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Suarez runs music race with neo soul sound

Tae Andrews | Thursday, November 15, 2007

Former Notre Dame track star and 2004 graduate Napoleon Suarez has traded in his cleats and hit the track running as a burgeoning neo soul artist. Tonight his musical career takes a turn back to his alma mater as he plays the Legends stage at 10 as the centerpiece of its Neo Soul night.

As a junior and senior, Suarez earned Track and Field All Big East awards, propelling the Irish to the Big East title both years. He also began an amateur musical career, one that he eventually decided to pursue.

But not right away.

After graduating in 2004, the former Keenan resident left his music behind for the world of business. “Just like everyone else, my main focus was to enter corporate America and work for a reputable company,” he said. “I was pretty involved in the music scene while at school, but I was always pressured by family and friends to get a ‘real’ job after college.”

After about six months of what he calls “the nine-to-five cubicle thing,” Suarez decided to quit his job and return to his tunes full-time. The former track star started at a sprint, recording track after track while rededicating himself to his music, but his bank account couldn’t keep up with him. He was forced to go back to work.

“My dream was dead,” he said. “I went back to the cubicle but the itch never went away.”

So he picked it back up, but the second time around Suarez decided to expand his musical repertoire, rhyming as well as producing.

“I made a song,” he said. “Then another. And another. Before I knew it I had a whole album done.”

Suarez sent his album to family friends, and after receiving positive feedback, he decided to release it on Sept. 11, the same day Kanye West dropped his third album “Graduation.” Suarez named his CD “Napoleon Dynamite” as a play on both the popular movie and the ND acronym.

As a neo soul artist, Suarez says his musical influences range everywhere from Tupac to Metallica and include artists like Kidz in the Hall, Skyzoo, Little Brother, Fall Out Boy, Coldplay, Lupe Fiasco, Jay Z, Nas and Gemini. He also pointed out the subtle difference between soul and neo soul music.

“Soul music taps into your soul and just makes you feel good inside,” he said. “Neo soul music does that as well, but I feel it is more poetical. More sophisticated. It is less structured, giving you a little more freedom to say what you have to say without the restrictions of a rhyming pattern. The beats are less edgy but more thought provoking.”

Suarez also credits superstar Kanye West with changing the nature of the hip-hop world and opening the door for artists such as himself.

“Although he was glamorizing his dropping out of college,” he said, “he made it cool to be different.”

West made a name for himself in the hip-hop community as a mold-breaker, with unconventional arrangements and songs that appeal to the college community.

“I really like bands and artists who take a different approach on music and who aren’t scared to push the envelope,” Suarez said. “Music is really moving in a whole different direction. I say it’s revenge of the nerds because skateboarding and college have become huge in the hip hop community. It’s cool to be different and many people are embracing that.”

Like Kanye West, Suarez believes he offers an innovative approach as a performer. “As far as hip-hop is concerned, I consider myself the alpha entertainer,” Suarez said. “I don’t mean to come off as conceited, but I think that I bring a lot of unique things to the table.”

Suarez writes all his own material in addition to producing his own music, which involves creating beats and composing songs. For this, Suarez has a studio inside his apartment, which allows him to engineer ideas into reality.

Suarez said his Notre Dame degree differentiates him from many other hip-hop artists today and “adds a unique flavor” to his music.

“I can’t think of one artist right now that can speak for the college audience genuinely,” he said. “I think the fact that so many young professionals are relating to my music separates me from the rest of the hip-hop community.”

A New Jersey native, Suarez moved to Philadelphia after graduation, but said he is glad to be back on campus.

“It’s really crazy to think that the last time I was there, they were taking money from me, but now that I’m going back they are paying me,” he said. “It’s funny how quickly things turn around in the music business.”

Contact Tae Andrews at tandrew1@nd.edu