The online magazine Ozy covers people, places and trends on the horizon. Co-founder Carlos Watson joins All Things Considered regularly to tell us about the site's latest discoveries.
This week, he tells NPR's Arun Rath about a rising star in country rap, a mixed martial arts fighter who just won't stay down and an innovative plan to turn failing schools around.
ARUN RATH, HOST:
From NPR West, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Arun Rath.
It's time for the new and the next. Carlos Watson is the co-founder of the online magazine Ozy. Each week, he joins us to talk about what's new and what's next. Hey, Carlos. Welcome back.
CARLOS WATSON: Arun, good to be with you.
RATH: Some great stuff this week. There is one that I particularly enjoyed, about a man who's - let's say he's not the next big thing in mixed martial arts; Joe Kavey, I guess, who we can say he's got a perfect record.
WATSON: That's a funny way to think about it. You bet. He's 0 and 20-something. He has lost one match after another as an MMA fighter and has never quit. Most of us, if we had lost even a couple times, we would have said no mas and let it go. But incredibly, this guy, Joe Kavey, he's gotten to the ring or the cage one time after another in some really aggressive mixed martial arts and keeps coming back from more.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Representing Team Wasteland, here is Joe Kavey.
RATH: And can you explain for people what a cage match is? What is MMA, mixed martial arts?
WATSON: People use martial arts. They use classic boxing and punching. They use head butts. They use kicks. It's kind of all's fair. And this guy, Joe Kavey, is not the star of it but instead is an example of a guy who just won't quit.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KICKIN' IT IN TENNESSEE")
BIG SMO: (Singing) Rollin' on them back roads blowin' pine, sippin' on that moonshine all the time.
RATH: OK, Carlos. There is something new in the world of country music. Could you explain what we're listening to?
WATSON: Of course. We are listening to what some people would call country rap. Over the last couple of years, not surprisingly, you've gone from having rap artists and country artists work together on pieces to now you've got a guy named Big Smo, whose real name is John Smith, who's emerged as one of the first country rap superstars.
And it all started with this amazing YouTube video that he did with some friends down in Tennessee and subsequently got signed to a big label. And he's the first of several stars in this space and calls himself the boss of the sticks.
RATH: Well - I mean, the great thing about him is not that he's having a good time, he - in their way they're tight, their grooves are good, and they're pulling it off.
WATSON: You know, I got to tell you, I first started laughing, and then I started grooving to it. They just signed a really interesting deal with Warner Bros. And so my guess is that more people are going to see them at the Country Music Awards and other places.
RATH: Excellent. I want to see some more of Big Smo. Before we go, this one's a little bit more serious, but I love this story. This is a Harvard economics professor. His name is Roland Fryer. He's won the MacArthur Genius Grant. He won it two years ago. But now, he's working on this - it's sort of an unusual experiment involving struggling schools in Houston and Denver.
WATSON: Sadly, as he tells the story, he was abused by his father and didn't have much of a home life early on. Found himself in jail multiple times or in juvenile hall at about 15 or 16, realized that he only had himself to turn to. Worked his way through college, finished college in three years while holding on a full-time job, former gangster turned Ph.D. in economics, said: I've got an idea on how I can fix our existing schools.
And so he got permission from the superintendents and the teachers unions, by the way, in both Houston and Denver, two of the largest school districts, to essentially take over parts of those school districts and run about 30 schools in all. And in just two short years, he's managed to see some substantial progress among the kids in their ability to read, their ability to write, their ability to do math, and most importantly, maybe, their interest in moving on to college.
RATH: Nice. Carlos Watson is the co-founder of the online magazine Ozy. You can find links to the pieces we discussed at our website. And you definitely - you got to see the video of Big Smo. You just have to.
RATH: Carlos, thanks for your time again.
WATSON: Good to be with you. See you next week.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.