The beginning of Trinity ’07 alumnus Anteneh “Anthem” Addisu’s narrative sounds familiar: Duke graduate leaves behind the Gothic wonderland for a lucrative position on the sales and trading floor of one of America’s biggest banks. But Addisu soon flipped the script, taking a sharp left turn off Wall Street to pursue his longtime ambition of working as a recording rap artist.
It was, in the parlance of his former profession, an extremely high-risk investment.
Addisu’s burgeoning career in hip-hop, however, stands as evidence that his gamble is paying off. After shopping his demos around the New York area, Addisu found a willing collaborator in longtime 50 Cent associate DJ Whoo Kid, who will host Addisu’s upcoming Manhattan Music mixtape. Of course, to hear Addisu tell it, there was never any real alternative.
“I actually tried to renege on my job offer after senior year, because I wanted to go straight into rapping,” he said.
In a twist as fortuitous as the rest of Addisu’s story, he had initially planned to live with former Duke basketball player Shavlik Randolph, at the time a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, and begin recording and performing full time.
“I ended up taking the [sales and trading] job to help out at home,” Addisu said. “I moved to New York and got caught up in that lifestyle—I wasn’t making any music at first.”
Gradually, though, the itch to record returned, and in the summer of 2008, Addisu approached his professional mentor, who he refers to as D.G., about leaving banking to start a rap career.
“D.G. told me I was an idiot, trying to be a recording artist without actually having any recordings,” Addisu said. “But we made a deal—he agreed to finance my demo, and if it sucked, I would keep the job.”
Addisu, who records and performs as Anthem, was predictably raw, but showed enough talent to keep D.G. on board with his new venture. Stylistically, Anthem specializes in highly referential, whip-smart lyricism delivered via an enunciative, rapid-fire flow.
For the next nine months, Addisu essentially held two jobs: selling financial instruments by day, writing and recording on nights and weekends. By the summer of 2009, Anthem was ready to leave Wall Street and begin a full-time rap career.
Mere months earlier, Lydia Simmons, Trinity ’09, had started her own music blog, Sunset in the Rearview, almost on a whim.
“When I started, I didn’t really have any goals for the blog,” Simmons said. “It was really just a method of procrastination during finals.”
A mutual friend of Addisu’s approached Simmons with one of Anthem’s new tracks, entitled “Dear Duke.” The six-minute, soul-sampling jam packs in a multitude of references to the University, from campus life (boozing on East Campus) to successful alumni (he shouts out, among others, Board of Trustee members John Mack, Trinity ’68, and David Rubenstein, Trinity ’70). Simmons posted it exclusively on Sunset soon thereafter. And though both Addisu and Simmons consider “Dear Duke” to be a relative oddity in Anthem’s repertoire, the track had a considerable impact on both.
“That day [when I posted “Dear Duke”] I got a big spike in traffic,” Simmons said. “That was when I thought, ‘Maybe I should think of this as a business, rather than a hobby.’”
Addisu, meanwhile, received a message the day after the song was posted from a new fan: President Richard Brodhead.
“I shout out President Brodhead in the song,” Addisu said. “I got an e-mail from him asking me, ‘Are you Anthem?’”
Simmons and Addisu’s relationship, which began with “Dear Duke,” (the two had not met as undergraduates) comes full circle Thursday night at Durham’s Motorco Music Hall, where Simmons is sponsoring a concert where Anthem will perform, along with hip-hop up-and-comer Hoody Allen.
Simmons is quick to note Anthem’s development since “Dear Duke” dropped almost two years ago.
“I really feel like [Anthem] is a huge, growing talent,” she said. “He comes up with punch lines that… you just can’t believe.”
Anthem will open for Hoodie Allen at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 at Motorco Music Hall. Tickets are available online at www.motorcomusic.com or at the door.