By CHANDLER WILSON
While on the elliptical at the gym last spring, Anthony Rayburn found himself reflecting on his three years of college and looking ahead to all that senior year would hold.
With memories involving President’s Community Scholars, life in the dorms and Wednesday afternoons in the Unity Garden on the South Oval, Rayburn longed for the joy and friendships his freshman year gave him.
Despite living in his fraternity, participating in Sooner Scandals and being constantly surrounded by dozens of friends, sophomore and junior year were not easy for Rayburn.
But through the lows of college, he experienced growth.
“I took a complete u-turn in my life around the time I decided to make this album,” Rayburn said. “Now my friends and I are doing things we should have been doing all of college.”
From those memories of freshman year to the solitude of junior year and every place and emotion in between, the accounting senior was hopeful his last year of college would be different.
With this realization, Rayburn felt there was no better or more funny way to hold onto his highs and lows from college than to create a rap album with the people he had experienced the last three years.
“How else do you capture college and senior year without doing a time capsule or something like that?” Rayburn said. “When I’m 50 years down the road, I’ll look back and be able to say, ‘I remember PCS and Beta Theta Pi and the Crater. I remember Sriracha. I remember chillin’ at Beta. I remember Sammy D and Lane. I remember all my friends and what my years in college were like.”
Still on the elliptical, Rayburn texted his best friend, creative media production senior Rhett Derryberry.
“I need you to executive produce my album,” it read.
“Let’s do it,” Derryberry replied.
That spring afternoon in the gym, #CUZWERESENIORS was born.
Following the end of the 2018 spring semester, Rayburn began reaching out to those he wanted featured. None of them are rappers, but he eventually pieced together 20 friends who had played an important role in his time at OU.
While this album was under his name, it was for all of them.
“We just wanted everyone to be on (the album),” said senior economics major Joey Hayhurst. Hayhurst is featured on the track three times under the name Sriracha, a name he gave himself after he poured Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce on his lunch while talking about the album with friends. “Even if our friends were like, ‘No, I can’t rap,’ we wanted them to be on it. Anyone is a rapper. Anyone can do anything.”
After three months of recording with Apple headphones in Rayburn’s house and using GarageBand to produce, the 25-track album #CUZWERESENIORS dropped on Soundcloud on the morning of Aug. 30, 2018.
Immediately, Instagram blew up. Friends and friends of friends, among others, posted the album to their stories, and before long, Rayburn was getting hundreds of texts and direct messages.
As Rayburn walked into class that morning, welcomed by friends and classmates, sporting a #CUZWERESENIORS t-shirt, he felt confident senior year would be a good year.
Freshman year is a time of uncertainty. For many, it is their first time away from home and first taste of independence. It can be lonely and scary yet exciting.
Often, freshman year is when people start making life-long friendships. For Rayburn, it was through President’s Community Scholars, or PCS, that these friendships began to form.
PCS is a service-oriented group and scholarship for freshmen on campus that involves speakers, mentorship and community service, providing 100 students each year the opportunity to be in community with one another, according to its site.
Can’t believe it’s all over now (wow)/ Met a team now we live/ and the goal is to serve and always be there, never swerve (never swerve, swerve, swerve)/ Freshman year, Thursday night, Caf/ Eatin’ good, can’t miss, but I never would/ PCS family on the beat (yup). “PCS (feat. Swaggy J, T-Pain, HQ, and A-Swizzle)”
Three years later, Rayburn felt his friends from PCS needed to be a part of #CUZWERESENIORS, including sports management senior Jack Stagg, who is featured on the track under the name Swaggy J.
“First, Anthony was just telling us about this album he was making about his college experience, and he wanted to get some people from PCS on a track,” Stagg said. “PCS is when we all became good friends, so I was stoked. It sounded fun and even kind of heartfelt. I’ll look back on college and for sure laugh at this because it’s definitely a joke, but we also talk about real and cool stuff, like PCS.”
While PCS is a somewhat small part of a big university, seemingly every OU student has walked the South Oval.
Within the South Oval is the Unity Garden, also called the Passion Pit, but to Rayburn and his friends, it is called the Crater. In the Crater in 2015-2016, Rayburn and his friends held Crater Robotic Wednesdays.
Wednesday afternoon, yeah, we get it on/ Big crater, big head, Jimmy Newtron…The whole world is my big crater, and y’all have no choice but to live in it. “Crater Robotic Wednesday”
Every Wednesday, Rayburn and three friends from class claimed the Crater as theirs, showing up in a different theme every week and inviting those on the South Oval to participate in games and hang out, even holding a big/little ceremony and Crater Olympics.
“It was definitely a club, but it was inclusive of anyone,” Rayburn said. “We did anything and just didn’t care back then. Those Wednesdays are some of my best memories of all of college.”
While Rayburn and friends no longer have Crater Robotic Wednesday, their names can still be found etched into one of the rocks inside the Crater. The freshmen hoped to leave their mark on campus and have fun along the way, as many strive to do.
Coming off the high of freshman year, Rayburn hoped his sophomore year would be the same for he and his friends.
For many college students, sophomore and junior year are the most difficult years of college. Classes get harder, adulthood is right around the corner and people begin understanding that the freedom college brings comes with consequences.
“I think a lot of people struggle sophomore and junior year,” Rayburn said. “Like a lot of people, I became really closed off and about myself, which isn’t really like me at all. Sophomore year started off the lows of college for sure.”
Everyone experiences difficulty at some point in life. For Rayburn, this came in the form of losing his grandparents, his sister becoming sick and being turned down by the only girl he’s ever truly cared for.
These circumstances, mixed with finals week and the lack of sleep, seemingly endless hours of studying and taking multiple tests that comes with it, Rayburn found himself reflecting on simpler times. Just two years earlier, he was class president of Norman North’s graduating class of 2015. Amid final exams and ongoing struggles, that seemed a lifetime ago.
Good evening/ My name is Anthony Rayburn, and I am honored to be speaking on behalf of the class of 2015 as this year’s class president/ Graduates, friends, family, faculty and administration, we made it/ Finals. “Finals Mix 2017”
As junior year unfolded, Rayburn found himself through the help of friends, bringing him out of solitude.
“I think Anthony just needs an outlet,” Derryberry said. “He’s always doing something creative, and this big project encompasses our entire college career. It was all for fun. I wouldn’t say that serious is a word to describe much of the stuff we do, but I spent time doing it because he worked hard on it.”
In spring 2018, Sooner Scandals, the engagement of a friend and the realization that there was only one year left of college brought Rayburn back to where he wanted to be.
Sooner Scandals takes part each spring and consists of seven Broadway-style acts created, directed and performed entirely by OU students through their respective organizations, according to its site.
Rayburn, alongside others featured on #CUZWERESENIORS, participate in Sooner Scandals every year. While some shine in the front row or have incredible vocals, others are left in the back, despite their best efforts. Through three years of Sooner Scandals, Rayburn remained on the back row.
Scandals, man/ Yeah, it’s really over (wow)/ No more hair gel/ No more makeover (thank God)/ Back to my normal life/ I gotta start over (momma)/ Had a lot of fun/ and got inspired (splash)/ but I did my time/ and now I’m retired (gone). “Scandalous”
After more than a year of experiencing the lows from his sophomore year, Rayburn’s Scandals cast of Beta Theta Pi and Delta Delta Delta gave him more than fond memories. Being a part of Scandals reminded Rayburn how much his friends mattered to him, helping to build the foundation for #CUZWERESENIORS.
“’Scandalous’ got the whole album going,” Rayburn said. “I was always rapping at Scandals practice and joking about an album dropping ever before #CUZWERESENIORS was a thing. So many memories and friendships came with three years of Scandals, which I think a lot of people would say the same thing.”
Not long after the end of Scandals 2018, Rayburn’s friend Aaron Sapp proposed to his girlfriend, making Sapp the first of Rayburn’s friends to get engaged.
Though Rayburn claims Sapp is a terrible rapper, it was important for him to be on the album because it was something they were all doing together. Under the name A$APP, Sapp, along with Hayhurst and Rayburn, created the song “Sappy Ending” to commemorate Sapp’s engagement and celebrate a new chapter of life.
A$APP, not Rocky/ Got a girl, feelin’ cocky/ Ice on my wrist, hockey/ Cheddar in my pocket, Milwaukie.
In just a few short years, Rayburn and his friends had experienced a lot of life and growth together. While some were falling in love or getting engaged, like Sapp, others, like Rayburn, were just realizing who they were becoming and wanted to be.
After texting Derryberry, Rayburn set a goal of having the album completed and ready to drop in August.
While putting the album together, he knew he needed a track that directly talked about what college taught him, but he was struggling to find the right words to tell his story.
“It’s a story,” Hayhurst said. “The album shows growth and how much Anthony and all of us learned through college… It’s the best album that has ever been created at the University of Oklahoma.”
One summer day while on the stationary bike at the gym, Rayburn was looking through Facebook Memories at his previous posts from that date over the years. Immediately, he began writing his hardest and deepest song.
As the 20th track on the 25-track album, “Clout Chasers” symbolizes the growth people experience from high school throughout college.
I don’t even recognize myself from six years ago/ I don’t even know where all of my happiness went/ 2015 Norman North class president/ What I didn’t see coming was my own descent/ Senior year was a blast, so please don’t get me wrong/ 3-time swim state champion, I was still feelin’ strong/ 3-time piano state champion, I can still play them songs/ so of course I didn’t feel like anything could go wrong.
The transition from high school to college is difficult for many, but the transition throughout college oftens prove even harder. Even still, college is frequently referred to as the best years of life and a time many want to remember forever, no matter how difficult it may have been.
According to Hayhurst, there was no better way to remember the best years of their lives than to do something that nobody at OU had ever done before.
“We’re kind of in the rap age with our generation, so we thought we had an opportunity to ball out and make killer rap beats,” Hayhurst said. “Our lives aren’t going to get any better than this. College is the peak, and the only people who would top this would be us again.”
For Rayburn, he likes to try new things. At the end of his life, he hopes to have written a book and made a movie, among other things, so there won’t be anything left he didn’t at least attempt, he said.
Currently, he feels like being Drake. Soon, he may feel like being Ryan Gosling, then he could be Lebron James.
Just as he remembers his graduation speech from nearly four years ago or where he wrote his name on a rock in the Crater three years ago, Rayburn hopes to make an impact and leave a piece of himself in every chapter of his life.
When asked why, he quickly responded, “Why not? You only live once, and I want to do it all.”