Wharton rising junior Kayvon Asemani’s ambitions are a little different from his classmates’. He’s a rap and hip-hop artist, and he’s in business school to get an upper hand in the music industry.
Asemani’s brand, Kayvon Music, draws equally from his elite education and his underprivileged childhood. He raps about his youth, about being a student at Wharton, and about inequality. Asemani grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, but lost his parents to a domestic violence tragedy when he was 9 years old. His mother has been in a vegetative state since 2005, and his father is in prison. It was a terrible situation, he says, made worse by the threat of being separated from his older brother and younger sister.
“What my music represents starts with what I represent as a person,” Asemani says. “I’m lucky. I made it out of a really terrible situation when I was younger, and not everyone is that fortunate.”
THE MILTON HERSHEY OF HIS TIME
Asemani and his siblings were about to be sent to three separate orphanages when his cousin and uncle stepped in. Instead they were enrolled in the Milton Hershey School, a free boarding school for underprivileged children. The school was founded in 1909 by Milton Hershey, founder of the chocolate company, and his wife Catherine and today houses and educates more than 2,000 children. It’s funded by the Milton Hershey School Trust and has $11 billion in assets.
At the school, Asemani was set on a high-achieving path and had access to a support and mentoring network that helped him get into Wharton. “Going to that school saved my life,” Asemani says. “I want to be the Milton Hershey of my time. It was my first exposure to what change business can make in the world.”
He was very unlucky and then he was very lucky, he says, and his mixed past is what led him to music and business. Without parents around, for a time, the most influential thing in his life was what he saw on TV. His and his siblings’ role models were athletes and entertainers. Then, at the Milton Hershey School, he started to see things more practically. “Some of the people who I grew up with … when we don’t become what we see on TV, we don’t become anything,” he says.
He knew he wanted an elite education where he could focus on what he calls “transferable skills,” skills needed to succeed in the music business that can be applied to other careers if necessary. Wharton has been his dream school since the eighth grade.
GETTING INTO THE JUILLIARD OF BUSINESS SCHOOLS
Asemani was 14 years old when he started thinking about what he wanted to do with his life. At the time, he played trombone in his school band, and he knew he loved music. The entertainer in him wanted to go somewhere like New York’s Juilliard School. But he also knew a lot of really talented people who didn’t make it in the music industry, and he believed it was because they didn’t understand the business of it.
“Kids don’t know how much business goes behind LeBron James, how much business goes behind Drake. Someone has to make those deals. Someone has to produce those songs. Someone has to train that athlete. Someone has to make that commercial. Those skills require education,” Asemani says.