Penn State Rapper Sanmi Recognizes His Potential, Dreams Big
Junior Vic Ariyo didn’t discover his rapping stage name until it was finally time for college. Although he had been rapping since the beginning of high school, it only truly became official once he moved on to Penn State.
Until Ariyo started filling out his college applications, he believed his first name was Victor. His parents had been calling him Victor his entire life, so what else was he supposed to think? However, it was at that time that his parents, knowing he needed his official name on the applications, informed Ariyo his first name was not Victor, but Oluwasanmi.
Thus, naturally, when he started seriously rapping in college, his stage name — Sanmi — was born.
It was really the transition from high school to college that turned a hobby into a passion for the rapper.
In his early high school years, Ariyo would often listen to rap on the radio. He thought he could do better than what he was hearing with a little bit of effort. So he played sports and he watched TV, but he also started to write lyrics. He wanted and needed the practice.
Ariyo was not trying to impress anyone; he was just trying to enjoy himself. In fact, the first song Ariyo ever recorded, “Big Dreams,” was recorded on a “Dollar Store microphone” in his house.
“When you listen to that song and its quality, you’ll know that I recorded it on a cheap microphone in my house. But there are things that you just do for yourself. I just made it for me,” Ariyo said. “It’s still on my YouTube so that I always remember where I came from.”
Then going by ‘Young Vic,’ Ariyo continued to release songs throughout high school. One high point for Ariyo in high school was when he performed at his high school talent show as the headliner during his senior year.
“We shut it down,” Ariyo said. “The crowd went crazy. After that performance I thought that if people felt me like this, if I just keep going, I know I can be good.”
In the time from high school to college, Ariyo went to recording studios to not only start recording material in a professional environment, but also to learn from others who were more experienced. He observed their techniques from the sideline so he could enhance his own craft.
After he was accepted to Schreyer Honors College here at Penn State, Ariyo didn’t think he would have enough time to pursue both rapping and his education. So he initially decided to solely focus on school.
Later in his freshman year, though, Ariyo saw an advertisement for THON’s Got Talent, and became interested in performing at the event. That same night, Ariyo went back to his room and wrote an original song for THON in just a couple of hours.
After many of his peers told him how much they loved his song, he auditioned for THON’s Got Talent. In a competition with 20 other acts for three performing spots at the annual event in the Bryce Jordan Center, Ariyo successfully beat out the field. The competition had indeed brought him back to the rap game.
With his resident assistant, who was a part of hip-hop dance crew RAM squad, doing the background dancing and Ariyo doing the rapping, he took the stage at THON.
“It was a great experience because it was a performance in front of 15,000 people — the biggest one that I had to date. That was truly amazing. I will always be grateful that I had a chance to perform at THON, which is such an inspirational event,” Ariyo said.
Although Ariyo had the time of his life performing at THON, he considered it a lesson for the future.
“It was a big learning experience because it allowed me to realize that I have a long way to go as an artist in the sense of making music and performing,” Ariyo said. “So I feel like that performance was good, but it wasn’t great. But at the same time, that’s because I know I can do better in the future.”
The ensuing year saw Ariyo start focusing on the production side of music. He saw it as the next stage of his development as an artist.
“Instead of focusing on myself as an artist lyrically, I started focusing on myself as an artist sonically. I feel like when as an artist you can create your own beats, you have the advantage because you can essentially create your own sound,” he said.
Last semester is when Ariyo really sat down and decided to put effort into his music after he decided he had what it takes.
“I’m not saying I’m the best, but at the same time I recognize the potential that I have, and want be able to reach those heights,” Ariyo said.
It was then that he set his mind to eventually put out a mixtape so he could put his artistic abilities and message on display for others to hear.
“Music is like a currency. Different currencies are weighed higher than others. It’s the same way in music. Each artist has a different value and a different potential to what they can bring and how they bring it,” Ariyo said. “I believed my music is important. My music has a very strong currency. So it was time for me to actually get people to listen.”
Although it took him two years to write the lyrical content of the songs for his mixtape, he produced all the tracks this past summer. From May to August, he recorded the lyrics, created new beats, asked for features, and mixed it all together.
Before he put out the final version of the mixtape, he asked his Penn State roommate, junior David Lee, for his opinion.
“When I got the mixtape, I was very impressed. He was looking for feedback, but I really couldn’t find any. He was thinking about cutting songs, but I thought they all flowed nicely together and all contributed to the message he was trying to spread,” Lee said. “He produced his album, is an amazing freestyle rapper and has a great way of getting his message across. His music can really make an impact.”
After all of Ariyo’s work, his first mixtape, “Common $ense,” came out August 20. The mixtape features nine tracks and is about 30 minutes long. Whether it is “conscious music, metro-booming 808s, or Afrobeats,” Ariyo’s versatility as an artist is on full display.
Ariyo says the album discusses things typical college students go through every day.
“I want people to see my mistakes, see what I go through. I talk about how I’m able to move every day as an African American in the United States at a predominantly white institution like Penn State,” Ariyo said. “I talk about love and relationships, and just different things that people our age are going through that are important to talk about.”
Junior Ivan Yen, who’s a Millennium Scholar with Ariyo, says one particular song really stood out to him.
“Vic actually showed me ‘Tribulations’ earlier in the process when he was still working on it. That song really exhibited Vic’s ability to capture true elements that impact everyone,” Yen said. “He really channels his passion into his music, noting obstacles that a common person struggles with, and makes his lyrics relatable.”
Ariyo also wants people to know the songs on the mixtape are a representation of his life story. Ariyo says events throughout his life really shaped him and his music.
For example, when his dad survived a stroke in 2011, he continued to keep his head up throughout his struggle. This event had an important impact on Ariyo, as now he believes that whatever obstacles he faces, he can make it through as long as he stays optimistic and keeps believing in himself.
Ariyo believes his music can be far-reaching because of his open-mindedness.
“What allows me to relate so much to other people is my ability to always find something that we have in common,” Ariyo said. “I never judge anyone because I don’t know where they came from or what they’ve been through. Because I have that mentality, I’m able to find common ground and connect with a lot of different people.”
Ariyo, who is majoring in biomedical engineering, is a busy man at Penn State — he doesn’t just rap. He is a Millennium Scholar, a corporate liaison for the National Society of Black Engineers, and a member of the Presidential Leadership Academy. The Presidential Leadership Academy even provided Ariyo with a grant to help him record his mixtape.
Presidential Leadership Academy Director Melissa Doberstein says it was the academy’s duty to help Ariyo pursue his passion.
“He’s talented, he’s smart, he’s pursuing a passion and I think that’s cool. I think that’s why I decided to help fund his passion and that’s what we really try to influence in the academy — pursuing passion and goals. And if we have the funding to do that, I think it’s our duty to help students pursue that.”
Lee knows Ariyo can continue to excel at both rapping and academics.
“I’ve never met a more well-rounded kid. He grinds hard, has fun, is respectful, giving, funny and always driven. He’s the first one up in the morning and the last one in,” Lee said.
A student first, Ariyo knows it will be tough to continue balancing being both a student and a rapper, but he enjoys keeping busy.
“I know that if I keep working, if I keep staying focused, if I keep doing all the little things that I’m doing, it’s going to pay off. I hope that others see my work ethic and are maybe inspired to work more towards their dreams too,” Ariyo said.
Doberstein is impressed by how Ariyo has grown to realize he doesn’t have to choose rapping or academics; he can do both.
“I think he shows that you don’t have to just focus on one thing to be successful. You can pursue your dream as well as your academics at the same time. I think it took him a little time to realize that, but I’m really proud of him that he’s doing that,” Doberstein said. “In the [Presidential Leadership Academy] we really always talk a lot about listening to a diverse viewpoint and bringing that into your realm of thinking. I think that he really does that.”
In the end, Ariyo doesn’t care about the fame or the number of views his videos get. He just loves his music and wants to reach as many people as will listen to the message.
“I don’t even look at views or numbers anymore because they don’t faze me,” Ariyo said. “As long as I make good music that impacts the people that listen to it, that’s all that matters in my eyes.”