who am I?

Who am I? By Nijel Thomas


Who am I? by Nijel Thomas


            My name is Nijel. When I was much younger my nickname was mostly Nijey, but as I got older, into high school and college, friends began to call me Niggy. It was definitely more of a “cuter” nickname to be called by girls, and it never bothered me because it is a nickname derived from my actual name, rather than a racial slur. When I tell people that Niggy is my artistic name they first seem very awestricken, especially before I tell them that my real name is Nijel. In a drum circle I once participated in, here in Pittsburgh, comprised mostly of middle-aged white members, after telling them my artistic name was Niggy one responded saying people in his time would most likely not agree with that being my name. There is much truth in this statement. I often get the same sensation when I tell people of all races and ages my artistic name. Depending on who I tell, however, they may respond more hysterically to Niggy being my choice of an artist name. From the start, the biggest critic of this name was my family. My brother often says I need to change my artistic name to Nijey, my original nickname. This choice of a name specifically came to haunt my parents. Before I was born, they decided to name me Nigel, but with the spelling Ni-J-el, because of the fear of white people using my name as an excuse to call me the n-word.

            Speaking of family, I am the youngest of a very smart family. I have an older brother and sister, and both father and mother in my life. All of my family is from Baltimore City, whereas I was the only one born in Chicago. I spent the first 5 years of my life in Aurora, Illinois, before my family moved back to Maryland to a Baltimore suburb called North Laurel. The community I grew up in was very diverse in terms of race and class, but all-in-all was very friendly to one another. Upon moving to Maryland, I was able to skip kindergarten because of an accelerated program I had partaken in while living in Chicago.

 My musicianship had begun in 3rd grade where I learned viola from my teacher, with the coincidental name, Mr. Bowman. In 4th grade I started to pick up percussion, in which I continued to play in school band until junior year of high school. In 7th grade I had encouraged my parents to get me an electric drum set for Christmas out of my desire to start making beats, although I did not actually start learning how to use studio software until my sophomore year of college! I have also always loved sports, putting down high school band to focus on football and track my junior and senior years. I came to the University of Pittsburgh as a walk-on to the track team, however, an injury led to this ending, as well as a new beginning, to my music-making passion.

           by Nijel "Niggy" Thomas

 The Grammys and Chance the Rapper by James Perry


The Grammys and Chance the Rapper by James Perry

My African American History teacher asked me a very good question yesterday and I couldn’t wait to respond. Class started with the usual warm up, introduction to the lesson and the goals for the class when he said “So I know I’m a little old but I’m a hip-hop head myself, and I want to know who is Chance the Rapper and what is the hype about his music?” Now I’m not a super fan but BOY I could not wait to answer this question!

 I had to go all the way back to showing him his earliest work BEFORE 10 Day showing the videos of him rapping as well as his “Lost Files EP” with other Chicago artists. His reaction to what he heard was surprising because he wasn’t impressed! The only thing he said was that Chance reminded him a little of Outkast with his rap style and beat selection. I was determined to get more of a reaction out of my teacher. I then showed him his Acid Rap mix tape and his music video for the song “Brain Cells”. Now, a lot of teens in my age group don’t like Chance because of his commercial status.

 The interesting thing that people don’t see is that his fan base came specifically from college tours, selling merchandise and using Sound cloud to push his SAVEMONEY collective with artists like Vic Mensa, Alex Wiley and Mick Jenkins, all of which are friends of Chance and have helped pave the way for Chicago artists to connect on music have it be based on friendship instead of what their “label” may want from them.

Not only is Chance known for his quick come up and success, he also managed to build riches for himself while remaining independent. These were all things I had to explain to my teacher while he was watching these videos and listening to his songs. Even after everything I told him he still wasn’t impressed. At this point he was telling me that I may as well give up because he doesn’t see him changing his mind on it. I had one more shot so I showed him his newest project “Coloring Book”. This project seemed to catch his ear because of the more mature material that families can listen to instead of teenagers. With features from artists like Kirk Franklin and multiple songs using Chicago’s Church choir. It seemed like this project caught a lot more attention because of the content. It was more expectable to play this project for social events, as an upbringing to the people. Still keeping to his original sound with beats that make you want to move as it takes you on a journey while he enlists superstars Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Future and many more. My teacher was REALLY interested when I showed him his iconic Grammy performance for the 51st Grammy awards. He did an amazing arrangement of “How Great/All We Got” and it blew his mind away!

I was really impressed with the performance personally so it was great that I was able to share that moment with my teacher who doubted his music. The icing on the cake for me? Showing him that he won Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song and Best New Artist. He even announced that he is coming to Pittsburgh PA on May 20th!

by James Perry

Who am I? by Curtis Herndon

Who am I? by Curtis Herndon

         My name is Curtis Herndon, and I am an 18 year old senior from Pittsburgh Westinghouse High School. I was born in Pittsburgh on March 3rd 1998. I grew up in a house of four which included my mother, my father, my older brother Gary, and myself. When I was younger I aspired to be many things such as a police officer, an astronaut, a game designer, and a rapper. My new goal is to be a music producer, video producer, comedian, and singer.


       When I was in third grade, my teacher Mrs. Russell asked me if I was interested in learning how to play the trombone. I was very open and took the opportunity, so for 6 months during that year I played the trombone. For the next two years left in Elementary School I keep learning new songs on the trombone, and then started playing the piano, I was now learning two instruments. I moved on to Middle School, which to be honest wasn’t fun for me because I was bullied for 3 years, but I never gave up on what I loved. While still playing piano and trombone, I decided to learn how to play the snare drum for the school band. While learning a single drum, I thought to myself “Why don't I take on a whole drum set?’ and so I did just that. I still play all those instruments until this day.


       I believe it was third grade that my dad gave me a shiny camera that made videos up to 30 seconds. That camera was like my best friend as I started using it everywhere I went. I made random videos of literally whatever I wanted. Jumping to middle school when I took computer class where I learned to use Movie Maker to edit the videos I recorded, later on to see that video editing would be a big part of something big in my life. High school was the start of that big something. Vine was released and I wanted to be a part of it, so I made an account under the name Curt Naddy, which was a name my brother use to annoy me with, but it was there as a place holder until I thought of another name. Later on to see many people liked my videos, and would remember me as Curt Naddy, so I made it my official stage name. I incorporated my skills from Vine to YouTube and made better use of my skills there. After people saw what I can do, they wanted help from me and I decided to use these newfound skills to help others. Doing this showed me I had a talent I could make money from, then I started that big something, my own media business titled “Naddy Productions”


       While a toddler, my favorite show was Blue’s Clues, I had all the toys and clothes from the show. One thing that stood out was Steve taking out his notebook and drawing objects and showing us how they are drawn. I took advantage and drew what he drew, and that was my start of being a visual artist. Later on in life I would attend art class on the side while still attending schools, because a lot of schools I went to did not offer art to us. Three years ago I took my art to another level when a program called the Lighthouse Project taught me a lot of graphic designing on Photoshop. Photoshop became a big part of my media business as it’s how I make flyers, album covers, and just awesome art pieces to give to people.


by Curtis "Curt Naddy" Herndon