Jason Mills learned to rap while in prison on a robbery charge he picked up as a teenager. “I’m a middle-class person who went to prison partially because I went to a bad school in a bad area,” he says. “Then I go back four times on the same exact charge … because I didn’t take home detention or violated this or that. Knowledge and education are important for empowerment, especially in the Black community.”
Mills, now 28, went on to establish a name for himself as IDK (it stands for “Ignorantly Delivering Knowledge”), as an independent artist and entrepreneur, before his own Clue Records signed a joint venture with Warner Records in 2019 to release his debut album, Is He Real? (which has logged 70 million U.S. streams, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data). His next act: professor.
In partnership with the Boston-based nonprofit No Label, the rapper-producer plans to educate and empower the next generation of artists and executives who are Black, Indigenous or members of other historically marginalized groups with lessons on finance, innovation, mental health and other topics. No Label Academy will launch in 2021 with a 10-day course at the Harvard University campus, advised by Harvard law professor Brian Price and LaShyra Nolen, the first Black woman to be named Harvard Medical School’s student president. Details about the academy’s application process are forthcoming.
“What we’re trying to do is to not only create a comprehensive course, but a course that students and the industry will look to as a model to make knowledge more accessible,” says Miles Weddle, who co-founded No Label with Marcelo HD in 2018 to engage students in new narratives and broaden their perspectives. The nonprofit’s Uncut speaker series, for instance, hosts experts, academics and artists like Travis Scott, Bad Bunny and Saweetie to discuss subjects like activism and entrepreneurship. After IDK accepted No Label’s Uncut invitation to speak about criminal justice reform at Harvard last February (the series is currently being livestreamed), the idea for the academy took shape.
The academy’s start date remains a moving target due to the pandemic. But it’s already planning to expand into other universities — and, eventually, high schools and prisons. Another goal, adds co-founder Marcelo HD, is “to work with select sponsors to make sure it [the academy] is free to students.” “I was asked recently how long I plan to do this,” says IDK with a laugh, “and I said, ‘Until the day I die.'”