Rising Nashville Rapper Talks his Philanthropy, Breaking Yung Gravy’s Toe, and his Trademark Ski Goggles
It was a cold, December night on Elliston Place. I arrived early, stumbling into The End to only see four or five people there, and a dread of having to sit through this shit show fell over me. I was invited to cover a sort of showcase with several local artists. I sat down at a barstool adjacent to the stage to check my phone, and I was met with a notification saying that the guy who threw the show had been arrested for driving without a license and for having a loaded gun in the car. Well, fuck me. Not only do I have to sit through a slough of piss poor opening acts to get to the good stuff, but now I have to wait and indeterminable eternity just to get this show on the road.
I was overcome by a state of tedium, so I decided to make small talk with both patrons and performers alike, and noticed that the few people there were all gravitated to one young man. I walked over to introduce myself and make some friends as the painful wait was only beginning and met the man known as Travis Karter. Quickly, I began to notice several different other concert goers donning his merchandise and was thoroughly confused. We talked and I learned he was a student at prestigious Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and was shown a variety of music video and mp4 snippets that took me by surprise. This kid had some real talent and a tremendous acumen for marketing, as a solid three-fourths of people in the dingy concert space were openly advertising the performer.
Finally, the show began, and a rotation of pitiful pretenders jacking the flow of Soundcloud’s finest took the stage. I contemplated leaving, but I had to see what this Travis Karter kid was all about. I was amazed. More and more people in Travis Karter merchandise kept crawling through the door. The time for his set rolled around and the screeching or bitter shyness of previous acts was over. The crowd gravitated to him, and he was the only performer whose songs were known to the entire pit. His eyes were covered by his trademark ski goggles, and he and his posse on stage began jumping and the crowd quickly followed. Words don’t do it justice. He absolutely murdered his set, and set the bar at and unattainably high level for the remaining rappers. The energy he brought was unmatched, and he had a knack for engaging the crowd at a high level.
What came next shocked me the most. The crowd of two-to-three hundred people immediately dissipated following Karter’s exit, rendering The End as the barren wasteland it was when I came in. I had to follow this kid on all of his social and get his phone number. It only took five songs for me to realize that Travis Karter was a fucking contender, and would be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
Since that night Travis Karter has done nothing but blow me away. He has dropped an album and brought rap to the forefront of Ivy League newspapers such as the Harvard Crimson and the Cornell Daily Sun. His album received a large deal of critical acclaim and he has even performed alongside internet legend Yung Gravy.
Travis does not follow the herd. He wears what he wants and he acts how he wants, and most impressive to me is that he is not shy about his incredible degree of intellect. The man is thriving at one of America’s toughest academic environments, all while taking the rap scene by storm. He is unapologetically black and unapologetically smart. He is remarkably socially conscious, refusing to use the N or B words in his music, because he wants all audience members to be able to sing along to his tracks with zero repercussions.
Unlike many internet and teenage counterparts, Travis is not a mere “mumble” rapper. His style is very original, and I cannot easily compare him to any other popular artist. His tracks are filled with the same unmistakable energy that I saw that night at The End. Travis will be a force to be reckoned with for a time to come.
MCU: What was your original view of success when you started?
TK: That’s an amazing question.. The best way for me to answer that is in continuity and change: I’ll tell you what’s stayed the same about my views, and what’s changed.
Ever since I was young my view of success has been the same– it’s imperative. I bet everything on myself– to lose is not an option.
But one thing changed in my view, and I think it shows my biggest personal growth since I started. I used to want to win to prove those who doubted me wrong. Now, I only want to win to prove those who believed in me right. My #1 goal is to achieve what I want to achieve, and share all the glory with everyone who helped me get there… Everyone, because I don’t, and could never do this alone. To me, that’s a life key– anything you do, let it come from a place of love, because hate can only lead to hate.
MCU: Tell me about your charity and why you decided to take the route of philanthropy, as opposed to “flexing” what you make like so many other artists?
TK: Water Is The Answer is a dream that all started with a GoFundMe I used my Mom’s facebook to start when I was 15. Today, it is a Non-profit organization purposed to battle water-poverty worldwide by providing access to clean water to children and families in developing nations.
In 2017, we broke ground with the first, now-completed well in Arondizuogu Nigeria, which provides water to a community of over 20,000 people.
I believe that water, and the right to live, are fundamental, human rights. No man, woman, child, or person should ever have to wonder where their next drink of water is coming from. With every hook, verse, or clothing sale, I aspire to make a change, and I hope through my career I’ll be able to truly make an impact on this global issue. My friends, fans, and supporters have been the engine behind everything that’s been done so far.
In regards to the flexing….. I can’t even lie, flexing is a guilty pleasure. I flex too, but I recognize as an artist I have a platform, my voice has a pull, and so I try to balance that flexing with a positive message. Maybe one day I’ll have little kids saying “When I grow up I wanna be like Travis.” With that privilege comes responsibility. I wanna give kids something that’s worth looking up to.
I no longer flex to flex on anyone, now, I flex to inspire; I flex to show people who may look up to me that, in reality, I’m no different than you. If you have a dream, put it on your back and make it your wings, let your work ethic take flight, then the sky is the limit.
MCU: How has Johns Hopkins responded to your music and have you had any difficulty having your music accepted my academia?
TK: Nothing but support: From doing shows in Towson with 1000 people popping out, and seeing my classmates occupying the entirety of the front rows; to my professors asking how they can buy from my clothing line or rescheduling my tests on the low so I could fly out for shows and concerts; to being invited to lecture in front hundreds of kids by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions; or even being recognized by the Director of my major for my efforts with clothing, music, and charity…
The love I get from my school has been one of my hugest motivations, and I want to give back. Part of my drive is to truly succeed, so I can do something amazing for my school in return. Nowhere else has made me feel like I truly belong the way my school has, and for that I’m profoundly grateful.
Everyone that has ever believed in me, while I chase this pipe-dream at 10000 MPH only motivates me to succeed, so one day I can return the favor. Tenfold.
MCU: Tell me the story about the ski goggles.
TK: Hahahaha. Finally. I’ve been waiting to tell this story in an interview. It’s funny, because there’s actually a story behind it. So check it out.
Halfway through my senior year, I decided to stop driving to school, and just start riding the bike.
During there ride there’s a downhill stretch, where, there’s wind, bugs, tree branches, and dust flying in your face.
One day I was at my Uncle’s house, and coincidentally, I saw at the corner of my eye, a pair of cobweb-covered goggles collecting dust in the corner of my uncle’s garage. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The heavens sent a solution to my problem, and after that, I was riding in style.
Days later, all of a sudden I started getting a bunch of snapchats from friends and fans like “yo, those goggles are dope as hell” “Yooo, those are fresh.” So I’m likee…. Huh…. maybe this is a look. Eventually I stopped riding the bike, but the goggles remained. After several instagram posts in which they were either on or around my neck, my fans started to associated the the goggles with my image. And so it became.
Nowadays, the goggles are symbolic. Everytime I hit a next level in my career I upgrade to a new pair. I’m currently on my 4th pair since the OG Orange goggles, and I hope to get at least 100 more. Shoutout to Uncle Mark
MCU: Your style is very distinct, what artists have influenced your style?
TK: I actually have a comprehensive list of every single artist that has influenced my style since I first picked up the microphone. Maybe one day I’ll drop it, but for now I’m a little tentative on name-dropping too much, because you never know who might pop out like “Yo screw that dude Travis Karter” when I break in the industry.
But as of now, there are 3 names I definitely can’t go without mentioning.
I take personal inspiration and motivation from the likes of Kanye West and Jaden Smith, because to me they stand as archetypes of what it looks like to be unashamed to be different, and unashamed to be yourself.
Lastly, since I first picked up the mic, I’ve aspired to lead my career to an ends similar to that of Jay Z– to be not only a musician, but a mogul.
MCU: I think I saw that you accidentally broke Yung Gravy’s toe. How did that happen?
TK: Hahaha, this is probably a story a lot of people have been wanting to hear.
So basically, it happened when Gravy and I were at a show at SXSW ‘18. That night, I decided to wear a bulletproof vest to perform. The “Why?” is a story for another time. I had just finished my set when Gravy pulled up, It was our first time meeting in person, but we made eye contact and immediately recognized each other and connected like homies. It was a dope feeling to connect in person after knowing each other for a while URL.
I pulled off backstage to talk to him, and while we were talking, all of a sudden he just goes silent. I’m wondering what’s going on, and he reaches down and picks up a flat, black object like “What is this?”…… It was a bulletproof plate.
Me, thinking it only fell on the floor, start responding to explain to him the philosophy behind the bulletproof vest, but he wasn’t laughing back. Apparently, the velcro of the vest must have come loose during my performance, and then double-plated kevlar bulletproof plate had fallen on his toe while we were talking… and well… that was that.
Since then, Gravy and I have grown to be pretty good friends. He’s someone I will forever respect not only as a musician, but a person, because of his humility. Anyone that has met him knows that he’s more of a regular guy than a “celeb.” He stayed true and hasn’t gone Hollywood. That’s why I rock with him. Shoutout to Vonboolery too.
MCU: What’s next for Travis Karter?
TK: The “Switching’ Lanes” video is the next big drop for me in the near future, but for now, what’s next is a hot shower. Music City Underground, thanks for having me.
Travis Karter Clothing Season II Coming Soon. #albummode
Check out Travis’s newest visual “Ice”: