Thomas Easley has a mixed identity. He’s the diversity director in the College of Natural Resources (CNR), a deacon at his local church and finishing up his doctoral degree in adult and community education at NC State. But most intriguing is that Easley is a rapper, performing under the stage name;“RaShad,” his middle name.
“I wear many different hats,” he admits.
And this is no hobby. Easley is a legitimate rapper with recording contracts and a manager named Ms. Dew. He plays the piano and trombone (while fellow rappers typically only sing) and as you’ll see from his video, he’s excellent. Easley’s music has Christian themes, but he won’t be pinned as a Christian artist.
“My rap isn’t vulgar or disrespectful. It describes overcoming hardship with faith and smarter decisions. I am a Christian who raps,” he says with a smile.
Easley grew up in a rough part of Birmingham, Ala. and at age 14, discovered music helped him cope with hardship, particularly his grandmother’s death. With his confidante gone, he began journaling then writing poetry and songs.
Easley weighed 300 pounds back then and abused alcohol and drugs. When his high school friends taught him how to use metaphors in his songs, his music became rap and a positive diversion. At college Easley rapped with several bands, met with producers, cleaned up and trimmed down. His music describes the process.
“I rap about knowing as an adult that you only find love and happiness if you love yourself. Only inner peace does that, not clubs or drugs.”
In the popular track “Use Your Head,” Easley says “to get married only once” and “don’t freak out if you lose your job, see this as a different path.” He mixes uplifting messages with secular music.
“I make music for people who grew up like I did. The message is be smart and don’t wait for help.”
What the Students Think
Of course, Easley’s students think he is fabulous. Many attend his concerts and enjoy his videos, often produced on NC State’s campus. But Easley likes keeping his hip-hop separate.
“I dress formally with a shirt and tie and only talk music after 5 p.m.”
He does, however, bring the uplifting messages from his music into class. For eight years he’s taught the Freshman Advancement Seminar, encouraging students to explore race and cultural differences, while coaching faculty on keeping their syllabi relevant. So when professors teach park management, for example, he ensures students who grew up without grass and trees nearby can still relate.
“We educate people to not reinforce the view that national parks or forests aren’t for them by connecting the lessons back to an urban experience.”
CNR Dean Bob Brown sees Easley helping under-represented students through positive teaching and mentorship and ensuring all professions taught within CNR are “increasingly inclusive and welcoming for everyone.”
Brian Jackson, a forestry student, says Easley helped instill in him the maturity and confidence to pursue a promising career. He’s attended several of his mentor’s concerts and describes the performances as “amazing.”
“Within minutes, the room was mayhem,” he says.
Easley has a new concert this month while continuing his seminars and writing his dissertation in time to graduate in May. He is also finalizing “Goodfellas,” a new album about pulling yourself up and out, something Jackson and other students relate to.
“Even if things are rough, you are never chained there,” Easley says.
“You must fight for your dreams — get out there and grab them.”