C. Shreve the rapping professor


C. Shreve the Professor is the founder of the hip-hop collective Free the Optimus (FTO) and a senior lecturer at Appalachian State University.

Makaelah Walters

Nestled in the back of a classroom at the Holmes Convocation Center is the office of Christopher Shreve. He is a senior lecturer in the Health and Physical Education Department by day, and an underground rapper, C. Shreve the Professor, by night.

Shreve has been rapping original material since he was around 22 years old. His background in sports exposed him to hip-hop and rap early on. Shreve said before he was a rapper he was just a fan.

“I played sports pretty heavily through college and when that was over I felt like I needed to do something to not be a jock,” Shreve said. “I was always a fan of Tupac and various artists. I could recite a Biggie verse but I didn’t have any original material, so I decided to try my hand at it.”

Growing up, Shreve felt like an outsider to the world of hip-hop and rap. It seemed as if rapping was not something he could aspire to do. Now 35, with a wife and a 6-year-old son, Shreve is able to make music how and when he wants.

“Our generation, being a ‘90s kid, it didn’t seem as accessible,” Shreve said. “I never thought I could be a rapper. It was always me on the outside looking in.”

Shreve said he still has to try and stay in the loop when it comes to new artists.

“I can’t keep up with everyone who’s making music because it’s a constant surge coming through, but I find value from Chance [the Rapper] all the way back to Rakim,” Shreve said.

Shreve was 15 years old when Tupac and Biggie died. He said he tries not to be the old guy that doesn’t embrace the new.

“I have some young rappers I work with that really stay on what’s new and they know everything that’s new and really try to put me on to it all,” Shreve said.

For Shreve, keeping up with every artist fresh on the scene takes a backseat to carving out a space for making his own beats and crafting his own music, something which he said good friends and the internet have allowed him to do.

“I watched in ‘05 as YouTube kind of exploded,” Shreve said. “You started to see people take the internet and run with it.”

Shreve said he had a close friend who pushed him to freestyle every day because of the conception that you need to be a rapper in the closet for a while, so after two or three years of just writing, Shreve figured himself out.

Because of this, Shreve happened to be caught in the midst of a resurgence of the indie approach to making rap music. Shreve released his first online project in 2009.

“It worked out well for me,” Shreve said. “I was right behind that wave and I saw how you could create your own momentum using Soundcloud and BandCamp and various modern things to do it yourself.”

Shreve admits that he thought releasing his mixtape in 2009 would, “scratch the itch” he had to put out some music.

“When we had [my son], it was the ultimate creative stimulator,” Shreve said. “To see a little child see the floor for the first time or a tree made my art brain work, and I’ve pumped out music ever since then.”

Now having access to real producers and a home studio and his basement, Shreve has been able to move away from rapping over Lil Wayne or Snoop Dogg instrumentals and onto larger projects.

“I’ve found my own voice and made connections with producers and since then it’s been all original beats and all original music,” Shreve said.

Shreve said the only struggle from here was figuring out what it was he wanted to use his voice to say. He realized that part of being C. Shreve the Professor is teaching.

“People like it as a joke, but it’s part of what my angle is,” Shreve said. “I teach health promotion and a lot of public health is about being socially conscious and recognizing disparities, and making action steps toward creating equality in places where it’s not.”

Shreve rationalizes living the life of both a professor and rapper to his students by explaining to them the fundamentals of hip-hop.

“The ‘hip’ is to be hip to your surroundings,” Shreve said. “That’s why I teach them the stats of what’s going on in their world. And the ‘hop’ is the action, the preventative action plans that we put in place to deal with it, whether it’s obesity or police brutality, it’s a little tricky.”

Shreve, averaging 60 shows a year, tours with Free The Optimus, a hip-hop collective based out of Asheville, North Carolina. FTO consists of C.Shreve the Professor, DJ Jet and Mike Greene, who DJ’s under the name DJ Mike L!VE and Good Shep.

Greene described their relationship as a brotherhood and said that they value each other’s talents and capabilities. Greene has known Shreve since 2013 when they met after a show.

“He’s a great friend. His music is very passionate, bold and authentic,” Greene said.

FTO has taken their music all over the East Coast, from New York to New Orleans.

“If I was to plot out FTO as a goal for myself, I’d love for rap to be enough to literally free me from my job. I’d lie if I said that’s not part of the goal,” Shreve said.

Shreve said that he also has to remind himself to be realistic.

“I have to ask myself ‘what does success mean?’ If I never blow up, does that mean I’m unsuccessful?” he said.

Shreve said that the remedy to a single that doesn’t blow up or a video that doesn’t go viral will always be to just write another one.

Shreve’s new album “Twenty Sixteens” was released in May 2016. FTO’s first release of the new year is a music video for “Catacombs,” the fifth track on that album.

Greene said he is a big fan of the metaphors Shreve used to reference Michael Jordan. Greene said he really loves the beat and the opening line.

“The particular style he uses the first line is usually the hook, and you won’t know until the end,” Greene said. “Even if he’s not saying the most profound thing, it really sticks.”

Alyssa Nardi, a senior actuarial science major, describes the track as cool and fun.

Nardi has taken three of Shreve’s courses even though they are not required in her major, something that speaks to how great Shreve is at his work.

“He talks to students on a level that they can understand, and it just makes sense that he is a rapper,” Nardi said.