On Monday afternoon, Lil Yachty walked into a classroom of unsuspecting music journalism students at Georgia State in downtown Atlanta. It was only last year that he blossomed into a global star, but to this group of fledgling undergraduates eager to explore career paths in the world of music, he must have appeared as an industry veteran.

For 75 minutes, Yachty participated in a roundtable discussion and Q&A session as a part of a panel that also included his father, Shannon McCollum, a photographer who used to hang out in Rico Wade’s studio basement shooting Outkast and Goodie Mob.

"I wanted to do something to keep the students on their toes, because in music journalism, you never know what your day is gonna look like," class instructor Christopher Daniel explains. "You’ll get up, something crazy will go down, something breaking will happen, and you have to have that adrenaline and go out there and get the story. Same way I teach my class. Literally just be ready for whatever, because that’s how you measure success in this business."

"One of the biggest things [Lil Yachty] encouraged my students to do is find your niche and find what motivates you," Daniel continues. "Go after that and don’t concern yourself with how people feel. But you have to know your place and know when to speak up and when to sit down. Know when an artist is tired—that might not be the best time to ask them to take a photo or to get an interview. But if you catch them in the right moment, chances are you’ll get what you ask for."

lil-yachty-journalism-class

By the end of the class, Daniel explains that the biggest lesson his students learned from Yachty and his father was the importance of originality.

"You have to come with a totally different angle, a totally different vantage point, a totally different point of view that’s really going to set you apart from everybody else," he says. "So in any situation, whether it’s writing copy or taking photos, doing videos or doing performances or writing songs, you have to make sure that your voice sticks out before anything else. Always be true to yourself and be happy and comfortable with who you are, and people will feel it."

Read our full conversation with Daniel below, in which he explains more about how this meeting of the minds came into fruition and the wisdom that Yachty and his fellow panelists imparted upon the students of Georgia State.

lil-yachty-journalism-class2

What is the focus of the class you’re teaching?

The course is actually under a special topic listing in the course index. We’ve never done this before at Georgia State. What I wanted to focus on was to ground the students in [music journalism] history, to really introduce them to the canon of writers that have come before us and give them a history behind publication culture and what it took to go from album liner notes or academic writing to actual physical publication. It’s really to give them a musical appreciation lesson, but more to use journalism to drive that narrative.

What compelled you to reach out to Yachty and his dad to come in and talk to your students?

Back in 2006, I was in graduate school at the University of Georgia. I was in the journalism school there. And one of the guest lecturers that I had in the hip hop class that I had the privilege of taking there was Yachty’s father, Shannon. He had come there to talk about his background taking photos. We ended up working with each other for different reasons over the years. I told him, once [Yachty’s] online presence started to grow, that we should collaborate since I’m privileged to teach this course. And he was like, yeah, let’s definitely stay in touch with each other. 

They talked a lot about networking dos and don’ts, finding your voice, the family dynamic between Miles and Shannon, collaborating with other entertainers, and how should you conduct yourself in that place.

Yachty’s schedule is always busy because he’s traveling so much, and he has all these other partnerships that pull in a million different ways. He had just come off tour last week. He had a break in his schedule, so he selflessly agreed to come. He wanted to come and talk to the students, Shannon wanted to come and talk to the students. The only request was to not reveal that he was coming. They wanted to embargo every social media post, every video until after the class was complete. So I agreed.

I wanted to do something to keep the students on their toes, because in music journalism, you never know what your day is gonna look like. You’ll get up, something crazy will go down, something breaking will happen, and you have to have that adrenaline and go out there and get the story. Same way I teach my class. Literally just be ready for whatever, because that’s how you measure success in this business. So that’s what we tried to do with this particular experience.

Take me through Monday’s class. How did the students react when Yachty walked in?

Branden Peters and Maurice Garland, two veteran hip hop writers turned curators for programs here, they were on the schedule to come and talk. This had been on the schedule for the last month.

When [Yachty] walked into the classroom, he had his hat on and he moved his hat up and he did this nice windmill wave to everybody. And everybody was kind of stuck in the chair, like they didn’t know what to anticipate, and they couldn’t believe that one of the biggest artists on the planet was in front of them—literally in front of them for an hour and fifteen minutes. So the good part about that is, fifteen minutes before the class, I had to move some things around, because Maurice and Branden were both like, well if Shannon is coming, he could probably chime in as well. I said, that would be amazing. I had two writers, a photojournalist, and an actual artist. Let’s just have a roundtable talk. 

And that’s what it turned into. It was very informal. They talked a lot about networking dos and don’ts, finding your voice, the family dynamic between Miles and Shannon, collaborating with other entertainers, and how should you conduct yourself in that place. Yachty talked a lot about travel and some of the places he’s been. He actually broke to the students that he has a Reebok deal in the works. He’s working on a film.

They asked him about old generation versus new generation in hip hop, so that helped to have all four of those guys chime in on that. He talked a lot about different artists and different performers that jumped on his bandwagon and have been supportive of his movement. Erykah Badu was one of them. He talked about Andre 3000 and Wiz Khalifa and A$AP Rocky and all these artists you’ve seen him collaborate with over the last couple of years.

What were the most memorable moments of the discussion?

A lot of the conversation was about what Yachty listens to and what he’s doing to disrupt music now. One of the things that Shannon talked about was enriching him in Miles Davis and John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk—he actually got his name from Miles Davis, because his dad is a huge fan.

You know, John Legend and Outkast and all these artists that Shannon has been able to work with. That was literally like him going to a master class or charm school as a kid. So all the stuff you hear now about mumble rap is just a bunch of hating folks and a bunch of old relics and purists that don’t want to move forward. He’s very much in tune with the history of music and his ability to be able to pull stuff and extract stuff from his dad’s collection.

One of the biggest things he encouraged my students to do is find your niche and find what motivates you and go after that and don’t concern yourself with how people feel. But you have to know your place and know when to speak up and when to sit down. Know when an artist is tired—that might not be the best time to ask them to take a photo or to get an interview. But if you catch them in the right moment, chances are you’ll get what you ask for.

Shannon was actually tearing up by looking at his son in this light.

Shannon is almost as big of a character as Yachty. What is their rapport like?

It’s probably one of the most all-American father-son relationships you’ll ever see. He’s very supportive. They told several jokes in between the conversation. You could really sense that they respect one another, that they love each other like you wouldn’t believe. It was amazing getting text messages leading up to the class, he’s saying, “Miles is really excited.” “I’m going to get Miles now.” “I can’t wait to come, we’re really looking forward to it.” 

And even if you go back and look at most of the Instagram posts post-class, one of the things that you can definitely sense is that Shannon was actually tearing up by looking at his son in this light. Because I don’t think Yachty has been in a course per se, or in a university environment beyond just performing. So that was one of the first times that I know of from talking to Shannon that he was able to do something like that. 

What was the main takeaway message that the class guests sent to the students?

Be yourself. One of the things that Maurice tried to impart on people—because he’s one of the quintessential southern hip hop journalists—he pointed out the fact that he was trying to write as if he was speaking to someone. He didn’t use a lot of colloquialisms that he would use in conversation, but he wanted his writing voice to resemble and pattern how it would be if you were around him. Branden is the exact same thing. Shannon is the exact same thing. Same camera, different eye.

It’s one thing to have the equipment in front of you, it’s one thing to have the lens, but you have to come with a totally different angle, a totally different vantage point, a totally different point of view that’s really going to set you apart from everybody else. So in any situation, whether it’s writing copy or taking photos, doing videos or doing performances or writing songs, you have to make sure that your voice sticks out before anything else. Always be true to yourself and be happy and comfortable with who you are, and people will feel it.