Canadian rap artist Duane D.O. Gibson is taking the opportunity to tell kids how he defied the odds to follow his dreams.
Known in the Guinness Book of World Records for first setting the record for longest freestyle rap — eight hours and 45 minutes — the 40-year-old Toronto resident fell in love with hip hop music during his youth, having been inspired by the music of Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff.
The Fresh Prince became his role model — an important figure to have in a child’s life, as he explains in his one-hour school assembly shows.
Stay Driven, Gibson’s motivational rapping school tour program, is based on his own life experiences, addressing topics such as bullying, peer pressure and literacy with school children.
“I talk about the importance of friendships and how you have to defy the odds — because that’s what D.O. stands for,” Gibson said.
His message to children is to show them they can follow their dreams through perseverance, taking action and surrounding themselves with the right peer group.
“I know what it’s like to come from a smaller town and have a dream and have people say ’no, forget about your dream,’” Gibson said.
“I remember what it was like when I hung out with friends that did encourage me … it just made me want my goals more,” he said.
At the start of his career, people told Gibson he couldn’t be a rap artist because he was from Canada, and there weren’t many mainstream artists from the Great White North.
“When I tell kids that people said I couldn’t be a rapper from Canada, they don’t understand it because they immediately talk about Drake — but there was no Drake when I was growing up,” Gibson said.
His fellow Toronto rap artist, who has become one of the most recognizable names in the industry, used to record at Gibson’s recording studio and even made a cameo in the 2007 music video for Get Free by Art of Fresh, of which Gibson is a member.
“I’ve been able to see the rise of rappers like Drake, but at the same time, I know what it was like when being a rapper from Canada was seen as a disadvantage,” Gibson said.
Gibson launched a career as a rap artist in 2001 right after graduating from York University with a degree in English. He wrote a thesis on hip hop as an evolution of African American linguistic practises.
The idea to incorporate motivational speaking at schools into his repertoire came at the same time when a friend asked him to come speak at a school to talk about how he was able to obtain a university education and still pursue a rap career.
“I just thought it was fun, but then I realized it could be a great way to connect with fans, a great way to give back to the community and it became a core part of my business as well,” Gibson said.
He said the school shows keep him grounded and connect with his young fan base.
“I also learn from kids. Kids will tell me what they’re listening to, kids will tell me how bullying is affecting them, how social media is affecting them, so it gives me a chance to know the issues kids are facing nowadays,” Gibson said.
Gibson likes to start off with an a cappella rap before relating his life experiences to the challenges students face in their everyday lives.
He also likes to engage the crowd with some freestyle, incorporating suggestions into a rap, which always keeps him on his toes.
Gibson will be in the Kamloops area next week with presentations at Pacific Way elementary and Robert L. Clemitson elementary on April 3 and Barriere elementary on April 4.