Fire that almost killed Coast Guardsman now fuels his passion

SAN PEDRO, Calif. -- Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian McClean, an Information System Technician stationed at Electronics Support Detachment San Pedro, inpsires others with his unique style of Hip-Hop music. Growing up in an impoverished neighborhood in Philadephia and surviving near-death by fire has motivated McClean to do the best he can in life and in music. U.S. Coast Guard photo illustration by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

“Chief Alex Haley (Coast Guard – Ret.) made huge steps. He went through a lot of struggles that I don’t have to. He opened up a lot of lanes for us. I think that everyone should learn from that, and appreciate any civil rights leader, white or black, because there’s plenty of them,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian McClean.

SAN PEDRO, Calif. – The streets of West Philadelphia can be a difficult place to live. It is cold and impoverished. Drugs, gangs and violence are rampant. Opportunity is scarce. Some people would allow such circumstances to hinder their progress and douse their dreams. Others pull motivation from the despair, turning their trials to triumphs. As is the case with Brian McClean, a Petty Officer 2nd Class, and an up-and-coming hip-hop artist.

At age 13, McClean suffered second and third-degree burns over twenty percent of his body after a horrific fireworks accident. This incident sparked McClean’s hip-hop moniker “3rDegr33”.

“I developed the name 3rDegr33 to remember that big changing point in my life,” explained McClean. “It was a big motivator for me to get things right and be more serious and more focused.”

After the accident, McClean endured a series of painful rehabilitation treatments and could not attend regular school for six months. “Just going through the rehabilitation process helped me grow a lot,” said McClean. “It made me appreciate being alive, how lucky I was.”

Tragedy struck again in 2005 when McClean’s mother died of lung cancer, shortly after he joined the Coast Guard. Losing his mother left McClean parentless at 21 years old, as he never knew his father.

Enduring these tragic events gave McClean a new perspective and respect for life. This outlook, coupled with the exposure gained from travelling with the Coast Guard, provided him with an eclectic experience that can be felt in his music.

“I don’t have a specific niche with the music,” explained McClean. “I’m versatile. It’s not just one style of hip-hop or rap.”

His songs weave in and out of subjects ranging from love and relationships to political issues. In one of his more popular songs, Miss Philly, McClean figuratively transforms the city of Philadelphia into a woman, to whom he professes his love and his hopes of returning. There is one common goal McClean keeps in focus when writing songs: He aims to give the people what they want.

“I just want to make music that’s good,” said McClean. “I hear a lot of trashy music out there and it’s motivated me to put something out there that people would want to hear.”

McClean’s first endeavors into music were humble, rapping into his home computer through a small microphone. “I can’t even let anyone hear it,” said McClean with a grin, “I couldn’t even release it! But it shows me how much I’ve progressed.”

McClean still does all his own recordings at home in Long Beach, Calif., although his equipment and sound quality has advanced significantly.

From an early age he discovered an aptitude for computers and would regularly take them apart to learn how they work. This innate talent allowed him to work as an information technician at the age of 16 and eventually an Information System Technician for the Coast Guard. These days, his skills carry over into the recording studio as he makes music that he hopes will reach as many people as possible.

While stardom would be a great reward for his efforts, as illustrated by his song Like a Star, McClean’s primary motivator is a simple, deep love for what he does.

“With music, that’s my main thing,” explained McClean, “to maintain that love for the music and to work to get better day by day. If you put in the effort it takes to do that, you’ll inevitably end up somewhere big.”

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