Text Only Skip to content
Skip header navigation.
Skip sub-section linksSTLCC Home » Faces of STLCC » Wildwood Campus » Rap Song Helps Student Reaffirm His Commitment to Education

Faces of STLCC

Wildwood Campus

Rap Song Helps Student Reaffirm His Commitment to Education

Ryan Bell sings his original rap song to a group of students at the Wildwood campus.

Sometimes his ambition as a musician and his pursuit of a college education has been at odds with one another, but Ryan Bell discovered a unique way to bring them together this fall. And St. Louis Community College played a big role.

“Music was what I always wanted to do,” said Bell. “I wrote my first song when I was 12. I sang all the time. I liked to entertain the whole bus and ‘freestyle’ – just sing off the top of my head. I have always had a passion for music.”

But his mother wanted him to pursue a more traditional path. “I understand she wants what’s best for me. She wanted me to be a dentist. So I thought about those things because she wanted me to,” said Bell. “But when other people in my family told her that my music was really good, she finally listened to it and now she’s fully supportive.”

He was influenced by the rap music of Jay-Z and Tupac Shakur.  “I like Tupac because he could talk about anything [in his songs] and make it sound so good. He brings you into his world. I think music helps people move through things in life.”

It seems that Bell has had to move through a few difficult times himself. “I’ve had many times when I thought I wasn’t going to make it, not just as a student, but in life,” he explained.  He admits that he didn’t take his studies as seriously as he should have in high school. “Then I found out that I would really have to do well my senior year to get through. When everybody else had it easy, I was working really hard.” After graduating from Hazelwood East High School, his family eventually moved to Chesterfield, and that brought a lot of loneliness. “I had no car, no job, and no friends.”

He had taken some classes at the Florissant Valley campus before moving from North County, so he decided to enroll at the Wildwood campus and continue his education. “Then things got better. I met some really great and they encouraged me to study hard and to get involved in the stuff that was going on at the campus. They picked me up. I was surrounded by positive people.”

He performed at Open Mic Night with his friends, but also read some of the poetry he had written and then decided to perform one of his rap songs. He got a great reception from the crowd.

Bell’s friends were members of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society of two-year colleges. They brought the idea of writing a rap song for Phi Theta Kappa’s Commit to Complete Rally to Bell for consideration. The goal of the rally was to encourage all students at St. Louis Community College to commit to complete their education. At each campus, students were encouraged to pledge their commitment by signing a special banner. Then all the students would come together at a special event to celebrate.

“I was surprised but glad that they asked me to do this. They encouraged me and told me that maybe it could be my time to make an impact.”

So he drew on his personal experiences to craft a powerful message that speaks to all college students. “To me, it wasn’t just about student success.  It’s about overall success in life – staying committed to it. I saw the bigger picture in the song. A lot of my family didn’t do what they wanted to do. I know what I want to do. I want to be different.”

It took about two days to compose the words, and then he and two other STLCC students worked together to finish the song. Chris Cole, who attends the Florissant Valley campus, composed the beat, and it was recorded by Nathan Loeseke, a student who attended Wildwood and now attends the Meramec campus. “Chris and I have been working together for a long time. We were on the same wavelength about the song. We knew it had to be ‘up tempo’ – something that would make people listen,” explained Bell. “Nathan had never worked with a rapper before I met him. But he wanted to experiment. So I brought him into my world and he brought me into his. We met halfway.” Nathan recorded Ryan’s second CD entitled “Project Hip Hop.”

On Friday, Sept. 24, the college hosted a special rally at Kiener Plaza in downtown St. Louis for all the students who signed the banners. All four of the banners were visible on stage as Dr. Dorsey, Dr. Rod Risley, executive director of Phi Theta Kappa International, Jeannine Schaffer, Phi Theta Kappa officer and student organizer of the event, and Dr. Heather Wathington, assistant professor of education at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and a Data Coach for Achieving the Dream addressed the students with encouraging words.

Then it was Bell’s turn.  As students listened to the words, their response made it clear that they could identify with his message:

“A road to success can be a bumpy ride
Until you find it in yourself to go against the tide.
So when you’re feeling tired, just think of your desires,
And others coming up who you may get to inspire.
Let your dedication keep you from hesitation,
Family and friends, let them be your motivation.”

 By the end of the song, students were on their feet and clapping their hands to the words. When he finished, students approached him to have their photos taken with him.

Bell met Risley and Dorsey at the rally. “The Chancellor said that my song was powerful and inspiring and that she thought I had a gift. She encouraged me to keep pursuing my dream and to finish my education. When I met Dr. Risley, it was fantastic to hear how powerful he thought the song was. They gave it a chance. That’ is my motivation – to know that my work is being acknowledged.”

Bell hopes that something good comes from the song. He certainly succeeded in creating a positive message for students everywhere. But he may have also gotten a big break. Risley would like the song to become the theme song of the Phi Theta Kappa Commit to Complete campaign throughout the United States.

In the meantime, Bell is heeding his own advice. He is working to earn money to re-enroll at STLCC-Wildwood and complete his own associate’s degree. After that, he hopes to get his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. But he won’t give up on his musical career. “I don’t want to chase dreams forever,” he said, “but I want to try. I’m at an age where I can try.”

By: Debbie Ward