Lowell native Peter Plourde, more commonly known to rap fans as Lyrical, is a calculus professor at Northeastern University in Boston. courtesy Photo/Raymond Jones 

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Peter Plourde has lived a double life for a while now. By day, the Lowell native, who holds a bachelor's in business and a master's in mathematics from UMass Lowell, is a mild-mannered math professor and doctoral candidate at Northeastern University.

By night, he's a rapper named Lyrical. Or these days, he says, Professor Lyrical.

Lyrical is a veteran of the Massachusetts underground rap community. He's won numerous prestigious rap battles over the years and his group X-Caliber (which was based in his Mass Mills apartment in downtown Lowell) recorded in 1996 with the help of famed hip-hop producer Ski Beatz, who at the time was also working on four songs from Jay-Z's classic debut album, "Reasonable Doubt." Lyrical traveled back and forth to New York, where he saw Ski and Jay-Z work out the song "Dead Presidents" in Ski's apartment.

Lyrical will release his new album "Put Em All To Shame" and corresponding book on Aug. 6. His rapping ability that he demonstrated on the phone was too fast and complex to dictate for this story.

Q. What percentage of people actually call you by your birth name?

A. About 2 percent. My wife's parents called me Lyrical in jest just because everyone else does, but now they call me it seriously. My mom used to come to my shows and yell, "Peter!" and I'd say, "Mom, stop killing my vibe here."

Q. You grew up in Lowell?

A. I grew up in Lowell and went to high school in Chelmsford. Then I went back to teach at Lowell High from 2000 to 2005 before moving to Cambridge.

Q. Where do you teach now?

A. Now I teach calculus and statistics in a first-year program at Northeastern University. When I teach adjunct at other schools, I usually teach music-related classes.

Q. How do you incorporate hip-hop into your curriculum?

A. I really want to find out how to make the STEM curriculum (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) interesting to kids that have never really been exposed to it.

Q. What do you want your students to get out of it?

A. I really want them to think and fight for a way to make what they love viable -- for example, if you love basketball, be a math statistician. If you're a good athlete and a good statistician, you're going to get that job. I want them to know it's cool to be an intellectual in the adult world, which is different from when you're in middle and high school where it's cool to be a rapper or a basketball player.

Q. How has your rap career affected your teaching one, and vice versa?

A. It's been an evolution. When I started teaching college, I actually started getting more shows because I was a teacher and a rapper -- people were interested because I was doing something else that was thought of as intelligent, which was at odds with what people may think of when they think of rap.

Q. What was it like working with Ski Beatz?

A. He was a mentor before I even knew he was a mentor. It was like watching Ray Allen shoot 3-pointers -- you don't realize how good he is until you watch him closely every day.

My mom kept asking me what I was doing wasting my time driving back and forth to New York and sleeping in my rental car. I said, "Mom, if anybody's going to change the game, it's these guys Jay and Ski. They're going to do something amazing." And they did.

Q. Which artists, old and new, are you a fan of?

A. In terms of new artists, I definitely like Kendrick Lamar. I love Pharoah Monch and Immortal Technique, who's a good friend of mine that I've done a lot of shows with. I love the classics like Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Lauryn Hill and AZ.

Q. What's different about your new book and album?

A. It's the first time that I've ever heard of in hip-hop where someone wrote a book to go along with an album. Each song is a loose extrapolation with the content in its corresponding chapter. And in the digital versions, there are hyperlinks to the actual song recordings, videos and all this other content.

Q. What's your ultimate goal with your doctorate research?

A. It's a higher-education doctorate, so my vision is to basically open a free-standing university or university program that uses hip-hop culture to reach kids and help make it the cultural background of the school.

My world view is a critical ideology, being critical of the societal and educational system we have. Hip-hop is a cousin to that in that the people in it have seen injustice in the community, can articulate what's wrong and want to fix it.

Follow Pete McQuaid on Twitter @sweetestpete.


PRODUCERS UNITED

Where Producers Excel

Professor Lyrical Albook Review: Pt 1 – The Book: “Put Em All To Shame”

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You may have heard of Professor Lyrical on an ABC News video feature or a Boston Globe article, about how he is a professor by day, lyricist by night. If you were like me you were intrigued by these stories. But it wasn’t until I read his book that I truly felt completely inspired by his story. And truly saw how knowledgable and talented he was. I feel blessed to be able to review and go into his book and album further.

I present to you part 1 of the review on his albook: THE BOOK.

Get a free preview of the book here.

Three words I would use to describe Professor Lyrical’s new albook, “Put Em All To Shame”. Those three words: Gotta. Have. It.

Simply a must-read for any hip hop aficionado.

Professor Lyrical‘s albook, “Put Em All To Shame” brings us back to a journey through the golden era of Hip Hop and his journey chronicling how he got to where he is today. He manages to do so while sprinkling fun tales throughout the book to keep the reader interested. You’ll laugh, cry (if you’re a female), and rejoice through your journey of reading this book. Whether it be drives up to Ski Beats’ studio, to social commentary on our educational system (using his background experiences to tell stories, that range from teaching an alternative program at Lowell High where kids were thought to be “hopeless”, to speaking at events for the Boston Celtics), Lyrical has enough content and insight to make you think twice about the world we are living in – and the current state of hip hop.

The first thing I noticed about the book was how glossy, and easy-to-read the pages were.

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To me, the perfect material to print a book on. This makes a huge difference to me – I don’t read or have the interest to read many books naturally – I usually have to push myself, but when a book is printed on the correct material: it just makes the whole experience of reading it that much more enjoyable. So salute to Professor Lyrical on that.

Diving into the book: Professor makes sure to highlight the skills of his producer DJ Shame, a true legend, winning DJ battles and competing in “The New Music Seminar’s DJ Battle for World Supremacy”: his scratches are like no other. The beats used for this project were actually beats from the 90s that were works in progress or ones Shame lost motivation for because of the dying state of hip hop. Basically Prof was like “let me revive these 90s beats and bring back real hip hop”. Throughout the journey of this book, you will find that these gentlemen are two TRUE craftsmen. As an aspiring MC and producer myself, they inspire me: not because of similarity in goals, but because of how hard they work to perfect their crafts. It should be an inspiration to anyone in any craft. Shame is a shaman in quiet magnificence as Lyrical describes his home as a “House of Wax” (see picture below), completely full of vinyl, that you can’t even see the walls, and they are all organized alphabetically with double copies of almost every record.

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A true craftsman.

Often throughout the book, I will be reading Prof’s lyrics (his lyrics for each chapter are displayed at the beginning of each chapter. Each of the fourteen chapters correspond with the fourteens tracks on the album), and it was obvious to me how important this album was to him; almost a life culmination to this point, a very hard thing to achieve in an album.

The book is littered with positive and uplifting quotes.

The quote of the book to me is “As a math and statistics instructor, it is hard for me to say this, but you are actually better off playing the state lottery if you want a chance at success (or getting rich) without putting in any work”

This book will resonate with any hip hop aficionado. I am not much of a hip hop historian, but this book did exactly what it was supposed to: spurred a tremendous interest in me to research the depths of the golden era of hip hop described in his book. Stories included involved amazing interactions with/characters such as: Chuck D, Jaz-O, Jay-Z and watching shows in the early days with Biggie and Busta rhymes on stage. The book had me realizing that the greats of today, really must have all studied the greats of the past like Rakim, and other beasts. Too many lyricists these days are not up to par with messages they COULD be talking on. What Professor Lyrical aims to do is fill that gap, and talk about what he would like to hear more about in hip hop: more positive messages and reform-based music, what hip hop was founded on. A method for revolutionary change. And he does so with incredibly impressive flows and raw delivery, making you think TWICE about taking up rapping as a hobby.

One particular moment he talks about really makes you think what a little bit of time can do, and gives you a little bit of hope that with the proper work ethic, you don’t know how fast things can possibly turn around. He talks about Jay-Z performing at a talent show at Lowell High School with Dame Dash, Chubby Chub, Ski, all coming out, yet only about 30 people showed up to the show!

Fast forward a couple years. Jay-Z returns to Lowell 100 yards away from where he performed in the auditorium at Lowell High to perform at a SOLD-OUT 7000+ seat capacity Tsongas Center, for a wild performance.

“It is amazing how rapidly things can change in life”, he says. Remember this and always have faith

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One of the biggest lessons I learned from the book was from a story of him speaking to a batch of middle school student at the Fleet Center, on how his passion for hip hop and education fueled and TRANSFORMED his life. He explained to the students, plainly that his small successes in life “manifested simply by pursuing careers that made me eager to wake up invigorated to improve. Nothing has changed”

It is very easy to respect that quote knowing how he has successfully juggled careers in education and hip hop, remaining authentic to his true character. I might start calling him Professor Authentic. He is passionate about BOTH professing (professorizing as some call it) AND rapping. We can take this lesson and make sure we are pursuing our OWN true callings, because it will allow us to reach the farthest depths of our success. And life is too short to do otherwise.

In one very insightful moment in Chapter 11, aptly titled “It’s a Shame”, he explains the inner-workings of record labels and how they steal money from the artists. Anyone in music or considering being in the music industry will find this chapter VERY interesting.

Chapter 13: Put Em All To Shame

I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite powerful quotes of the book, from Chapter 13, that is almost a call to action to all of us, as he says at one point

I believe if you are not a part of the struggle to make the world a better place, you may be part of the problem — whether you know it or not

Amen. And he makes a convincing argument towards it.

We return to the purpose of the book. He leaves you with this message to take to heart:

“But more than anything, I hope folks who listen to our album enjoy it, and feel invigorated to make a positive change in their lives and the lives of others. This keeps the cycle going; the effort and energy always come back to us. This is what Hip Hop has always meant to Shame and me, and this is why we made Put Em All to Shame, and why I wrote the book.”

This is How it Should Be Done.

Like what you’re hearing?

Buy the digital copy of the CD separately on Amazon for $8.99  and the book for $15 (total $24.99), or you can simply grab the albook (which is the combo AND you get the PHYSICAL copy of the CD) here in a special deal for only $20 from Professor Lyrical’s store! .

Find Professor Lyrical on
Twitter  || SoundCloud || | Tumblr || YouTube ||

This is your host, Shawn P signing off.
Have a wonderful day, and stayed tuned for Part 2 of the review: the album.