Rapper, track and field athlete, and engineering sciences major Jaeschel O. Acheampong ’24 is unlimited. Also known as “YoungJae,” Acheampong navigates three different worlds with a deft touch.
In an interview with The Harvard Crimson, the rapper described his tripartite identity. “The student is good in front of parents, church elders…That’s the LinkedIn Jaeschel,” he said with a smile. “As the athlete — whether it’s CEOs or people who aren’t always on the right path — there’s a certain level of respect given to me. Then there’s the rapper. Honestly, rappers aren’t seen in the best light; they’re viewed as people who are smoking, drinking, doing nefarious stuff.”
This September, Acheampong opened for Social House at Harvard’s first in-person Crimson Jam in three years. “I was pacing the whole time before I went on. My mouth was dry. And I was tired — I had my album release the night before and honestly, I had a problem set due.”
Crimson Jam wasn’t Acheampong’s first performance, but he was hoping for it to be his best. By his own metrics, he had failed twice before. His first failure was at Black Convocation 2021 — the audience was seated, floors carpeted, and in the church venue he couldn’t use profanity, meaning he had to alter his set. He performed, but it wasn’t like the “real” rappers that he idolized like Kanye West, The Weeknd, and Kendrick Lamar. He also considers his second performance, at the Nigerian Students Association Gala, a failure, despite receiving generally positive feedback. “I was scared because of the first failure so the second performance just didn’t go how I wanted. I lacked the confidence to pull it off,” he said.
YoungJae didn’t let these two failures limit him. With his self-titled album “Jaeschel,” which dropped the day before Crimson Jam, he planned to teach the audience his music as he performed. He’d plan to skip some words to catch his breath and confidently hype up the crowd before beat drops, guiding the audience to shape his perfect show.
“I was nervous because I was 0-2,” the artist said. “I knew that if I did this right, it was going to work. I knew where I messed up before, what I needed to fix. So if I just stuck to the plan and performed, it’d work.”
And it did work. Entering the stage to a chorus of cheers from classmates, teammates, and new fans, Acheampong began with “avenue,” the first song on “Jaeschel.” As the song slowly picked up, building anticipation, the audience doubled, pulling people in for the duration of the show.
The pressure of a spotlight isn’t new to Acheampong. “When I warm up for a track meet, that’s when I feel the real nerves. But on my first full-speed acceleration, when I see myself flying down the track, that’s when I know: ‘Okay. Let’s do it,’” he said. On the first beat drop of “avenue,” Acheampong clearly hit his stride, shedding his nerves and winning the crowd over.
The rapper continued his set with “talking to myself,” “insomniac,” and “tuned in,” the audience dancing and cheering throughout. The crowd was so engaged that as Acheampong prepared to depart, he was met with a chorus of chants demanding an encore.
Acheampong hadn’t planned an encore. “Mind you, I failed twice before. And now these people I'd never seen before were happy as hell to see me perform. So I said: ‘I want to live this forever. Let's do it.’”He performed an impromptu rendition of “tuned in” with fantastic crowd control and audience participation. He left the stage victorious, proving himself worthy of the cheers that echoed across Harvard Yard.
Before Crimson Jam and his album release, Acheampong was able to keep his identities as a student, athlete, and rapper distinct, avoiding the judgments resulting from their apparent contradictions. Now that Harvard is getting to know the whole Acheampong, he’s had to learn how to let all three facets coexist.
Acheampong’s main concern was how members of his identity groups would perceive his holistic self. “I thought my coach [Marc Mangiacotti] wanted that pure student-athlete. But when I started posting stuff and saw he was liking and sharing, I realized he actually supports this true form of Jaeschel,” he said. His dad, a choir director, showed a similarly appreciated acceptance of his rap career.
A song that encapsulates his blended identity is “wolves,” from “Jaeschel.” “The first half of the song sounds like a church choir. That’s the student, professional Jaeschel. And I’m rapping about being successful in track, that’s my athletic drive. And then being an artist — the song is the most production I’ve ever done and it features artists from home and Berklee. “Wolves” encapsulates all three things that define me most,” he said.
“I gotta keep running / Running so fast Imma crash / But I pick up the pieces and finish / Just sit here in listen / Fuck if my body start failing me I know I got more in my system / So fuck it let’s spin it” — excerpt from “wolves” by YoungJae.
Acheampong’s identity played a significant role in the decision to self-title his album. “I used to tell Harvard people that my name was Jae. And my mom hates that, she’d say, ‘I gave you the name Jaeschel, call yourself Jaeschel. Don't tell people your name is Jae to make it easier on them.’ And that’s when I realized how much weight my name held in my mom's eyes. I wanted this album to tell a story about the raw Jaeschel. Therefore, the best title had to be ‘Jaeschel,’” he said.
Acheampong recognizes the value, even necessity, of navigating all components of his identity together. “In my ideal world, I’m able to excel in each one of those: scholar, athlete, artist. If I can do those three things, it’s the most authentic form of myself. I’ll be unlimited,” he said.
You can find Jaeschel Acheampong as “YoungJae” on Spotify and “Jaeschel” on social media. Support him by sharing his music, and keep an eye out for the deluxe concert version of “Jaeschel” dropping soon.
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