Rapper Dee-1 ain’t got no car note and he wants everyone to know it, especially young people that may have developed an unhealthy affinity for Escalades and bling.
In his music video No Car Note, he busts about the joy of driving a fully paid-for 1998 Honda and banking costs like insurance. “I used all that extra money to stack up my saving.” In Dee-1’s hip-hop world, thrift is the thang—and his music, often performed at schools across the country, is reshaping the way kids think about wealth and money management.
What kind of rap is this? It certainly isn’t Lloyd Banks rhyming about whether to pick up a date in his Beamer, Benz or Bentley. It’s a long way from Gucci Mane bragging about All MyJewelry, and a very long way from Lil Wayne’s Lollipop.
Dee-1 is keeping it real. But oddly, or maybe in a sign of the times, he celebrates financial literacy as opposed to sex, drugs, guns, and ostentatious wealth. It’s tempting to say hip-hop has come a long way. But I could find no other successful rappers out there riffing on budgets and student loans.
In the rock ’n’ roll world, the band Gooding, which has a handful of albums, is taking a similar approach. But they don’t craft memorable lyrics about money. They play hard rock at high school assemblies and follow the show with 15 minutes of talk about credit cards and Roth IRAs. A sponsor funds their financial literacy tour.
One of the songs that put Dee-1 on the map was Sallie Mae Back, a hit that celebrates the day he made his final student loan payment. “No sir I don’t drive a Maybach. But guess what I did? I paid Sallie Mae back.”
In the last year or so, Dee-1 has performed at 100 schools, from kindergarten to college. Last month, he played in Omaha, Nebraska, and after the show several students told him he had been an inspiration in their financial life. “One said to me, ‘Dee I am still driving my 2004 Kia Sephia. Because of you, I ain’t got no car note.’” Another spoke of being diligent about paying down their student debt.
Dee-1’s school appearances are sponsored by PwC, which also is a sponsor of Right About Money. “It’s not necessarily a cool thing for a rapper to align with an accounting firm,” he says. “But to me it’s all about relationships and this one feels good.” PwC spends millions of dollars on financial literacy, a topic Dee-1 says is now “woven into my brand.”
Hip-hop has evolved. Many of today’s artists have not struggled with inner city violence like the ones that blazed this trail 25 years ago. So it’s more common to hear rap songs about wealth, success and parties than stray bullets and gang fights. Still, compound growth and matching 401(k) contributions seem a far reach for a music genre with gangsta roots. What do other rappers think?
“The thing rappers respect most is authenticity,” says Dee-1. “I am a big burst of authenticity. This is an extension of who I am.” So he gets along fine in the hip-hop world. Other artists respect that “one of the best days of my life” was when my college debt got paid off.
Dee-1 hails from New Orleans and is the first male in his family to earn a college degree. He briefly taught a middle school math class and now earns “way more” than the $41,000 the teaching gig paid. He could buy a Benz. But Dee-1 is still pulling up in his ’98 Honda with nearly 300,000 miles.
He says he doesn’t feel boxed in by a song that helped define his brand. “When the time comes (to get another car), I will be comfortable at that moment,” he says. “And I will send my Honda to the hall of fame. But it still runs like a clock. I can’t imagine doing that until it breaks down.” Let’s hope kids keep listening.