Passion for music leads to academia

NANAIMO – Love of hip-hop music leads to degree in digital media studies.

Niel Scobie has a passion for 1980s hip-hop music which led to a 20-year career before he returned to school at Vancouver Island University.

Niel Scobie has a passion for 1980s hip-hop music which led to a 20-year career before he returned to school at Vancouver Island University.

By Janina Stajic

Cast your mind back to the 1980s when bands like Run DMC and the Beastie Boys were filling the airwaves with a new kind of music – hip hop.

Niel Scobie, who graduates from Vancouver Island University’s bachelor in digital media studies program on June 3, believes that era and that music changed his life.

“I discovered hip hop in high school and it grabbed me,” he said.  “It was electric, completely different than any mainstream music.” He was soon mixing his own play lists from the comfort of his bedroom.

That interest led Scobie to a successful 20-year career behind the scenes in the music business. He held various roles including recording engineer, producer and DJ, playing clubs and opening for acts like the Black Eyed Peas, The Roots and George Clinton.

He also collaborated on recordings that were nominated for Junos in 2003 and 2005 for Rap Recording of the Year.

But Scobie never dreamed it would lead him to a successful ‘second’ career – in academia.

“When I hit my mid-30s I began to think about doing something different,” he said. “I just didn’t know what.”

He’d been working in Vancouver and decided to return home to Nanaimo. While perusing a local paper, a program at VIU caught his eye – digital media studies.

In September 2009, a nervous Scobie took a seat in his first university course.

“I was there as a mature student and wondered if I’d fit in,” he said. “Well, I had an amazing time. My instructors had a welcoming vibe and introduced me to new perspectives.

“Suddenly I was taking theory and applying it to an area I was passionate about. It was a wonderful eye-opening experience.”

It’s also been a stellar four years. Scobie received the CanWest Global Communications Scholarship and the Gerry Schroh Memorial Award for academic excellence.

He was invited to present a paper at a conference at Bishop’s University in Quebec and was recommended for a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada grant.

Now he’s looking toward the future, turning his passion for hip hop into a completely new, but fitting career.

In September, Scobie flies to Ottawa to start a master’s degree in music and culture at Carleton University.

His final goal is to become a professor of media studies, where he hopes to inspire his own students to study a subject they’re passionate about – even if it’s outside the traditional academic fields.


Niel Scobie is the third of four profiles of VIU students in the News Bulletin’s Saturday edition prior to graduation June 3-4