How Lawyer-Turned-Rapper Mekka Don Became a Grassroots Phenom

Former Ohio State football player on building hip-hop cred, breakdancing for $5 and the therapeutic advantages of R.E.M.

By Christine Borges

It’s a not-so-classic tale: Guy falls hard for music. Guy plays and performs whenever he can, but joins a competitive college football team (the Ohio State Buckeyes). He goes to law school and gets offered a dream job straight out of school. Then, he listens to his heart, quits his career and devotes himself to hip-hop — and succeeds.

To call rapper and hip-hop impresario Mekka Don — who recently dropped his debut album, The Dream Goes On — extraordinary, might be an understatement. In addition to all of his achievements, he’s also managed to build a grassroots following so faithful that his fans actually helped fund The Dream Goes On. Although his crowdfunding goal via Indiegogo was $12,500, he ended up raising $21,000 in 30 days. We caught up with Mekka Don to discuss his unconventional rise.

You don’t hear about a lot of hip-hop artists who start out as attorneys…
Mekka Don: There was a lot of backlash — from other students to people who wanted to get the job that I got. And from the hip-hop community, they was also a lot of resistance. It was like, “Who the hell is this lawyer dude that thinks he’s about to be a rapper? Oh, hell no. He has no credibility at all.” It was very hard to get anyone to listen and to care, initially — to believe that this is authentic [and not] a play for fame.

What made people change their minds?
I think that the more people delve into my history, they realize, “Whoa, this guy was in a band in the ’90s. He’s been around forever.” They realized that I was performing in college, in law school, even in law school classes. I was making $160,000 a year when I graduated from law school at 24. So for me to give that up… I think it’s finally starting to hit people: “This guy is either crazy, or he really is passionate.”

Well, you have to be a little crazy to be in music.
I think you have to be crazy to do anything that goes against the grain, against the norm. Because of that, I feel like I learned through life — and I learned [things] a lot younger than other people have.

Why the decision to emphasize positive messages in your music?
You have so much power in hip-hop to change lives. And it’s so popular among so many different segments of society now — internationally, as well. Every commercial has hip-hop. Corporations that never embraced hip-hop before are embracing it. I’ve spoken with a lot of kids and at a lot of schools — sixth to eighth grade, mostly — and I see how impressionable they are. They listen to this music for inspiration, for direction. So for me, it’s my obligation, given my experiences.

What fuels your passion for music?
I feel like it’s influenced my emotions. There were times growing up [that] if I was about to get into a fight or get into a game, there was certain music that I listened to. Like, if I was wanting to reflect on something, I would listen to U2 or R.E.M. I knew I wanted to be involved. I used to breakdance for people at four- to five-years-old for $5. And I remember my sisters telling me that I was writing raps when I was eight. I like to express myself. Later on, I realized that music could also be used as politics. Moving messages to mass amounts of people can have an impact.