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Rapper Dee-1’s Sallie Mae song might just be the anthem for a generation

In the song 'Sallie Mae Back,’ New Orleans rapper Dee-1 talks about issues surrounding paying off his student loans and celebrates his last payment. (Video: Dee-1)

You’ve probably read at least one or two stories of people who’ve paid off their student loans in a matter of months. You know, the kind of Reddit posts that fill you with a mix of envy, grief and anxiety about your own loans, or maybe that’s just me. Those tales of triumph are never that relatable. They’re usually devoid of the stress that defines student debt for so many.

But a new song from New Orleans rapper Dee-1 captures the angst of repaying college loans in a way that makes it impossible not to delight in his pay-off. The aptly titled “Sallie Mae Back” details how the rapper paid off his student loans with a portion of the money he received from a record deal, after months of just making the minimum payments.

“It’s really a part of my life journey,” said Dee-1, who graduated from Louisiana State University in 2009. “So many people can relate to it. I’ve had conversations with friends who went to college, and Sallie Mae would always come up. I wanted to make it a fun, celebratory anthem to motivate people.”

In the song, the rapper, whose real name is David Augustine Jr., shares:

Needed tuition, needed room & board
Had to pay for books, so I took out loans to feed the boy
Graduated wasn’t making quite enough to pay them back
Went into default, messed my credit up, check my Equifax
I ain’t proud of that…ain’t drownin’ that…
I got two jobs really got on my grind…In the game right now, my time to shine.
Starting paying those loans back one at a time.
Got them down, down, down ’til I paid them all off.

Dee-1 wouldn’t divulge how much he owed, but he said it was substantial. The year he graduated in-state tuition, books, room and board at LSU was approximately $16,470.

“I never had that buffer of having anyone help me pay my loans back, or having my expenses be so minimal because I’m living at home with my parents,” he said. “I never had any of that stuff.”

After graduation, Dee-1 landed a job as a middle school math teacher in Baton Rouge, but left after two years to pursue his passion for music.

“The students I was teaching were more influenced by hip hop than anything else,” he said, noting that he’s still in touch with some of his students. “I wanted to restore some balance to hip hop. I come from the perspective of a young man who grew up in the hood and could relate to the experiences rappers often glorify, but who could also speak to the fact that I’m a man of God, I’m a college graduate. I’m proud of that.”

Leaving his job put a definite strain on Dee-1’s cash flow. He scraped by on his savings, while making a name for himself as an artist. When RCA offered him a record deal in 2014, the rapper saw no need to blow the advance on shiny new things.

“Cars don’t matter to me. I still drive a 1998 Honda Accord. I don’t care about keeping up with the Joneses,” said Dee-1, who is wrapping up production on his debut album due out later this year. “I was like ‘yo, I’m going to finish paying Sallie Mae back with this money.'”

By the way, Sallie Mae got a kick out of the song. The company commented on Dee-1’s Facebook page: “We’re all in the office singing along with you! Love, love, love the hook. Congratulations on your success!”

From the first frame to the last, the video for Sallie Mae Back tells a story that is all too familiar to the millions of Americans saddled with student loans. Here are some highlights that especially ring true (click here to watch the entire video):

The Fearsome Financial Aid Office: The first scene of a financial aid officer rattling off a list of tax documents needed to fill out the FAFSA before a line of sad-eyed students nails the frustration of the process. It also brings to mind the first week of school when payments haven’t kicked in and the threat of dropped classes looms large. If you’re lucky, you get a sympathetic financial aid officer willing to work some magic. Or you might end up with one who treats you like a deadbeat. Fun times.

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The Dreaded Calls From the Loan Servicer: Dee-1 dodging Sallie Mae’s calls when money was tight resonates with a lot of people who fall behind on payments. Yes, when a loan servicer calls, you should pick up. After all, they might put you in a more affordable plan or put your payments on hold until you get on your feet. But when you’re broke and overwhelmed with bills, it’s hard not to ignore those calls.

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The Reality That You’re Not Alone: The most sobering scenes, in the otherwise hilarious video, cuts to a police office, a barber, a nurse, a doctor, flashing the tens of thousands of dollars each owes in student loans. The amounts range from $35,100 all the way up to $215,700. There are, after all, 43 million people who owe nearly $1.3 trillion in student loans, the fastest-growing form of household debt in the country. These aren’t all millennials, as the video was quick to point out with the debt roll call, but people of all ages burdened by the same thing: student loans.

“Everyone’s journey to repaying their loans is different,” Dee-1 said. “Some people just ride it out and make the minimum payments the whole time. Some people can’t make the payments at all and struggle. Some can knock it out in chunks. But we all have the same destination to reach, which is when we can say: I finished paying Sallie Mae back.”

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