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The Doctor of Hip-Hop is in Da House

 “Yo, I mean it, Ha Ha, I mean it 
If I’m on the mic, then you know I’m gonna bring it 
Yo, I mean it, Ha Ha, I mean it 
Look inside yourself til you see your own genius”
— Blake Brandes’ “Remix Your Reality”
By Peter Day
LUCERNE VALLEY, Calif. — If rap music is about telling one’s story one beat, one rhyme at a time, Blake Brandes’ message is about giving your all, and if you fall get up again, and again, and again.
Brandes, a Hickory, North Carolina native currently living in Berkeley, California, shared his inspiring message to Lucerne Valley Unified School District students during several assemblies on Monday, December 10.
Brandes’ never-give-up attitude is encapsulated in “The Growth Mindset,” a way of thinking that leads to student success. Backed by decades of research by Stanford researcher Dr. Carol Dweck, “The Growth Mindset” is a premise that students who believe they can get smarter also understand that increased effort leads to higher achievement. The malleable brain, Dweck and her team found, is capable of growing and expanding the more it is used.
“Your brain is made up of something called neurons,” Brandes, who earned his PhD in Hip-Hop and Global Youth Cultures from the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, told the students. “Your brain is like a muscle. Your muscle has to grow inside before you see a result outside. That’s the same with your mind.”
Before he knew about “The Growth Mindset,” Brandes happened upon a facsimile of the premise by trial and error. As a teenager, he began attending rap “cypher” events where local high school rappers would challenge each other in freestyle rapping or beatboxing.
“I was this sky, skinny, nerdy, awkward kid,” Brandes said.
Brandes practiced rapping alone at his family home for months. Eventually, while observing another cypher, the best rapper in his school prompted him to rap. Not surprisingly, the flow wasn’t perfect, but the rapper — also a jock at the high school — complimented Brandes for his effort. So Brandes kept practicing and working on his impromptu skills.
Soon, Brandes and his music friends started recording their rap songs. They were sure their fourth creation would be a hit song. But “A Toad Named Sam” didn’t even get off the lily pad. Brandes persevered and eventually he created a rap song record that went No. 1 on iTunes and in Europe.
That success propelled him to get a spot on “America’s Got Talent.” He made it through the first two round and began fantasizing about the $1 million grand prize. Then, during his next performance, judge Howard Stern hit the “golden buzzer,” casting his vote against Brandes. But Brandes didn’t let that deter him. In fact, he incorporated the shock jock’s rejection into spontaneous, uplifting prose.
After his performance, the four judges explained their votes. Stern affirmed his no vote, but Howie Mandel and super model Heidi Klum vote yes. The deciding vote was English actress Mel B. Her no vote ended Brandes’ “America’s Got Talent” journey, but he realized how far his perseverance had taken him.
“None of that would have happened if I’d quit at song 148.”
He encouraged the Lucerne Valley students assembled in the Sgt. Brian L. Walker Memorial Gymnasium to add the word “yet” to self-talk statements that otherwise would be negative. (An example is, “I don’t understand that math problem — yet.”)
“Let’s say you’re feeling stuck,” Brandes said. “Add the word ‘yet’ and you’ll get there. That’s the Power of Yet.”
During the assembly, Brandes, who also has been featured on a TedX Talk, demonstrated his beat-boxing skills and created a rap using words Lucerne Valley students contributed on a white board. He also shared his high school dating failures and how he eventually found love — and his wife of five years — by being his authentic self. Brandes visited Lucerne Valley Elementary school Monday afternoon for an assembly designed for the younger students.
Brandes still pursues his hip-hop music career and recently released an album, “Remix Your Reality,” but today he measures his success in other terms.
“If I could just use what I love to help one person a week I have a life purpose,” he said.
Brandes has spoken to more than 100,000 students worldwide and continues to share his message with his family-friendly raps and funny personal stories. For more on Blake Brandes, visit
Peter Day is a social media advisor for the Lucerne Valley Unified School District.
Dr. Blake Brandes gives a motivational speech to high school students at Lucerne Valley Middle High School.
Brandes talked about the Power of Yet, in which he suggests adding the word "yet" to a statement that otherwise could be construed as negative (such as "I don't understand the Shakespeare story -- yet.")
During the talk, Brandes rapped to words given by Lucerne Valley students.
Photos by Peter Day