Columbia, Mo., rarely is mentioned in conjunction with hip-hop music, but in the music video for Rhyme University’s song “Shine,” brothers Charles and Tony Iyoho swagger through Columbia’s streets, rapping about staying positive, avoiding hate, honoring the fallen.
The upbeat song is on the duo’s 2008 CD, “The Mo(u)rning Call.” The brothers trace their musical beginnings to the University of Missouri student radio station KCOU.
“I went to MU in ‘96, and I was really influenced by some of my friends who were rapping at KCOU, on ‘Cuts and Blends,’ ” says elder brother Tony. “My sister was going to school at MU, too, and she was a senior. She explained that they freestyle at the station on Thursdays and explained what freestyling was. So I began writing and trying to freestyle.”
In the “Shine” video, one Iyoho dons a T-shirt that reads “College” and the other wears a T-shirt that proclaims: “Don’t mess with Missouri.” Some scenes were filmed atop the Tiger Hotel, and although the Iyohos have traveled far and both live in different cities now, Columbia has left an indelible mark on their formation as artists.
The brothers are MU graduates. Tony earned a Ph.D. in engineering and Charles attended MU for his undergraduate degree. Here, in what would superficially appear to be an unlikely place, they found fertile ground for the start of a prolific music career.
The Iyohos, originally from Nigeria, lived in Rolla before moving to Muscat, Oman, where their father worked as an engineer in the oil industry. When Tony went back to school in Missouri, Charles followed. Through Tony’s encouragement, Charles began thinking about music.
“I started rhyming in high school, as a freshman,” Charles says. “My brother would e-mail me his rhymes [from Missouri]. That inspired me to start writing, too.”
The brothers cite many life influences for their music.
“I have a master’s degree and my brother has a Ph.D.,” Charles says. “We’re not more intelligent, but we have a little more of an intellectual approach.” Educational backgrounds aside, Charles says his experiences overseas influenced him greatly. “Seeing different cultures and how people interact, that opened my eyes. Going to school and interacting with students from all over the place, and having cool friends in school, too.”
Tony looks to family for inspiration. “Our parents are our No. 1 influence, and our family, in general,” he says. “Even my dad had hip-hop records in the ‘80s, including Grandmaster Flash’s ‘The Message.’ ”
The brothers have put together four albums and have yet to tire of working with each other.
“I don’t have many disadvantages with my musical relationship with Tony,” Charles says. “We mesh very well musically. We compromise if we disagree.” Their close relationship has enabled them to hone their crafts while supporting each other musically, he says. “[Tony’s] production has evolved so much. The value has evolved so that we can keep it real fresh.”
Tony now lives in San Diego, where he works as an engineer, and Charles lives in east Texas as a journalist. “Everyone has to work 9 to 5. Me and Charles are lucky that we’re working in the fields we studied. At the same time we’re making music.”
The day jobs do bring some drawbacks.
“As a necessity we don’t perform together, but each of us refers to the whole group, that this is only one half of it, when we’re doing shows,” Tony says.
They get together to record once they’ve gathered enough material. “Tony sends me beats through e-mail,” Charles says. “Then I write to them and e-mail him back some ideas. Once we come to an agreement, I fly to him. He has his own setup, like a studio, to record material in his house.”
There’s no end in sight for Rhyme University, which records on the IndyGround Entertainment label; the brothers are already at work on the next album, regardless of whether fame and fortune is in their future.
“If a major label came, I’d be really excited but at this point I’m just trying to be the best musically I can be,” Charles says. “I’m not stressing myself about why I’m not on a major. If they come, they come. If they don’t, they don’t. I just hope people keep playing my music.”
Charles recently joined another group, close to where he lives, called Out the Box. Tony also has projects of his own.
“It might be good thing for us to have side projects because four albums is a career for hip-hop groups and a lot of genres really,” Tony says. “We have years and years to make more albums. We’ll still keep going. Even if I make my own stuff, this is still Rhyme University. We work well independently and together.”
Tony dodges a question about his least favorite type of music. “If I don’t like it, I probably haven’t developed an ear for it.”
This hip-hop duo is persistent in their positivity, and listening to their music, it’s impossible not to understand. Rhyme University’s newest release, “Sunshine Tears,” is the result of an already long career.
“We started out very political, almost brutal lyrically, and now we’ve eased up into a positive direction and taken a laid back approach,” Tony says. This certainly rings true for “Shine.”
“We want to write music to unite people and our message to be uplifting and intelligent,” Charles says. “Like artists that we are akin to, we’re not too into the materialism.”
Over the piano hook, on “Shine,” Charles and Tony rhyme: “Just shine, let your light live on.” The words are preceded by calls to embrace each other, honor each other, live, and, well, just shine.
Rhyme University Discography
“Rhyme University” (2005)
“Children of Uyo, Give It Your All” (2006)
“The Mo(u)rning Call” (2008)
“Sunshine Tears” (2009)
Check out some Rhyme University tunes at www.myspace.com/rhymeu.