Rapper Fyütch Transforms Hip-Hop for the Classroom

    Fyütch’s nomination for a 2022 Grammy is a validation of the unlikely career switch he made a few years ago, turning his attention from the clubs to the classroom and from good times to good values. The single father born Harold Simmons II has carved out a unique niche promoting positivity in schools that recently earned him a featured slot on the Today show with daughter Aura.

    In addition to well-received in-class presentations, Fyütch is a popular online presence: his “Fyütchology” web series of music and social commentary has more than 2 million views. His recent Grammy nod was for Best Children’s Album for the One Tribe Collective’s All One Tribe, which features him on an ensemble song and performing his own song, “Family Reunion,” from his debut solo album Family Tree.

    It’s all a different focus from when he was starting out (with Biscuits and Gravy, for whom he was lead singer, he opened for the likes of Kanye West and Pharrell), “making songs about money, songs about life, songs about women, et cetera, and it just wasn’t happening for me like I wanted it to,” he recalls. But when he took those musical gifts into schools, he found he connected with kids in a special way.

    “So, I started thinking of ways and subjects and topics that I can make songs about that I can use in my classrooms. I kind of settled on this idea of Black history, self-love, empathy—things that I wished that I learned in school, while also making it lyrical, also making it current, also making it dope.”

    Those songs “went much further than the songs that I was trying to make just for flashiness, the songs that I was trying to make just for that cool factor,” says Fyütch (pronounced like the first part of the word future). “So, it kind of humbled me. It was like the world was telling me, ‘Yo, the world doesn’t need any more songs about flashiness, whatever.’

    “Anytime I made something that educated, anytime I made something that inspired, teachers would hit me up. Parents would hit me up. Students would hit me up. It was like, there’s a need for this. It just kind of showed me that I had a gift that was serving a need and I kind of followed that wave and was glad that I did.”

    No ‘bad hair’
    Instead of the traditional three Rs of education, Fyütch majors on what he calls the three Es—educate, entertain and empower. His creative approach opens up conversations about relationships and self-image. One of his songs that gets young people talking is “My Crown,” which he calls “A hair love song for kids.” The lyrics include: “Waves, braids, high-top fade, lace-front, sew-in, natural, laid, lock it, twist it, next day might switch it, curls, mohawk, Afro, go off shave it, crochet it, make it your favorite.”

    The number was inspired by the way he had felt when he was young, that nappy hair was “bad” but hair that could be easily combed was “good.” “That comes from these racist, European white beauty standards,” he says. “We see it a lot on the magazines and in the movies.” Diversity of representation is growing, but the negativity “still exists. It still haunts a lot of us.” So “it’s good to remind ourselves in every way that black is beautiful, that who we are is beautiful.”

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    Fyütch’s shift in focus was accelerated and solidified when Aura was born in 2017. Becoming a parent nudged him “into this protective dad phase. . . I am aware of the kind of influence that I have on her. I’m aware of what we watch. I am aware of what we listen to. So, I think it’s just natural that I want to make songs that she can enjoy, that I don’t have to go, ‘Oh baby, don’t listen to that one.’ So, she definitely is a huge influence in that way.”

    The seeds of Fyütch’s blend of teaching and music were sown into him at an early age. One of his grandfathers and two uncles were pastors and Dad “might as well have been” (he was a church deacon). John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie were always on the turntable at one of his grandpa’s houses.

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    Those communication and creativity genes soon began to show themselves: he won a citywide public speaking contest at the age of 7. Then he started writing poetry for girls he had crushes on: “I was a little lover kid in that way, so that eventually led into hip-hop music and led into rapping freestyle.”

    His first taste of the impact he could have on young people came while volunteering at a community center in Nashville (where he attended Belmont College) called Rocketown, helping them write and record. “That kind of planted the seed,” says Fyütch. “I know I like making my own music, but it’s really important for me being in a position to provide youth with resources they might not have otherwise.”

    Weighing the good
    Working with all ages from kindergarten through high school, Fyütch observes that he receives differing reactions. The little ones love that a Black man with dreadlocks is in their classroom: “That’s already got them. They’re sold.”

    Middle schoolers are a lot harder to reach because they are starting to get cool. “So, it might take them a little longer to open up to my artistry, but once I show them where my heart is. . . and I show them that I’m really there for them, we often end up talking about things that matter to them.” His authenticity wins them over. “People now more than ever, they want genuine,” he says. “They want what’s real to them. And it just so worked out that what’s real to me is this education lifestyle mixed with hip-hop.”

    Fyütch’s lyrical content is markedly different—softer and sunnier—from a lot of what’s out there in hip-hop; how does he reconcile that? “When I see someone who’s had a much harder experience than I have, or who’s had a much different life politically, racially than I’ve had, I’m always like, that’s dope, that’s really tight,” he comments. “That’s not necessarily what I do, but I think it comes from that same vein of creation.

    “I’m the type of critic to where I’m like, how is this benefiting your listeners? How is this benefiting our race, our society, our world? What are we able to learn from this?”
    While he relishes having the opportunity to be a good role model for students, he has mixed feelings about being held up as an example of a good father. “As soon as I became a dad, when I was walking down the street with my daughter, I would hear the microaggressions and the stuff like, ‘Oh, you’re actually a good dad,’ blah, blah, blah. As if I didn’t have father figures, a lot of my friends didn’t have father figures and that there aren’t examples of good father figures already.”

    He feels a lens trained on him. “Like, if I do something with my daughter it’s extraordinary and it’s exceptional, which I think is awesome, but I think that also has a negative side. And the negative connotation is that a lot of people might not think that does exist in the Black community. That good fatherhood examples don’t exist.”

    He knows not everyone is fortunate to have had the family experience he did, but “the stories of fathers like me who are present, fathers like my dad who are present, are not portrayed as much.”

    Fyütch acknowledges a lot of help along the way, from people he describes as “influences, guardian angels that steered me in a direction.” And he knows that “I would not be where I am today”—trying to be a similar help to those coming up behind him—“without them.”

    From an interview with Louis Carr

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