Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 23, 2020

Freshman rapper talks music, charity and life

By NIKITA SHTARKMAN | February 8, 2018

COURTESY OF KRISTOFER MADU On February 3, Karter preformed at the Torrent Lounge in Towson.

You’ve seen him around. He may have zoomed past you on his electric scooter. You may have seen him in class wearing his trademark ski goggles. You may have even seen him on stage rapping. Kristofer Madu, aka Travis Karter, is that guy. A freshman International Studies major and an up-and-coming rapper, there is a lot more to him than many people know.

Kristofer Madu has a multilayered past. Born in Nashville, Tenn., Madu was surrounded by a society with which he had trouble relating. Going to predominantly white schools with a decidedly set culture allowed for little exploration. 

In an interview with The News-Letter, he described the stifling culture of the schools he attended. 

“You say ‘Music City’ when really only a couple types of music are predominant,” he said. 

It was only after moving to Jamaica that Madu was introduced to dancehall and, consequently, rap. It was then that he fell in love with hip hop. Since that moment, his dream was set: He would become a musician.

After years of evolution and progression, Madu now raps under the alter-ego Travis Karter. The nickname came about since Madu had to hide his rap career from his strict high school. He recalled frantically running into the bathroom and making all of his Soundcloud songs private anytime he was called to the office. By changing his name, he could separate his academic life and his music.

Travis Karter’s music is aggressive, loud and booming. His latest album, Phase III, is a rollercoaster of slapping 808s, pounding kicks and high energy hooks. 

“I want my music to be on the crossroads between the fun and exhilaration of the new school and the subject matter of the old school,” Karter said. 

This shows in his tracks. Karter can make songs like “Ceiling Missing,” a fun, hook-carried banger, while also crafting slower, more methodical songs.

Karter writes his music following in the vein of Jay-Z and Lil Wayne, two artists who never put their verses on paper. Karter listens to the beat for a while and then turns on voice memos and starts to record. 

“I close my eyes and just... go,” he said. Then, once he has a base flow and some bars on the track, he’ll go into the studio and “tinker with it” until there’s a clear message or theme.

But his music isn’t haphazard or slapped together. It is an amalgamation of his memories. “My music is most influenced by my experiences,” Karter said, promising that he can explain the backstory of every line in every song.

Besides his focus on crafting, he also avoids using the word “bitch” as a derogatory term for women. Madu argues that using the word would be hypocritical. 

“My mother who loves me so much is raising me, and I’m using her money to demean women?” 

He also never uses the N-word in his raps either, a markedly harder decision considering its prevalence in modern rap.

Along with his growing rap career and his challenging academic pursuits, Madu runs a charity called Water is the Answer, which provides water to rural villages in Africa. He started the project when he was 15, inspired by one of his teachers. 

Madu explained the hours of work that went into its founding. “I campaigned my ass off. I spent so much time promoting,” he said.

Madu’s greatest characteristic is his intensity; he is passionate and determined about every aspect of his life. There is an unwavering confidence in everything he does. “Nothing can stop me,” he said, without a single shred of doubt. 

He sits with his back almost painfully straight. His voice is measured and solid. Every word he says seems calculated, if not preplanned. Nothing is left to chance.

He attributes part of that innate fire to the death of his relative, Craig. Madu compares his life to a marathon and describes Craig’s death as almost a passing of the torch. “That’s what he did for me,” Madu said. “He might have passed but his flame is passed along.” 

The artist lives with that idea. “I can never let anyone stop me, because I have to remember I’m doing it for Craig too,” he said.

His fierce determination colors all of his stories. Madu tells me that his favorite numbers are three, 33 and 333, a fairly wild selection. When I asked about it, he told me a story I was not expecting. Madu wanted to join a soccer team and ended up being cut. The number he picked for himself, three, was given to another player, while he ended up getting 33. 

For most people, failures are stopping points, but not for Madu. That defeat inspired him to work on his game to the point that he started on the varsity team in high school every year he played and lead them in scoring. Now he wears that 33 proudly — another chip on his shoulder.

With all of his separate ventures, it seems like Madu’s life is four times as full as everyone else’s. It is almost inhuman to be able to do as much as he does.

“I make sacrifices,” he said. While others make excuses and complain about having too much work, Madu operates under the motto “You gotta do what you gotta do.” Sleep is the last priority, especially when he has so much that he wants to accomplish. A full day is too short for Madu.

And he’s not done yet. Madu wants to build another water well with his charity using the money he earned from his Phase III album release and his merchandise. Madu also hopes to collaborate with an indie band and is talking to one in Nashville and another in France. He has been performing at a variety of shows, including one at the Torrent nightclub on Feb. 2 of this year, where he opened for two EDM DJs. He just continues to work and work and work. 

Working to finish his pre-law track, continuing to create music daily as well as pushing his charity forward, Madu seems more like a cyborg than a freshman in college. With such a ferocious, ambitious personality and a savage work ethic, Kristopher Madu is almost destined to succeed.

“I’m more than someone who is a rapper. This is part of my dream, part of my identity,” Madu said.

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