From Impossible to Possible, IDK’s No Label Academy Ushers In Class of 2023
There is nothing like experiencing something for the first time, despite how out of reach it seems. Whether that be walking down the halls of an Ivy League university or sharing positive discourse with industry labels and practitioners, No Label Academy is in the business of infinite possibilities.
When BLACK ENTERPRISE recently touched down in Boston, there were only two classes left of the No Label Academy seminar roster. The No Label Academy is a groundbreaking nonprofit initiative founded by 2020 Harvard graduates Miles Weddle and Marcelo Hanta-Davis, along with rapper, producer, and entrepreneur Jason “IDK” Mills.
The team selected 23 students, aged 18 to 25, to participate in an intensive seminar at Harvard from Aug. 19 to 27. On Saturday, each student collected their certificate of completion at a graduation celebration for the stars.
In February 2020, the co-founders invited IDK to lecture on criminal justice reform at the Ivy League school for No Label’s Uncut speaker series. After its success, the trio embarked on an ambitious journey to connect Harvard and the greater community to hip-hop and untapped resources with the inaugural seminar.
In 2021, artists and industry notables such as the late Virgil Abloh, Tremaine Emory, Amber Grimes, senior VP of Capitol Music Group, and Tuma Basa, director of Black Music & Culture at YouTube, participated.
“Existing educational structures do not necessarily include the actual practitioner that are being taught, especially for people of color,” said Weddle, who currently runs his own consulting firm for businesses at the intersection of commerce and culture.
According to a press release obtained by BE, this program aims to ” democratize and improve opportunities for students from systemically disadvantaged backgrounds” interested in careers in the music business.
Students engaged in workouts and meditation at this year’s seminar, then sat in workshops about mental health, financial literacy, monetization, and more. The star-studded speakers included rappers Roddy Ricch and Joey Bada$$, award-winning actress Issa Rae, celebrity stylist Bloody Osiris, and others.
“A lot of us don’t see ourselves at Ivy league schools. The moment you start to see and normalize that, you start to see and normalize a lot of other things and places we don’t see each other in,” said IDK.
The London-born, Maryland-raised 31-year-old IDK’s incomparable approach to the mic and the classroom is “Ignorantly Delivering Knowledge.”
One way of ignorantly delivering knowledge this week is the concept of an end goal.
“I use the analogy of bread crumbs leading to the end goal and focusing on each bread crumb,” IDK explained.
He added that he stays motivated by “continuing to show gratitude to the things that are and the things that aren’t.”
“I don’t believe in the pressures of learning. I don’t believe in the pressures of society being the reason why you want to educate yourself. I rather create experiences.”
Major sponsors such as Nike Jordan, Converse, Christian Dior, Warner Music Group, Microsoft, Timberland, YouTube, and Sony Music Group allowed students to immerse themselves fully without paying costs.
“In the long run, brand equity ends up being more money than actual monetary gain. I chose brands that align with not only my vision but where I see things for the future,” IDK said.
The NLA Class of 2023
At the end of a strangely magical crash course, we realized the special guest was none other than Tammer Q., a magician and a mentalist. From one magic trick to the other, the room was even more awe-inspired to believe nothing is impossible.
In a room electrified by a sensory celebration, students shared their biggest getaways of the program before the interactivity commenced. After admitting how quiet she had been throughout the program, one young lady learned the value of “not being scared of yourself.”
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The story of an unwavering musician and visionary, Ezy, repping Washington, DC, is one of calculated risks and rewards. After applying to the inaugural program too late, this year’s hunger to learn and grow was evident. He kicked off the conversation by revealing how much he had learned about the power of vision and vulnerability in the Academy. The next day, the creator of the Revolutionary Suicide movement delivered an exhilarating performance for everyone to feel and remember.
“You don’t want people to hear you. You don’t want people to see you. You want people to feel you,” EZY said.
Zahir Muhammad, a burgeoning director and student at Louisiana State University, was so inspired by Ezy’s grit that he wanted in on an opportunity to excel with one of his best friends.
“We were there to complete something first, then enjoy it second,” he told BE.
And that they did. From exchanging contacts with the likes of Bloody Osiris and Saba to exercising physical, mental, and emotional muscles, Muhammad’s expectations were exceeded.
Before NLA, Muhammad wasn’t sure how to explain his brand to others and himself.
“Now that I understand directing is my brand and I use songs to market that brand, it’s very easy to move forward with it,” he said, adding that he’s coming hot off his off-season to work with some of his favorite artists and to release his debut EP, Chaos St., this month.
No Label is expanding
By evidence of IDK, they have witnessed the astronomical support who will go to bat for a nonprofit organization doing this kind of work. No Label isn’t seeking monetary gain, but they operate as a business should run. “The scope has really expanded, which is exciting,” said Weddle. “We are trying to drive impact and scale.”
With a new sense of maturity, Hanta-Davis is an interactive producer at BBDO who wants to bring interactive education to the masses. After interviewing some alumni for a case study, Hanta-Davis gathered that grads “come into this course as a caterpillar for year one and exit as a butterfly, adding that “almost everyone can agree that this course has given them a confidence boost.” In the spirit of the late Virgil Abloh, Hanta-Davis noted just how much the mindset changes when you can go from “I can’t do it to I can do it.”
Creative marketer and visual artist Martrice “Louie” Ellis, one of the proud graduates of the inaugural No Label Academy class of 2021, returned as a volunteer. She can testify to learning “a newfound confidence and affirmed sense of belonging as a woman in the industry.”
She continued: “Being an independent and first-generation student, No Label Academy built an essential support system that I truly believe is a large factor of why I and other students were able to sustain a career in the entertainment industry during the past two years.”
IDK’s Gratitude Practice
“We get fly to music,” IDK said in gratitude to a particular gem Bloody Osiris spoke on about his reverence to music and culture at the Academy. “We use music to influence how we dress. And how we dress influence our music.”
IDK shared with BE that creating a mini capsule for the students was almost impossible. The fly uniform collection, designed by Dior, came in burgundy, navy, and cream, consisting of sweatshirts, t-shirts, and chino pants, with a special patch to illustrate the collaboration and moccasins.
So when he dons his jacket, he says, “I see a reminder that I can’t use the word impossible anymore.”