Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) alumnus Brandon Tory until recently led a very secret double life as a senior software artificial intelligence engineer at Google and a rap musician and producer. Now the Renaissance rapper has made the big time in both branches of his professional career after being featured in such decidedly non-pop publications as the Wall Street Journal and Forbes. Tory finally revealed his amazing secret life for one very good reason: “It IS cool to be a nerd, and I want young black kids from every neighborhood to know that.”
Tory has thought quite profoundly about the integration of his two contrasting talents. “Music to me is the equivalent of code with emotion,” as Tory told Margie Goldsmith, a contributor to Forbes. “I consider music to be software for the human brain. I believe that within the actual binary bits in the music there are encoded shimmers of the relationships and the things that happened to create them.”
Tory comes to his amazing accomplishments from very humble beginnings. As Goldsmith wrote in her Forbes piece, “Raised in Brockton, Massachusetts, a neighborhood known for crime and drugs, he lived with his family in a shelter as a teenager. Tory knew he wanted to be some kind of scientist, but also had a passion for music. He wanted to have a huge impact in both creativity and science.”
There in his Brockton neighborhood, against all odds, Tory taught himself how to master a computer.
“There was a popular online network called IRC,” Tory told Goldsmith. “I asked questions and got really good at a young age. I was living in an apartment with no internet, but I wanted to get online and learn about Intel x86 assembly and operating systems. People were upgrading computers in the neighborhood, and I’d find a spare part here and there. With whatever extra money I had, I ordered parts. I installed my own AMD chip into a motherboard I found in the garbage and installed the Linux Mandrake operating system. It became an obsession for me, but it wasn't something that I talked about because I still wanted to be cool.”
At UMass Amherst Tory studied computer engineering in the ECE department, an education which launched him on his early career, leading him to become a senior Apple engineer in Cupertino, California. But, unbeknownst to his Apple colleagues, he was also a rapper and songwriter incognito.
As he said, “I still maintained my secret lifestyle of putting out music and driving back and forth to LA.”
Then, in 2014, as Goldsmith wrote, “Tory won the Microsoft and Lenovo Timbaland national song-writing contest, beating out 6000 contestants. Still, his work colleagues knew nothing of his musical career.”
Last year, though, Tory had a moment of truth while talking with his sister about his double life. Taking her advice, he created an ad to show to Apple. “I made a one-minute mock commercial for Apple that described this new generation of creators and scientists who no longer believed in the boundaries between science and creativity. I can be a kid from a rough neighborhood who loves to rap and is also a level-five, machine-learning engineer. And others can too.”
Goldsmith added that last year Tory went public in a music video, Seriously, and was featured in The Wall Street Journal: "When Your Day Job Isn’t Enough; A Computer Nerd Who Raps.”
Now his message is crystal clear to kids living in inner cities or anywhere else: “I'd like to have a cultural impact on kids like me, let them know you don't have to sacrifice your culture in order to have success. As a kid, I couldn’t come out and say, ‘Hey, I want to be a computer genius,’ because that meant I would no longer be accepted by the culture in which I grew up. Now I think these things can be merged.” (March 2019)