Courtesy of Mekka Don
This is part of our weekly series titled “Columbus’ Own,” where we profile a local band every Thursday.
Some see the decision to walk away from a job at a top 10 law firm on 5th Avenue in New York City as a mistake, especially to pursue a career as unpromising as that of a hip-hop artist.
But Ohio State alumnus Emeka Onyejekwe did just that as he took a chance to fulfill his lifelong dream of being a musician under the stage name Mekka Don.
Onyejekwe, a Columbus native, comes from a family of Buckeyes and said being a Buckeye was “ingrained” in his blood.
“Being part of something that was bigger than me,” Onyejekwe said, “that’s something that I’ll never forget and that I’ll always love Ohio State for.”
Although Onyejekwe said he hopes to eventually be an international artist, he’s not leaving his OSU roots behind. Through a few meetings with President E. Gordon Gee this year, Onyejekwe said he has an anthem for OSU in the works, which he’s hoping to release this fall.
Gee said he is looking forward to Onyejekwe’s collaboration with the university.
“Mekka Don has a very inspiring story, as he follows his heart to pursue a music career. He was an exceptional student in every sense, and an even finer young man,” Gee said in an email to The Lantern. “It is a pleasure to watch him progress and succeed in everything he does. He is a remarkable young alumnus, and I am grateful for his strong interest in giving back to Ohio State.”
Onyejekwe grew up around music, with parents and siblings who loved music. He said he even made bands with his friends and family while he was growing up.
Onyejekwe said around 2000 he realized he wanted to pursue a career as a musician. Still, in 2002 he attained a degree from OSU where he also played football from 1999-2001, and then continued on to New York University School of Law, all the while continuing to produce music.
After earning his juris doctorate, Onyejekwe joined Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP in New York City. Although he said he appreciated the benefits and stability that came with being an attorney, he said he felt something was missing.
“I felt like my passion wasn’t being fulfilled,” Onyejekwe said. “I think that over a series of months it built up that this isn’t what I really want to do.”
In 2007, Onyejekwe made the decision to leave his law career behind and pursue hip-hop music as a full-time profession. It was a nerve-wracking decision, he said, but it was the right time to make the switch.
“I was walking away from a stable situation to a situation of uncertainty, potential instability, and not sure what’s going to happen,” he said.
Another obstacle that came with this uncertainty was facing criticism from family, friends and others who didn’t understand his decision.
“I didn’t want to act like I didn’t understand where people were coming from … I definitely did,” Onyejekwe said. “The truth of it is that the people who are closest to me … those are the people that believed in it the most.”
Onyejekwe said one of his biggest supporters was his sister, Nwando Olayiwola.
“He always … had a strong affinity for music,” Olayiwola said. “I knew it was a matter of time before he really went to pursue that passion.”
Onyejekwe said his friend and teammate at OSU, wide receiver Drew Carter, also strongly supported him.
“I’m proud of him doing what his passion is,” Carter said. “Instead of being a lawyer, he decided to do this, which a lot of people wouldn’t do. They’re too comfortable inside their box and too afraid to take risks.”
Onyejekwe’s passion for music and his desire to influence others drove him to pursue his music full-time. Onyejekwe said he had built numerous relationships with music producers and DJs over the years, so the career transition wasn’t difficult, but he needed to figure out a plan.
“You kind of figure out that there’s a formula to life, A plus B equals C,” Onyejekwe said. “In the music industry, it’s not always like that, especially in hip-hop. There are so many variables that you can’t control.”
Onyejekwe’s main concern was making his passion and his art a legitimate, sustainable business. Viswant Korrapati, Onyejekwe’s manager and fellow 2002 graduate from OSU, said he had faith in Onyejekwe’s abilities.
“I think he has something that’s never been done before. He’s an educated artist who can also control the business side of things completely,” Korrapati said.
After years of making music as a hobby, Onyejekwe released his first mixtape “Law and Order” featuring DJ Mick Boogie in August 2008.
“It was an effort to just get some music out in the market,” Onyejekwe said. “I’d had a lot of press and stuff, people were interested in my story, but I hadn’t put out any music.”
Onyejekwe said his biggest accomplishment to date was in March when he was named mtvU’s Freshman of the Week. His music video for his song “Dirty” was put into rotation on MTV and VH1, launching him further into the spotlight.
“I’m very, very proud of this MTV accomplishment,” Onyejekwe said.
Korrapati said Onyejekwe’s new mixtape is scheduled to release June 19. Onyejekwe said he’s aiming to let audiences know more about him with a more cohesive project, but he isn’t concerned with signing to a major music label.
“I wanted to … give people a pretty well-rounded feel of who I am as a person. I wanted to make sure the songs o
n there represented who I am,” Onyejekwe said.
Onyejekwe said he wanted to represent the large group of people who might be battling with pursuing an education or being a hip-hop artist.
With his music leaning toward fun-loving and serious songs, Onyejekwe said he tries to veer away from negative topics of hip-hop, such as violence and drugs. To add to that variety, has also had four songs licensed by ESPN in the past two years, such as the song “SEC,” written about the Southeastern Conference, which he said “killed” him to write because he’s a Buckeye and OSU is in the Big Ten Conference.
Onyejekwe encouraged others to follow their dreams as he has, but to always do it with a plan in mind.
“If you are passionate about something, have the courage to go for it, but be smart about it,” he said. “You can definitely go for your passion … you realize that you do only live once, that doesn’t mean be reckless.”