A Berkeley High star-turned-rapper takes tumble

Nathan Simmons, also known as Sliggitay, from his Facebook page

When Nathan Simmons graduated from Berkeley High School in 2003, he was lauded as an example of a student who seemed destined to go far.

Simmons had been a leader at Berkeley High. He played on the varsity basketball and tennis teams, took many AP classes, got mostly As, and served a semester as student body president. Half-white and half-black, Simmons had been selected by the administration to attend a conference in Cleveland Heights on the achievement gap, an appointment that garnered him mentions in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Daily Californian, and the Daily Planet.

And then there was his acceptance to Harvard.

“When I first got there I was on the Harvard trip — like, I’m gonna do this shit, I’m gonna get a great job, and I’m gonna be living my life,” Simmons told the East Bay Express in April. “Somewhere along the way, that changed.”

Simmons lasted about three years at the Ivy League institution, and in that time seemed to undergo a metamorphosis. Where he had once been the shining achiever, a large fish in a small pond, at Harvard he felt his urban roots keenly, according to what he told the Express. Instead of fitting in, he felt left out.

Simmons turned away from academics and towards another passion: music. He had become a rapper in high school, adopting the name Sliggitay (which means oral sex, according to the Urban Dictionary) and had his first hit while still in college, with a song that made fun of his black, upper class, third generation Harvard roommate. Then an arrest for drug possession (the charges were eventually dropped) and lewd public behavior hastened his exit from Harvard. He returned to the Bay Area and devoted himself to his music (while holding down a job in the molecular and cell biology department at Cal.)

His talent was noticed and he was mentioned along with other accomplished Berkeley rappers like Lil’ B and The Pack, The Cataracs, G-Eazy, Lyrics Born, YelaWolf, and others.

“Combining laid-back California drawl with the lightheartedness and soul of Southern rap, Slig is that rare artist that is equally enjoyable to listen to cruising through the town, sparking an L or at the club,” Andre David wrote on his blog, The Five and Dime Store. “Hailing from Berkeley, California, his rhymes have an unmistakable cadence and unique rhythm to them that separates him from the pack.”

By following more than 27,928 people on Twitter — and having an impressive 25,350 followers — and releasing his latest album, “The Mustache”, as a download in March, Simmons has continued to build on his music fame. (Even though the videos of his songs are so racy that they are not public.) Most of the songs “celebrate drug use and other vices in a not-very-subtle way,” according to the Express.

But, in late October, the rapper was arrested on charges of breaking into a home in San Francisco with the intent of raping a woman. Simmons, 26, who now lives in Piedmont, was arrested by police after allegedly breaking into a house in the south of Market area around 2:50 am on Oct. 30, according to police. A woman who was sleeping on a couch woke up to find a man standing over her, his pants down. The man pulled a blanket off the woman and she jumped up and screamed, prompting the man to run away.

The assailant had taken the woman’s iPhone and police were able to track it using GPS. They arrested Simmons in the 1600 block of Folsom Street.

Simmons has since pleaded not guilty to the charges and is being held on $1 million bail in San Francisco County jail, according to Bay City News.

His attorney, Charles Bourdon, declined to comment on the charges.

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  • Concerned

    This was a misleading headline, I thought someone had fallen down the stairs.
    Headline should be – Berkeley High-star-turned-Rapist gets Arrested.

  • The conference was in Cleveland Heights, not Cleveland — different city, different school system, different demographics.  The Daily Cal story has that fact right.  Significantly, Cleveland Heights is right next door to Shaker Heights, the focus of Berkeley professor John Ogbu’s study on Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: a Study of Academic Disengagement.

    One of Ogbu’s explanations for the achievement gap is inappropriate role models — sports and entertainment figures and various types of outlaws.  In other words, exactly the kind of folks that this guy decided to emulate after blowing his shot at a Harvard degree.

    Significantly, he came to Harvard with that outlaw mindset established.  Thus the lyrics of the song where he tries to boost his own status at the expense of his roommate’s:  “I’m a B-town boss, you’re a bean-town square/I smoke that kill from Cali/You’re a daffodil. ”  Or as he described his roomate’s reaction: “He was startled by this dude from Berkeley who was, like, trying to drink forties and smoke blunts in the room”
    That’s the Berkeley this guy took to Harvard.  And when they kicked him out, he returned to the Bay Area to write rap songs about “Jewish American Princesses.”  A resounding success for Berkeley’s culture of mutual respect.

    Not to worry, the roommate went on to graduate and now works in the Office of Data and Accountability for the DC public schools, where he is tackling the achievement gap in a meaningful way.  

    More on the story here: http://berkeley.accountableschools.com/blog/2011/11/20/bhs-celeb-rapper-arrested-for-buglaryattempted-rape/

  • Anonymous

    I also think this headline is misleading.   Based on seeing the word ‘tumble’, I expected a personal interest, fell-good story, perhaps a life lesson but I totally expected a personal-interest, upbeat tale. The story reads as if written by someone with a strong personal bias in favor of this young man wrote the piece, and wanted readers to be sure to learn good things about him before learning that the guy was recently arrested in SF for rape and home invasion.  What a strange approach for this crime report. 

  • PS Be sure to check out the comments on the link I posted, where the indefatigable Laura Menard shares videos that illustrate the “mixing of social values and cultural norms promoted at BHS.”

  • Frances Dinkelspiel

    Thanks for pointing out it was Cleveland Heights. I made the change. As for saying this guy is 100% gangster, I think you are missing his complexity, which is why I think this is such a sad tale. Simmons is clearly very smart and while the lyrics of his songs may be “outlaw” and offensive, he also worked the last five years in the cell biology department at Cal.

  • Bruce Love

    Everyone knows that at Harvard it’s bongs and joints, not blunts, and vodka rather than fourties, and date rape rather than stranger rape.   Also, you’re supposed to keep your racial stereotype jokes off video.

  • Anonymous

    Other than to give thanks it’s not someone I know (or would want to know), I’d file this one under the “articles I wish I’d not read” category.


  • Bruce Love

    Also: here is a young man who is alleged to have done a very bad thing.   Let’s suppose it’s true!  I don’t have any reason to believe or disbelieve it for sure from the details in the various reports but for sake of conversation, let’s assume he did this horrible thing to that woman — as a hypothetical.

    Now, there are a lot of possible explanations here.  I’ll tell you one of my personal favorites:  these tales place him at right around an age when a heck of a lot of adult-onset mental illnesses manifest themselves.   Given his many talents — more objectively manifest at this moment in history in videos and reported work history — that’d be hella tragic for all parties involved.

    Sad story.   So why do you want to coopt that sad story and  make this all about your apparent agenda that has something to do with “mixing of social values and cultural norms promoted at BHS”?    Next thing you know Blacks and Whites will be dancing together and women and men will be equal in the eyes of the world’s religions?

    And can we now, given your endorsement of those comments, understand the agenda of Berkeley Accountable Schools to be driven by concerns of so-called “cultural mixing”?

  • @FrancesD:disqus  — where do I describe him as “100% gangster?”  If you read what I wrote — seriously, go read it, I’ll wait — you’ll see that I identified him as a varsity athlete, class president, and AP student.  Had he embraced that side of himself, he and his roommate (also a scholar/athlete who went on to head a state chapter of the Harvard Black Alumni Society) might have forged a lifelong bond.
    But that’s not the story arc here.  Berkeley taught him to be “hella urban” and when he found himself swimming in a much bigger pond, that’s the identity he fell back on.

  • Susan


  • Occam’s razor, Bruce/Tom, Occam’s razor — adult-onsent mental illness?  How about the more plausible explanation that the guy’s a jerk who thinks it’s OK to mistreat women?  Man, I hope you’re not on the jury if this goes to trial.

    To answer your other “question” (ignoring your usual level of noise), I believe Laura’s point is that Berkeley is not doing its students a favor when it fails to counter the perception that gangster postures are anything other than abhorrent.  She goes on to describe how, in the murder of Juan Carlos Ramos, it took a year for detectives to catch the guy — a BHS student at the time of the crime — because other students wouldn’t ID him.  That’s a breakdown in a pretty fundamental understanding of right and wrong — schoolchildren should experience no ambiguity at all about whether to identify a murderer that they witnessed.

    Give it a rest, Bruce, the devil doesn’t need any more advocates on this one.  

  • Alicia Robinson

    I am surprised to see all the assumptions drawn by readers given the
    limited evidence presented in this article.  Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve had friends in the past who
    have been portrayed poorly in the media when there was no wrongdoing.  I’m not saying this did or did not
    happen, but I question the assumptions drawn based on the limited evidence.  Maybe it’s because of my personal
    experience, but I don’t believe everything I read in the media. 

  • Laurammenard

    Thanks, BAS.

    It was actually three years until justice was served for Juan Carlos Ramos family. 

    Juan might have lived if the drunks teens were not afraid or just plain ignorant of how to manage such an emergency, they did not  call 911. Instead they loaded him bleeding from a stab wound into a car, drove around confused as to where to take him extending the time for emergency services to 45 minutes, when paramedics at the hills fire station were less than a few minutes away.

    This is not an isolated incident,  many teens are ethically challenged to do the right thing.

    Look, Bruce has not raised a kid and is clueless about the ethical challenges facing kids today but he loves to race bait.

    Yo Bruce, which BHS building is used for sex?

  • Jjohnsonalbright

    @0a8f5bf3375f543bc540fd05f6798242:disqus – I agree@BerkeleyAccountableSchools:disqus  – It is so obvious that you
    are his old roommate or someone with close ties that it’s not even funny. Your
    attempt to personalize this situation and shape public opinion is sad.  I’m not sure if you have self esteem
    issues or not, but it’s obvious that you still have a bone to pick for
    something that happened between you and Simmons in the past.  Get a life.  

  • Bruce Love

    I think you two (B.A.S. and Menard) are unjustly exploiting Nathan Simmons.

  • Laurammenard


    Why did the judge place such a high bail in this case?

  • Heather W.

    I don’t think this article portrayed in him the negative much at all and actually put him in a pretty good light other than pointing out that he publicly derided his roommate, dropped out of Harvard b/c he didn’t feel he belongs (why? Berkeley Schools have a way of doing that, I’ve found) and is currently being held on $1 mil bail.  Whether he is guilty or not, no one can yet say — but he certainly made an astonishing slide from Harvard to being held on the current charges.  

    One shouldn’t just overlook the bad b/c it seems there was some good, or highlight only the good when there has been bad.  It seems Nathan Simmons learned about high-level achievement and had the opportunity to succeed at Harvard — heck he made it through 3 years, but he punked out for whatever reasons. 

    I would also deign to say that his recognition in the rap community instilled his glamorization of thuggery, misogyny and gangsta behavior and he fell hard as a result of this success.   

    There is a part of this in which he is a victim; a victim of the Berkeley Unified School District and the culture we live in that accepts the rap world as being ‘legit and worthwhile. He was born Nathan, but he’s going down as Sliggatay, after victimizing others (I can only refer to his roommate, but potentially the young woman in S.F. as well). 

    Perhaps his best defense is for his council to outline how our school system failed him, as it has many of us. 

    It’s not “the media” that made this up. The move into his decline are fairly clearly written. 

  • Heather W.

    Everyone knows that fourties is spelled forties Thomas. 

  • Anonymous

    i agree its more like a free fall!

  • Heather W.

    I’d venture to say that perhaps there are two components to that, Laura: that there was enough evidence to arrest and book him on specific, not specious, charges and that there are grounds to believe he was a flight risk. 

  • Heather W.

    I just spoke to my son (BHS class of ’04), who knew Nathan, but hasn’t seen him in many years. He said Nate was a really nice guy, super intelligent, very popular, was in/around some people my son thought were iffy. But, my son said “NO WAY” When I mentioned the current charges; as in, that doesn’t sound like Nate at all.  Now this is the take of someone who knew him in High School, but remembers him as a very smart, social and friendly young man. One has to wonder what went wrong and why? This really is a sad, story … I posted this article on my Facebook page and hope that some of his old friends will chime in.   

  • Guest

    To those in the comments speaking disparagingly: Say what you want about the charges and the unfortunate turn his life took, but don’t call him a “gangsta” if you have never met him. If you spent two seconds with Nate, you would realize that he’s a smart, articulate guy who is dealing with his demons and hit a rough patch in his life. It’s irresponsible to make these assumptions about his character, then broaden those incorrect assumptions to the whole Berkeley youth community. 

  • Actually I’d never heard of him before someone tipped me to the story. In any event, it IS a personal story and to the extent that I’m trying to “shape public opinion,” it’s by connecting the facts about this person to the broader culture from which he emerged.  That’s generalization, not personalization.  You can agree or disagree with my reasoning, but an ad hominem attack doesn’t really count for much in the way of a counterargument.

  • I agree with what Heather wrote.  

    The criminal charges – we’ll have to see.  The rest of this guy’s story — including his own words — do not a sympathetic portrait paint.  It’s a terrible waste, no matter what happens — this guy had every opportunity possible.

  • Bishop G. Berkeley

    That’s easy.  Every county has an official Bail Schedule.  It’s just a chart — crime & enhancements in one column, corresponding bail in the other.  Initial bail setting does NOT usually involve any evaluation of the facts.  It’s typically based solely on the charges alleged by the prosecutor.  First degree burglary, plus the person-present clause, then maybe add an attempt rape charge for good measure…those charges automatically carry very high bail. 

    You generally can’t conclude anything from an initial bail other than that a person has been accused of crimes for which the Bail Schedule dictates high bail.  There are exceptions, but they’re rare.  After an actual bail hearing you can conclude a little more, but “amount of proof” is probably the last thing bail corresponds with.

  • Anonymous

    Once again it sounds like the kid/man is from Oakland why did he attend BHS? Is it a coincidence that the students getting in trouble are kids going to Berkeley high from other cities?

  • Heather W.

    That’s ridiculous, and I won’t even go into that. Nathan Simmons wasn’t a saint. ‘Nuff said.  

  • Laura


    my point was directed to  Alicia concluding statement when she writes

    “Maybe it’s because of my personal experience, but I don’t believe everything I read in the media.”

    The bail hearing was Nov 9th, seems he is still being held.

    I know one of the victims friends. This ain’t made up.

  • Berkeley Resident

    I don’t understand this comment.  What do you mean and what are you trying to say?

  • Hi Guest,

    I refer to him as a “gangsta wannabe” because he was pretty clearly attracted to that subculture, as evidenced by the quotes he gave in the Express article.  I don’t know the man at all and don’t doubt for a minute that he’s very smart and articulate — Harvard smart and articulate, in fact. But, by his own admission, that’s not the self he brought to Harvard; instead, he used his considerable talents in a vulgar takedown of his roommate before undergoing his own collapse following the drugs and lewd-and-lascivious behavior charges.  I’m also not applying his experience to the whole Berkeley youth community.  I am calling into question aspects of that community, specifically the ones that celebrate illegal drugs, vulgarity, disparaging takedowns, ethnic slurs, and disrespect toward women.  A guy as smart as Nate obviously is should have distanced himself from that stupidity; instead, he returned to embrace it with his music and — it appears — with his conduct.  That’s a public persona he worked hard to establish and it is absolutely fair to take its measure.

  • Trueblue

    Bah! He had his chance and blew it. Now he can “thug out” with his “homies” in Pelican Bay.

  • Bay Bread

    Some people grow up in Berkeley then move to Oakland.  Not everyone who currently lives in Oakland and has attended a Berkeley Public School has done so illegally.  This isn’t a coincidence, but an assumption.   

  • pa’lacalle

    To bad that he didn’t try to emulate calle13 who in your eyes would be a “hella urban outlaw” who skipped the raping attempt and continued on to win 9 latin grammys this year.

  • pa’lacalle

    So you are saying that Berkeley is responsible for a bunch of children who somehow didn’t understand right from wrong? Are you saying that none of these children felt any  feelings of anguish, fear, remorse, peer pressure?  I think you are lacking in much understanding of the complexity of things.  I think you should make yourself accountable first before pointing fingers at the devil!

  • pa’lacalle

    What broader culture is that again?  The culture that Berkeley forced on him or the one he identified himself with?  

  • Laura


    Hip Hop  EXPLOITS women!

    Why young ladies today are silent about the abuse is troubling.

    Back in the ’70s the girls I hung with slapped jerks like this who even tried to use  hyper-sexualized language to dominate.

  • Berkeley Proud

    I’m a little puzzled by your comment. 

    “I refer to him as a “gangsta wannabe” because he was pretty
    clearly attracted to that subculture”

    In what way can you draw that conclusion from reading the
    East Bay Express Article?  Hip hop is not
    a music form solely comprised by “gansta wannabe’s”. 

    “I am calling into question aspects of that community, specifically the
    ones that celebrate illegal drugs, vulgarity, disparaging takedowns, ethnic
    slurs, and disrespect toward women.”

    Your statement above attempts to blanket all hip hop artists
    into the same category by labeling them as part of a “gangsta subculture”.  Not all Hip hop artists are thuggish and misogynistic.  Have you ever listened to this guy’s
    music?  I would be very careful in making
    insinuations about somebody’s character without ever having met or engaged
    them.  Moreover a lot of Hip hop music
    being made today directly opposes themes that “celebrate illegal drugs, vulgarity, disparaging
    takedowns, ethnic slurs, and disrespect toward women.”

    I’ve listened to this guy’s music and at first glance it
    might come off as “gangsta”, but if you listen carefully this guy is
    challenging many stereotypes that have contributed to stereotyping hip hop
    artists as “gangsta wannabe’s”. 

    Many of these comments sound like an outsider’s perspective on
    a situation full of unknowns.  I would
    recommend listening to a more diverse selection of hip hop prior to throwing
    the “gangsta” label all over the place. 
    After reading many of the assumptions brought forth by these comments I
    am saddened to have been raised in Berkeley and share a city with many of you.  

  • Laura

    “After reading many of the assumptions brought forth by these comments I
    am saddened to have been raised in Berkeley and share a city with many of you.”

    The all too familiar Berkeley TOLERANCE, another familiar social norm, bash anyone with a different point of view about the wonders of this fine city.

  • pa’lacalle

    You are saying that going to Harvard and staying in Harvard would keep a person from being a rapist but choosing a creative musical career instead makes a person a rapist. 

    You also choose to blame the school system that helped him get to Harvard, be an intellectual while also embracing his creativity, for his supposed attempt to rape a woman.

    You also choose to say that the way his life story was written by the media is “fairly clearly written” yet you don’t know the details of his life, problems and his struggles. 

    It doesn’t take a lot to realize that your arguments are not clear and fair.  I recommend that you read more about the history of rap, hip hop and music in general so that you can get a better understanding of what you are condemning.  

  • pa’lacalle

    Laura, in this conversation a person demonstrating intolerance and bashing of an entire musical genre, school system and a particular community is you.  You are incapable of understanding that Berkeley Proud is trying to enlighten you.

  • Patsy

    I know this young man and his family very well.  They have always lived in Berkeley.  He currently lives in Oakland because he doesn’t live at home.  There is more to the story than what was written here.  He is not an intentional rapist.  Drugs and alcohol are a huge problem for our entire community.   Please pray for him and his family rather than being self righteous and condemning in a court of opinion.  I am really blown away by the assumptions made in these comments.  I am
    also saddened by the need for some of you frequent posters to use any
    story as an opportunity to put forth an agenda that is often biased and
    unrelated to the story.  He is an amazingly bright and talented kid who got caught up in a culture of drugs like so many of our kids.  As a community we should be helping to heal, not working to condemn and divide. 

  • Laura


    Please explain what you have done to make the AOD issues you refer to which are damaging good kids an important issue or part of the community agenda.

    Because while you accuse those of us not happy with his crimianl actions of apppying too great a scrutiny into his behavior, I have been working for years on the AOD problems locally.

  • Heather W.

    You presume a lot, pa’lacalle, including that I don’t know shite about rap, street culture or ???.. Think again. I know a lot more than you think I do.

  • Laura

    typo in the word applying

    please explain the notion of “heal”

  • pa’lacalle

    I don’t presume anything.  It is stated in your comments.  Your comments don’t indicate you know.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “You are saying that going to Harvard and staying in Harvard would keep a
    person from being a rapist but choosing a creative musical career
    instead makes a person a rapist.”

    I suspect that the typical Harvard graduate is less likely to be a violent criminal than the typical rapper.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Having read many of BAS’s previous posts, it is quite obvious to me that he does not have a bone to pick because of something that happened between him and Simmons.  He is talking about the same political/cultural issues that he always talks about.

    I think everyone can see that Jjohnsonalbright is the one who is personalizing the situation.

  • peagreen

    The lead was left at the bottom of the story.. the rape charge should have been in the first paragraph. 

  • Friend

    To voluntarily drop out of Harvard (while achieving good grades) is hardly a tumble. As this case is still in accusatory and no verdict has been reached, this is flat out misleading and bad reporting. Even slanderous.

  • BHS Graduate

    by setting up a strict dichotomy between being engaged in academic life and being “hella urban” you seem to imply that the only path to success is submission to the leveling process applied to east coast elite.

    To give you the benefit of the doubt i assume “hella urban” means using geographically specific vernacular and subscribing to local values and codes of behavior, because the term already sounds culturally insensitive. However, if we proceed in the former understanding of the label “hella urban” we might easily imagine how struggling to maintain a culturally informed sense of identity might abut the foreign, and often harsh, expectations of the Harvard establishment. These expectations are not simply to perform at a sterling level academically, which Mr. Simmons proved himself capable of, but to conform to the notions of propriety and elements of decorum that are overwhelmingly specific to wealthy east coast families, of whom the majority are white.

    While I have no interest in defending the reprehensible behavior this young man is alleged to have committed, to say that had he only embraced the “side of himself” that was such a stellar success, the one that everybody wanted, instead of the ‘Mr. Hyde’ is to miss the all-important truth that these sides do not exist in a vacuum, and one informs the other. Is it really so surprising that when Mr. Simmons’ west-coast background was repressed by the gravity of the institution he was a part of, he sought to express himself in deviant fashion?

    His room mate, a 3rd generation Harvard student, clearly understood these norms and was able to integrate far more effortlessly. Perhaps his success in integration had more to do with his grooming and less to do with his intentions. And perhaps the more students are evaluated on their ability to fit Harvard’s mold the less interested and engaged they will be in an increasingly out of touch school system.