Saran Thompson, 26, born in Bristol, Penn., has lived in Nashville since 1996.
A rapper and a spoken word performer, known as S-Wrap, Saran is also a mentor for Southern Word, a nonprofit organization that teaches literacy through the vehicle of spoken word.
After graduating from Martin Luther King High School in 2008, Saran went on to MTSU where he graduated with a degree in audio production in December of 2013. While at MTSU, he studied abroad in Japan for a year.
“I had two friends who studied abroad. They told me it didn’t matter where I went, I just needed to go somewhere,” he said. “I didn’t want to learn Spanish, and I wasn’t interested in Latin America or European culture, but I did like anime. I thought it would be cool to play a game early in Japan, so I went there.”
Saran said once he got there, he realized there was so much more to the country and culture, and he became completely fascinated.
“The first semester was all about learning the language,” he said. “I had scripted phrases about my name and stuff, but after that, I was conversationally fluent so that I could go out on my own.”
He said the second semester was more challenging because there was a death in the family and his father became ill. Saran also had to find a part-time job because of financial aid issues.
Focused on a musical career, Saran is an hip-hop artist that strives to make music that promotes positivity and reinforces integrity.
RAPPING the LIFE HE LIVED
Saran started battle rapping when he was 11.
“My family and I moved into a suburban neighborhood in Antioch,” he said.”My neighbor rapped, and he taught me how to freestyle. I would go over there to play basketball, and he told me I had to freestyle before we played. In the beginning, I was building this crazy foundation of freestyling that was all geared toward battle rapping.”
Saran said when it came to rapping, his two favorite artists were Cassidy and Jay-Z.
As he got more into it, he realized he was good at it and freestyling was something that came naturally.
“When I was battle rapping I realized it was a very brutal thing, I made a lot of enemies and not any friends through it,” he said. “In high school, I was writing raps about all the stereotypical stuff: money, cars, clothes, and misogyny.”
A friend of his, who was on the streets, asked him if he had ever shot at anyone before.
“Have you ever pointed a gun at someone with the intent to pull the trigger?” his friend said.
Saran said after that moment something clicked, and he realized he was lying in his music.
“What I perceived from the industry was that you could create this character and be whatever you want, but for me, there was something about integrity in words,” he said.
“I could either live the life I rap or rap the life I lived.”
Saran said sadly, he tried to live the life he rapped. He went through a spiral of trying sell drugs and ended up getting one of his friends expelled at school the first and last time he did it.
He was close to joining a gang because gang violence runs heavy in his family on both sides. When one of his cousins went to jail for murder and another was killed by gang violence, he said he had a divine intervention moment. He decided to give up rap and focused more on producing music.
“Then, one of my buddies gave me a Lupe Fiasco mixtape and another friend gave me his first album, Food & Liquor,” he said. “I listened to it and thought you could be artistic through words? And you can actually paint pictures?”
Saran said Lupe Fiasco taught him he could rap about things other than money, cars, clothes, and misogyny.
“As I was listening to his music I realized I’m very sapio-minded when it comes to music. If it’s not intellectually stimulating then I just can’t rock with it,” he said.
Saran when on to college and continued battle rapping. When he came to Christ in October 2010. He felt God was asking him to give up battle rapping to follow Him.
“I didn’t understand why but I said okay,” he said. “During his transformation, I was already geared toward being a positive and encouraging person with this one aspect of my life centered around negativity.”
Saran said for him, battle rapping was a by any means a contest.
“Back then if we’re battling and I found out your mother just passed away yesterday I’m using that to the umpteenth degree, but I expect the same energy in return with us to have no malice afterward,” he said. “But that wasn’t always the case.”
At MTSU, Saran became involved in an organization called Word Up. Word Up organized events in the middle of MTSU in front of the library on Wednesday nights. There, people would perform poetry, rap and do freestyle battles.
He said one night he had a dream and Proverbs 18:21 appeared to him.
“I looked it up, and it said, ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue those who love it will eat its fruit.’ Saran said after that he gave up battling.
a MENTOR and a ROLE MODEL
As he got older, Saran began to see the magnitude of words as he worked with the youth at summer camps and now as a mentor.
“I see how important it is for these students to have a positive black male role model,” he said. “My music and my artistry are for them so that they can take it and understand just because you live in a terrible environment doesn’t mean you have to be a product of it.”
Saran said the generation coming up lives in an entirely different world than anyone else has before.
“If you take being black in America and the continued trickled down effects of slavery and whether it’s the N-word or police brutality, we think we need to fight against injustice and do something,” he said. “Teens nowadays have more apathy toward social issues like that.”
“The passion for change isn’t there as much as the passion for surviving.”
Saran said he’s tried to have conversations with students about Mike Brown’s untimely death and police brutality, but a lot of them just didn’t care.
“For the kids – they’re like no one’s going to come over to Jo Johnson or off Jefferson Street to change anything,” he said. “It hurts to see that, but I think, man, what can I do to help these students get out of where they are?”
When Saran went into a school, and one of the students said, “I want to be rich. I’m going to be a rapper.” He asked the student why he didn’t want to be a radiologist instead if he wanted to be rich.
“A lot of these teens aren’t told about other avenues they can pursue,” he said. “When I go to schools in the hood, kids are talked to about medical school and becoming an engineer.”
Saran said people with more resources have more options and can choose which schools to send their children whereas people without resources cannot.
“In a lot of in inner-city neighborhoods across America you see the same kinds of things happening,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, but I feel hopeful about being able to change the youth and opening them up to possibilities. I feel very strongly about the each one teach one principle.”
As a mentor, Saran interacts with 20 to 30 students on a regular basis. He said to be a better mentor he should only be mentoring 4 or 5 kids relatively close.
“We go to middle schools, high schools, colleges, alternative schools, group homes and some juvenile detention centers,” he said. “I enjoy what I do at Southern Word because it allows me to interact with the youth and get to know them.”
He said the same kind of reinforcement he brings to his mentees he wants to bring to his music.
“I want to influence people who listen to my music to do something positive with their lives,” he said. “It’s a shot in the dark, especially with commercial popular music, but I’ve had people come up to me and say a poem or a rap has touched them in a certain way.”
NASHVILLE, COMMUNITY, and CONCERNS for the FUTURE
“When I think of a community I think of people who interact frequently and live around each other, people that fellowship and grow around each other.”
Saran said to be a part of a community means representing people that he feels attached to and making sure they’re not getting swept under the rug.
“Nashville is going through a lot of changes,” he said. “There’s a lot of people moving here that have no idea what’s already here. The people who have money are fine, but the people who don’t are getting moved around. That can create havoc and a dangerous society.”
Saran said the high crime in Chicago is a big byproduct of gentrification in the early 2000s.
“Before it was massively gentrified, the crime in Chicago was the lowest it’s ever been. Sometimes people think urban communities are all the same, but insides those communities are boundaries, lines, and regulations,” he said. “In Chicago, you had gangs in different areas, when you kick all of those people out of their communities and put them on the south side I hope you didn’t expect them to sing Kumbaya.”
Saran said developers and city officials in Nashville need to take the results of gentrifying neighborhoods into account and how it’s going to affect the city in the years to come.
He said as an artist he wants to be a forerunner for his city by giving people in this community the resources they need, especially the teens who want to pursue music.
“Before this significant growth and influx of people coming in, everything was heavily ruled by country and singer/songwriter acoustic stuff,” he said. “With this massive explosion in East Nashville, now all of a sudden you have this Indie scene that has started to dominate the city, whereas five years ago that didn’t exist.”
Saran foresees a huge explosion within the Hip-Hop community to where Nashville will have its own sound in the same way that Atlanta, New York or Chicago does. He said a lot of major labels operate out of Nashville from an archaic business system, and they don’t want artist doing their own thing and making money.
“It’s forcing those labels to be more accustom to how things are working today,” he said.
Saran admitted to having a love/hate relationship with the city’s growth.
“Here’s this small city infrastructure trying to adapt and change. Hopefully, within the next few years things will calm down a little bit, and Nashville will become accustomed to it.”
Saran said he likes to keep his eyes open to what’s going on around the city. One thing that’s becoming more of a concern for him is teachers and schools.
He said a lot of people are worried that family dynamics in Nashville will become disrupted.
“You’ll have teachers that will have 25 students one year and then 18 the next. It starts to create this concern of what happens to a school in 5 years when all the students keep leaving and the people moving here are young professionals who don’t have children.”
Earlier this year, Saran released an EP called “90s Baby.” You can listen to it and keep up with Saran by following his SoundCloud.
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