Written by Leah Gaus
The 18,500 students tucked away on a college campus in Oxford, Ohio walk past one another, pausing to smile at a student I nickname Dancing Speaker Guy. He wears a grey cable-knit sweater with a shawl collar, three wooden buttons to the left side. His indigo-dyed jeans are slightly worn and a little loose; his life tends to do that to most things.
Photo by Victoria Ferguson
He grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, riding horses. His just-under-six feet frame may be better suited for basketball, but his equestrian childhood shows in his mannerisms – how he contemplates before speaking, pausing mid-sentence to craft his message; how he leans forward to characterize the story, hands sweeping through the air; how he holds your gaze with the intensity of a horse, those chestnut eyes painted over with a world-changing softness.
None of the students know why the young man dances across campus, blasting music from a speaker no bigger than his hand and smiling as though life is beautiful. Well, here’s why:
Because, in his second semester of “real life,” he wanted to eliminate the awkwardness of dancing to music no one else could hear.
Because walking from entrepreneurship to music composition is a lot like driving. It’s pausing at red lights and obeying green ones. It’s the boredom cured with the push of a button, the melodic click of FM radio. A journey doesn’t have to be silent just because you’re on foot.
Because the five hundred weird looks and lingering stares are worth making one person’s day a little bit better. “Doing this makes people stop and think, ‘Maybe life isn’t so serious,’” he tells me. His choice of music depends on the moment – the liberation of a two-hour lab ending echoed by Kanye West, the calming blanket of clouds highlighted by Frank Ocean’s new album.
Because it simply feels so good to watch the trees blur into color.
Because the student center is a stage, a tavern – a gathering place for biology majors and animation minors alike. If it weren’t for the cool, late-September air, he might be wearing a T-shirt with the New York City skyline.
Because it takes less than a song to cover a ten-minute walk. He glides across the pavement like a young, self-described Shakespeare, dramatic and self-aware.
Because in three minutes and forty-five seconds, a ten-page research paper and thirty equations can morph into freedom. All that remains is the moment: a setting, a soul, and a song.
Because there’s beauty in the struggle.
Because the hours spent waiting for the musician to help the lyricist are a blank canvas.
Photo by Victoria Ferguson
The past three years have been a symphony of rap, culminating in his first unfinished single. Dancing Speaker Guy is simply a byproduct.
Because improvisation changes the brain, turning anxiety into creativity. The POWER button unhinges the dam, letting the pain flood out vocally – the pain of young loss, the pain of living in a world with stereotypes, the pain of emotionally segregated lunch tables.
Because Dancing Speaker Guy believes in a world where poor and rich kids can eat their sandwiches across from each other, where compassion is brewed through a changed education system.
Because when you’re an underground artist, most people aren’t eager to help.
Because there’s an Indian tribe that puts their children in a dark room for 24 hours, believing in the importance of having one’s first relation with the world be with one’s heart, not other people. When the heart and soul are disconnected, chaos ensues.
Because it’s the natural trust in this connection that makes magic happen.
Because his heart is telling him “White Smoke” – two words lighting up the pixels of a computer screen, musical stress-relief you can buy for a couple bucks.
Because he is living his album: the smiles from strangers, the late nights with loud music, the long afternoons spent in lecture halls. He looks at the life surrounding the brick buildings and amber leaves and thinks, “This is the art piece that’s going to tell its story.”
Because “every day is a music video.” There’s a tiny GoPro camera on the left strap of his backpack, pitch black and unassuming. Occasionally it records the story of a striving artist, a college student, or an overjoyed dreamer. It’s documenting how a dream comes to life, the seven months before someone makes it big. Just like how chapters make a novel, clips make a television show.
Because that’s what makes the dream so beautiful – it is uncertain.
Because one afternoon, on the ledge of the architecture building, a student smacked a five-dollar bill next to his feet and shouted over Frank Ocean, “You made my day.”