Updated: Jan 23, 2022
Alley Oop Hoops presents
"Drive & Kick" with Dasan Ahanu
Dasan is a public speaker, organizer, curator, educator, poet, spoken word artist, educator, songwriter, and emcee, and loyal Hip-Hop head born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is co-founder and managing director of Black Poetry Theatre, a Durham based theatre company that creates and produces original poetry and spoken word based productions. Dasan is a former Assistant Professor of English at St. Augustine’s University, and visiting lecturer at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and the Rothwell-Mellon Program Director for Creative Futures with Carolina Performing Arts.
View the conversation summary below.
Dasan grew up in Raleigh, going to North Ridge, Ligon, and then Enloe. Dasan’s mother and father had him young - mother was 16 and father was 17. He grew up around both of his parents' families, and had a strong matriarch family with both grandmothers involved. He was allowed to be curious and precocious, and his family tried to keep him active and busy with puzzles, things to put together, chess, etc.
When he was young, Dasan’s mother signed him up for Carolina Pines Community Center, and it was his first organized sports - football (7th - 10th grade), summer park, tennis, and fell in love with basketball in high school.
Curiosity was the constant in Dasan’s youth. He was shy and reserved. “If I wasn’t given something to figure out, I got bored easily.” “I was lucky to get tested instead of medicated.” “If I could figure it out, I felt comfortable. If I couldn’t wrap my mind around it, I got frustrated.”
What drew Dasan to art
“Art is one of those things you can do by yourself. I didn’t need anybody else to create. My exploration of art was something I could do by myself.” Art became Dasan’s coping mechanism. He was not immediately comfortable sharing, but that came with time. At Enloe, he had a lot of friends who talked him into doing things that weren’t always comfortable, but that was easier than sharing his own art.
Dasan started at NC A&T where there was a strong creative writing department and cultural arts. He was talked into going to an open mic - the first time he was talked into sharing anything he had written.
Early career transitions
Dasan worked his way into Corporate America as an Executive Office Assistant. He joined IBM as a Project Supervisor. At the time, he thought he would go into project management. Because of his job, Dasan was able to pay to maneuver to find new poetry spots - traveling to New York, etc. Then, around 9/11, there was an economic pullback, and Dasan had to lay off much of his team before he was let go. Dasan was told that he wouldn’t be able to find work at the same rate because he didn’t have a college degree.
Dasan then went back to school to St. Augustine’s to get his degree. There was a program that would allow him to accelerate his studies, but this program didn’t give him the time to have a normal full-time job. Dasan was spending a lot of time around the arts community and was asked to do youth work, which he loved. By the time he finally graduated with a degree in Organizational Management, he still expected to go back into Corporate America, but he was deep in the arts scene and hip-hop scene - “there was no turning back at this point.”
Connection to 9th wonder
Basketball is the great equalizer. Dasan used to search for runs, and Carmichael Gymnasium at the time was a great spot. Dasan’s cousin who went to NC State would invite him to come play. Dasan met 9th Wonder at the Carmichael games. The first artist Dasan met was Cesar Comanche, around the time that Justus League was coming up, and got plugged in through Cesar.
Still playing basketball?
Yes, he is still playing in year-round leagues in Cary. “It’s my other love.”
Experience as a Harvard Fellow through Nas’ Hip-Hop Fellowship
Being at Harvard & Cambridge was amazing. The Archive was a phenomenal place - research based instead of memorabilia based - so much stuff to read, pick up, and dig through. The year he was there, the folks that got brought through campus - they honored Nas that year, so he met Nas. Lupe, Bun B, Pusha T, Quest Love, Black Thought, Esperanza Spalding. “Just to be there representing hip-hop was crazy.”
Evolution of local hip-hop scene
The vibe is a little different but the energy is the same. The way the artists congregate looks familiar. Dasan feels bad that they don’t have the same types of venues - the mom and pop places like Local 506, Berkeley Cafe, Hideaway, etc. There are some young cats who are on the radio wave, but he still meets die-hards of the Golden Era of hip-hop.
“The culture doesn’t change. What we see in the industry is one thing, but the culture doesn’t change.” Young like-minded folks who want to be around one another to make something fun.
Dasan’s role as Program Director of Creative Futures Program with Carolina Performing Arts
The heart of the program is the artist in residency program - between local community partners where artists are supported by community partners and creating together. Building community connections that benefit not only the artists but the community supporters as well. Incentivizing both sides while demonstrating how art can be of benefit to the community. So often, artists are kept in silos versus all working together.
They had not found a Director for the first year of the grant. Someone he knew within the community brought it to Dasan’s attention and he applied.
Dasan joined for the second year of a four-year grant, and then COVID-19 hit. The current work for the grant is how to reimagine how to work during these times. Understanding the digital landscape, and how to sustain and maintain.
Dasan’s main course he teaches at UNC-CH is a Spring course, and he also teaches a three-course summer hip-hop course that was recently wrapped up. Dasan was a teacher on St. Augustine’s campus from Fall 2006 to Spring 2015 to head to Harvard for the Hip-Hop Fellowship. During his time at St. Augustine’s, the university encouraged him to get his masters degree, and rewarded him thereafter with a promotion. He became an Assistant Professor in Fall 2011.
Art leveraged as a tool for social movement
“These are the moments where art is so critical, both in terms of helping people think about the moment, but also helping people think past it to be reminded of what it looks like to get through it. To see themselves reflected, the best parts of themselves reflected, to know they are not struggling alone. Whether it is poetry, visual art, music, film, to fill spaces. We are forced to be still a lot more than we are used to, you have these things to fill spaces.”
Dasan is seeing that after a few really difficult months, everyone is settling back into the creativity and delivering in this moment. “Across the board as artists, we are going to be a lot savvier and smarter. Not only is there going to be a shift in consciousness socially, but also artistically. We have surprised ourselves with the types of things we can do on our own, which will change the way we move on the other side of this.”
Favorite producer? DJ Premier
Favorite emcee? Sean Price
Favorite musician? Prince