Buffalo rapper Young Scholar is a student of the game

UB student constructs raps through lessons he’s learned


Chris Banks, also known as Young Scholar, vividly remembers the boos and jeers that emerged from the crowd while he performed on tour in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia left a lasting impression on Banks, a sophomore psychology major. He faced a tough crowd as he opened for EPMD, a popular group from the ’90s hip hop scene. On the tour, he came in contact with rappers such as Styles P and Beanie Sigel, which impacted Banks significantly.

“You’re meeting people that have done historical things before you,” Banks said. “Their name will live on forever and you’re in the same presence as them. That’s amazing.”

C.J. Banks, Banks’ dad, managed EPMD and the Hit Squad back in the ’90s alongside his partner William “Tink” Miley.

Today, his son is part of Hit Squad Music Group, a rejuvenation of the old-school rap collective by EPMD member Parrish Smith.

C.J. Banks has come to recognize his son’s standout talent, having been in the studio with some of the greats.

“He doesn’t conform to what is current in the mainstream,” C.J. Banks said. “He has his sound and brings real elements of hip-hop to the game.”

Banks doesn’t have the conventional goals most students have after graduation.

He plans to release five mixtapes in the next five months, the first of which is called The Substitute, where he demonstrates his signature smartness as he spits over old-school beats on songs such as “Oh No,” and “All I Know.” The tape is available on SoundCloud under “ScholarNuffSaid.”

“I never want anyone to believe that I’m Young Scholar because I’m smart. It’s the fact that I value studying and researching,” he said.

Banks was born in Suffolk County, New York and moved to Buffalo in fourth grade. Since then, he’s been developing a name for himself in the Queen City.

“Too many young rappers come into the game and have no idea where things came from,” C.J. Banks said. “His mix of bringing the ’90s culture back into the game is big because that’s where music is going to come back to.”

Banks began rapping in the eighth grade after learning the craft from his friend Adrian. His influences are Lil’ Wayne and Cassidy, two artists who thoroughly shaped his punchline-heavy style early on.

After performing as what he calls a “typical whack rapper,” his father helped expose him to what hip-hop had to offer in the late ’80s and the ’90s.

“Through him, I found an appreciation for the golden age of rap,” Banks said. “It inspired me to change my whole style of music and to really appreciate lyricism as the number one thing in rap.”

Musically, Banks’ father has had a big influence on his career.

“My father taught me to be a student of the rap game. Always study the greats before you and let the greatness of the legends inspire you to do the same,” Banks said. "That’s not only for rapping but that’s for everything in life.”

Banks also finds inspiration from those in the UB community.

Dr. Kushal Bhardwaj, an African and African American studies professor, has had a large impact on the rapper through his values and teachings. Banks incorporates Dr. Bhardwaj’s lesson plans into his life.

“He says ‘Nobody likes a know-it-all.’ I wouldn’t ever say I’m smarter than anyone else because all I want to have is a lot of knowledge,” Banks said.

Last fall, Banks began his studies with Dr. Bhardwaj during a visit to the professor’s Hip-Hop and Social Issues class. Despite not taking the class for credit, he found himself addicted to the class material and visited multiple times over the semester.

After this experience, Banks registered for Hip-Hop and Social Issues last spring.

Banks is currently a student in Dr. Bhardwaj’s Introduction to African American Studies course this semester. Dr. Bhardwaj has noticed Banks’ willingness to learn as both a student and as a rapper.

“Being an educated rapper, Banks breaks a stratosphere that simple-headed rappers can’t,” Dr. Bhardwaj said. “His lines speak directly to social issues, human conditions, and most importantly, preserving through challenges.”

Banks said the professor’s classes fill the inspirational void where social support programs like the Education Opportunity Program (EOP) have failed him. The rapper uses the positive influence of Dr. Bhardwaj’s classes to spread knowledge through hip-hop records.

He has become aware of what makes a rapper noteworthy and considers a number of elements when examining a rapper’s talent.

“There are six parts to being a dope rapper,” Banks said. “Not a dope person who makes rap songs, a person being able to rap. There’s flow, punchlines, personality, realness, storytelling and wordplay.”

Banks is clear that each of these parts needs to operate smoothly in order to be a good artist, hoping to exhibit them all in his raps.

“I want to perfect all the six aspects and still make radio songs,” Banks said. “The two usually don’t equate.”

Banks looks to someone like rapper J. Cole as someone who is both popular and acclaimed for his lyrics.

Banks exhibits a mixture of a battle rap and popular rap sound and wants to break the walls down between the two styles.

“There’s also the stereotype that radio rappers can’t compete with battle rappers lyrically,” Banks said. “I want to be the whole Venn diagram.”

He hopes that his vast amount of songs reaches people and get them on board with both his message and what the entire city has to offer musically.

“What people think about Buffalo is that nobody can make it from [here],” Banks said. “Buffalo is one of those places that you don’t want to be for the music scene. No one is looking here but there’s a lot of talent here that should be exposed.”

Banks hopes to bring a similar awareness to hip-hop in Buffalo just as J. Cole opened up the world’s eyes to Fayetteville, North Carolina.

“Not to be cliché about it but that’s the goal,” Banks said. “I want to be the person that puts the city on the map.”

Benjamin Blanchet is a staff writer and can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com