From a young age, Chukwuemeka (“Emeka”) Nnamdi Onyejekwe, also known as Mekka Don, was destined for success in whatever field he chose. The former Ohio State walk-on went from being a football player, to a lawyer, and now a successful rapper.
In an exclusive interview with The Ozone, the Columbus native shared his story of pursuing music and sports, his licensing deals with major sport networks, and his thoughts on the Buckeyes this season.
He recently held a private listening party in Columbus for his new music, for a crowd that included many former and current Buckeye football players.
Mekka Don was the youngest of four in his family, and he came from a very educated family that instilled their beliefs in him. Growing up, he always made his education a priority in his life. His parents have a total of 10 degrees between the two of them. His brother is a lawyer, one of his sisters is a lawyer, and the other sister is a doctor.
“You can only kind of imagine where I was headed academically,” he said. “It was not just something that was important to my family it became something that was important to me as well.”
But he was also a five-sport athlete when he was younger.
“My passion was always somewhere else,” Mekka Don said. “It was always in sports and music mostly. So, I knew eventually that I was going to go and get my degrees but eventually I was going to jump out and pursue my passion.”
He began his career in sports as a star soccer player. As a junior at St. Francis DeSales High School, his team won the state championship.
Later that year he was diagnosed with the rare knee disorder Osgood Schlatter, that made it hard for him to kick the ball.
The football coach begged him to try out for the football team, so he then transitioned to the gridiron for his senior year of high school. He was a starter at the wide receiver position on a team that went on to win the state championship.
Despite the fact that he was still just learning the sport, Mekka Don found himself being recruited to play football in college. Ultimately, he chose a preferred walk-on spot with his beloved Buckeyes.
“I ended up walking on at Ohio State which was so fluky,” Mekka Don said. “But I think my path was a little bit different than the traditional path of those who come to Ohio State. I wasn’t the highest star coming to Ohio State whose only goal was necessarily to go in the NFL. I didn’t even care about the NFL honestly, I was just thrilled to be on the team, especially considering my background.”
Throughout his time as a walk-on wide receiver and defensive back from 1999-2001, he was still focused on his career in music, but also wanted to go to Law School. After practicing as a lawyer for six years, he transitioned to following his dreams of becoming a rapper. He did it by sticking to what he knew: football.
“One thing that I realized, through being an attorney, music licensing was a big way, a big outlet to get your music out there,” he said. “So anytime you hear a commercial, anytime you see a football game, anything else, you hear music. So, I was like wow that’s an interesting angle.”
Mekka Don’s career took off when ESPN licensed a number of his songs to be played throughout the 2010 college football season. The MEAC Conference also licensed his song “You Know I Ball” to be used for their basketball promo commercial on ESPNU. Shortly after that, in 2012, he was named mtvU FRESHMAN by MTV and won the mtvU Best Freshman Video.
It didn’t take long for word of Mekka Don’s success to reach the now former president of Ohio State, Gordon Gee.
“President Gee, who was the former president of Ohio State heard about it and was like wait, you’re doing all of this stuff with MTV and ESPN, we need you to do this stuff for the Buckeyes. So that brought me in,” Mekka Don said.
“That was a dream come true obviously because writing music for Ohio State. I already write music and it’s Ohio State, so it took me like two seconds to write stuff because I already had it in my heart.”
In 2013, Mekka Don released his song “Let’s Go, O-H-I-O” that led to a multi-song licensing deal with the Big Ten Network for the men’s basketball tournament. Later that fall, he released the Ohio State officially licensed song “Juice” which was to be played at all Ohio State home games. That song inspired Head Coach Urban Meyer’s mantra, “Bring The Juice.”
“Coach Pantoni, who’s the recruiting coordinator at Ohio State was basically like ‘You should write a song called Juice.’ So I did that, and I didn’t know that it was going to be what it became, and it just went nuts in Buckeye Nation,” Mekka Don said. “As a result of that then we got an apparel deal with J. America to put out Juice shirts and merchandise in the stadium and everywhere else.”
“It was just a wild ride just to have Cris Carter, Urban Meyer, and Shelley [Meyer], everybody involved.”
In 2014 Mekka Don reached a licensing agreement with the Cleveland Browns to have his song played at the home games. A year later, he released a song for a Heisman Hype video for Ezekiel Elliott. In October of 2017, his song “Real One” became ESPN First take’s song of the month. Earlier this year, Mekka Don released the song “Nip and Tuck” which has become a huge social media trend due to the Nip and Tuck Challenge.
Shelley Meyer was one of the listeners to perform the Nip and Tuck Challenge on social media.
— Shelley Meyer (@spinnershells) June 14, 2018
“She has always been a big supporter of mine and I’ve always been a big supporter of hers,” Mekka Don said. “But it’s one thing for someone to do something Ohio State related, it’s another thing for somebody to say look it’s not about Ohio State but it’s about what you’ve created elsewhere. That’s what was really cool for me about the Nip and Tuck challenge, it has nothing to do with Ohio State but a lot of people within the Ohio State community have embraced it. When I saw her video, I was just so excited.”
Mekka Don has had a strong relationship with everyone involved in the Ohio State football program. Although he has become a superstar in the rap and hip-hop world, as well as Buckeye Nation because of his sports anthems, he doesn’t want to be boxed into one area of music. Similarly, he doesn’t want the Buckeye football players to be boxed into just a football world.
“Being an Ohio State football player is a privilege in so many ways and there are so many people that really respect that and care about that,” he said. “So, I want them to make sure that they are taking advantage of that and understanding that while they’re playing. I don’t want them to wait until after to start thinking like okay how can I network? You can do that now.”
Mekka Don said that he often talked to his former teammates about life after football, even when they seemed destined for an exceptional NFL career. He preached focusing on what was next. Mekka Don is a big fan of Meyer’s Real Life Wednesdays.
“It starts exposing them to businesses, business owners, local people and just other people who have made it in other areas,” he said. “It starts to expand their mind and their knowledge and their network. So, I think it has been an amazing thing.”
Still closely involved with the football program, Mekka Don said that he will be coming back to Columbus this fall to catch some games, perform at tailgates, and host cool events.
“I’ll definitely be here, I mean, I can’t miss it, there’s nothing like football season in Columbus.”
But Mekka Don has high expectations for the team this season.
“We really have every position locked out, so (Dwayne) Haskins is going to be the wild card,” he said. “I think Tate Martell will get a little bit of a run, but I think Haskins is going to be amazing. We’re going to open up the offense a little bit more, we’re going to see a totally different offense than we’ve seen the last few years.”
“I’m excited, I think this could be the year that we bring it home.”
[Header photo courtesy MekkaDonMusic.com]