AJC Sepia HBCU of the Week is an occasional series that looks at Historically Black Colleges and Universities
Going to North Carolina Central University is one of the single most important things I've done in my entire life.
When I was a junior at Willingboro High School in New Jersey, I knew I was college bound, but had no idea where I really wanted to go.
A friend of mine named Jawn Atwater was taking a trip down South with his father (who attended NCCU), and invited a few friends to join them on the trip.
We accepted the invitation and went down South for spring break to check out the environment and some schools.
Being from the Northeast, I was very skeptical that I would like it in North Carolina, but I was wrong.
I immediately fell in love with the place and when I visited the NCCU campus, I kind of knew right then and there that I wanted to attend. (I didn't know what looked better, the campus or the girls).
Growing up, I was always musically inclined, but I initially started out as a business major.
After my freshman year, I followed my heart and changed my major to music.
I had great instructors like Dr. Charles Gilchrist and Dr. Celia Davidson. They were both extremely hard on me, but they both saw a light in me and told me that if I really wanted it, I could have a career in music because the talent was there.
It was just up to me to focus.
As far as campus life, it was great and some of my best friends to this very day are people that I met on the Yard.
I pledged Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, I was a member of the NCCU Touring choir, and I formed a singing group with Shawn Etheridge and Ed Milligan.
It was Ed who named me Mike City because we used to walk around the yard singing Ten City records ALL DAY.
We ended up having some of our songs played on a few local radio stations and opened up some shows for quite a few national recording acts at the time.
It was a beautiful thing.
Being an outgoing person, you could say that many times, I was the life of the party. But I was also able to balance that out with getting my work done in order to graduate.
I proudly earned my bachelor’s degree in music, with a concentration in voice, from NCCU in four and a half years.
Following college, I went to barber school and cut hair for a few years while I was pursuing a career in the music industry.
I took this route instead of getting into teaching because I didn't want to get settled into a certain routine and get comfortable without following my dream.
It was actually my destiny.
I wasn't an overnight success in the music industry, but I've been blessed to have written and produced for many big artists in my career.
I will say this -- in the music business, when things happen, they happen fast and you have to be ready for your opportunity.
In one week, I went from being kicked out of Puffy's studio, Daddy's House, to recording at The Hit Factory, which at the time was the best and biggest studio in New York City.
The result of those Bad Boy sessions was “I Wish,” a number one R&B record by Carl Thomas.
That's what got me in motion.
There's even an unreleased Stevie Wonder song in his vault that I'm singing on.
I met him through a mutual friend, Kevon Edmonds of After 7 fame and Babyface’s brother.
Stevie called me in the middle of the night one time and summoned me to the studio. Haha.
But one of my biggest accomplishments is helping develop another NCCU graduate: Sunshine Anderson.
Just thinking about how we used to practice in my little apartment in Durham, to her having one of the biggest urban records in the world still makes me smile.
I remember one time Mary J. Blige introduced me to Elton John and he immediately started singing Sunshine's single "Heard It All Before" and it bugged me out.
Overall, NCCU gave me a great foundation and I wouldn't trade those times for anything.
It's part of my makeup and I'll always cherish that HBCU on Fayetteville and Lawson streets in Durham.
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