When local rap artist Marcell Cannon, 24, recorded his latest single, “Honor Roll,” he knew it would be a hit — but he didn’t anticipate where it would take him.
“The engineer got the hotel room where we recorded it, and once I heard it — I mean, I have a lot of songs, but I feel like this song was the one that spoke out to me; it really touched me,” the East St. Louis native said.
Known by more than 25,000 followers on Instagram as Luh Cell, Cannon recently released the video for “Honor Roll,” featuring hundreds of students from Paul Dunbar Elementary School in East St. Louis.
“It feels good to do this type of music,” Cannon said. “The music I was doing before, people were liking it, but with the kids, there’s just so much love and you can feel it around you. It just inspires me to keep going forward.”
As a high school student, Cannon freestyled for fun, but he said he started taking music more seriously about two years ago. Since then, he has released an EP titled “Resurrection.”
“I already knew people just telling me you should do a different kind of music — do stuff that people aren’t doing. So I just thought about it, and I just started writing,” Cannon said. “The first thing that came to my mind was about kids, so I’m like ‘All right, I’m gonna make a song about school.’”
According to Cannon, not many artists, especially from the region, are producing music like his new single.
“Nowadays (artists) make songs about just dancing and everything, but they don’t talk too much about going to school and getting on the honor roll, getting good grades and if you need help, the teacher, you ask them for help,” Cannon said. “No one in East St. Louis had ever went to a school and shot a video with all the kids and did something positive … so I stand out a lot.”
After reaching out to a former teacher and connecting with the principal of Dunbar Elementary, Carlynda Coleman, another former teacher of Cannon’s, the video shoot for “Honor Roll” received approval, and permission slips went home with the kids.
“I wanted my students to be included — how many opportunities will they get to be in a music video?” Coleman said about the 450 students who participated. “They benefited by having fun and being involved in something that highlights the importance of working hard.”
Plus, a portion of the video specifically highlights 110 students who achieved honor roll status all four quarters of the school year.
While shooting the video, Cannon described being surrounded by students looking up to him as an experience he wished he had when he was young. Cannon said he did not have a positive role model in his life other than Chet Cantrell, executive director of the Christian Activity Center, whom he met when he was 6 years old.
“He got me in so many good directions and put so many people in my life to talk to — there’s just so much about Chet,” Cannon said. “He’s really the dad I never had. Chet is the one who always told me what was right, what to do, what not to do.”
Cantrell said he’s enjoyed watching Cannon grow up over the years and that he has seen Cannon overcome many obstacles in his life. Despite the hardness of his surroundings, Cantrell said, Cannon is resilient and good-hearted.
One of eight kids raised by a single mother working a minimum-wage job, Cannon said, “Growing up in this environment — it’s not easy but … thank God I’m not in jail right now, and thank God I’m not dead.”
“(Cannon) loves music, and he’s very talented, and what he produces is excellent work,” Cantrell said. “He has many, many strengths, and if this is a dream for him ... I’m glad he took the risk to do it, and I think he’ll be successful.”
However, Cantrell is not the only one who sees something in Cannon. Before the video’s release, Cannon posted clips of “Honor Roll” on Instagram and said he quickly received over 12,000 views, as well as the attention of some big-name producers.
“When I put a snippet up of ‘Honor Roll,’ I was getting a lot of DMs and requests, and I seen one from (Atlantic Records) in there and said they want to have a sit-down ... so I responded to them and I (went) to New York,” Cannon said.
Since returning from the Big Apple, Cannon said he wants to continue creating music independently and see what additional opportunities come his way.
“I want the song to get sponsored. I want someone like Disney Channel or Cartoon Network to at least reach out,” Cannon said with confident excitement. “There’s no one that’s (making music like ‘Honor Roll’), especially out here in East St. Louis … and then to get heard by people in New York — it really inspires you to keep going … it gives me so much joy.”
Follow Cannon on social media for updates. While he uses Instagram the most, he can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.