Maria Smith | Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Notre Dame isn’t usually seen as the home of great popular music, let alone great hip-hop.Jeffery “Da Natural” Stephens doesn’t plan to let that stop him.Since coming to Notre Dame last year, the Keenan sophomore’s reputation has steadily increased. He released “I Can Only Get Better,” his first album, during finals week of last semester, and has performed at numerous campus events including the Keenan Revue and the BCAC Fashion Show. Last week Stephens performed at The Palace on U.S. 31 for a crowd of 600 people.Stephens is working on a second CD with Poetic Productions, a label operated out of New Jersey by recent Notre Dame graduate Napoleon Suarez. The album, titled “From Here to There,” is scheduled to come out in the spring of 2005.Music has always been a hobby for Stephens. The student first started writing songs when he was eight, and developed an interest in hip-hop around seventh grade. His first recording was made on a computer microphone during his freshman year of high school. Stephens’ lyrics reflect his experiences at Notre Dame, but a lot of what the student raps about in songs like “We Came Up” and “Open Fire” obviously goes a long way back. Stephens grew up in and out of public housing on the south side of Chicago, often in neighborhoods that suffered problems with drugs and violence.The path to Notre Dame may not be easy for any student, but for Stephens getting to where he is today required an extra effort. The student was inspired to come to Notre Dame by a Notre Dame graduate teaching in the ACE program at Holmes Franciscan High School, a private school in south Chicago. Stephens relied on his job, inheritance from his great-grandmother and help from administrators at the school to pay the tuition to get his high school diploma.”In my family there’s no room not to go to college now, because there’s no one to lean on,” Stephens said. “I have to work hard, there’s no one to pay for college.”The sociology major has possible plans to go to law school after graduation. With the help of a law degree, he would hope to be able raise awareness of educational and job opportunities in neighborhoods around where he grew up. Some of Stephens’ high school friends headed to college after graduation, but not everyone he grew up with was even aware of the possibilities. “Most people around there never see [any] option besides what they’re doing,” Stephens said. “I want to let them [know] there’s things besides what they’re doing.”First and foremost, however, the student hopes to be able to make his money through his music.”Honestly, it’s what I think I was born to do,” Stephens said. “I can’t get away from it.”Students who have heard some of Stephens’ work in the past will have a chance to hear more the student performs a full set of original songs at Legends on Thursday. Yatta Holmes, a hip-hop artist who has helped Stephens record in the past, will open the show. The show will start at 10:00 p.m. and is open to all students.