Teacher by day, rapper by night

Rapper by night, teacher by day
By day, he works as a music teacher at an elementary school. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
By day, he works as a music teacher at an elementary school. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - His story is one of hope. Proof you are not defined by the place from which you come.

Jecorey Arthur, known as 1200 on stage, burst onto the Louisville music scene in 2015. An innovator in the recording studio, he is making an even bigger difference as a leader in his West End community. As Louisville's newest hip hop star, Arthur said he is more focused on making a difference off the stage, than he is making a name for himself on it.

"A lot of people, they're like 'oh man you could do this and make it as a performer,'" Arthur said. "But I think that hip hop and me performing as a rapper is probably 30 percent of what I'm really passionate about."

This, despite the fact 1200 raps with an emotion so raw he often can't stand still – which was evident at his packed show at the Mercury Ballroom in November. That concern came fresh off his win at the Louisville Music Awards for Hip Hop Artist of the Year.

"Whatever genre, stereotype or category you try to shove someone in," Arthur said in his acceptance speech, "Louisville is the only stage where I can exist without limits, without boundaries."

Breaking through boundaries has never been a problem for him, both musically and in his everyday life - where on most days, his adoring fans are classes of elementary school children.

It's a crowd where 1200 is known not by number, but by name. Mr. Arthur, the music teacher at Hite Elementary School in Middletown.

On a day just before Thanksgiving, the 23-year-old sat in front of his first grade music class at Hite and slapped his knee to the beat. Twenty-four young faces intently slapped knees in sync along with him.

"I like turkey," Arthur sang.

"I like turkey," the class sang back.

Then, it was the students turn.

"I like cranberry sauce," a student called out.

"I like cranberry sauce," Arthur and the class sang back.

The back and forth continued until everyone had a chance to offer their favorite Thanksgiving food, all the while Arthur instructing the students about cadence and rhythm.

Capturing the attention of a crowd is something Arthur does well.

"Just instructing, and being able to maneuver a crowd and teach them something," Arthur explained.

His teaching methods are as unique as his music. After all, Arthur has been an individual ever since well he was the age of his students, growing up on the streets of West Louisville.

"I had some older influences that were actually hurt by violence or you know arrested, imprisonment," Arthur said as he walked down the one of the many west end streets he knew as a child. "And I also had friends, who chose a different path than I did."

A memorial in his neighborhood honors four high school friends who were murdered. It is far from the only tragedy in Arthur's life.

The cousin who helped raise Arthur, Audrey Johnson, Jr., was shot in front of the house Arthur was raised in. Johnson was later sentenced to 10 years in prison for drug trafficking.

Then there was the infamous day of violence on May 17, 2012, a date many in Louisville, including Arthur, will never forget.

One of the people killed was his sister: Makeba Lee. Arthur said he and Lee lived separate lives and he never got the chance to really know her. Instead, Arthur was on a different path.

He pursued a degree at the University of Louisville and earned his masters in music education. Arthur is now a classically trained musician.

"That means I studied a bunch of dead German guys like Beethoven," Arthur said with a laugh.

It also means he's just as comfortable on stage with Conductor Teddy Abrams and the Louisville Orchestra as he is with fellow rap star Jalin Roze, who was his co-headliner at that show at the Mercury Ballroom.

Arthur's little brothers, 7-year-old Cam Petty and 16-year-old Artavis Groves, are also aspiring performers. Arthur's advice to them is simple: Don't limit yourself.

"I really just want to show them you don't have to go a certain route in life," Arthur said, sitting alongside them on a stoop outside their home. "You can do whatever you want to do. You don't even have to fall into the norm of, the only want to make it out of a bad situation is to be a rapper or a basketball player, so I want them to see that the world is bigger than what you really think it is."

It's a message he shares as program director at AMPED in West Louisville, a safe haven for under privileged kids to study music.

Artavis is one of the students there.

"It's really hard to not fall into what everybody else is doing because pretty much everybody does the same thing," Artavis said. "And it's hard to not do that."

Those challenges are the reason Arthur said it is critical for him to be present for his brothers, and his community.

"I think it's important to come back and give someone not only just a role model but someone in a positive light to show them that there are different sides of that success," Arthur said.

Success that is no secret around Louisville anymore.

Except in the one place you might least expect. Believe it or not, until recently no one at Hite Elementary knew that Jecorey Arthur was anything more than a music teacher.

Not even his principal, Sheri Matter.

"We have a Hite Facebook page and someone had tagged Twelve Hunna," Matter said with a laugh. "And I'm like 'oh my gosh, he's this huge rap star outside of school!'"

It also came as a surprise to students like 11-year-old Justin Fant, a fifth grader. Since learning the news, Fant has asked Arthur to rap in school.

"He said no," Fant said with a smile. "He said not right now."

Meanwhile his first grade class had a different idea about what Mr. Arthur's other job was.

"A magician?" one student asked.

"He's normally like really quiet," fourth grader Ella Geoghegan said.

Now, the word is out. But Arthur said he remains focused on helping kids. Both inside of school, and outside, knowing the impact music can have on all of their lives.

As for where the name 1200 comes from, Arthur said he was 12 years old when he got his first home recording studio. He said he saved the money to buy it for years so his friends started calling him 1200, and it stuck.

He has a new double length album coming out in 2016.

Copyright 2015 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.