When he’s not working or doing homework, you’ll find sophomore DeRay Manning on the second floor of Newman library in the Media Design Studio. Surrounded by bookshelves and white-boards scribbled with engineering equations, the studio offers community members a space to perform and practice the audio arts.

Manning, a management major in Pamplin College of Business, has found his passion in music. As he continues to perfect his craft and share his joy with those around him, he has created a community at Virginia Tech where he can grow, thrive, and mature into the person and artist he hopes to become.

“I was always interested in music,” said Manning, “My mom and dad were always listening to different types of music, and I started catching on to rapping when I was a kid.”

When he was in the sixth grade, Manning attended a recording session and noticed the singer carrying a notebook in which he scribbled lyrics. “I went out and bought a notebook the next day,” said Manning. “I was freestyling at first, but then I started writing it all down.” That’s when Manning knew he was serious about rapping.

Since then, Manning has been creating and performing his music whenever and wherever he can.

Manning’s friend and collaborator David Kim, a senior majoring in business management with a minor in music technology, said, “With shared goals and passion, it’s easy for us to keep each other on our toes. DeRay showed me that there were other people at Virginia Tech who shared a passion for music [who are] striving to create and perfect the craft.”

Kim and Manning will spend hours at a time in the studio, always with the goal of finishing their session with a newly recorded and perfected song. “We’ll just keep going over and over again until it is perfect, until the delivery is right. And then we’ll listen, and pick it apart, and look for everything we can change again,” said Manning of their process.

Manning and Kim will spend hours at a time perfecting their raps, staying in the studio until they're satisfied with what they've recorded. Photo by Christina Franusich.

DeRay Manning stands in a recording booth in the Media Design Studio in Newman Library
Manning and Kim will spend hours at a time perfecting their raps, staying in the studio until they're satisfied with what they've recorded. Photo by Christina Franusich

Before coming to Virginia Tech, while earning an audio engineering certificate, Manning co-created a song called "Jump Jump" that highlights the high energy of Hokie spirit.

When asked about his influences, Manning named some of the classics — Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Tupac. But outside of the rap community, Manning has also been influenced by the various places he lived growing up. His parents were both in the Air Force, and Manning spent most of his childhood moving around, first in Florida, then to Texas, Italy, and Alaska, until finally settling in Woodbridge, Virginia. “I’ve been around a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds,” says Manning. “Being around different people gives you a lot of different perspectives.”

Manning has continued to surround himself with a variety of different people at Virginia Tech, where he lives in the Residential College at West Ambler Johnston. He says that West AJ has a “good sense of community where people are eager to talk to each other and share stories.” He is part of the Students of Hip Hop Legacy, works as a technical director for Diggin in the Crates: Hip Hop Studies at Virginia Tech, and does audio work for Hokie Vision.

“I like his honesty, and I like the fact that he is respectful of his craft,” said Darrell A. Yates Jr., a prominent New York City-based rapper better known by his stage name, General Steele. Steele has known Manning since he was in middle school and has been mentoring him ever since. “I was thoroughly impressed when I met him,” said Steele. “His work ethic was awesome — more so than many artists who have been around for years.”

Anthony Kwame Harrison is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology with a half-time appointment in the Africana Studies Program at Virginia Tech. He is the Edward S. Diggs Professor in Humanities. Harrison met Manning at a hip-hop event organized by the Black Cultural Center in the spring of 2019.

“I remember being impressed by his genuineness,” said Harrison, who taught the first hip-hop class at Virginia Tech in 2003 and continues to teach a revised version of the class today. “DeRay has an aura about him that’s not [self-absorbed] at all. It’s humble but also confident. I think it’s his joy in his craft and his spirit that really catches my attention. His enthusiasm and joy in being around music and in creating music is infectious.” Manning collaborated with the Black Cultural Center on the BCC Mixtape, which was created to “showcase the experiences of black students here at Tech while also showcasing the many talented artists we have within our community.” 

Manning has recently added a minor in music technology so that he can continue to explore the theories and technologies of audio art. In addition to producing music, Manning will also be collaborating with the Students of Hip-Hop Legacy to produce the first ever Tiny Desk-style concert at Virginia Tech. 

- Written by Madison Sweezy