By Cami Thomas
My cellphone glowed brightly on top of my coffee table, the vibration of a call rumbling through my apartment. It was early for a Saturday but by some miracle I was awake enough to click accept and hold it to my ear.
The familiar voice of an acquaintance buzzed into my ear. She was frantic almost, and I asked her to slow down. She asked if I was in Virginia and I told her that no, I was home in St. Louis. She explained that she’d been watching the news and that there were white supremacists marching through the streets with torches and guns, spouting Nazi rhetoric. Knowing my past experience with similar sightings in my hometown during the unrest in Ferguson, she warned me to stay indoors. Things like this have a tendency to spread, and if we’re seeing this in Virginia, it won’t be long until it happens somewhere else.
I promised I would stay safe, and hung up the phone. Hours later I scrolled through Twitter to see the extent of the chaos in Charlottesville Virginia. I clicked past images of hundreds men, yelling and marching with the flames of tiki torches shining a grim shadow across rows of hands positioned in the Nazi salute.
An onslaught of feelings shot through my body. Sadness at first, then confusion. I wondered, how is it that armed men carrying fire torches did not warrant the type of police response that I saw in Ferguson? After all, I had my phone taken and a police rifle held to my head for walking down South Florissant Road after the curfew. I became angry at the comparison because I know from firsthand experience that my passive approach to mourning was met with aggression, but men literally holding fire and wielding the Nazi salute was considered less of a threat.
I became worried for my own safety, knowing I would be traveling into rural areas in the coming weeks. I reminded myself to map out the most public, safe gas stations and to wear a baseball cap low above my eyes when I drove through small towns.
I was taken through an emotional rollercoaster, but I did not feel surprised. I didn’t see these images or have a fit of disbelief. There was no, “I can’t believe this is happening!” moment because frankly, there’s nothing surprising about this. Not at all. Imagine my disbelief then when I logged on to Facebook to be met with posts that indicated shock and awe.
“I can’t believe this is happening! In 2017!”
“Beyond words. I can’t believe what I’m seeing happening in Virginia.”
“This isn’t us! This isn’t what this country stands for. I can’t believe this”
I’ve spent the last few years going down the rabbit hole of intricate and detailed conversations on racism and its impact in modern America. There are hundreds of books and research and statistics that can support a thorough analysis of modern day American racism. So I’ll keep the following sentiment as simple and clear cut as I can possibly can.
If you are surprised by what is happening in Virginia, then you have not been paying attention.
If a group of men marching through a college town spouting racist rhetoric is shocking to you, then you have been sheltered. If this is the first time you’re truly realizing that racism exists in the United States, then you have been avoiding what’s directly in front of you.
If you’re surprised by anything happening in Virginia, I want you to answer the following questions. What did you actually think the Black Lives Matter protests were about? What did you think the No Ban No Wall movement was about? Ask yourself; did you ever stop to wonder why millions of people were marching in the streets, blocking highways, sitting during the national anthem, walking out of class, and gathering outside of airports? Did you think millions of people chose to gather, to be arrested, to be beaten, to be tear gassed, to be fired from jobs, to be harassed, to lose sleep, all just out of boredom? Ask yourself why you didn’t process their message, their pleas for help, their warning that racism was lurking and boiling under the surface of the country.
I stumbled across a Facebook post from an old classmate. It included three close up images of men from the white supremacist rally. The status rambled on about how disgusting it was that the men who participated in this rally would likely be returning to work on Monday, sitting in the office amongst everyone else.
People of color have been saying this for years. Towns across the United States have raised their voices to say, “There are white supremacists here. They sometimes infiltrate our police forces and schools and local government. When this happens, they wreak havoc on our communities. Please, recognize this and help us.”
These men are not the fringes of society. They do not gather in the night by torchlight only to retreat back to their dark caves in the forests. No, the men who participated in this white supremacist rally will return to their offices on Monday morning. Some will write out lesson plans for their middle school class. Others will clock in at the factory. Some will hop into their police cruisers. Some will offer a weak smile at me as I hand over money, requesting twenty dollars be put on pump three at the gas station.
If you’re surprised, then you haven’t listened to your neighbors. If white supremacy shocks you, then you didn’t notice when your black coworker came into work, eyes red because he’d been crying over the Philando Castile verdict. Or that your Muslim classmate was too shaken up to attend classes after the Muslim travel ban went into effect. You didn’t notice that your Hispanic acquaintance always feels the need to carry around three forms of ID, whereas you simply carry your driver’s license.
If it took a literal public Nazi rally for you to recognize that racism exists in the United States, then we’re in a lot more trouble than you think. Any healthy relationship has a foundation of trust. So if you claim to love everyone, that you see everyone as American, then trust the people of color who have been trying to warn you about this for years. Trust your roommate who doesn’t feel safe when pulled over by police, trust the girl who says she’s too scared to walk to class in her hijab, trust the people who gather in the streets to demand justice and to warn you that this country is downright dangerous for some of us.
Know that people of color in the United States have been fighting a battle for decades. And it’s hard to fight a battle when the people around you don’t even believe you when you say you’re at war.
So now you see it. A white supremacist rally in Virginia has hopefully confirmed that people of color not making this up, that racism is very real and it’s very dangerous. I hope you see that these racists walk amongst us everyday and are so deeply intergrated into every day life that I never know if the person I’m talking to is a white supremacist that will shake my hand by day and then attend a Nazi march at night. I never know if the officer who’s pulling me over is a friendly family man who will crack jokes with me, or someone who sees me as a plague upon his country. I never know who I’m talking to or what lurks beneath the surface and therefore, I’m in a constant state of high alert. I have never experienced the luxury of feeling safe, because until racism is addressed and dismantled, I am not safe. That is a fact and has been my reality for my entire life. It’s the reality of millions of Americans.
You see it now. The men with torches and guns flaunting proudly through Virginia, driving through a crowd of peaceful protestors have showed you what millions of people of color have been trying to communicate for years. If you’re full of outrage and disgusted by the blatant display of racism, that’s good. Also realize that while you might feel disgusted or disappointed, there are people of color who are feeling traumatized and terrified. Avoid telling your friends of color that you, “can’t believe this is happening in 2017.” Because chances are, we very much do believe it and have likely tried to warn you.
If this is the first time you’re truly realizing that racism exists in the United States, admit that you’re late to the fight. People of color in the United States have spent the last hundred years laying the framework. That said, welcome. We’re glad to have you. Check on your friends of color, do some reading, and evaluate the ways you may accidently be complicit to upholding racist systems. Then roll up your sleeves, because we have work to do.
By Alexei Shaun
There’s no place quite like The Lou. The art culture is diverse and the music scene is brilliantly-evolving. We can travel hundreds and thousands of miles all over this world for work or leisure, yet nothing usually feels as warming or lovely as being home for most people. I completely adore the music culture in my hometown so much.
I’ve noticed a huge shift taking place, bringing some solid new waves into motion, and heavy cultivation within the music scene. You all may hear of folks speaking on this shift quite a bit around the city. I know I definitely have. On Friday, June 16th and Saturday, June 17th, one of Riverfront Times best and biggest showcases took place in the heart of The Grove this year. ShowcaseSTL featured more than 100 acts making this one of the largest events in STL history.
Super dope right ?
I live for moments like these!
Kicking your weekend off at ShowcaseSTL was the place to be and move to make for most people. Everyone was legit beaming with genuine joy, which is always nice to see. My luck must have been in the green zone by the way. I only had a few slight delays with working flights and I finally was able to make it home to catch some of the evening performances at The Bootleg.
As usual I was driving down Manchester Ave. to find a place to park and literally every parking spot was taken (just non-existent lol), so I drove a few blocks over and found a spot by an off street. I looked around as I quickly got out of my car and noticed others were in the same predicament. But still smiling, laughing, goofing around, and excited nonetheless to see these amazing performers on the ShowcaseSTL line-up.
"I could feel this pure energy
rippling off of people all around
the moment I stepped outside of my car.
There was nothing that could stop
STL vibes at ShowcaseSTL.
Yowie, an experimental rock, instrumental rock, and noise rock band was just wrapping up their set as I entered The Bootleg for the very 1st time. Amazingly, I could still feel the same energy I noticed when I got out of my car several minutes beforehand surging around the venue. The Bootleg is a fairly medium sized space, not super big and not super small. I often refer to music spaces like this as an intimate setting. Intimate settings like these are pretty neat in the aspect that an artist or musician can truly be up-close with fans and vice-versa.
As I wandered around The Bootleg I could faintly hear some very familiar music being played. I followed this sound which lead me to Atomic Cowboy’s Pavilion where I found Anthony Lucius & The Band giving an A1 performance. The 1st song I ever heard by the East Saint Louis native (a while back), Anthony Lucius was ‘Six Feet Under’ which is a really well-crafted song and has some smooth piano elements throughout the track. He always gives great delivery with his lyrical skills, so I had a good sense of what I was in store for during his performance. When the whole crowd is digging what you’re playing then you know you’re giving one amazing show. It’s always nice seeing what artists and musicians bring to the table with their music.
Next up to perform at The Bootleg was the Saint Louisan, Emcee Nato Caliph. He certainly had the crowd rocking and jamming out with his charismatic stage presence. Not only does he have great stage presence, he has a thought-provoking style towards his lyrics. Out of all the songs he performed, “Noble” is the one I absolutely enjoyed the most. “Noble” has this knock to it that makes you want to do some hardcore head nodding and it also features the alternative hip-hop duo, The Domino Effect also hailing from STL (they for sure added a saucy feel when performing “Noble” alongside Nato).
Now of course this day was heavily centered around music, yet I noticed a lot of people were chilling outside chatting it up or grabbing a bite to eat of some barbeque from a food stand. So I thought to myself why not, I’ll take a little break from The Bootleg and check out what else is going on around The Grove. I went over to Siam for several minutes or so, and personally for me it was a completely different feel than what I’m used to from when it was formerly known as Novak’s (which was a long running gay dance club/bar). Ironically, it seems I had caught one band right at the end of their performance again and another band setting-up for their set. Everyone else was simply sitting back with friends socializing, having drinks, or waiting on the next performers. I decided to head back over to The Bootleg, so I wouldn’t miss The Domino Effect set and since things had slightly slowed down at Siam.
Let’s get into a little bit more on The Domino Effect. They're a duo consisting of Cue ColdBlooded and Steve N. Clair. YO like this duo has the juice no doubt! Their performance skills will certainly get you vibing out as they rap over some of the illest beats. Real talk...If you haven’t heard of them for some reason then you should totally check out their music. On top of having phenomenal music, their energy is never lacking from the moment they grab a mic.
When they brought up Lyrique and E. Clair to perform “Frequencies” I instantly zoned out and felt high off life and music. The way Lyrique and E. Clair sings these catchy lyrics (will get anyone in a chill mood), “Let me take you high. High, high, high. Straight up to the sky. High, high, high. Way above the clouds. We ain’t coming down. Down, down, down.” I straight up had these lyrics stuck in my head for a while (I was actually humming them as I typed this article). Also, Indiana Rome was brought out to perform “314-Life” with The Domino Effect and the three of them created the most litty feels. Needless to say it was fun and inspiring to watch everyone perform during The Domino Effect’s set.
Before I turned in for the night I made sure to stay and catch Eric Donté hit the stage. Eric Donté unapologetically gives you these honest and often straight to the point lyrics in the most catchiest/”Ghetto Trance” ways. It’s just so refreshing to see people stand up for what they believe in and he does this so well. He’s also established a strong repertoire of songs such as “World War E”, “Levels”, “Litty Kitty”, and “Afternoon” that will make you feel like dancing, majorly rocking out, and simply chilling all at the same time. Over the last year he’s leveled up with even more of a tenacious work ethic (performing many times every month and sometimes even multiple times within one day), helping him reach new incredible heights like performing at this year’s Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival and making RFT’s STL-77 alongside a couple of other artists mentioned above.
When it comes to Fadda Vampire, he can grab and hold a crowd’s attention right off the back. The way he captivates a room full of people packed from wall to wall seems to happen so effortlessly. I mean, it has to be one helluva feeling to have a huge crowd chanting your name on cue and happily ready to do so. Fans were literally trailing him from venue to venue last Saturday to see him perform highly energized sets. I think it’s safe to say Eric Donté has a unique sound that is here to stay. Certainly looking forward to what else he has in store for us.
STL artists, bands, and musicians are for sure whipping up some next level sounds. I was finally able to see a lot more performers doing what they do best and love most. Being able to witness the growth and togetherness around the city is really damn beautiful. It was nothing but love. Which also makes me think about how some people don’t share these sentiments, they’ve mentioned that people in the city/music scene can be unsupportive. Maybe this was so at one point in time, but for me I feel quite the opposite. Everytime I look up there’s folks collaborating, networking, and reaching out to one another to truly succeed.
ShowcaseSTL greatly displayed how supportive people actually are in the city/music scene towards each other. The support, resources, and avenues are at an all time high. However, we all receive the same 24 hours in a day, what we choose to do or not do with our time is solely on us (no one else).
"It's all about starting your day
with a mindset of believing
and keeping faith that all
you desire can be reached.
All you've ever dreamed of
can become a reality.
It's all often right around the corner;
waiting for you to break ties
with your fears, surrender to your
higher self, and truly take action.
Even when you hit a roadblock is that going to stop you ? Even if no one is willing to steer you in a better direction are you going to let that hold you back ? I dearly pray it doesn’t stop you and that you don’t allow anything to hold you back. You have to create another way and always keep what you’re passionate about alive. A new favorite quote I came across says it best, “Stop waiting. Learn how to do things yourself. Do what you can, where you’re at, with what you got.” All else will surely fall into place, just keep grinding.
STL is definitely hustling, shining, and showing how our music scene can contend with some of the best music around the world. As each day passes by, it’s artists within STL who are truly inspiring people all around. This particular weekend was like receiving a special deal to see a melting pot of wavy performances. I’m extremely in awe of how RFT opened up the showcase to such a massive amount of artists, bands, and musicians. ShowcaseSTL is all about the culture, as well as many other music events that are held around the city. We are making the necessary key strides and our time is definitely here lovelies. Let’s embrace each moment and let's get it!
Jake Choi is a breath of fresh air. The Queens New York native has quite the story; from playing professional basketball, to taking acting classes, to becoming a distinguished professional in his craft. As a Korean American actor, he has plenty to say about the state and portrayal of Asians on the big screen. Jake shares his story, and talks about respect (give it, or you'll get checked).
Peep his latest project titled Front Cover next time you're surfing through Netflix.
Only problem? He hasn't been to St. Louis yet! Let's see if we can change that by the end of 2017 ;).
Q: Tell us a little background about yourself. Where are you from, where do you live, and how did you get into acting?
A: Hey! I’m born and raised in Elmhurst, Queens, NYC. Elmhurst has to be one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world. I currently live in Hollywood, Los Angeles. Not nearly as diverse hah. I actually was playing semi pro basketball in South Korea and then quit after losing passion for the sport. Then my friend suggested I should take some acting classes. So I took some acting classes in Korea and loved it. Then I came back home to NYC and signed up for classes at the Lee Strasberg Institute.
Q: What’s the best part about your city?
A: The best part about NYC has to be the hustle and bustle energy and the edge. Doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, how much money you have, you have to respect yourself and others or you’ll get checked.
Q: Have you ever been to St. Louis?
A: No I have not but would love to one day. Go Cardinals? Lol
Q: What’s been your favorite moment so far in your career?
A: Getting all the positive feedback from people watching “Front Cover.” It’s not unusual for people to message or email me saying that they were so touched by the film, and that they finally got to see themselves on the screen. It’s so important for us to see ourselves represented in the right way because that affects our self perception, which affects how we navigate through this world.
Q: Through time, what have you observed about diversity in tv and film? More specifically, with the representation of Asians on screen.
A: I have observed more talk than walk if you know what I mean. A lot of these studios and networks talk about inclusivity/diversity but don’t act on it as much as they talk about it. I have seen progress don’t get me wrong, but it’s been super slow. In regards to representation of Asians on screen, it seems TV has been more progressive than film. I’ll admit, growing up, I didn’t see Asian faces on tv, which made me feel invisible and question my identity. I felt ugly, and insignificant. Nowadays, we do see more Asian actors on TV but rarely are we playing leads or three dimensional characters with emotional arcs and complexity. Asian men are still stereotyped as awkward nerds, asexual, or comedic reliefs. Asian women are still stereotyped as submissive, or hypersexual, fetishized. Also, Asians play about 1% of the lead roles on film/tv but we make up more than 6% of the population in the country. So that’s a problem there. And then there’s whitewashing in all these films, the newest one is “Death Note.” These studios/companies really think Asians are passive and they can shit on us without any backlash. Imagine, Death Note with Asian and Black leads. How incredible would that have been? It’s also a remake of a Japanese manga. Why didn’t they hire any Japanese Americans to play the lead role of Light? It’s frustrating. But it’s good to see that there are Asian shows out there like “Fresh off the Boat.” That’s big.
Q: What's been your experience as an Asian actor? What are one or two key defining moments for you, in this regard?
A: A big positive moment was playing the role of Ryan Fu in “Front Cover.” To be able to play such a fleshed out, humanized character and the lead of the film, that was incredible. Sad to say, Asian actors don’t get to play these types of characters as often as white actors. It’s something that I took for granted while shooting the film, but in hindsight, it was a privilege.
Q: What would you like to see happen for the portrayal of Asians on screen?
A: To not only see more of us, but in a humanized way. That’s all I ask. I don’t think it’s too much to ask. Write us as the complex human beings we are.
Q: What new projects are in the works for you?
A: I just wrapped a gamer comedy pilot in NY, it’s really well written and the whole cast is hilarious. I play Beau Chang, the cool, successful ladies man of the group of friends. And I just got cast as a co-lead for an indie feature film that explores the world of polyamory. Excited to start shooting it next week in NY!
Q: What’s your dream role?
A: Any major superhero but as the lead of the movie or tv series. Or to play Sessue Hayakawa.
Q: In closing, what advice would you give young, budding Asian actors who may be following in your footsteps?
A: I would highly advise that you get good training, somewhere you feel safe but challenged. And really pursue this career because you love acting, telling stories, not for the fame and fortune.
By Alexei Shaun
There are a great deal of organizations that have been created to support the LGBT+ community such as PROMO, which is an organization based in Saint Louis, Missouri as well as in 4 other neighboring regions. PROMO has promoted equality for all Missourians for about the past 30 years and they’re absolutely great at providing a safe space for LGBT+ individuals. Meeting up a few weeks ago for an interview with three of PROMO’s staff members Mandi Kowalski, Dan Stewart, and Greg Faupel gave major insight into this organization. As we dived into more of an open discussion, Dan stated, “PROMO truly serves as a point of advocacy and really working on a legislative level in order to protect LGBT Missourians. Over the last number of years kind of in light of the new legislation and who we have in the White House, we’re really seeing a strong emphasis and effort towards growing grassroots. Knowing that yes we’re in Saint Louis and things can suck as an LBGT+ person in terms of job protections/housing protections, but we have people in rural Missouri who may not have the opportunity to even be out to anyone at all. As Mandi was saying we have really made a concerted effort of making sure we can reach and touch people on a personal level, in addition to having our presence in Jeff City and really kind of fighting on a macro level of different legislations that can be harmful to our population.” These are crucial steps for furthering and building more civic participation, as well as growing community awareness.
If you ever find yourself wanting to support the LGBT+ community then volunteering, donating, writing letters to legislators, and calling legislators to become more involved with the political spectrum are a few key ways to help out. Now if you find yourself having concerns or questions in regards to your gender identity or sexuality, just know there’s no absolute necessary decision that needs to be made right away. Nothing is set in stone, it’s okay to be your authentic self and if you’re in need of gaining a stronger support system look no further than PROMO (as Mandi mentioned). In time PROMO can help you feel more at peace with being yourself, being kind to yourself, and not feeling as if you need to be fixed.
It’s easy to feel out of place in a world that often has a closed mind towards someone who doesn’t seem to fit within the frame of societal norms. Everyone says to “be you” until the you they never quite imagined shows up. The you which goes against the grain, stands for what you believe in, and loves in an unapologetic way that feels most natural to you. Love knows no boundaries. Love knows no gender and devastatingly it took the mass shooting at the Orlando nightclub Pulse last year for the hashtag #loveislove to surface. Love is love hits home for people all around the world who strongly desire and sometimes struggle to simply be themselves.
Finding your way in life is sometimes stumbling and fighting through all the roadblocks. In the case of being apart of the LGBT+ community it’s often the stares you get when you’re out and about like being snuggled up in the park with someone of the same sex as you, walking hand-in-hand, or simply giving them a kiss on the cheek. It’s generally never anything overly affectionate, yet even the slightest display of affection from couples within the LGBT+ community tends to upset a great deal of people. I remember these “elephant in the room” situations or wherever I may have been at the time all too well growing up as a teenager in Saint Louis. To top it all off, the intersectionality of being a POC within the LGBT+ community seemed to be shunned even more especially when I was younger.
As we finished up the the interview the discussion got deeper when Mandi and Greg also gave insight about the Saint Louis lgbt+ scene. Mandi stated, “Coming from a cis white perspective, my day to day life is very easy. I can pass by most people and not think of what I am in relation to the world. I’m very normal right (laughing) ? On the outside. I also think Saint Louis in comparison to most other places in the state is a more comfortable space for people to be out and be visible in their communities; with that being said there are a lot of different layers of oppression that people in our community have to deal with, so it’s not necessarily an easy space to be out in for everyone. I also think it’s not an easy city for the community to be cohesive in. I think there is a very prevalent amount of purposeful segregation and underlying racism that exists. I don’t necessary think the people in our community, in the gay community think those things I can’t speak for all of them. But it’s definitely prevalent in our city as a whole.”
Piggybacking off of what Mandi mentioned, Greg said, “One of my goals is to make sure my biases are conscious biases and I understand that there is something there obstructing where I want to go. I feel like sometimes there is an unconscious emphasis and bias towards specific members of our community and I think it’s really prevalent. Someone growing up on the scene with LGBT and living out in the suburban area and then coming to the urban area; being back in the day (gosh it so weird saying that term back in the day in the late 90’s) it was not cool in my area to be out. It was just not the thing, so I had to find my community and where it was at and the only avenue I kind of knew about was the bar scene. I do find that sometimes our bar scene...And it’s a great area to meet in, but I wish there were more places that we could make progress as a community without maybe alcohol involved like going up to our legislators and calling legislators or writing letters. Really realizing that the LGBT and just everybody in our family is really our family and I feel like especially ever since the passage of gay marriage I’ve witnessed this backing out of progression of LGBT rights if that makes sense.”
The lgbt+ movement surely has made major milestones throughout the years and the constant battle for true equality is far from over. There are organizations worldwide and even as close to your backyard fighting, bringing awareness, and creating safe spaces for those in need or in search of finding where they belong within the lgbt+ community. It could be your daughter, your brother, your cousin, your friend, or anyone close to you in need of such organizations. You never know what another person is going through. If all you can give is your time to listen and have an open conversation with someone who is apart of the lgbt community then you will take steps in bridging the gap of often misplaced fear for the need to be “normal” and being at peace with staying true to oneself no matter the standards society sets. Opportunities are all around you to take a stand, volunteer with a lgbt+ organization, or make that call to our legislators to further enhance protection for the lgbt+ community. As one of my favorite quotes states, “Now is as good a time as any.” It starts with any of you reading this article. There’s a breath-taking beauty in being the you no one quite imagined. Always hold tight to who you are.
By Alexei Shaun
Q. Thanks for meeting up and chatting with For The Culture! What do you like most about the blog?
A: Versatility. I saw a lot of different clips, different artists, and different subjects. I’m all for a variety ya know. I think it’s pretty fresh you don’t see that too much around the St. Louis area.
Q. Are you from St. Louis ?
A: Born and raised. I grew up over in Webster Groves, in a small home behind a funeral home. Nobody even knew the street existed, it’s called Poke Avenue...I was like alright this is St. Louis *laughs*. I stayed in the Webster Groves area pretty much from kindergarten all the way through high school. Webster has a phenomenal educational program which offered me a lot of opportunities via sports, music, and just good friends.
Q. In what ways does St. Louis influence your creative process towards music ?
A: Musically St. Louis is a melting pot, for me personally I find it to be very versatile and a big conglomerate of so many cultures being smack dab in the middle of the natioin. I’m a little competitive when it comes to the scene here, but it’s not with anybody else as much as it is with the art. This is a really influential city.
Q. Where did you get your 1st start in the music business ?
A: I met one of my good friends Blvck Spvde. I was on the bus line and I was making a beat on my phone. Blvck Spvde was sitting near me in the back and asked, “Yo man what ya doing ?” I told him, “I making this beat man.” I asked him if he wanted to listen to it and the rest was history. Thus, I became the music director for The Hawthorne Headhunters. We had the homie Jason "Dirty Lynt" Moore on the drums, Coultrain, Blvck Spvde, DJ Needles, and myself. This led to being on tour with Hiatus Kaiyote and the connections just kept sparking from there on.
Q. I’ve noticed you like to make motivational posts. How does this currently hold significance in your life ?
A: It’s not necessarily motivational posts as much as it is a reality *laughs*. I try to alter people’s perception on realities. A lot of times I feel it gives people a chance to peek into who I am and understand my music even more. It’s completely universal and relevant through covering more than one genre or one specific idea. I like capturing everybody’s understanding and culture as well, so yes those posts are slightly meant for motivation and also for insight into my language and ethos.
Q. On a local level or national level, which musician would be your #1 pick for collaboration and why ?
A: Man such a tough question. I’d like to collab with Quincy Jones and I say this because that’s the foundation of who I am. I listen to tons of Quincy’s records. His approach towards sound, as well as emotion and how he uses psychoacoustics to stimulate one to be focused (if you will). I feel I have those same traits. I’m just in the beginning processes of understanding the fundamentals of how to do so. I’d love to do a collaboration with him, only because I want my music to hit the Hip-Hop genre, hit the Gospel, hit the Jazz, hit the Rock, R&B and Soul. I want it to all be a collective ya know. Quincy Jones was the best that did it and does it!
Q. Out of all the venues you’ve performed in which one was the most exciting?
A: I would say opening day of the Hiatus Kaiyote tour with The Hawthorne Headhunters. We were in Chicago at The Double Door. The Double Door is this phenomenal venue in the middle of like a 6 or 8 way intersection close to downtown Chicago. It was so exciting. I had never been on tour before and just met everyone not that long ago. Here we are in Chicago playing at one of the dopest venues from what I heard at the time. Ultimately the energy, the way they treated us, the hospitality, and the care truly showed how everybody was about the moment and the sound towards making sure everything is perfect for the ceremony (if you will). One thing I appreciate about The Hawthorne Headhunters is that it’s all about energy. We don’t necessarily perform it for the people, it’s for us also. This is what we do and you get to be apart of what we do, ya know what I’m saying. Everyone's energy was on 10, the place was packed with people, the lights, the transitions of the songs, and it was overall an incredible feeling. I left there like yeah I want to do this for the rest of my life. It was a wrap.
Q. You don’t play just one instrument, but multiple instruments. What kind of challenges did you encounter when initially learning to play these different instruments ?
A: Yes. I play the organ (B3 organ), piano, trumpet, tuba, baritone, and the drums. The origin of all of these instruments started in high school actually under the direction of Kevin Cole. He saw something in me and I just love that guy for really giving me a chance. The challenge was that I wasn’t the best reader of music. Chord notation I could get by with, but I was all about the feel and all about what was suppose to happen next via through my ears. The challenge of not necessarily being able to understand where the music is going through using your ears, can certainly put you in a position to begin reading music.
Q. Do you believe the concept of music theory plays a crucial role in being an artist/musician ?
Q: If it isn’t broke don’t fix it. If it works for you cool and if it doesn’t that’s great as well. Me personally, I looked at theory in an unorthodox way in the form of shapes or colors. I identified that with a completely different formula than the basics of what they try to show you in books, like a C scale or how this chord is relevant to this chord. It’s all about how you place musical elements, for instance a C Major Chord could also be put on top of a B Chord even though these two chords are right next to each other. How you place it and how you shape it to craft a new sound to me is what theory is. It’s a chance that either works or doesn’t. I feel that anything is worth it, whether it’s a specific way you like or don’t like. There have been instances where theory definitely played a part in band rehearsals to help us instantly know what to do, like oh okay we’re going to the “2”, then the “5” right, aw we’re going to the “7” alright bet, and now we have to go to the “3” (in regards to scale degrees). Theory can often be apart of the process and help a great deal.
Q. What is your perspective on key factors that have occurred in your life with correlation towards being an artist ?
A: My life hasn’t necessarily been the best. I was a firefighter for about 10 years and I saw a lot in this profession while still trying to understand what music meant to me. The ups and downs are really what makes the artist. The artist doesn’t get to just choose what about this or what about that, no the experience has to teach in order for you to choose what to write about. Thus far, my story has been a very horrific and gratifying process. In that I’m going to do some things which allow me to say what others are afraid to say, or play some things people wouldn’t necessarily understand as it pertains to music, as well as the emotion tied to the sound. You have to trust the process. Here embodies the beauty of it all and the reward.
Q. If you could give the younger you any type of advice from the knowledge you have now, what would you say ?
A: I was a very very meek younger me and I was also arrogant. I would definitely say time...Time and discipline. We often waste time as if it’s a luxury. Most of us don’t know the importance of how to utilize our time to the fullest capacity generally because of society. You have to pay bills, you have to get money, and you have to go places. At the same time I feel we all have gone through these phases were time was just something we knew we had. If I would tell my younger self anything it would be to use your time more wisely and be more aggressive with how you use your time. It’s all about synergy and it starts with your mind. As the head leads the body follows. I’d definitely tell my younger self to be more disciplined with time, like right now my time consists of being up everyday about 5:00am to start off with meditating, working out, practicing music, and going over the projects I have to work hard on. I just go about it and get it done.
Q. Do you have any fun facts you’d like us to know ?
A: I love bowling. I’m very COMPETITIVE on the lanes *laughs*. I was on the lanes for a few years, it definitely goes down. Also I ride the train a lot. I’ll ride it from the beginning of the line to the end which is by Scott Air Force Base. I like to bring my sketch pad and draw what I see along the way. I’m real big into arts whether it’s drawing, painting, or doing sketches. Also I’m currently doing a couple of individuals album artwork. Yeah, so I love art it’s real therapeutic for me and it’s something that I usually keep quiet on. I don’t try to be this way, it’s just kind of who I am in that you don’t know everybody’s story. I stay humble as much as possible and treat people with love and respect as much as I can. I’m just grinding on what I do. I know my time is coming and is actually here now to certain a point. Everything is definitely paying off.
Q. What new music endeavors can we expect from you in the near future and where can we find you on social media ?
A: I’m currently working on my album right now entitled “The Connection”. It’s a very interesting process to see how it’s all coming together. It’s due to drop this upcoming August which is my birthday month! I was going to drop it the beginning of April, but I had to put some more magic in there. I have some exciting music ideas that have come to life while working on this album. The music itself is completely unorthodox. I do not pride myself on being like any other artist or creating something others have already made. It’ll all be original music and completely opposite of my character. I’ve really challenged myself to tap into different personas. This will definitely be a project to anticipate. My social media can be found here:
Soundcloud @Mr. Barksdale
Photograph by @doryymiller
by Cami Thomas
Q: Thanks for answering a few questions for the blog! How’d you hear about For the Culture?
A: I saw a backseat freestyle with the homie Najii Person in it.
Q: Did you grow up in St. Louis? What’s your connection to the city and what does it mean to you?
A: I grew up in Saint Louis. It's engrained in me. Everything i do. My vernacular is Saint Louis, my creative process is Jennings, MO. It means the world to me. I take pride in being from here. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.
Q: How did you first get involved in music?
A: I was listening to Lil wayne, my favorite rapper ever. The way he rapped and presented himself made me want to do music. How cerebral he was while still being cool and calculated made me wanna write. I knew I could combine all the worlds together.
Q: Tell me a bit about yourself? Your upbringing, key points in your life that have helped shape your music and sound.
A: I grew up in southside Saint Louis then moved to Jennings when i was 13. I take both of those segments in my life as key factors in who i am. Bing on the southside made me humble. We were poor as hell, hotdogs every day. It made me appreciate the struggle. I remember I was 9, and I had a gun put to my head for no reason. I remember those emotions I felt: the fear, the urgency, the doubt, the anger. the vulnerability. You hear all that in the music. You hear me being me.
Q: What are you listening to nowadays? Who are some of your favorite artists in the game?
A: I listen to alot of my friends and peers as opposed to “the game”. I try to stay out of that mind frame. There's so much diversity here musically, we have our own Rap Game.
Q: What makes your sound unique? In your opinion, what separates you from other sounds in the city?
A: im not afraid to look or sound stupid or try new sounds. all my emotions are in it. Like every song is a peephole into my psyche at the moment.
Q: Where can we usually catch you? What do you like to do for fun?
A: Catch me in the scene. I try to be active in there as possible and support as much local stuff as I can. We all have to do our part to support these local geniuses if we wanna see Saint Louis become a staple.
Q: There’s a lot of crazy shit going on in the world right now. Do politics or current events ever have an impact on your music and creativity?
A: I do believe in music reflecting the current sign of the times, but my music is gonna always be about what I feel at the moment. I feel torn by the issues our country faces and sometimes it gets too overwhelming to even put in a verse. It's gotta feel right.
Q: What’s next for you? When can we expect to hear new music?
A: I'm finishing up my project entitled “Wrote A Self-Portrait”, my magnum opus. I have a video coming in April titled “NightDrive” too. It's fire *laughs*.
By Cami Thomas
Alexei Shaun feels like the slow car ride you take with friends, blasting music while watching the sunset dip behind the Mississippi river. She’s strong, with an unwavering stance and a firm demeanor. Yet the gentleness of her smile and the warmth she radiates, makes you feel as if you’ve known each other for years. Her music, in essence, gives you the exact same feeling.
I gripped my jacket tightly as I ran up the stairs to Suburban Pro Studios on South Jefferson. It was cool outside (I could see my breath as I breathed out), so I was glad to have Alexie open the door and quickly usher me into the building. Almost instantly, Alexei reached out for a hug and offered a warm welcome with a beaming smile. She pointed out our surroundings- a classic Pacman game in the corner, a row of guitars, a drum set in the center of the room- and led me to the back room where she was recording her latest single.
We walked into a room with a soundboard, an array of instruments, and a large comfy leather couch. Alexei plopped down on the couch and motioned for me to join her. I sank into the seat, and watched in amazement as Alexie spread stacks of notebooks and pieces of paper onto the coffee table. Each piece of paper held the lyrics to songs, some recorded and some still in the works.
“This is some of the first stuff I really started out with” she said. “A lot of it’s unfinished. Some of it is finished songs.”
“How far back do these pages go?” I asked.
“Years” she answered. “I have recent stuff too. I kind of grabbed everything I could. For example, this one is from 2009. Called “Simple things”. I was writing a lot of stuff about love. I’m a lover at heart, so I have a lot of love songs.”
I flipped through one of the notebooks, taking in the passionate lyrics that were sprawled across each page. On some of the sheets, Alexei had carefully organized and labeled each song. On other scraps of paper, she had written a lyric or two, a song idea, a list of artists she’d like to work with, or keywords. She flipped through a page filled with bars and music notes; a song she’d personally composed on the piano. Years worth of content, Alexie’s deepest thoughts, were spread about the table. Alexie laughed.
“I can’t believe I’m showing you all of this.”
The page that stood out most, was a flight manifesto. When she’s not in the booth recording, Alexei is 30 thousand feet in the air.
“This is while I’m at work” Alexei chuckled while showing me sheets of paper that she’d written while working as a flight attendant. “Technically I’m not supposed to be writing as much as I do. But any chance I get between handing people their drinks and sitting in my jump seat. I write on the hotel notepads, napkins, manifests.”
She’s been a flight attendant for over three years. When inspiration strikes, she’ll reach for the nearest piece of paper and scribble down her thoughts. Alas, some song lyrics were written on airline napkins, plane tickets, and flight manifests.
“I’ll write lyrics on anything pretty much. This one is ripped up because it’s a manifest and I thought I was done with it” Alexei said. “I forgot that I’d wrote this dope free-verse. And I was like oh crap, I need to get that out of the trash can. Passengers are asking me for peanuts and water and coffee and I have lyrics going on it my head that I have to write down.”
After we chatted for a few minutes, it was time for Alexei to return to the booth. I settled in the couch and continued to flip through her notebooks, as she and the producer discussed the mixing and mastering of the track. She laid down her vocals, occasionally stopping and asking to give it one more shot.
“Can you run that back?”
Alexei has been making music for over six years. There was a point during her journey that she began to get discouraged; she was going through a tough time in her life and she had to lean heavily on her family to help her through. Her family bond is strong (her sister even called during our interview, just to check in), and Alexei credits much of her success to the unwavering support she has received from her father and sister specifically.
“I probably got the hang of things after three or four years after 2010” she said. “But once I figured out what I wanted to do, and the sound I wanted to have as a singer, rapper and writer, I was ready to go. I definitely have a solid vision of how I want things to be.”
Alexei acknowledged that St. Louis is in a great place, musically, and loves the collaboration between artists and creatives. Mvstermind, Smino, Tef Poe, Eric Donte, and Teacup Dragun are a few of the many artist who have stood out. It was actually at Mvstermind’s Mali Moolah premiere that Alexie and I first met in the summer of 2016.
As we talked on the couch, we noticed a few anxious faces staring in the doorway of the recording studio. It seems we’d run out of time, and the next appointment was waiting for us to finish up. We packed up, and headed down the street to hang out in my loft and talk more.
We stepped into the living room and plopped down, me on the couch and her on a fluffy chair. As I kicked my feet onto the coffee table, I nudged my foot against a bible. We began to talk about religion, and the cultural significance it has in Alexei’s life.
“I grew up in the church when I was little” she commented. “But as I got older, I didn’t feel up to going. By the time I hit high school, dealing with sexuality, sometimes I would feel out of place. When you start coming into your own it kind of changes. I’m more into spirituality.”
Alexei’s sentiments towards the church were similar to what I had heard from many creatives and millennials. Though she doesn’t seem religious though, Alexei certainly carries an aura of calmness and tranquility that seems almost celestial. She finds her inner peace by embarking on personal journeys.
“I have a few different things I like to do” she said. “I like to be in my own space. I can be a loner at heart. I love being out and about, but sometimes I need to recharge and recenter and be in my own space to keep the energy going. Other times I like to meditate and listen to different solfeggio frequencies.”
Alexei explained how different solfeggio frequencies cater to various parts of one’s spirit, through the power of sound. As a musician of course, sound plays of crucial role in her inner peace, and helps her draw inspiration for her own music.
“Right now I’ve been feeling singing a lot” she said. “I’ve been listening to a lot of R&B music over the last few years. Some favorite artists would be Kehlani. Her aura, the vibe of her. She seems very personable and humble and she connects a lot with her fans. I love Janet Jackson. She’s one of my biggest inspirations.”
She went on to list more: Frank Ocean, Solange, Travis Garland, Tori Kelly, Eminem, Lil Wayne, Drake, Kenrdick Lamar Cassidy, Justin Nozuka, and Lauryn Hill. She’s been on an R&B kick lately, though she typically listens to all genres of music.
“Does that include country music?” I asked.
Alexei winced at first, but then admitted that she was a fan of some country music. She read the pained look on my face and let out a loud laugh.
“Chris Young!” she yelled. “You need to look him up right now, he has this one song. I can’t remember the name but if you search him it’ll pop up.”
I pulled out my laptop, went to YouTube, and followed her directions. “It’s called “You”’ she remembered. “You’re going to love this song.”
We listened, letting the twang of country music fill my apartment for the first time in history. She was right; I loved the song. And as she rocked back and forth and tapped her foot, a soft smile appeared on her face. She moved and rocked, like a true musician who can appreciate quality music no matter the genre. She felt good, which automatically made me feel good too. That moment represented most of my interactions with Alexie. Her pure happiness spreads like wildfire, and the good vibes are contagious.
The next time you see Alexei, she might be 30 thousand feet in the air serving delicious snacks to airline passengers while also creating masterpieces in her head. May you’ll see her in the booth, listening and tweaking her vocals as she continues to grow as an artist. Perhaps you’ll catch her on Cherokee Street, supporting other local artists and creatives. Guaranteed, wherever you see her, you’ll feel her presence without needing to say a word. You’ll feel calm, and welcomed, and gravitate towards her inner peace. Guaranteed, when you listen to her music you’ll feel the exact same way.
For the Culture TV reached out to Missouri native, Trina Hien Quach about her experience navigating colorism within her community. Read Trina's personal essay below.
Both of my parents are Vietnamese. However, my dad’s skin is a copper color and my mom’s skin is like ivory. I inherited three features from my dad which would be the wavy hair, forehead, and the beautiful copper skin. Other than that, I look just like my mom. However, my skin color is distracts people from that. I know that because every time my mom and I would run into her friends, they would scream “She is so dark! No way can she be your kid!” or they would asked if I was adopted.
In the Asian culture, girls are pressured to look and act a certain way or else they are undesirable and no man wants them. I remember when I was 14 years old, one of my mom’s friend suggested to bleach my skin because “no man wants a wife with dark skin”. I never took her advice in consideration. If I bleached my skin, I would be erasing one of the few features that my dad passed down to me. However, her words hurt my feelings a lot. Despite this confident, cheerful persona of mine, I have always been insecure and quite vulnerable. Everyone always tell me to ignore what people say, but I can’t help it. I have social anxiety and her words just made the fire spread even more. What sucks even more is that she was just only one of the many (Asian) people who made a negative comment about my skin color. I just felt unwanted by my own race.
When I got to college, I made so many friends who come from different backgrounds. Majority of the friends I made in college are black and hispanic, and we love talking about social justice. However, one day the topic about colorism got brought up. My friends were talking about how people with darker skin within their race get looked down upon within their own race. I was so shocked because I never knew skin color affected social dominance within other races/ethnicity. Before college, none of my friends back home has ever experienced with colorism. Therefore, no one understood my pain so I always kept my mouth shut. It was a relieving feeling because I finally met some people who I could relate to in regards to this topic, but it makes me angry because I feel like NOBODY should ever go through this. Why is a person with darker skin less desirable than a lighter skinned person? Why is there a hierarchy within our own in-group? You're telling me I have to have the same skin color as a white person to be worthy? *Rolls eyes*.
We need to put away the stigma against darker skin. It's already bad enough that we, as minorities, get put down by the majority. Why must we put down the people in our own race? We are supposed to uplift one another. At age 14, I was depressed because I was told I would never get married because I am dar. At 19, I am embracing my natural skin color. I am not going to change what I was blessed with. However, I learned a lot within the past five years. Something I would tell my 14 year old self is that there are girls in your class that walk around with orange skin to be as dark as you.
And lastly, who needs a man in the first place?
-By Trina Hien Quach
Q&A with Cami Thomas
Name: Shabez Jamal
Q: Are you from St. Louis? What does St. Louis mean to you?
A: St. Louis means a few things to me. First it's home, it's family, it's where all my memories are and most of my experiences whether good or bad. For a while it was a place I wanted to run from but now I see it as a place that has prepared me for the rest of the world.
Q: Where do you draw inspiration for your personal style?
A: I've always thought I had a sense of fashion but honestly my best friend Shelton (who is a contributor to thestylechronicles.com and also has his own fashion blog aestheticallyawkward.com which is launching soon) has helped me hone my style to what it is today. By keeping me up to date on The latest trends along with my own personal taste has made my style what it is today. I call it ratchet sophistication.
Q: I saw you slaying the timeline with your #blackgayslay pictures! Why did you decide to participate in the viral hashtag?
A: After receiving a text from my friend that the hashtag was trending I decided to immerse myself in the black gay twittersphere. I saw it as a way to connect with others who may feel ostracized by the same community we go so hard for. It was empowering as fuck and I couldn't allow myself to miss the opportunity. I saw black gay people uplifting one another something that touched me especially since we can be very divisive within our own community shutting one another out for being to feminine (or masculine for some lesbians), too fat, too whatever so it was especially empowering to see so much love within a group of people facing so much bigotry.
Q: Do you believe that black gay men have a unique experience in comparison to other members of the LGBT community?
A: I feel that being a lesbian is more accepted within the black community than it is to be a black gay man. Being we live in a very patriarchal misogynistic society anything that challenges the macho image of the black man is deemed inappropriate. Most men fetishize lesbian relationships but have no problem discussing their disdain for the black gay man. I won't make it seem as though it's easy for gay women of color but I do believe our challenges are vastly different.
Q: In your opinion where are areas that you think the black community has made progress in regards to LGBT matters? Where are some areas you think we could improve on?
A: I feel like there are a lot of people within the new generation of "woke" or "conscious" black people have accepted homosexuality but for the majority there is still a lot of work to do. Whether it's the open bashing of LGBTQ members of society or the appropriation of our culture we still have a long way to go before we have our rightful seat at the black table.
By Cami Thomas
I had never actually met Nick Lenzini in person. In early August, my photographer Richard and I visited the Swedlife store on Delmar Boulevard to check out the pop-up shop that Nick was throwing for his clothing brand. Much like my millennial counterparts, I'd only seen Nick on social media after stumbling across one account or another on Instagram and Twitter. In the flood of clothing brands accounts that bog down my social media timeline, Nick stood out the most. He had long, platinum blonde hair that stuck out in whatever direction it felt like. His Instagram feed featured rows of images starring himself, often with a nonchalant expression that lived somewhere between "I just woke up" and "who the hell stole my lighter?".
(Click "Read More")