While you may have heard the sonic booming of his speaker- installed-backpack at various locations around campus, very few students know the truth about why WCSU student, Devante Escoffery, frequently plays soulful tunes from his backpack. In this in-depth interview, Devante answers questions dealing with those who appreciate the music and those who detest it as well as what he feels he has brought to Western’s campus community.
Why do you play music from your backpack and what do you seek to accomplish from playing music?
One of the reasons why I do it is because I’m already starting my own organization and it’s called Team R.E.V. What R.E.V. stands for is Revolutionize East Vision. The purpose of team R.E.V. is to use the arts as a form of therapy for the masses. So there’s a lot of literature based about music therapy and dance therapy coming out of probably NYU and Northwestern right now. What I’m trying to get into is performance studies or stuff like that. So the reason why I play music is to make this a space to actualize that theory. The problem with theories is that–they’re just theoretical. They’re always just in the sky and never become concrete. So this is just a moment where I’m able to do that–you know what I’m saying? So that was my first reason.
Honestly, I’m from Brooklyn, New York. Just being on my block alone, it’s always live–you know what I’m saying? It’s always an energy. So coming here to Danbury, I didn’t feel the same. So I was like, “Why not bring that energy from Brooklyn to Danbury? To Westconn?” Because really, the thing about WestConn right now that’s really problematic is the school spirit. It lacks school spirit. Usually schools get school spirit from probably the sports, which I think is coming along in a sense. So the second reason why is because I don’t think we have school spirit. And music is innovative. It touches all souls, all shapes, all sizes, all colors. When I play music it’s so people can reminisce and they’ll be like “Oh wow, I haven’t heard that song in a long time!”
Do you think that, in a way, you are kind of doing this school a service?
Yeah. Of course it does have backlash but that’s inevitable. But I have a lot of people come up to me, especially the staff here [referring to Sodexo employees on the Westside Campus], and they’re like, “I like what you’re doing.” And that’s why they don’t complain. Those are the two main reasons why I do it. And they know me by first name. The manager calls me Mr. Devante.
Aside from the people that enjoy it, do you feel that you face a lot of opposition from people when you play music?
Well, the only place I did ever experience that was Yik Yak [anonymous social media app for college students]. No one came up to me personally and never said anything to me-which, to me, isn’t right because if you had a problem with it and you came up to me, it would be fine. One example where it did happen to me was on the Midtown campus, and these two old people that go to school here—they’re a married couple–and it’s Friday and I’m in the cafe playing music. Before that, I had conversations with them because the guy had a book about political cartoons and I’m really into that stuff and I’m reading his book and it’s great. So they come up to me and are like “I like your music, but can you please turn it down?” And the reason the guy said that is because they have hearing problems, so I was like, “Yeah, of course!” And then he came up to me and he was like “yeah, when we leave just turn it back up,” that’s it.
So if anything, I would definitely accommodate people! All you have to do is come up to me and say something. I am a human being!
Yeah, I think that people really get shut off from each other after their freshman year and aren’t really willing to interact with anyone outside of their social group.
Yeah that’s what I notice here too. I was raised differently. No good mornings or thank you’s? I get the same thing here. If someone came up to me and was like “Excuse me can you please turn it down?” or whatever reason I’ll turn it down. Especially in the sense where it’s two old people. Like– typically, not to be stereotypical, they’ll [old people] usually be like “Why are you playing loud music?” They came up to me in a respectful way saying “I like what you’re doing, but we have a hearing problem.”
And they’re very nice people. I had a whole conversation with them and my friends were like, “Yo why are you talking to them?” and I’m like “They’re SMART!” and they have wisdom. You can learn from anyone. It doesn’t matter what your age or race is. I try to talk to everybody. But yeah, I’ve never had anyone come up to me in person which is crazy.
I look at Yik Yak sometimes and see those yaks about you. Some of them saying “We do confront him. He’s rude!”
NO! No, no one ever talked to me and was like “Yo can you turn it down?” In no manner what so ever since I’ve been here. Just come up to me and talk to me. Is it because I look a certain way? Those questions come into mind also. I don’t really look like a scary person. I have manners and I was raised in a Caribbean background. I’ll talk to you. But if you don’t talk to me in a certain way, of course you’re going to hear it.
So you think people are a little intimidated because of your race?
Yeah I think that’s what it is. I mean, it has to be something. Maybe the way I dress? No one ever came up to me and was like “Can you please turn that down?” or “Why are you playing music?” but they can do it on an anonymous site?
How long have you been here?
This is my third year here. I’m somewhere between my sophomore and junior year. I got recruited to come here for the debate team and when I started, I was a part time student because I didn’t really like it here. Coming from Brooklyn I’m like “Wow! This is a whole different experience.”
But then it grew on me because, honestly, Westconn is a great school. Especially academically. Socially, yeah we do need help there in that department. But academically, for post-graduation, statistically it’s proven that people can get jobs. I read something in the paper the other day where it was like ranked the third in the nation. So post-graduation, you can get a job. It’s not that bad when you ride it through, you know?
Do you sometimes feel that playing music through your backpack speakers is almost a way of paying homage to the boom box phase of the 80s and 90s?
A lot of people don’t know Hip Hop history. But a lot of people that do said that I remind them of Radio Rahim. He used to walk around with speakers playing music and I was like “That’s CRAZY” and I felt honored.
For those who don’t know, who is Radio Rahim?
Yeah so basically, Radio Rahim typically did the same thing that I do now. Walked around with speakers. He’s a significant Hip Hop character in our history. And that era was during the beginning of Hip Hop. So it does feel like I’m paying homage.
And that’s the thing about Hip Hop. What people really don’t understand is that it touched so many cultures. Especially when you look at Hip Hop in terms of sampling. It samples from classical music, rock, and so many different areas and genres of music and that’s why I love Hip Hop. You get all those flavors in one pop.
Would you ever consider getting a ghetto blaster [boom box] to carry around campus when the weather is nicer?
I was thinking about that. A lot of people have had conversations with me that were like “I think you should take this to the next level” and I’m like “What do you mean by that?” They said “You should literally make this a statement” and I’m thinking I already have made this a statement. So where else should I go with it? This is my life, you know. This is what I want to do. I want to inspire. I want to invigorate spaces. I want to energize spaces. Is that hard? Hell yeah! Especially in a space like this where it is hostile and there is no communication or people just don’t know how to communicate.
For example, if you’re from the suburbs and your only experience with a black person is on TV, that communication may not look right because you already have these preconceptions of that person. And they might not meet those preconceptions at all which is probably what is happening here as well. That might make communication hard.
What would it take to make it happen for you to acquire a ghetto blaster?
I mean, I could invest into it. I could ask to get the money from the debate team. My friend Andre was like “Yo you should just do that!” That’s definitely a thought because, I’m usually at the Quad, somewhere where you can have a chill spot between classes to just chill and hang when it’s nice out. So when me and Andre had a conversation about it I was thinking “Yeah, I might do it.”
What’s the worst thing that someone has said about you via social media?
The worst thing they said on Yik Yak was when some guy said I was a “lowlife.” First of all, how can you determine that I’m a lowlife? The only way that you can determine that is, one: based off of how I look because you’ve never had any interactions with me. So I told him, “If I’m a lowlife, what is your definition of lowlife because one: I’m doing paneled discussions for this school. Like, WestConn is literally paying me and my friend Stephon to go to paneled discussions abroad and talk about why Hip Hop should be in a classroom.
So how am I a lowlife if I’m here in college? What does that mean? The only thing that defines me as a lowlife is how I look. So that means it was racial and that’s what really got me mad. I’m a debater so if you’re going to have a claim, have a warrant. I asked them to explain to me how I’m a lowlife and again he couldn’t do it. Or she because, again, it’s anonymous. That was the worst comment and I was really upset about that. But also get people that are like, “Why not? I like when he plays music.” So you have both sides of it on Yik Yak.
How often do people express appreciation for what you do?
A couple times. Once in the morning breakfast on Midtown a few girls were like “Hey come over here!”
and they were like “we just wanted to tell you that we appreciate that you’re playing music.” And my friends tell me this too. Now I’m not the only one playing music out loud any more
How long have you been on the debate team and what do you do for them?
I’ve been on it for two years. Basically we get a topic every year and the topic this year is about legalization of certain things like marijuana, prostitution, online gambling, or the sale of organs. Me and my partner Stephon got recruited here because we do a different style of debate called “Hip Hop Debate” or “Movement Debate” where we literally dance in our debate rounds to articulate our argumentation. We did a lot of debate in high school and we were really successful with it so that’s why we got recruited here.
How do you get recruited for the debate team? Do they have scouts that they send out to specific competitions?
What happened with how we got to WestConn was our debate coach was at a camp at Columbia [University] where me and Stephon did workshop to explain our style of debate and he was like “Why not go to WestConn for debate?” At that time Stephon was at Buffalo State and he didn’t like it cause it was really cold up there and I was out of school. The coach was basically like “You should get back into it. We can get you scholarship money to go to WestConn.” Came to find out, this is what I’m subjected to (laughs). But I love debate. It’s an intellectual sport. So yeah, they usually have scouts and you could compare it to sports. It’s the same thing. We’re trying to recruit people from Danbury High School right now to debate.
People from the school came [to recruit] as well as my friend Taylor and his girlfriend—so they came to New York and just told us about WestConn. When I really think about it, I don’t regret it because I’ve got so many connections. A lot of great things have come out of WestConn.
Do you participate in anything outside of campus as well?
I’m a club host for Eclipse [club venue] and basically all the clubs around here except for Tuxedos—but I work with Plazma and Eclipse. We already have our own party promotion team and it’s called LITUATED. We’re [him and Stephon] involved in three different organizations and we didn’t even graduate college yet.
Words of wisdom?
Honestly—everyone—try to be yourself. And don’t really pay attention to what people think of you. At the end of the day you have to love yourself first. Of course people are gonna judge you but that’s inevitable in life. But you know—just like they say—never judge a book by its cover because you might like the pages that are in that book.