After he stood us up to give a TED Talk, Kayvon Asemani made time to talk about music, Penn, and his favorite superheroes. Here's what he had to say:
Name: Kayvon Asemani
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland
Activities: Head teacher for the Financial Literacy Community Project, Member of the Wharton Council, former Sophomore Director and Freshman Representative for Wharton Undergraduate Cohort System, Turner Social Impact Society, Friars Senior Honor Society, Civic Scholar
34th Street Magazine: What have you been up to lately?
Kayvon Asemani: It's been crazy. So, I did a TED Talk at TEDxPenn and that was cool. Last Tuesday, I was recognized by Forbes, so I was in the Forbes list of the most outstanding business school undergrads 2018. It was curated by Poets&Quants, which is the premier business school publication. That was dope. Last Wednesday, I did a guest appearance with Eleven, which is a student group, a band that was formed by two students at Penn. They were opening for Aminé, but I did a little surprise appearance there. Also, I got to emcee the Senior Reception by the Wharton Council, and that's another thing I’m in. And then, this past Sunday, I had emceed the Wharton 5k event, which is like a race raising money for Minding Your Mind, that's a health organization. Pretty cool. Through the Financial Literacy Community Project, I teach. So, I manage my teaching team and we'll be teaching— every semester is a different school—and this semester we teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so I also do that. This coming Saturday, I have a set for Fling, so I have to get ready for that. But you know, dropping a lot of music, dropping a lot of visuals with that as well. That's the stuff that's keeping me busy. Since I’m an entrepreneur, I have this clothing line and I wear my stuff a lot. We haven't come out with a release yet this year. Next year, I'm going to be at Facebook working as a Product Manager, managing teams, working on teams, so that we can all work together to build things at Facebook. So that's what I'm up to.
Street: So, you sound very busy. How do you make time for everything?
KA: Philosophically, I manage because my mentality of it is that it all goes hand in hand. What I’m working on at school really makes me better at managing what I have to do creatively and vice–versa. What I have to do to think differently when I approach my entrepreneurial and academic stuff. My working in teams is pretty transferable. I'd also say that, more tactically, my routine is kind of tight. You got to be adaptable. You can't just always go by a schedule. So, that's how I do it.
Street: Well thank you for finding the time to schedule me in.
KA: Don't worry, it's all in the calendar.
Street: You said you gave a TED Talk recently. You also had one in Norway. What were those about?
KA: The whole idea there was they wanted me to talk about my story, where I come from, because that was the appeal for me to come there. The reason why a lot of people like to hear me talk is because, you know, I'm an orphan, and despite the fact that I came from a difficult place, I still do a lot of cool things, and people like that. They want to know how I do it. I also talked about how this was only possible because there were the players involved to help me and help all these other people, so that's why we should invest in each other. So that was Norway. Then, this past Saturday was more about, I kind of alluded to it earlier, but like the mental clarity. It was about achieving happiness through mental clarity. All that means is like, the main points of it being comparing yourself less to other people, so making it less about what's relative, wanting less for yourself, and creating more for the world around you.
Street: What kind of music do you make?
KA: I rap, so that's kind of where this whole thing started, where the attention I got really started. When I got to Penn, one of the big things I wanted was to be a music artist. I wanted to rap. I chose Wharton, kind of a shot. I didn’t think I’d get in, nobody really thought I'd get in, but I shot for Wharton because I wanted to understand the business side of music. So yeah, the type of music that I make is hip–hop. I rap. These days, hip–hop has evolved to be more melodic, so how you really define that with hip–hop is really up to you. I guess to anyone that is interested, you could just say I’m a music artist at this point, more than just a rapper. Again, I talk about a lot of things. I basically disguise deeper messages about ongoing social issues into music that people will listen to regardless of whether or not they care about those social issues.
Street: So how would you say all of these experiences affected your time at Penn?
KA: I think they made Penn a more incredible experience than I could've imagined. I knew that Penn was great, and I knew Penn was a dream to even get here. I knew there were a lot of resources, but I feel like you could see them all on a list, and you could see people here and be as amazed as I was, but the next level to really appreciate the place is to experience all the things that it has to offer.
Street: What movie would you say best describes your personality?
KA: The Rush Hour series. Maybe Rush Hour 2. They're all the same thing. I love them. I think the combination of Chris Tucker all over the place was really funny, trying to figure it out, with Jackie Chan trying to be serious, but, you know, still trying to be a good teammate to Chris Tucker—both of them is me.
Street: If you could be any fictional character, who would you be and what would you do?
KA: Oh, this is hard. My mind is racing. I think I'd be Iron Man, yeah. I like Iron Man because... what would I do? First, I'd fly around in my little suit and I’d just start walking around my house. I think Iron Man is sick because, like, I’m going to be in tech, and he's not real, but he's a tech genius in the Marvel Universe because, you know, he built Iron Man and he made the Avengers, which is sick. I would hang out with Spiderman. Spiderman is his mentee, which I think is really cool because, first of all, Spiderman was my favorite growing up. I loved him, but as I grew older and grew an appreciation for tech, I was like Iron Man, while still unrealistic, is more realistic than Spiderman. The thing that I like about it is I think Spiderman was still cooler than Iron man, and the fact that his mentee is cooler than him means a lot to me. I love that, I want that. I want my mentees to do it better. Iron Man, in a lot of the early stuff, in the early Avengers movies and Iron Man movies, had an ego problem, and I think that was my issue, too. Ego of the Week, that's funny. But I had a really big ego problem when I got to college and in high school. I don’t want to say it was a problem, like I was still nice, but I think there's a difference between cocky and confident, and I was a little bit cocky. I've always been confident—I’m still confident, but I was a little bit too... There are certain things that you can believe about yourself that you shouldn't have to say, but I would say it a lot. Iron Man was like that, but I think as the movies progress, he's a lot more down to earth, he's a lot more conscious. We see a lot of character development. I feel that way about myself and my Penn career.
Street: What's been your favorite memory from college?
KA: It is a tie between two concerts that I had this year: one where I was opening for Waka Flocka Flame, and the other one, which was a little bit later, was just my show. It was well–attended, but I think what made it special was that I got up there and rapped, but I didn't feel like I was just performing, and it was everybody just watching and clapping. It felt like I was the host of a party and I was like curating a good time, and sure, I was rapping my own music, but halfway through the concert, I jumped in the crowd and played other music, like Cardi B, and stuff like that. I was just dancing to it and bringing people onto the stage. I don't know, I think the reason that it's my favorite memory is because it really captured the essence of what I’ve been trying to do with my music. It's just that, I don’t get all in the spotlight just to glorify myself or just be this guy, because I think that's really empty. I do it because I feel like, if you need me to be on stage to inspire you or to prove to you that kids who come from nothing can be something, then I'll gladly be that person. But at the same time, if anybody else can be that person, please do. I want to support them.
Street: What's been your least favorite thing about Penn?
KA: At times, there are certain crowds that are really superficial, really exclusive. It's really impressive in the first place to get here, but then once you get here, there are all these groups that silo themselves off. You know, to be involved in this organization, you need to be all these things, and if you're not, they don’t want to hang out with you. There are a lot of organizations like that. The type of culture, if you're not in the in–group, then you're out. I feel like that at first really bothered me. That was one of the first things that hurt me because I felt like one, I want this place to be something where everybody talks to anybody, that’s the one thing. The other thing is that I feel like when people get caught up in their circles, they stay in that bubble. They don’t go anywhere.
Street: What are your plans for your last Spring Fling?
KA: More than anything, I want to shut it down, give a good show, and consciously think about the people I’m hanging out with because this is going to be my last Spring Fling.
Street: Guilty pleasure?
KA: Eating chocolate. I've been on this whole thing—gym every day, trying to eat healthy—but I can't stay away from chocolate. Chocolate or Honey Bunches of Oats, I eat a lot of those.
Street: Celebrity crush?
KA: There are so many. The first person that comes to mind—my celebrity crush is definitely Rihanna. No disrespect to anybody else, I just really love Rihanna.
Street: There are two types of people at Penn?
KA: People who love Kayvon and people who don’t.
Street: And you are...
KA: I love Kayvon. I really do, big fan. (Ed note: same though.)
Street: Your first AIM name?
KA: It was reymysteriois4real. Rey Mysterio was a WWE wrestler. I used to watch him when I was little. He had the mask. 4real was the slogan.
** This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.