So, how many can you think of that are athletes, rappers, and lawyers?
Well, now you know at least one.
DeSales graduate and former Ohio State football player Chukwuemeka Nnamdi Onyejekw, aka Mekka Don, gave up a job at a top firm in New York City to pursue a career in hip-hop, one that has now successfully intersected with other childhood passion, football.
His songs “Welcome to the O-H-I-O,” and “Juice” have been adopted by the Buckeye football team as anthems the past two seasons – but Mekka is no mascot. He has created his own unique hustle in the rap game, combining credible hip-hop (named as an MTVu Artist to Watch) with commercial licensing packages for several major sports entities, including OSU, ESPN, and the Big Ten Network.
Mekka, a second-generation Nigerian-America, has found a way to pay the bills with his skills, all while keeping a foot in the sports world.
“I think the other notches on my belt show that I am more than just an Ohio state guy – I’m a songwriter,” he said.
“It’s not just about the sports music, but this is a niche we’ve really started to carve out. There’s really reason to shy away from that.”
Mekka has operated his career out of NYC, but realized that while he claims Ohio all around the country, many in his home state hadn’t heard of him. Through his partnership with college football coverage, he’s been able to connect with thousands in the Buckeye state. Making inroads through ESPN has proved to him that a fan approach is preferable to an industry approach.
“What you realize is, fans are fans: it doesn’t matter if they’re young or old, white or black, if they’re sports fans or not…it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Fans drive the industry more than anything else. A lot of young guys early on, up-and-coming rappers, they believe the industry drives the industry, so they’re so concerned with the blogs, and record labels, and radio, and a lot of those things still matter, but at the end of the day, what matters most is fans.
“If you have fans that want too come see you, it doesn’t matter how you got ‘em.”
He’s created another anthem for the Buckeye team this year, and in addition to working with the Big Ten Network, has also produced a song for the Cleveland Browns. Sports-related hip-hop anthems aren’t new tricks, he said, but he feels his message keeps the songs relevant even off-the-field. “Juice,” for example, got a solid amount of regular radio play last year on Columbus’s Power107.5.
“I want it be sonically good enough where people can appreciate it, even if they’re not [sports] fans.”
What people can also appreciate is Mekka’s approach to hip-hop, which is still fueled by conflated tales of drugs, money, and power. For Mekka, the power lies in inverting stereotypes without being corny.
“I have a different perspective…not saying it’s better, necessarily, but I want people to see me symbolically…This guy is a lawyer who went to a top school, worked at a top firm, and now he’s in hip-hop? But he’s cool? He’s not in suspenders and looks like Steve Urkel – he’s got swag, and girls like him…symbolically, for young kids, that’s important.
“Substantively, it shows that there are other ways to be successful, other ways to be cool,” he said. “I want them to realize that smart is cool, smart is in. They’re not used to seeing someone like me in hip-hop.””
In addition to ESPN College Football Saturdays, see Mekka Don perform twice in Columbus this month: Sept. 18, opening for Juicy J at LC Pavilion; and Sept. 21 at Independents’ Day in Franklinton.