The psychology, politics and story behind Paul Thompson’s rap

Playing with words

Paul Thompson looks at death with a philosophical approach. On his track “Theory of a Deadman” he raps about the existentialist thoughts that run through his mind.

“Philosophy brings me back to it,” Thompson said. “A lot of people speculate what death is, but you don't know until you die.”

Bronx-born rapper and DJ, Thompson, a.k.a. Vague, is UB’s resident crowd mover. He is most known on campus for his performances during Perks’ weekly open mic nights on Wednesdays. But he has turned what was originally means to vent his feelings into a hobby that’s getting him a bit of shine on campus.

To the 21-year-old senior psychology major, rap is more than just bars and verses; he utilizes it as a psychological tool and a means to address political topics.

“I started rapping in eighth grade. I used to get bullied and I didn’t have any other outlet. The teachers at the time didn’t do much about it,” he said. “[Back then] I used to recite other [rappers’] stuff.”

That was far as he went with rapping until he came to UB in 2011. During his time in college, he became more aware of politics in America, as well as the psychological benefits his hobby had for him.

“Self-disclosure and cognitive dissonance play a part,” he said.

His shy personality disintegrates once he gets behind a microphone – that’s where the self-disclosure comes into play.

Unlike his daily life, the rapper is an open book when he’s spitting raps. He said that’s the easy part for him, implementing cognitive dissonance when he plays parties, at The U or at Perks’ open mic. But it’s not always about rapping what he likes. He said he isn’t too fond of party songs because it’s hard to make them about politics.

“There was one time I rapped about a drive-by – it wasn’t something I liked,” he said.

Influenced by artists such as Lupe Fiasco, Immortal Technique and Green Day, Thompson touches on politically charged topics, but does not interact with them from a political mindset. He talks about police brutality and thinks political parties disagree for the sake of disagreeing.

The artist gets his stage name, Vague, from a couple of different sources. The first is his biopsychology class, where he heard the word Vagus and liked the way it flowed. The other has a more emotional meaning.

“Vague reflects a lack of clarity in life. When I started producing the beats would have sounds that were poorly mixed and lacked clarity. Undeveloped in a sense, because we never stop growing and learning.”

Thompson doesn’t follow politics nor support a specific party. Rather, he looks at issues in America through his own “rational lens.”

Nate Ruby, a 24-year-old alumnus of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, was happy to talk about Thompson. Ruby and Thompson met at a show Ruby was performing at with his friends, and the two have been close ever since.

“Paul’s not afraid to tackle lyrical theme and you get the idea that he’s not just a quick thinker – he’s a deep thinker, too,” Ruby said. “Art bull**** aside, his performances got me pretty jazzed. Paul’s music is rad and his performances feel intimate. I’d love to see him again.”

But you’d be hard-pressed to find any of his raps on the Internet now because Thompson deleted most of them when he was coming to UB. In hindsight, the rapper wasn’t too impressed with what he had previously released, so he deleted anything he didn’t like. Thompson sees the deletion as a form of artistic growth, and now takes more pride in his work.

Thompson is also a producer. He makes trap remixes and has more than a few mixes on his SoundCloud and YouTube, one of which has gone viral. His trap remix of Jeremih’s “Don’t Tell ‘Em” has gotten more than 160,000 plays on YouTube.

“Thompson has a way of blending his message through rhymes that make our heads nod, and our minds tremble,” said Eric Martin, a senior accounting major. “Thompson is one of those individuals who can really do it all. He makes his own music, writes his own lyrics and performs his art with fire in his eyes.”

Thompson plans on continuing his weekly performances at Perks’ open mic night as he counts down the days toward graduation. With his last semester drawing to a close, Thompson wants to make each moment count.

As Martin put it: “If you haven’t heard of Paul Thompson yet, you will soon, then all you will say is: ‘wow.’”

This article has been updated with new information.

Kenneth Thomas is a staff writer and can be reached at