Value your time. Your time is your most valuable and measurable resource. We’re conditioned to use our time in ways that are not helpful to us. Be mindful and thoughtful about how your time is spent to actually get you closer to your goals in life.
Structure your life. Build it around things that make you feel fulfilled, happy, and confident. Make choices based on practical needs that will benefit you.
As a part of our series about stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Rob Level, a rapper, iTunes Top 100 Artist, and CEO of the popular online education platform Smart Rapper. His “A Screwed Up True Story” music video, which dropped this week, is making waves online for its inspiring message to rise above your circumstances. He discusses losing his father, being given up for adoption, experiencing physical punishments in school, and founding his company.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to this career path?
I started rapping to fit in. I was a “last chance” kid in behavioral school from a very young age. I didn’t always win fights and I realized there were multiple ways to socialize and compete in a positive way if I participated in rap circles and cyphers at school. I went through a lot very early in life. I describe it in my new music video, “A Screwed Up True Story,” but my dad passed away and my mom gave me up for adoption. Those things alone kicked off a really destructive life for me. But I always wanted to succeed. That pushed me to keep working, keep pushing. Most people thought my company, Smart Rapper, was a joke. It’s been extremely successful at teaching rappers and recording artists how to thrive in the music industry.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?
I have a lot of crazy stories from my life, but I’ll try to narrow it down. A few years back, I wrote a hit for a major artist that ended up being huge for her. Unfortunately, I was early on in my career and I was overly trusting of another producer in terms of rights and credit. I ended up making less than 500 dollars for writing a song with over 10 million streams. These are the kind of lessons I look back on and shake my head, but I’m also grateful. When I was starting out, I could never find resources online to help me navigate those kinds of situations. That’s why I founded my company. A big part of my passion comes from wanting to share the information I’ve earned over time. Just a few years ago, things like that were happening to me. Now, I’m teaching thousands of people how to avoid bad deals in the music business. So it’s come full circle. I always try to find positives in bad situations.
What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?
A couple things: one, stop thinking you can’t do it. There’s a lot of doubt in our culture these days. It’s something I personally don’t experience, but I see it in people around me at times. I’m talking about doubting your capabilities. Your abilities may be limited due to circumstances and will change and grow over time. But your capabilities are infinite. You can always try, you can always show up and work hard. Demystifying success starts with acknowledging that it’s not about some hidden talent you possess, but how much you’ll try, how much you’ll work to develop your skills and talents. Two, if there’s something you need to do, but don’t know how to do it or how to start, educate yourself. Research. Watch a YouTube video. Take an online class. You’re living in an age of information, and our access to resources we need has never been easier. Remember that no one is coming to save you, “discover you,” or suddenly change your life for the better. That kind of progress is going to happen over time.
Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?
I would probably say my mom. She faced a lot of pressure to put me up for adoption when my dad was dying. She signed the papers. By that time, she had a new baby with her new husband so I was very aware of what I was missing out on. As a child, a lot of information was withheld from me. She never even told me formally that she was giving me away. I basically just knew I was bad and that she didn’t want me anymore. That’s definitely left a mark on me. I don’t know if it’s why I work so hard, but it definitely contributed to the environment that fostered my growth as a person. If she had kept me, I doubt I would be where I am today.
How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?
Right now, I’m working on getting more attention toward the legality of corporal punishment in the school system here in America. Corporal punishment is still legal in public schools in 19 states; it’s still legal in private schools in 48 states. There is no federal mandate outlawing corporal punishment in schools, even though it has been outlawed in 128 countries. It’s a national embarrassment and it’s endangering kids.
Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?
I personally experienced physical punishments in multiple schools and government programs over the years. It’s so psychologically damaging for children to experience this. You can’t fight back. You’re not strong enough. It’s scary. I don’t think kids should be educated in an environment like that. Adults should not have the power to physically hurt kids and be okay in the eyes of the law.
Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?
Aside from myself, two recent deaths: Max Benson, 13, and Cornelius Fredericks, 16, who were both victims of corporal punishment at their schools. It’s truly disturbing to think about adults legally killing a child, yet here are two examples in recent history.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
We need to pass some kind of legislation that will outlaw this practice permanently. I’ve put out feelers to lawmakers and other people who can help me use my voice to get things moving with that. I’d ask people to talk to their representatives about this issue and ask how they are supporting changing the laws behind it.
I’d also ask with help with awareness. Spread the word. Don’t keep this knowledge to yourself. Say the names of Max Benson and Cornelius Fredericks. Show that there are real victims of this practice.
Finally, I’d ask that you believe kids when they are telling you they are being abused. My adoptive parents did not believe my stories of physical punishments and abuse at school. Break that cycle for the kids in your life by validating their experience. They are telling you about it because they need help.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
- Trust your gut. Your gut feeling is usually correct, even if it’s not convenient at the time or in the situation you’re in. You’ll save yourself time and grief later if you listen to that gut instinct in the moment.
- Take charge of the situations and environments you’re in. You can be held responsible for situations that aren’t of your own making simply by being involved or present. It’s your life, so take ownership.
- Value your time. Your time is your most valuable and measurable resource. We’re conditioned to use our time in ways that are not helpful to us. Be mindful and thoughtful about how your time is spent to actually get you closer to your goals in life.
- Structure your life. Build it around things that make you feel fulfilled, happy, and confident. Make choices based on practical needs that will benefit you.
- Don’t expect someone to come save you. No one is coming. The sooner you start realizing that, the better. Empower yourself beyond needing the help of someone else.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
There are a lot of changes I’d like to help happen. I truly want to help change the educational system and the way we take care of at-risk kids and families. There are too many people left behind. I also hope that I help people believe in themselves and their capabilities.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?
“Victory belongs to the most persevering.” — Napoleon Bonaparte
I’ve never given up, and I never will. You might be more educated, better connected, or further ahead than me, but you’ll never outwork me. I work on Christmas, I work on New Year’s Eve. I never stop hustling.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I’d like to have lunch with our new leader, Joe Biden. I’d use the time to ask for an executive order against corporal punishment in schools.
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!