The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday January 30th

(J) Rowdy's 'Rap if you want to rap' mentality

Joshua Rowsey back from his trip to Cherokee, NC.
Buy Photos Joshua Rowsey back from his trip to Cherokee, NC.

Born in Ann Arbor, Mich., but raised in the Triangle, Rowsey was an accomplished musician and swimmer in high school, a Jackie Robinson Scholar at UNC and an insurance underwriter on Wall Street.

He now works as both an admissions counselor at Kenan-Flagler Business School and an emerging hip-hop artist under his stage moniker (J) Rowdy. But the divergent paths he’s pursued are united by his personal philosophy.

“I’m trying to show that you don’t need to be in a box. For so long, I’ve been told I’m too black to swim or that I talk too white to rap or that it’s not ‘black’ to play violin,” Rowsey said. “I feel like I’ve been put on this earth to destroy people’s concept of that mold — to show that there is no box.”

Drained by the rigor of a full-time job in New York, Rowsey said he was artistically stifled. When introspection confirmed that he wanted to pursue music, Rowsey seized the chance to come home.

Since then, Rowsey has applied his passion for hip-hop beyond the Pit Cypher and his career. On Oct. 17, he worked with UNC professors to revive the endangered Eastern Cherokee dialect, spoken almost exclusively by senior generations of Cherokee people.

Linguistics professor Misha Becker said children respond positively to language revitalization when social prestige of the language is demonstrated, like when Rowsey rapped in the dialect.

“When Josh was working with the kids — of course, they were kind of shy — they didn’t just jump up and rap with him,” Becker said.

But that didn’t stop him.

“He would point to a particular kid and ask, ‘What’s your favorite word in Cherokee? What does that mean? Let’s go with that!’ And he would just keep going.”

Though he dedicates every Wednesday night to the Pit Cypher, Rowsey has also been productive in the studio. He recently released his first music video for his song, “America 3.0,” a social critique Rowsey said was inspired by his anger toward issues like police violence in American society.

Despite this frustration, Rowsey’s artistic message is unabashedly positive.

“I realize hip-hop is this solution that is bringing people together across cultures,” Rowsey said. “All this divide we see in present day does not need to exist, and one thing everybody loves — from Cherokee kids to frat boys at UNC and everybody in between — are some beats and some rhymes.”

Rowsey’s antics in the Pit caught the attention of senior Blake Salmons, who is documenting Rowsey’s life for a photojournalism class project.

“I just want to capture all the complexity of what he’s going through right now and the momentum that’s gathered behind him,” he said.

With a full plate, Rowsey is looking forward — as always, with abundant enthusiasm.

“Y’all better be ready for what I have planned because it’s going to shake North Carolina next semester. Watch, just watch. That’s all I have to say about it.”



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