Skip to Content
Alumni profile

Rapper flips the script on music and coding

L. Dolio Durant ’99
April 24, 2019
Photo of L. Dolio Durant ’99
Photo of L. Dolio Durant ’99
Photo of L. Dolio Durant ’99courtesy of gangstagrass

When L. Dolio Durant ’99 enrolled at MIT as a mechanical engineering student, he planned to put his longtime interest in music on pause to focus on his studies. That didn’t happen.

“I ended up getting heavily involved with hip-hop at MIT and the rap battle scene in Cambridge,” Durant remembers. As a student, he found himself splitting his time between freestyle rap sessions in Harvard Square and courses on lean production back at MIT.

It was a balance he would continue to perfect. Pursuing a career in software development after MIT, Durant had the flexible schedule he needed to follow his passion for music. He began to DJ in New York City, where he met the producer Rench, who would launch Durant’s group, Gangstagrass—a band that combines rap and bluegrass to create one-of-a-kind sounds. The group’s album, American Music, debuted at number five on the Billboard bluegrass charts in 2015, and their song “Long Hard Times to Come” was the theme to the FX television show Justified.

Durant tours as a vocalist with the band some 90 days each year, but that still leaves time for his other passion: helping new developers. As a lead technical instructor at Zip Code Wilmington, an intensive Java training program in Delaware, he tutors nontraditional students—many of whom enter the program knowing nothing about coding.

Durant began tutoring would-be developers after seeing a lack of diversity in coding. “When people follow the same traditional path [to coding], you end up with the same type of ideas popping up again and again,” he says.

With Zip Code Wilmington, students from varied backgrounds—from high school graduates to PhDs—take part in a 12-week training course for software development. Tuition is often completely covered by partner businesses that hire students for full-time technical roles after they complete the program.

Instructors like Durant shepherd students through Zip Code, leading classes and “jazz sessions,” where students riff about educational subjects they need more help with. “We’ll talk about a topic in a language they understand, as they don’t have a grasp on the jargon just yet,” he says. “Seeing those lightbulbs turn on as they understand it is my favorite part.”

As Durant continues teaching and making music, he credits MIT for teaching him how to balance both roles. “When I tell people I have two full-time jobs, it blows their mind,” he says. “But being at MIT teaches you time management—it’s the whole ‘drinking from the firehose without spilling a drop’ mentality.”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

transplant surgery
transplant surgery

The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus

The first transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human may have ended prematurely because of a well-known—and avoidable—risk.

Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research
Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research

Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging

The oil kingdom fears that its population is aging at an accelerated rate and hopes to test drugs to reverse the problem. First up might be the diabetes drug metformin.

Yann LeCun
Yann LeCun

Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI

One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.

images created by Google Imagen
images created by Google Imagen

The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images

Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. But don't expect to see anything that isn't wholesome.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.