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Alumni Newsmakers

Giving School a Good Rap

The four weeks Nigerian hip-hop artist Naeto Chikwe, BS '04, spent at the 2010 World Cup, performing at MTV concerts, FIFA parties, and private clubs in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town, was the culmination of a two-month whirlwind tour, which included an appearance at the 2010 Africa Fashion Awards.

But after the Spanish team won the World Cup, the singer—who goes by the stage name Naeto C.—became conscious of other responsibilities creeping into the back of his mind.

The most imminent looming deadline was his master's dissertation, which analyzed a business model that could decentralize Nigerian systems of power. It was due to his adviser at Dundee University in Scotland a few weeks later.

"For the past year and a half, I have been traveling across the world in between classes, trying to meet deadlines and write research papers," he says.

Mr. Chikwe, whose debut album "U Know My P" sold millions of copies and won best new act at the 2008 MTV Africa Music Awards, came to GW in 2001 after a year at SUNY Old Westbury.

A biology major who hoped to go to medical school, Mr. Chikwe chose GW for its location and diversity. He focused on doing well in his classes, which required keeping his extracurricular hobbies to a minimum.

"School was pretty hectic," he says. "It didn't really give me much time to pursue music. I never considered myself to actually be a musician or to have a future in music."

After graduation, it was a different story. Mr. Chikwe wrote and produced music tracks to pay his bills. Though still considering a public health career, he could not ignore the positive responses his music received. When the Nigeria-based record label Storm 360 offered him a contract, he decided to move to Abuja, the capital of the West African nation.

Hip hop was not the dream Mr. Chikwe's father, Herbert Chikwe, and mother, Kema Chikwe, the Nigerian ambassador to Ireland and Iceland, had in mind for their son.

"My parents weren't really too supportive of my decision because they spent all this money putting me through good schools around the world, and all of a sudden I was making music," he says. "There was pressure coming from them, and I put pressure on myself. I just wanted to do it right, and I knew I had to do it big."

As his international reputation grew, Mr. Chikwe made an unorthodox decision—to use part of his earnings from his first album to pursue a master's degree in energy economics.

"I'm 27. If I don't get this second degree now, I will put out another album, will hopefully become a bigger artist, and will become busier and busier. When will I find the time to go back to school?" he says. "There are other challenges out there. I had to make sure my education was a top priority."

Mr. Chikwe is also using his newfound fame to encourage young Africans to pursue an education through his campaign, School is Cool.

"Africans listen to their role models," he says. "It takes more than a government coming up with an education campaign. The kids are paying attention to music. They think, 'I want to be like that guy.'"

With his B.S. from GW and a master's degree on the way, Mr. Chikwe can discuss education in a way that "comes across as real, so it's more convincing," he says.

Although Mr. Chikwe's music is rooted in Africa, it has an international reach.

"I try to rap in an accent that is accessible not just for Nigerians but also for Westerners and for a global audience," he says. "I take different elements that I know will appeal to a global audience and then focus on what makes me unique as an artist and as an individual, and I articulate that in my music."

—Matt Lindsay