By Alec Jennings
University News Service
March 5, 2010
In rap and hip hop, a freestyle standoff pits opponent versus opponent, hurling a barrage of insults back and forth in rhyme and rhythm, leaving the choice between winner and loser to their ability to tap into the enthusiasm of the audience.
It is a craft that came naturally to Rafael Cordero, grant specialist, Rural Talent Search at Texas State University-San Marcos, who has literally travelled the country competing in freestyle face offs in the presence of some of the top names in the industry, most recently earning him a televised victory on BET's 106 and Park FreeStyle Fridays, Feb. 19.
"I like to talk a lot," said Cordero. "Anyone who knows me, knows that I like to talk back. All a freestyle battle is, is that you're embarrassing someone else in front of a bunch of people. Most battles are won through crowd participation."
Hip hop has always been a prevalent part of Cordero's life, his interest in it stretching from that of the casual fan, to an artist, to student and even as a professional. He was an undergraduate when efforts were under way to bring Hip Hop Congress to Texas State. Spending many dozens of hours rapping with a friend and neighbor on campus, the newly-forming group seemed like a natural fit for his talents and interests.
"When I heard them say 'hip hop'—I hadn't even heard the word 'congress' yet—I was ready to come on board," Cordero said. "It has really done so much for me."
As a co-founder of the organization, Cordero credits much of his own success to the skills that Hip Hop Congress works to teach its young members through what they call "edutainment." Members of the organization, he said, can range from hard-core hip hop enthusiasts, to ambitious, career-minded students looking to build confidence, public speaking, organizational and time management skills. A love of hip hop, he said, is not a prerequisite for participation in the group.
"That's not the case at all. You don't have to be a dancer or a singer to be involved," he said. "It helps them to build leadership and to become diverse. Our students really come out of their shell."
Taking hip hop a step further
With his father and sister being alums, it is fitting that Cordero, now staff member at the university also earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at Texas State. Just as the university has a familial connection to Cordero, hip hop has played an important role in every level of his time in San Marcos: from co-founding Hip Hop Congress as an undergraduate, writing his master's thesis on the use of hip hop in recruiting on the university level, to now as a professional putting to use hip hop as a recruiting tool into practice.
"I always knew I wanted to come here," he said. "I never even applied to another school."
Working with the university's Rural Talent Search, Cordero said hip hop can be an effective tool for reaching out to potential students from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not feel there is a place for them in the world of higher education. As a part of their outreach and recruitment efforts, a hip hop CD was developed and used as a handout to potential students.
"I wanted to see just how well it would work. It made them feel more welcome," he said. "Students don't want to be in a place where they don't feel related to. One of the biggest challenges you'll see in recruitment and retention is showing that the environment relates to them."
As Cordero's study for his master's thesis along with current efforts have shown, hip hop has helped to create a bridge between higher education and students who feel there is no place in a college environment for them.
"It's done wonders. We've gotten a huge response from it," he said. "It helps boost campus pride too."
Cordero will be back in competition on the BET program in March. Anyone interested in his progress as an artist can follow "therealrayc" on Twitter, MySpace and Facebook.