For political science major Robert Tate ’16, it’s impossible to divorce classroom learning and creative expression — the two belong together; they feed off of one another; and they both source his rapping career.
So when people see the thousands of views on his music videos or the concerts he performs across the state, and they ask why he doesn’t pursue music full time, he is actually offended.
“Hearing that lights a fire in me. I see both my education and my music as being necessary. My time at Denison has been crucial to the development of my content,” says Tate, who performs under the name “Sarob.”
“You want to be a person who is aware, a cognizant, global citizen.”
“I have the time, space, and inspiration to think about things happening in the world — to reach in and break down emotions inside myself. That’s where my music comes from.”
While he rapped occasionally in high school, Tate’s musical career began to really take off during the summer of 2013 when he released his mixtape “decent.”
“It was bad. It was so bad,” says Tate, who hails from Dayton, Ohio. “But it was a first try. It wasn’t polished but my lyrics were strong. That’s something that I’ve always taken pride in — being a good writer.”
Since that first release, Tate has been working on perfecting his craft, each mixtape and single getting closer to the expectations he sets for himself. He believes that “the down.” — his first full album to be released later this year — will be his best yet.
“It’s like one big book. One song flows into the next and the theme of each song runs into the next. I don’t think anyone my age has had this level of thought expressed in music. I’m really proud of it.”
For Tate, the single most important inspiration to create something of this scale is academic stimulation.
“Denison has been the greatest thing for my intellectual development, and that totally translates to my music. Other rappers ask how I get my lyrics and I tell them that I read. I go to class. That stuff is so important. You want to be a person who is aware, a cognizant, global citizen,” he says.
According to Tate, the level of thought put into each of his lyrics and songs is largely responsible for the amount of followers he’s gained, both on campus and off. It’s also allowed him network his way into the music business, which he hopes will help him maximize the drop of “the down.”
While Tate is constantly challenging himself to improve, it’s not all about the numbers. For him, the most important thing is the emotional reaction of his audience.
“I try to be intimate and vulnerable in my music so that people know that they’re not alone. I just want people to feel better. If they’re happy, stay happy; if they’re sad, I want them to know that life will get better,” says Tate, who is open about his own struggles with O.C.D and depression in his songs.
His emphasis on emotion and connecting with the audience is why Tate will always consider himself a writer first, a musician second and a rapper third.
“Everything is about feeling. So I don’t waste lines in my writing, because I want it to be powerful. And being a musician means understanding how the energy and sound evoke certain emotions. So I tie my lyrics and musicianship together and the result is my rapping,” says Tate, who does much of his writing in the library stacks.
In the end, everything boils down to one simple idea for Tate: creation.
“I want to give something to the world. I think that is my duty. I think that’s what I’m here to do,” he says.
Photo by Nelson Dow