Rapper and producer Jason Aaron Mills, better known as IDK, is all too familiar with the hard-knock life. IDK, which stands for ignorantly delivering knowledge, had a turbulent upbringing that included being incarcerated when he was 17.
Now, the rapper, who’s signed to Warner Records, is paying it forward by offering free music education to BIPOC students who also have the odds stacked against them.
In August, IDK and nonprofit media company No Label came together to host No Label Academy, a free 10-day music-focused course that brought BIPOC students from around the country to Harvard to learn the ins and outs of the music business in a way they had never learned before. The curriculum focused on mental health, financial literacy and creative innovation, and featured lectures from industry heavy-hitters such as Virgil Abloh, Mike Dean, Don Toliver, Capitol Music Group's Amber Grimes and TDE's Terrence "Punch" Henderson.
"This is for people who wouldn't have necessarily had an opportunity to go to Harvard," IDK told Blavity. "We brought a lot of people of color to an environment that historically wasn't known for that. We educated them on business, gave them some of the tools they need and [gave them] a slight push to actually succeed in this industry."
No Label Academy was born shortly after the Maryland rapper spoke about criminal justice reform at Harvard as part of No Label's “Uncut” speaker series. Disappointed by the inaccessibility creatives have to music business education and academia, IDK and No Label’s co-founders Marcelo Hanta-Davis and Miles Weddle came together to ideate around how they could redevelop creativity in the context of education.
“We got on a call together the next day after the event and started brainstorming more things that we could do together,” Hanta-Davis told The Harvard Crimson. “The idea of doing a course at Harvard where we teach music business in an innovative way was something that piqued our interest.”
According to No Label Academy, its mission is to provide BIPOC students with the tools to pursue a sustainable career in the arts while showing them new and innovative ways of making that possible. After completing the 10-day program, graduates will have the unique opportunity to put their training to use through internships and joint venture partnership deals with No Label Academy's major record label partners.
“What we wanted to do was to create an educational platform that allows for Black creators and people from underrepresented backgrounds to have the knowledge about things that are taboo to talk about, such as mental health, or hard to understand, like financial literacy,” Hanta-Davis said. “It's about giving people that baseline education so that they can have an equal seat at the table.”
This year, submissions for the inaugural No Label Academy opened in June. The program was such a success that IDK told Blavity he intends to make this opportunity available to students annually.
Follow @nolabel.live on Instagram to keep track of the program’s application openings.