“I finished paying Sallie Mae back.”
Those words seem like a pipe dream for millions of Americans buried under student loan debt. But New Orleans rapper Dee-1 turned that dream into a reality by paying off his loans with an advance he received after signing a record deal.
“I was like, how should I spend this? Most rappers buy a new car; they go ball out; they take a vacation; they go buy new jewelry,” Dee-1 said. “With this advance, I wanted to break the stereotypes of how people normally spend them — and get out of debt.”
And now, his celebratory song about becoming debt-free, “Sallie Mae Back,” has taken off, with fans relating to his uphill battle.
The former middle-school math teacher, whose real name is David Augustine Jr., says his debt problems started after he graduated from Louisiana State University. Even with a full-time job, he found that he couldn’t make headway on his student loans.
“I have literally been in that place in life where I’m like, do I want to put some gas in my car or do I want to eat dinner tonight?” the musician said. It’s clear he hasn’t forgotten that time in his life: He’s giving away digital copies of the song “Sallie Mae Back” to anyone who signs up for his mailing list. “Everyone should be able to share this song, and money shouldn’t be a distraction.”
Now that Dee-1 has paid off his own debt, he stresses financial responsibility to those with college loan bills and says even though it might take longer than you want, you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel one day.
Student loan debt is also a hot issue on the campaign trail. Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio favors automatic income-based repayment plans for student loans, while rival John Kasich’s plan includes letting high school students earn credit for basic college courses. Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have offered plans to reduce or eliminate tuition at public colleges.
Dee-1 says he’s heard some great ideas from candidates but wants them to be clear about how their plans would work. “It is ear candy to my generation to hear ‘let’s make college free.’ … That’s easy,” the New Orleans-based musician said.
What made “Sallie Mae Back” popular — besides the catchy beats and whimsical video that’s drawn more than 320,000 YouTube views — is that so many Americans can relate: As of 2014, at least 40 million Americans have at least one outstanding student loan, pushing the nationwide student loan debt to a record $1.2 trillion.
“In the video, we tried to keep it fun but keep it serious at the same time. … In college, you’ll be partying; you’ll be having fun. The whole time, your debt is just going up and up and up,” Dee-1 said. “I wanted to be the light at the end of the tunnel for people.”
The video has gained so much traction that the song’s subject, lender Sallie Mae, tweeted a response: “Congrats @Dee1music!”
But Dee-1 isn’t just basking in his fame; he’s looking to the future. The musician is recording his debut major-label album for release this year.
He wants to get back into touring as soon as it’s finished. “I think I’m going to be heavily requested on the college circuit because of this song,” Dee-1 said with a laugh.
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