It’s hard to miss those big white Dr. Dre headphones.
The moment I spot Northwestern’s newest aspiring hip-hop star, I know it’s him. But when I stand up to introduce myself, I first meet Briggs Goldberg, the would-be star’s manager and the CEO of Kinetik Entertainment. Only afterward am I introduced to Chester Marlon “Chet” Hanks, who emerges from behind Goldberg. There’s something about his eyes – not the color, not the shape, but something – that looks just like the ones I’ve seen on the big screen in “Philadelphia,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “Forrest Gump.”
Hanks, arguably NU’s most talked-about son, is trying to carve his own path to stardom through hip-hop. And he’s off to a good start: From Entertainment Weekly to The Washington Post, media outlets across the nation are competing for coverage of this surprisingly down-to-earth college student who just, you know, happens to have released a rap single this week – the viral “White and Purple (Northwestern Remix).”
Hanks, I learn, is a sophomore studying theater. Among his favorite places at NU, he lists the Pi Kappa Alpha house, where he “likes to chill.”
The aspiring star says his favorite Evanston restaurant is Buffalo Joe’s … that is, until his manager shoots him a questioning look.
Hanks quickly changes his pick to Trattoria Demi.
The aspiring star is on firmer ground when asked about “White and Purple.”
Hanks, who grew up listening to hip-hop music, decided it would be a fun idea to make a remix version of Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow” with his own words. He spent many of his out-of-school hours at a private studio in Chicago throughout the fall term, recording his single that is dedicated to NU students, school spirit and college life.
“Any kids really living the college life can relate to it,” Hanks says.
Hanks’ self-penned lyrics directed toward college students contain brow-raising rhymes like “White kicks/Purple kush/This is college/Hittin’ blunts after hittin’ books.” But the NU administration has yet to utter a word.
“I don’t think it’s something that should cause anybody to be angry or offend anyone,” Hanks says of the potentially controversial lyrics.
Though Hanks is just one of countless aspiring 21-year-old rappers in the U.S., he in particular seems to have a single fluorescent pin light shining upon him. As the second son of Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks, Hanks’ childhood years were spent under the perpetual media spotlight thanks to his famous father.
Hanks says he’s used to the attention. But he’s never tried to hide his last name – Hanks says he’s proud to come from his family. Nevertheless, he doesn’t want people to focus on that fact.
“I’m not my dad. I am my own person.”
– Chet Hanks
“Even though I know people will be talking about it, I don’t want them to be absolutely focusing on that,” Hanks says. “I’m not my dad. I am my own person.”
As a testament to the varying types of attention he’s attracting, Hanks’ video on YouTube had exactly 55 “likes” and 45 “dislikes” at press time. Rumors that Hanks copied “White & Purple (NU Anthem 2010)” from Morgan Jackson (aka Mo Greene), Communication ‘08, are rapidly spreading online.
“I was completely unaware until I saw him on the Internet,” Hanks says. “There is no connection whatsoever. No disrespect to Mo Greene.”
In the coming months, Hanks plans to continue recording at the Chicago studio on a regular basis. But he also remains an active member of the NU community: As a freshman, he became a brother at Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity – which is where he met Goldberg, a junior in the School of Continuing Studies. Hanks will also appear as Junior in the NU production of “The Liberation of Carmela Lopez” next month.
With his family in full support of his career, Hanks says he’s set on pursuing music and film. His new original track, “Westside LA”, will be released on www.hotnewhiphop.com.
This was originally published in The Current, a weekly supplement to The Daily Northwestern.