Photo by Spencer Jackson.

The Roundup

RAP UP: Algebra

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Posted 03.12.13

Dan Hahn—known onstage as Algebra—doesn’t want to be famous. He came to rap by way of poetry in 2007, unwittingly entered into a freestyle battle by some college friends who told him it was a poetry contest. He won the battle, and he continues to make music for the community it creates.

A high school English teacher by day, who started both writing poetry and listening to hip hop at a young age, Hahn liked the rush he got from being onstage and started turning his poems into raps, changing the way he wrote.

“Hip hop is extremely mathematical,” he said. “It’s a lot more about meter and rhythm than I think a lot of people give it credit for.”

At the same time, it’s about words and expression and communicating. In that way, poetry and hip hop are the same.

“They both stem from an ability to recognize the potential of words and to use words as utensils to achieve a purpose,” he said. “You’re putting words together creatively and in innovative ways so they can either make somebody in particular—or an editorial somebody—feel something.”

Hahn has released three full-length albums, two EPs, and a mixtape. He plays shows with three other artists—Dr. Freeman, Mike Dee and Sur’Ron—under the name Oil House Collective. His next show will be the Norman Music Festival in April. And while he likes what he’s doing, he’s not looking to make a career out of hip hop.

“I like it as much as it is an enjoyable and therapeutic hobby,” he said, “an outlet for exploration and spiritual discovery and forming relationships with people.” And if he could make one song that earned him millions of dollars, he’d do that, and then go right back to teaching. He’s “philosophically apathetic” toward making music as a profession.

“There’s that purgatory that so many artists exist in where they’re broke and unhappy and stretched really thin, and they’re not in control of their music or their lives. Unless you’re getting up in millions and millions of dollars, I don’t see that it’s worth it.”

His hobby comes in handy when it’s time to teach his teenagers about vocabulary and language. “None of them can ever look at me and say, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about,’ because I’ve been able to spend many years experimenting with words and they recognize that,” he said. And though he doesn’t ever bring rap directly into the classroom, he invites his students to his all-ages shows, with the hope that they—and others—will recognize the power of words and the importance of being able to communicate.

“My history with poetry was just always as a hobby,” he said, “something to capture an idea or moment, and it’s very much the same motivation now. It’s just that when you put music behind it, it becomes a lot more accessible to most people. That accessibility is basically the only reason I still do it. It’s because it allows me access to people places and ideas that I would not have access to otherwise.”

Check out the video This Land’s production team created with Hahn, below.