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.