Arts artist interview

‘Art is a part of our community. It’s already here’

How one MIT alum went from mathematics to hip-hop

I’ve sat down with Sarah Quinn ’17, a recent Course 18 graduate who has recently left MIT to become a hip-hop artist, to talk about her experience here and her journey to become the artist she is today.

Just take a moment to absorb that. Someone entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create something beautiful for the world. Indeed, it’s very interesting to see a student walk away from the Institute to pursue careers that are not related to CS or STEM. It’s even more outlandish to see them create art. “The lyricism,” Quinn said, “really opens doors to explore different areas of creativity. It’s really intellectual, almost like a math puzzle.” She spoke loudly then, her heart in her voice. I couldn’t stop myself from leaning forward into this conversation.

When asked what prompted her to start her journey, Quinn nostalgically told me about how things had been going well for her. She was captain of the Track and Field team and ran Cross Country. “I had a 5.0 up to my junior spring,” she added. She was at the top of the world, and then luck decided to turn inside out. “I slipped,” she said.

Quinn sustained an injury that would put her out of commission for running. Then, she stopped going to classes. Living in an apartment in Kendall, she would find herself going back home to sleep and do nothing else. Quinn leaned back into the olive-green sofa as she recounted her tale.

“I did not understand mental health at all until I personally experienced a mental health issue,” Quinn commented. “My main passion is music. It was in a hard situation where I found that. You know, every curse is a personal blessing.” Deciding to take a chance, Quinn decided to take night classes on music production. It started off as a hobby. Gradually, though, she became enthralled by the music.

“What would be your story?” I asked. Quinn wants people to remember her music as “very complex. Every word I put in there is purposeful, maybe I’ll put a play on words in there. I want people to really think about [my lyrics], and I think that’s where the art is. Little nuances like that make the art.” We talked a little about our respective journeys through MIT. There was me, the freshman who acts. There was she, the graduate who raps.

I inquired about any advice she could offer to young artists at MIT. “Stick to your core. I can say, I’ve been kinda different all my life. I’ve never fit in perfectly. All the times I tried to fit in, it’s never been genuine. People really appreciated my art when it really portrayed who I am. It’s when you’re most creative and most raw. You don’t have to please everybody. Don’t be scared to pursue art, particularly at a place like MIT.”