When Patavious Isom graduated from Fairley High School in 2011, his band teacher told the aspiring musician that when he became a successful artist, all he wanted from him was to come back to school and share his experiences.
Fast forward 11 years later. Isom returned to Fairley this fall to share his experiences and success as Duke Deuce, one of the new young rap artists in the genre, who has achieved Top 5 singles in the Hip Hop charts. When Deuce returned to his alma mater in Memphis, Tennessee, he surprised everyone by giving a free concert on campus and donating to the music department to help develop musicians in the school where he took his first steps in music.
“We are giving back to the community at Fairley High School, where I graduated,” said Deuce. “It brings back so many memories, I just keep thinking about when we used to be in the hallways, it’s crazy!”
Deuce got his start as a marching drum tenor in the school band. This was an experience that would help him become a better musician and that would influence his view of life.
“After I graduated, I tried to get warehouse jobs and stuff like that so I could get some money coming in. I was constantly getting fired, couldn’t keep a job for nothing because it wasn’t my calling,” remember Deuce. “I eventually started to get in the studio, as I was always a big music fanatic. Here I marched in the band with Mr. Cowans, so it actually helped my music as well as to become what I am today.”
Michael Cowans, Fairley’s band teacher, has been in love with music since 1989, when he was a student in high school. He wanted to play football, but his coach told him he was too small to play the sport. He watched the game from the stands and fell in love with the marching band.
“I know him as Patavious Isom. He was an excellent kid. He was kind of quiet around me, was very respectful, very dependable. Overall, he was an outstanding student”, said Cowans, who has been at the school since 2004.
Cowans wanted the best from his students, and he pushed them in order for them to be ready for the challenges that life would present to them. This philosophy rang true to Deuce, who says that part of his success is to never give up.
“Don’t accept failure, at all. You must keep going, whatever it is that you want to do, keep going, don’t stop, no matter how hard it is” said Deuce. “To be honest, I’ve had hard times, but I kept going and accomplished new things.”
One of Deuce’s main concerns is to keep marching bands alive, as they are a positive influence on students and keeps them on the right track. He believes that music is in the heart of Fairley and hopes that his donation rockets the school as one of the top marching bands in the state.
“I always thought Fairley was a music school. And I feel we must make marching bands greater than they are, honestly. People then started focusing on the wrong things and saying it isn’t cool to do this any more,” adds Deuce. “This is what makes me different, this is what makes me the artist I am. I don’t want to think outside the box, I just want to switch it up.”
Cowans saw a lot of potential in Deuce when he was his student. As a matter of fact, he believes the rapper could have gotten a scholarship to college as part of a marching band but believes at that time Isom wasn’t ready for it.
“I have no doubt when it comes to any of my students if they stay with me the full four years,” explains Cowans. “I can remember I was upset with him because he had an opportunity to go to Appalachian State. He wouldn’t do it because he had doubts in himself, and he never went into the room (to audition). He had the talent to do it.”
The band teacher remembers that at graduation, Isom went to him and told him one day he was going to be a successful rapper. Cowans never had a doubt of his student’s talent, but he knew it would be difficult to become successful in that genre.
“I have to admit, I was kind of skeptical because he didn’t trust his talent. I know how difficult it is to make it in music. I stayed out of the way, but kept my ears on to the street per se and I started to hear more and more people talking about the Deuce,” Cowans remembers. “I saw him again and he said ‘Mr. Cowans, I’m really starting to blow up’. A year or so later, I started to hear other artists talking about this new upcoming artist Duke Deuce, and … before you know it, I started seeing him with established multi-platinum artists.”
Deuce said he would continue to keep his eye on the Fairley neighborhood and hopes that music will help students make the right decisions.
“As far as the neighborhood, of course there is poverty, but I feel there’s a lot of potential, there’s a lot of talent in the school, it is something they should really try,” adds Deuce. “I want to see change. If you want to see change, you must stay all in and be that change.”