video, “Push the Limit,” in support of education and his alma mater, the USC School of Social Work, and its online master’s degree program.

Both the song and video debuted at MSW@USC technology partner 2U’s company meeting in Orlando today.

Evans works on a number of projects that leverage hip-hop as a tool to motivate youth to pursue a college education and explore technology careers. His most recent project, Naledge is Power: The Social Work of Hip-Hop, a music compilation, book and film project, examines hip-hop culture and its impact on African-American youth in Chicago. Evans also founded the Brainiac Project, a program that promotes recording arts careers to at-risk youth via workshops, mentorship opportunities, educational support and access to a recording studio.

Evans wrote “Push the Limit” to emphasize education’s impact on society and to celebrate his own experience earning his MSW online through the University of Southern California. Take a look at the music video and lyrics below.

“Push the Limit” Lyrics
Written and performed by Jabari Evans

Chorus

I used to hang my head real low screaming life ain’t fair
But if you live life here with no back row ain’t no time to spare
So c’mon push the limit, push the limit and you will make it there
So c’mon push the limit, push the limit and throw caps in the air
Air air air air (x4)

Turn that frown on upside down
We only live once so we hustle for the now
I was told education was the key
The lock to the door if you’re trying to succeed
Tried to sow a seed and it grew into a tree
Graduation only evolution in the dynasty of me
We can never seem to turn down the volume of on our dreams
Instead blowing smoke get to picking up the steam
Row, row, row get you gently up the stream
Hard to find balance when you’re going on the beam
It’s no back row when you’re staring at the screen
No backseat, vehicle to any means
This is my testimony
Lifelong learning, I could teach a lesson on it
They say a good brain only needs a library
But degrees on the wall mean the options might vary
Otherwise it’s quite scary

Speech

See my name is Jabari Evans, otherwise known as Naledge
From the South Side of Chicago
Got a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania
Recently got a master’s degree from the University of Southern California,
Online at that
And um…Martin Luther King Jr. man he said…the function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically
Intelligence plus character that is the goal of true education
Education is the most powerful weapon in the world and it’s the one you must use to change it

We had the opportunity to catch up with Evans to get his personal take on “Push the Limit” and to find out what’s next for our MSW@USC alum.

Where did you get inspiration for the lyrics to “Push the Limit?”

I originally created a song called “Walk on Air” based on the idea that there were real parallels between that feeling of creating a great song or getting on a big stage and creating a great paper or receiving your degree. After about a month of speaking with Chip Paucek (CEO of 2U) on the phone about creating a 2U anthem, I decided to re-appropriate that song idea into a fully education-based record. The guitars on the song created the mood that gave me the words. My writing process is very much about my mood, and my mood was jovial because I was happy to graduate from USC.

What’s the significance of this song?

Malcolm X actually used the quote about a brain only needing a library, so I can’t take credit for that. The song is basically the soundtrack to my plane ride back from Los Angeles to receive my degree. I fully believe the fabric of my personal brand has been centered on my education and my ability to navigate the socially conscious world, as well as the fun and carefree vibe of rap music. Going into youth advocacy and getting my MSW was a very scary undertaking, but I am so fulfilled and glad I did it. This song is very significant because it truly has allowed me to marry my passions (social work and hip-hop) and bring those worlds together for once. I also love the fact that the song isn’t an obvious jingle or anthem. It is a song that could easily play on the radio.

How has earning your online MSW degree from USC impacted the work you are doing in Chicago?

It has validated me in terms of getting my foot in the door and feeling like I actually have the know-how to consult, advise and build programming that advocates for urban youth in my city. Having a passion is worthless without acquiring the know-how and the training. USC allowed me to do that while not uprooting my life.

You are working on several big projects aimed at youth advocacy: Naledge is Power: The Social Work of Hip-Hop and The Brainiac Project. What do you hope is the result of these initiatives?

Naledge is Power is a book I am working on with Dr. John Spruill III and Dr. James Hamilton. One part educational and one part entertainment, this multisensory project will explore the opportunities that urban youth and their advocates have when using hip-hop music as a means to achieve greater success academically and within their social development. This will paint a vivid picture of Chicago’s hip-hop community and the advantages that creating rap music play in assisting the city’s youth in tough times. It will specifically chronicle my journey, as well as touch upon young artists I have personally encountered while working as a youth advocate on Chicago’s South Side.

The Brainiac Project is something I crafted in my social entrepreneurship class, which was led by Cheryl Macon Oliver. Basically, I want to build an organization that partners with various entities to promote the viability of recording arts careers to kids in Chicago’s public schools and use the recording studio process as a means to intervene and encourage at-risk youth to achieve academically. Long term, I would like to be able to open a safe haven/media arts center for kids to go to after school.

What’s next for you?

My aim with my professional journey has been to use my experiences, musical ability, volunteer efforts and scholarly research to help combat the lack of educational achievement of urban youth and those of the hip-hop generation. I think having role models in this regard is critical — the same way the technology 2U provides is critical in giving access to those that may not realize online graduate education is a strong and viable option. Social work is traditionally more “progressive” with its method of intervention, and I believe I am a walking example of how media arts and performing arts can be relevant to the field. I majored in communications and society at UPenn, and I think that shapes my strong stance on media literacy. In the next 12 months, I intend to not only write music and grow the Brainiac Project, but I also am preparing to apply for and enter a doctoral program of some sort.