When the recession hit, plenty of Wall Street traders were forced to take stock of their position in the financial industry. For Anteneh Addisu ’07, it was the perfect opportunity to get out and pursue his passion—making music. After completing his second year at Citigroup in 2009, Addisu, reborn as ANTHM, set out on his new path as a rapper.
It wasn’t easy, though. Rappers can spend years developing a solid body of original music, releasing mixes along the way. But most of Addisu’s experience had been in freestyle battles during college, not in recording studios. Seeing his determination, Addisu’s Citigroup mentor (and hip-hop aficionado) David Gross decided to help him cut a demo.
“Before recording, I knew how to write and rhyme really well, but that doesn’t necessarily make music or hooks,” Addisu says. “David helped me deconstruct my understanding of hip-hop.”
Addisu spent two years analyzing his own flow and meter before releasing his first recordings. Like any good student, he listened to a wide variety of artists beyond his childhood favorites and took careful notes. “The best thing I ever did was that kind of academic approach to it.”
Now, with his latest EP, Handful of Dust (released March 4), Addisu has a clear vision for where he wants ANTHM to go. “I want to be on a mainstream platform. When I first started out, jeez, I went to Duke, I worked in finance, I know this isn’t the prototypical background for hip-hop,” says the rapper, who was born in Russia, grew up in Dallas and northern Virginia, and sent a significant portion of his trader’s salary to support his then-unemployed mother. But he points to the popularity of recent hip-hop stars like Kid Cudi, Jay Cole, and Childish Gambino who have ripped the genre away from gangster rappers like 50 Cent, who dominated the scene only a few years before. “I come from a wide range of experiences. It’s relatable to different people, and you demonstrate that in music.” Even his name, a twist on his nickname, Ant, plays to his goal of broad appeal.
Addisu sees the changing landscape of the music industry as a valuable entrepreneurial lesson. “Quantity doesn’t always yield quality,” he admits, “but if you always put out music, you always allow fans to grow with you, even if you’re artistically vulnerable. It’s hard to think that as an artist, because you want to epitomize perfection in a project or at least reach for it. But there is function in flaw—you have people who grow with you.”