De La Salle Meets De La Soul: Rap for the Founder


Senior Jason Harris performing "Mind Cultivation," a song he wrote with Jon Bertain and Nick Carmone. Watch the video.

Three Saint Mary's students are bridging the divide between an educational mission that started in 17th-century France and a student culture firmly rooted in 21st-century America.

As part of the College's weeklong celebration of Saint John Baptist de La Salle, who founded the Christian Brothers order in 1680, freshman Nick Carmone and seniors Jon Bertain and Jason Harris have posted a video of their Lasallian-themed rap song "Mind Cultivation" on YouTube.

Harris and Bertain's lyrics offer a brief biography of De La Salle and his perspectives on education and social justice, while Carmone's beats evoke New York hip-hop trio De La Soul.

"Jason and I have worked together for years," says Bertain, who produced the video. "Through this collaboration (with Nick), we're hoping that students learn more about De La Salle's values."

"Jon and I have been close friends since freshman year," says Harris, who sings the song in the video. "We like to play around with lyrics and I do some lyrics at parties and things like that."

Rob Limon, the school's events technology manager, said he and his students wanted to convey the philosophies of De La Salle through a contemporary medium.

"The idea was to start a kind of viral marketing campaign and send this out to other Lasallian schools," Limon says.

So far, reviews have been positive.

"Articulating the mission of the College in ways like this, ways that most faculty or staff would not use, adds something positive to the culture of the College," says Professor Ellen Rigsby, chair of the Communication Department. "One of the oldest forms of spoken-word poetry - the epic - plays a huge role in the academic life of Saint Mary's. I like seeing that one of the newest ' hip-hop ' is making its way in."

Brother Michael Sanderl, the new dean of campus ministry, agrees.

"The lyrics, the video and the energy expressed in the video are a creative way to share the message not only of De La Salle and our Lasallian heritage, but also of the celebration of De La Salle Week."

Harris says people have told him they like the chorus, "Broaden the game/expand the brain/do what you can/and plan to make change."

"People like the positive lyrics; a lot of rap has negative lyrics," he says. "Also, people like Nick's beats. He was doing his own stuff, not just taking samples from other music."

The video posted on YouTube features clips of Harris singing to students in Oliver Hall (the student dining area) and in front of the De La Salle statue by the Chapel Lawn. Creators say they're still working on a final product.

"This is just a base video track," says Bertain. "The school has high-quality video and sound equipment, and we're going to add some images that show more from the student community. This song is about community, and so was John Baptist de La Salle."

In addition to injecting new energy into De La Salle Week, the students say they developed a deeper appreciation for De La Salle.

"He was a really dedicated man," Harris says. "He wanted to help the young and the poor and he didn't let anyone stop him. He was someone who had a dream and saw it through."

--John Grennan
Office of College Communications