‘Popular Loner’ iamRaidon Leaving Mark On Penn State Rap Scene
To the everyday music enthusiast, the State College rap scene may feel nonexistent, or maybe only calls attention to comedy sports rapper Matty Fresh.
So how can a community of up-and-coming rappers emerge from an unassuming college town?
Enter fourth-year telecommunication and media industries studies student Robert Watson, or iamRaidon. Watson dismantled this assumption and built an underground Penn State rap scene, while simultaneously increasing its relevance.
“When I first got here, there were people who made music, but there was no music scene,” Watson said.
Prior to falling into his iamRaidon persona, Watson didn’t plan on having a rap career. Despite having a strong love for music by way of playing guitar, singing in the choir, and being lead snare in his high school band, Watson enrolled at Valley Forge Military Academy and College on a soccer scholarship. A serious music career was far from his mind.
“So my senior year I had a roommate and he made music and did YouTube. And I listened to the song that he made and I was like, ‘This shit is ass, I bet I could do way better.’ So I set out to do better,” Watson said.
While people were pointing out Watson’s strength in soccer, deep down, he knew music was his passion.
Watson’s single, “5 AM,” released in 2019 under the stage name 518God, ended up being his first taste of notoriety and the song was featured on WorldStar in June of that year.
Following the popularity of “5 AM,” Watson found himself entrenched with members of the rap community.
“I worked at Wawa at the time and the guy that I worked with knew Matt OX. Matt OX FaceTimed me at 3 o’clock in the morning. Shit changed my life, made me want to take music more seriously,” said Watson.
The networking helped Watson connect with rapper Juvenile Frequency, a fellow Class of 2019 high school graduate and incoming Penn State first-year.
From there, Watson was introduced to his first friends and planted the seeds of Penn State’s rap scene.
What started with a mix of students who met during New Student Orientation and the Multicultural Engineering Program Orientation, the group ran Pollock Halls and quickly bonded over a passion for rap.
Watson’s current manager, fourth-year electrical engineering student Micah Neverson, was one of the students in the group Watson fell into. Funnily enough, Watson thought Neverson disliked him from the get-go following a missed dap-up opportunity.
During Watson’s freshman year, it was common to see his friend group hanging out in dorms after a long day of classes, freestyling, and writing music. Watson even recorded some singles in his own unrenovated cinderblock dorm.
In the summer of 2020, though, Watson reached out to Neverson about becoming his manager.
“It was on a phone call and he said, ‘I really want to take this music shit seriously.’ And I’m like, ‘OK, do you have a plan?’ Then he said, ‘Yeah, I don’t know. You’re going to be my manager.’ He’s my friend so I couldn’t say no,” Neverson said.
Watson’s new rapping persona, iamRaidon, was created in 2021 and he recorded his single “No Love” with Philip Dure. Dure turned out to become one of the founders of Visionary Visual Arts and the popular Dean’s List concert.
The single gained popularity around Penn State, inspiring other artists to publish their own music for the public. This rise of open artists helped create the very first Dean’s List concert, which took place at the indoor basketball court in The Yards.
2021 was the start of Watson’s development on his first album, “Popular Loners Club.” The titular song, “Popular Loner,” was created that year and proved to be the first single on the album. Outside of album writing, Watson also performed at Dean’s List in 2022.
Released in December of 2022, the “Popular Loners Club” album had themes of a recent breakup and heartache, melodic rap, and the striking branding of heart-shaped balloons. The album’s colorful cover art was designed and photographed by another Dean’s List founder, CJ Kente.
Watson’s most emotionally-driven songs on the album are “X for a Reason” and “Xoxo.”
“So ‘X for a Reason’ was fresh off of everything that happened. I didn’t record for a whole month. So everything I was going through in my past relationship was built up and put into that session,” said Watson. “Everything left over about how I really felt was in ‘Xoxo.’ That was the final sad song I put on the album.”
Watson’s melodic sound was inspired by rappers like Juice WRLD, Iann Dior, and Lil Mosey. Artists like Sam Cooke and groups the Temptations and the Jackson 5 also played a role in Watson’s music.
“I kind of emulate everything and incorporate it into my own sound, like with beat selection for example,” said Watson.
Watson prides himself on being honest and putting truth into every song. This goes into his songwriting process with Watson often coming into the studio with only a written hook and freestyling the rest.
Watson’s branding, “Popular Loner,” is also true to his personality and he hopes to stay true to his honest theme.
“When I first got to Penn State, I wasn’t afraid of what people would say. Because when you’re afraid of what people say, it limits what you can do,” said Watson. “People follow me because I make music, I have a goofy personality, and I am a popular loner. I don’t do it for a publicity stunt.”
Watson credits his success to his love of marketing, his strong support system, and his unwavering passion.
“I’ve always been infatuated with marketing. Something about analyzing numbers and looking at cost-per-click and click-through rate and all that kind of stuff, I always gravitated towards it,” Watson said.
Waston’s best advice for young rappers is to limit discouragment, increase promotions, and network.
“Invest in your friends, be there for your friends. You don’t know when things can go south. Cherish those moments,” said Neverson.
Watson currently has music in the works, but is taking a break from rapping to focus on his studies.
“I have the music already ready. It’s just a matter of when to drop it,” said Watson. “I’m still trying to find a balance, because right now, I’m still in school and that’s a priority. School has always been a priority, but I lost sight of that last year. It’s very hard.”
Watson hopes to find a job in the music entertainment industry after graduation and put the money he earns toward his rap career. Watson is also in the midst of a thematic transition. His upcoming music focuses on living life to the fullest and “getting big.”
“Nowadays, I’m pushing away from the heartbreak stuff. It’s always going to be my forte, but I’d prefer to rap melodically instead of just singing sad songs. I’m not heartbroken anymore,” said Watson.
Watson’s ultimate goal is to be a role model for future Penn State rappers. When asked about the Penn State rap community, it is easily described as a family or brotherhood with endless support in all branches of music entertainment.
While starting with humble beginnings, the small but mighty company proved time and time again that rap is alive and well in the home of the Nittany Lion.
“After I graduate, the younger generation is going to start to push the music scene and carry on the legacy. Eventually, there is going to be a lot of artists who are going to go mainstream out Penn State. I wholeheartedly believe that,” Watson said.
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