Tyree Harris is releasing his second full length album "Financial Aid: The Trials and Tribulations of the 21st Century College Student." Coming off of a Feb. presentation at TEDxUOregon on higher education's effect on diversity, the Parkrose High School graduate and current University of Oregon senior is using his music to continue the discussion on the college experience.
Bruce Poinsette: This is the second official project right?
Tyree Harris: Yep.
BP: What year did the first one come out?
TH: It was my sophomore year. I think that was 2010.
BP: How would you say you've grown since your first album?
TH: I think I've just experienced more in my life and developed more things to talk about. I think the first album was sort of an introduction to who I am, the way I think and some of my career goals. I think the second album is focused on a lot of pent up frustration and other experiences I've had being in college, preparing to graduate and realizing there are a lot of things I don't have quite figured. And realizing there are a lot of things that should be changed within the institution of higher education. I'm just using this album as an opportunity to hone in on some of that.
BP: Specifically can you talk about how financial aid affects you?
TH: I think the thing is, it's not so much about financial aid as an institution. I use financial aid as a jumping point to get into some of the economic impacts of college and how I believe the institution of higher education is pricing out lower income students and a lot of students of color in order to protect the higher class and continue to keep college a rich man's club.
BP: Can you talk about the long term effects of that? You recently did the TED Talk on a lot of these same issues. Could you expand upon it?
TH: The TED Talk that I did was about how higher education kills diversity. I sincerely believe the way the institution of higher education is going right now, no one is looking at it and diving into it to solve this problem. There is so little said and done right now about higher education and just how huge of a problem this is. There's no big, large, social movements around higher education on a level it needs to be at. I think about that and look at some of the other stuff we're focused on. Education is ensuring that our people are educated and ready to go into the workforce to provide for a stronger America. That should be one of the biggest priorities and it's not. No one's really thinking about what we can do to make college affordable, whether or not the structure we have right now is valuable in the long run or what we need to do to restructure it. There's nothing around it. If anything, it's getting worse and worse. Tuition is still going up. Tuition has no plans of going down or even keeping up with inflation. It's well beyond inflation. That's some of the stuff I was talking about. I don't call myself a conspiracy theorist but I do believe things happen because people want them to happen. And I think as these prices are rising and we're seeing some of the effects, there's no real strong push from the powers that be, there's no strong push from Washington, to help Americans in this situation.
The other thing I'm sort of thinking about with this album is, we go to college and college is this mandatory step for us to get into the careers we want to get into; If we want to be journalists or doctors or lawyers or whatever. Many of the jobs that are actually attractive to us require college degrees. We go through college and college is this necessary step. It costs a ton of money. More money than most of us have ever seen and paid anything for. When we graduate we have this huge debt and if we have big dreams or big plans to do something that's outside of the norm or something radical, we don't have the means to do that anymore because we're swimming in so much debt we have to go and get that mundane job or we have to get underemployed. We have to settle instead of striving to be what we want to be in this world. I think that's what this institution of higher education and this financial situation that we're in, that's what it's doing to American students. It's horrifying when you really think about it. This is supposed to be the land of the free, the land of opportunity, yet in order to get the opportunities that we want we have to become debt slaves. And I think that anyone that looks at this system of higher education would find it extremely counterintuitive for this nation.
BP: When you think about awareness around this issue, especially when you look at comparisons between now and Vietnam protests – a lot of those movements were spearheaded by college students back in the day. You talked about Washington a little bit earlier. Do you think this economy is playing a role in that at all?
TH: Absolutely. How many students are going to go stick it to the man when they owe the man so much money? You can only do so much and more so than ever, I believe this generation is so wrapped up in what we need to do to get a job that some of those social, personal wellbeing, activist stuff, a lot of that gets cast aside because students, rightfully so, want to get jobs and want to be able to live life. I know for someone like myself, I've never been financially comfortable in my life. I've never had the income to not worry about money. When I think of what I want to do, one of my biggest goals is to get to a point where I don't have to think about money that much. The more and more I'm looking at my debt, the more and more it becomes a higher priority. I'm fighting for myself to remember that none of that matters. What really matters is going out there and making that difference that you've always strived to want to do. If going out there and making that difference means I'm not going to be able to pay my bills and provide for the family I'm going to eventually have, it becomes a tougher choice to make. Students shouldn't have to make that choice. It shouldn't be a choice. You should be able to do everything you need to do to improve yourself and that should be able to translate to some sort of factor that makes you more hirable somehow. But the way our economy is and the way things are right now, no one is really thinking about that. It's all about, "What can I do to get a job? What can I do to get a job?" It's a really tricky time.
BP: Could you talk about the sound on this album, specifically production wise?
TH: Production wise, it's really a lot like REALmatic in that it's an ode to the roots of hip-hop. A lot of sample based tracks. A lot of odes to old school hip-hop and that traditional boom bap type of sound. But there's also some surprising elements of newer hip-hop sound, some experimental stuff that I've been working on because I've started producing myself. That's been a big component of the sound of this album. Me arranging, producing and putting some stuff together.
BP: How many of the tracks did you produce personally?
TH: I believe four. I think I did the intro and a couple other tracks on there.
BP: Who did the rest?
TH: Greg Gant did four as well. Stewart Villain did three of them. My homeboy Juicebox Jackson did one, O.D. did one and then TimeLess One did one.
BP: Got any personal favorites off the album?
TH: (Laughs). That's like asking which one of my children I like the most. That's a really tough choice. I think a lot of the songs speak to a lot of the different points in the college experience, my personal experience in college. There's a lot of high points on the album that feel good and are funny and there's a lot of low points on the album where you're like, "Damn, that's messed up." I think one of my favorite songs is "Die for Attention." It's a story about a kid who graduates from high school and vows to not be the loner that he was in high school and not be the loser that he was. So he goes out to a party and joins a fraternity and gets mixed up in that culture and ends up dying of alcohol poisoning. It's a really cool account of how the high school situation makes people vulnerable to making some really poor decisions in college.
BP: Is there anything else you'd like to add? Also, where can people get the album?
TH: The album is going to be on iTunes. You should be able to listen to it on Spotify on Apr. 25 if you want to hear it before you get it. Pretty much every major music distributor, it should be available on there, except for Amazon. Looking at their cut, it was ridiculous. They wanted to take – I think I was supposed to get three or four dollars for every $9.99 that they sell or something like that. I was like, "Woo. You get more money off of my efforts." It's out Apr. 25.