Big Ole Geeks is a catchy new song from Smart Girls Go Stupid, a science-inspired rap album by Raven the Science Maven that is scheduled to be released on September 14, 2019. Raven Baxter, who is currently pursuing her PhD at the University at Buffalo (SUNY), is using her music to comment on intelligence, sexiness, inclusion, sand—of course—science.
Raven is a molecular biologist and a college professor who is a former a corporate cancer research and drug discovery scientist. Raven is rapidly gaining attention from thousands of viewers online with the release of her music video for her song, “Big Ole Geeks,” which combines outstanding lyrical flow, and sexy visuals, with catchy science-oriented lyrics that you may need a Ph.D. to understand. Since its release, “Big Ole Geeks” has garnered over 30,000 views worldwide on social media platforms, and support for Raven the Science Maven is growing exponentially.
The music video features female scientists of color in a new light, bold, fun, and bright, with lyrics that are both educational and encouraging, while providing a narrative of a woman of color’s experience in the science workforce. You can watch the “Big Ole Geeks” music video at this link: https://bit.ly/3310TOI.
Raven the Science Maven’s highly anticipated EP, titled “Smart Girls Go Stupid,” will include the hit single and is set for release on September 14th, 2019 in all major online music outlets. As Raven is bilingual, the EP will feature songs for various ages in both English and Spanish.
Raven the Science Maven’s groundbreaking initiative is the first time in history that science is being celebrated in this manner, and is an exciting step forward in the conversation of the inclusion of minorities in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and the duality of women in science.
Raven recently discussed her career and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you first get interested in science?
Raven: When I was a child, say at around 6 and 7 years old, I wanted to be a weather reporter (meteorologist). I was incredibly interested in weather forecasting and weather patterns, and believe it or not, my favorite channel was The Weather Channel, along with Cartoon Network. I would sit and wait for “Local on the 8s” to come on so that I could watch the satellite feeds of weather systems moving across the country. I loved when I could accurately predict the weather based on what I learned from books that I read.
After absorbing all of the information I possibly could in meteorology, I turned my sights beyond the near skies and to the far skies of outer space, becoming an enthusiast of everything scientific about the Universe. My career goal shifted to becoming an astronaut. I attended Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, on a scholarship while I was in middle school. This experience made a huge impression on me. Within that time, I also learned that I was afraid of heights, and that being an astronaut obviously wasn’t a great fit for me. By the time I was in high school, I settled my curiosities back to Earth, and became heavily interested in environmental science and policy. I remember for my senior project I chose to create a zero-waste plan and policy for my school and I loved that concept.
I had just turned 17 years old when I attended State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, with the intention of becoming a vertical farmer. I later decided that although I felt strongly about environmental issues, I did not feel as though I wanted to make it my career choice, but rather a lifestyle choice. I ultimately ended up transferring to Buffalo State College, where I majored in Biology for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I am now working towards a Ph.D. in Science Education from the University at Buffalo.
MM: Why did you gravitate towards molecular biology?
Raven: A genetics course that I took in college was a huge influence on my interests in molecular biology. I am bilingual, and love learning languages. When I was young, I attended a language immersion school, where I only spoke Spanish during the day, and my teacher was a native Spanish speaker from Costa Rica. In addition to English, I am highly proficient (I would say fluent) in Spanish and am actively learning other languages such as American Sign Language and Mandarin Chinese. I was so fascinated by the language of the genetic code, and quickly realized that I was falling in love with a new tongue. The way that molecules interact with each other at the sub-cellular level is like a beautiful story that is dictated by the language of the genetic code. Every person has a unique dance that is being conducted at the molecular level by a unique set of instructions within their DNA. I decided that whatever I would pursue after that genetics course would be directly related to molecular biology, and I have definitely stayed true to that in my own way. By the way, Dr. Gregory Wadsworth, the professor that taught the genetics course that inspired me eventually became my advisor throughout my master’s degree program, and now we are coworkers!
MM: How did you break into the science field and why did cancer research most appeal to you?
Raven: I wouldn’t say that I ever was not in the science field. Just as I have always been interested in science since childhood, my professional choices have usually matched my interests. I was raised by a single parent and did not have the luxury of being unemployed, so I made sure not to waste my time and always pursued opportunities that would make me more well-rounded and cultured in my field as a scientist. I interviewed for several jobs while completing my Masters degree, all of which were as bench-top research scientist positions at corporate cancer research or biotechnology companies. I graduated on a Saturday and started my first day of work that Monday. I think that what most people do not realize is that “cancer research” is a very broad term and that there are many components of that type of work. My particular area of expertise within cancer and disease research is in protein folding and biochemistry. My first job out of graduate school as a 22-year-old, was at a contract research organization that conducts private work for what the general public likes to call “big pharma”. By 23, I started teaching as a professor at a college. I was both a college professor and cancer research scientist at the age of 23 years old. Looking back, it looks like I was working very hard, but I truly love science and wanted to do as much as I could.
MM: How did you discover your musical ability and do you write lyrics or melodies first?
Raven: I grew up playing piano and received lessons when I was very young up into high school. When I was in high school, say around 2006, I used to make mixtapes of me rapping on beats I found on Soundclick, which was a website for music artists, an early version of today’s Soundcloud. I also used to make my own beats and mix my own records using a program called Audacity. I would rap about everyday life, playing video games, and about having a good time with my friends. One of the songs that I made actually got me in trouble: I made a song dissing a bully that was teasing me, I put the song on a CD and gave it out to my friends (only because that was the easiest way to share files back then). Eventually most of everyone in my grade heard it (this wasn’t my intention), but I didn’t realize that the song was so good and they actually liked how I was rapping. My classmates liked it, but I got I almost got suspended for it. I am now friends with the bully. As far as my writing process goes, I usually make the lyrics first, then the rhythm and flow, then the melody. The melody is the toughest part of the music process for me. Since I am musically inclined, it does come naturally, but it still is hard.
MM: When did you decide to combine your music with your science career?
Raven: I am a comedic person, always cracking jokes and creating analogies in my head for certain things or situations. Once I realized that my thoughts were suited for a song, I would just write them down and tell a story through comedy. This is a talent that I utilize as I teach my courses, as many concepts in biology are best explained through analogies. I am also a very outspoken person and I always advocate for myself, and this is a huge component of my music and what I teach students every day. So, it really was a natural process for all of these things to come together.
MM: You are a professor. How does interacting with your students influence your creativity?
Raven: I always present myself as a transparent individual when working with my students. Right now, my students and I are very close in age, about 7 years apart, (relative to the other professors and staff members at the college) so I thoroughly understand what they want creatively within the classroom and their various learning spaces. I think it is important that I show them my authentic self, and give my students the same amount of creative license in the classroom that I give myself in my own personal life. This is where we connect and develop a great teacher-student relationship. You would be so surprised what brilliant things students can come up with when given the chance to be free in the classroom.
MM: Why did you call your first song “Big Ole Geeks”?
Raven: The title, “Big Ole Geeks” is actually a play on rapper Megan Thee Stallion’s song title, “Big Ole Freak”. I am a huge fan of Megan Thee Stallion. I have a large following on YouTube, and one of my subscribers mentioned that since I liked Megan Thee Stallion so much, that I should pay homage. Megan is a senior in college majoring in Healthcare Administration, and uses her platform as a rapper to promote environmentally friendly practices, healthy eating habits, and friendship. She does this while being her unapologetic self and presents as both, well-spoken, sexy, and intelligent. She’s new in the game, but right now she is my favorite rapper. I would LOVE to collaborate with Megan Thee Stallion.
MM: What was the process of filming the video like?
Raven: I teamed up with Jasmine Golphin, creator of Welcome to Midnight, a film and photography company based in Cleveland, Ohio. Jasmine was an old acquaintance, and we rekindled our friendship (ironically) at a Megan Thee Stallion concert in Cleveland. Prior to the concert, I told her my vision for “Big Ole Geeks” and she immediately loved the idea and we agreed to set aside time to shoot the video. Now we are good friends! Prior to the concert, Jasmine had only filmed one music video before I had asked her to collaborate with me on “Big Ole Geeks”. She filmed the video, I edited it, and it came out even better than I imagined. Jasmine does not appear in the video, but I’d also like to highlight the three great women alongside me in it! One of the girls in the music video is my best friend, she’s actually a successful attorney, the other is a colleague from my modeling career, Grace Modi, one is my sister from a local debutante program, Kelley Howard. I’ve known these ladies since high school and they are all confident and gorgeous women. I was honored to have them in the video with me and glad that they were up for the challenge of doing something new and different!
MM: What can fans expect from your forthcoming album and when did you learn to speak Spanish (the second language included in some of the music)?
Raven: Smart Girls Go Stupid is really my first shot at creating something positive, empowering, and educational for everybody as Raven the Science Maven. Since I have been getting such positive feedback for the single, I’m keeping that energy for the entire album. Each song will have a different audience, age appropriate music for different age groups. At least that’s how I imagine it– “Big Ole Geeks” was made for women in the STEM workforce, but I hear mothers feel comfortable playing the song and video for their children, which I was surprised to know. There will be songs for young children, and songs in Spanish language.
MM: You have gotten both negative and positive feedback about your style, so how do you cope with those who question its legitimacy?
Raven: I know that it may make some people very uncomfortable to see science, which has been traditionally a White male space, occupied proudly by a Black woman who is enthusiastically engaging in hip-hop culture while simultaneously being well-versed in science academia. I also understand that there are some Black people that are tired of seeing Black women portrayed as the traditional video vixen, wearing clubwear and twerking. I understand all sides of the possible arguments for and against Big Ole Geeks. Ultimately, I don’t care if people think that I am illegitimate, because I know that I have created something that has already in the span of two weeks, inspired thousands of people across the world. I can sleep at night knowing that I encouraged someone to keep pushing, celebrate diversity and culture, and learn science. I earned my degrees, and everything on my resume through nothing but hard work. No one’s negative thoughts and projections can ever take away from the amazing things that I have done and opportunities that I have had in the field of science.
MM: What’s your favorite song on the album and why?
Raven: My favorite song on the album is called “Principal Investigator”, and I love it because it has a very catchy hook and it really tells my story of my experiences as a woman of color in STEM, even more than “Big Ole Geeks” does. The song has a lot of technical terms, and I really enjoyed writing it and producing the music for it. I know you’re going to love the music video! I’m excited for everyone to hear it on the album Smart Girls Go Stupid, coming out on 9/14.
MM: What are your ultimate career goals and where do you see your music going from here? Will it play any role in your dissertation topic?
Raven: My career goals are shifting quite a bit, but I definitely want to continue making music for as long as I enjoy doing so. I see myself putting out at least one or two more science-themed albums. I do see myself having a career as a public figure, a science communicator, someone who educates the public about science topics. I also love teaching and wouldn’t mind teaching science at a university long term. I see myself going in several directions!
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about?
Raven: I’d like to highlight Jasmine Golphin at Welcome to Midnight who did amazing work filming our video and I really appreciate her creative genius. I’d encourage everyone the check her out on social media. Her website is: http://welcome2midnight.com
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Please visit Raven’s official website to learn more and follow her on social media via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.