FLOOD 11: The Action Issue

Page 1



and Cordae Fight the Good Fight









8 Letter from the Editor 10 SMALL TALK:


38 42 46 50 54

WeHo BLM March, Public Enemy, ReMission International, Masks for Charity, 30 Years of Red Hot, Patrisse Cullors, PTM Foundation, GOO for Good, Feed Your City Challenge, Aleka’s Attic BREAKING: Knot, Nicholas Braun, Ghetto Kumbé, Chad Goes Deep, Nailah Hunter, S.G. Goodman, Nabhaan Rizwan Keedron Bryant + Dem Jointz: Voice of the People Juan Wauters: Immigrant Song Wayne Coyne: Bubble Full of Thoughts Boys State: Young Americans Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President







60 The Wonderful World of Ho99o9 66 Amplifier: Art for Our Sake 80 H.E.R. and Cordae Will Lead You to Truth 88 The Provocation and Paradox of Vic Mensa 96 David Byrne’s Undivided Attention 110 Sooper Records Gives Back to Chicago 114 Dinner Party Make Room at the Table 122 Clubs in Crisis: Save our Stages 130 Rock the Vote to Rave the Vote: 30 Years

of Music’s Influence on Voter Registration 142 Lauren Halsey: The Power of Produce 150 Art is Action: Michael Stipe, Cat Power, Patti Smith, MUNA, Grouplove, Toots Hibbert, Aloe Blacc, Melody Ehsani, and more


years, launching his philanthropic SaveMoneySaveLife foundation in 2018 that supports everything from STEAM education for BIPOC youth to, currently, mobilizing emergency response teams for COVID-19 relief for communities in need. Spurred by the protests, singer/songwriter H.E.R. penned her moving single,”I Can’t Breathe,” with the lyrics: “How do we cope when we don’t love each other? Where is the hope and the empathy? How do we judge off the color?” In her cover interview with rapper/activist Cordae, she revealed: “I’m at home watching all these videos thinking this could be my uncle. This could be my aunt or my sister or my dad. That’s really, really hard to deal with. That’s really hard to comprehend.” H.E.R. has made it her mission to spread positivity, empower her fans to amplify their voices, and tackle important subjects head-on in her music, on her social platforms, and on her interview/performance series “Girls With Guitars.” On the other end of the spectrum, Talking Heads icon David Byrne has spent a lifetime advocating for human rights and introducing underserved music and cultures to wider audiences through his label Luaka Bop. In 2018, he started the news site, Reasons to Be Cheerful, with the goal “to inspire us all to be curious about how the world can be better, and to ask ourselves how we can be part of that change.” We spoke to him for his cover feature about his latest project “We Are Not Divided,” which aims to heal our political divisions in a time of great need. We hope some of the stories in this issue also inspire you— from visual artist Lauren Halsey’s efforts distributing free produce to South LA communities, to Rock the Vote’s grassroots efforts to inspire voter registration for 30-plus years, to NIVA’s efforts to bring thousands of clubs and artists together to help save our stages during the pandemic. We believe in the power of music and art to heal, to inspire, and to make change. We the people have the power to make the future. Don’t ever give that up. Peace and Love, Randy Bookasta, Co-Publisher & Editorial Director

Shepard Fairey & Brett Landrum We The People, Los Angeles, 2019


Andy Warhol once said, “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” He was a man of few words, but this quote remains inspiringly true today. Change requires passion. Change requires patience. Change requires compromise. And most importantly, change requires action. This issue is all about artists who are putting words into action and making positive change on every level, from the personal to the political, from the micro to the macro. Last year after we published FLOOD #10, the Sustainability Issue, we started thinking heavily about the increasing division manifesting in our country, the massive setbacks our current administration had made on environmental issues facing our planet, and the power of music and art to affect change. With the most important presidential election of our lifetime on the horizon, it was clear then what the theme of our next issue would be: the Action Issue. Then 2020 hit. We could never have imagined the unthinkable year that would follow and the urgency this moment would bring. But we are also increasingly uplifted by how the artistic community has come together to fight for social justice, to create awareness and raise funds for causes they are passionate about, and to help those in need during challenges faced by the COVID-19 pandemic. We spoke with artist Shepard Fairey—who designed three different original covers for this issue—about the theme of this issue in mid-March, just days into the pandemic and weeks before protests would unfold after the horrific killing of George Floyd. He reminded us how it was music that first inspired his own activism, and how the messages of Bob Marley, The Clash, and Public Enemy left a profound impact on him. In this issue, we tell the stories behind an incredible array of current artists who are on the front lines working towards a better future. “As an artist, as a musician, I feel like I traverse in the currency of human experience, human emotion,” rapper Vic Mensa revealed to FLOOD in his cover story. “What better way to accrue that than to look somebody in the eyes and talk to them about what’s going on?” Mensa has been putting action in motion for


Miss Shalae leads inspired BLM march in West Hollywood June 14, 2020

“After numerous days documenting the protests, this All Black Lives Matter march provided a bit of a different point of view from previous days,” reveals photographer The1point8. “It wasn’t so much outrage and anger as it was a celebration of the movement. People were there (including Megan Thee Stallion, Common, and Tiffany Haddish) to dance, laugh, and enjoy human interaction that had been missing since the start of the pandemic. There were no confrontations with the police or many visible actions of anger and frustration. Perhaps the messaging was not as clear or direct as in previous days, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, these brief moments of dance, laughter, and community are some of the very same things the protests are fighting for.” Dancers, left to right: JB Werks, Ilia Anais, Nirine Brown, Bounce, Samarah Katelyn, Miss Shalae, Ashleigh Smith, Janeeva Pettway, Ariana Rosado, Diamond Queen, LaQuelle Mills

Photo by The1point8



WK Interact



When it arrived more than 30 years ago in April 1990, Public Enemy’s third album, Fear of a Black Planet, exploded on the public consciousness louder than a bomb. As P.E.’s first release following 1989’s incendiary Do the Right Thing single “Fight the Power,” all eyes were on Chuck D and company with the release of Fear of a Black Planet. Loaded with Public Enemy classics including “Brothers Gonna Work It Out,” “Welcome to the Terrordome,” and “911 Is a Joke,” the aggressively radical and decidedly pro-Black project climbed all the way to #10 on the Billboard 200. From September 5 through October 3, Black Book Gallery in Englewood, CO, hosted “The Terrordome,” an art show celebrating the legacy of this landmark album. Artists Shepard Fairey, Faith47, How & Nosm, WK Interact, Vhils, and more lent their talents in honor of Fear of a Black Planet. Also among the contributing artists: Chuck D himself. “Bringing visual artists and music together has always been important to me because it’s who I am,” Chuck D explained before the show’s launch. “I was an illustrator and graphic designer long before I ever grabbed a microphone. We’ve been working hard at bringing together an amazing array of artists for the show, and look forward to people coming through to see their work.”


Public Enemy art show celebrates 30 years of Fear of a Black Planet

— Scott T. Sterling



James Bacon

The Mission’s Wayne Hussey recruits Gary Numan and members of Depeche Mode, The Cure, and Bauhaus for COVID relief

After COVID-19 hit, Wayne Hussey wanted to do something to help support first responders. When The Mission frontman started receiving messages from NHS employees asking if he would re-release “Tower of Strength” since many of the hospitals were playing the song as their anthem, he returned to the band’s 1988 hit. “I was approached to do various things, but there was an element of self service that I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with because all the proceeds weren’t going to charity,” Hussey tells FLOOD. “I felt uncomfortable with it, but I wanted to do something. What I can do is make music, so I came up with this idea to re-record it with all these people, and it just snowballed from there.” After consulting with The Mission’s Craig Adams, Mick Brown, and Simon Hinkler, who co-wrote “Tower,” Hussey started remaking the track with a little help from his friends. A post-punk dream medley, ReMission International’s “TOS2020” features vocal and/or instrumental contributions from such post-punk luminaries as Gary Numan, Midge Ure (Ultravox), Martin Gore (Depeche Mode), Kevin Haskins (Bauhaus/Love and Rockets), Budgie (Siouxsie and the Banshees), Andy Rourke (The Smiths), Billy Duffy (The Cult), Lol Tolhurst (The Cure), Julianne Regan (All About Eve), Miles Hunt (The Wonder Stuff), Rachel Goswell (Slowdive), Kirk Brandon (Theater of Hate), and Jay and Michael Aston (Gene Loves Jezebel), along with artists of more recent vintage like James Alexander Graham (The Twilight Sad) and Evi Vine. The “TOS2020” four-track release also includes new remixes by longtime Mission producer Tim Palmer, Danish DJ/ producer Trentemøller, and Hussey (under his alter ego Albie Mischenzingerzen). All proceeds support charities personally chosen by each artist who participated. — Tina Benitez-Eves



Kim Gordon, TV on the Radio, Fiona Apple, and more support mask benefit for Indigenous communities Noise for Now and Seeding Sovereignty teamed up to launch a mask campaign that directly benefits both American Indigenous communities and reproductive rights organizations that have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the purchase of each mask, a second mask will be donated to the Indigenous Impact Community Care Initiative for distribution to the pueblos and reservations most impacted by the pandemic. There will also be cash donations made to Seeding Sovereignty’s mutual aid work and to abortion funds serving Indigenous and undocumented people (Indigenous Women Rising and Mariposa Fund). To date, the initiative has donated over 10,000 masks, and distributed $65,000 in funds. Helping get the word out is a growing and impressive collection of artists supporting the cause, with Fiona Apple, TV on the Radio, Kim Gordon, Mark Ruffalo, Cat Power, Karen O, Jason Isbell, Neil Young, Bon Iver, and Lucy Dacus among them. “The number of reasons to support Indigenous efforts is the same as the number of souls who inhabit the world,” Fiona Apple said in a press statement. “White gluttony tried to kill off the very people who understood the language of the land. We chose to be owners instead of guardians, and we became a cancer. If we want to survive, we must support Indigenous efforts.” “Seeding Sovereignty has been actively planting seeds with Noise for Now and several of the musicians in our community to acknowledge and liberate Indigenous lands,” added Janet MacGillivray and Eryn Wise, Co-Directors of the Indigenous Impact Community Care Initiative. “Through our work with these relatives, we are not only taking the first step towards land acknowledgment and reclamation, we’re also providing ongoing mutual aid to Native communities impacted by COVID-19. It’s so important for people to know whose territory they’re on and what community/land base they’re representing and committed to. In wearing our masks, our friends are saying, ‘I’m doing this for not only myself but the Indigenous communities that deserve to live, too.’” — Scott T. Sterling FLOOD 15


The Red Hot Organization celebrates 30 years of promoting social awareness through music and pop culture On September 25, 1990, the Red Hot Organization released Red Hot + Blue, a collection of Cole Porter covers by high-profile artists including U2, Erasure, Neneh Cherry, and Sinéad O’Connor. The success of the album, which sold over a million copies and raised funds and awareness for AIDS charities around the globe, set the stage for over 20 subsequent Red Hot compilations featuring an impressive array of contributors that have raised over 10 million dollars for various social causes. Now, the nonprofit is proudly celebrating its 30 years of activism with a special 30th Anniversary edition of the Red Hot + Blue LP, as well as digital reissues of its acclaimed Red Hot + Latin, Red Hot + Indigo, and Red Hot + Offbeat collections, all of which will be out on October 23. Many Red Hot collections will also be made available on streaming platforms for the first time ever this fall; additional new music and archival material will also be released during the run-up to World AIDS Day in December. “For 30 years I’ve said that Red Hot is the only company in the world that wants to go out of business,” says Red Hot founder John Carlin. “And here we are—still using pop culture for social good in the midst of another viral pandemic. This is an important lesson for activists on two levels. First: one of the most effective ways to raise awareness and change behavior is to use the structure of mass media to do it. Not just make great content, but find a way to reach people who don’t agree with you. The second important lesson is even more simple: persistence. It’s fun to make content and get coverage, but much harder to stay at it and adapt to changes over time. I’m most proud that we’re still at it 30 years later.” —Dan Epstein



Patrisse Cullors leads BLM march down Hollywood Blvd. June 7, 2020

“The BLM Hollywood protests on June 7 felt historic from the moment you got there,” says photographer The1point8. “With 30,000 people around you, you felt the chants and voices across countless blocks. That same day is when I photographed Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of BLM. Her energy and purpose resonated as she led the march down Hollywood Boulevard. It was amazing and inspiring to see where the organization had built up to since its inception. It started with people like her magnifying the voices of those who often don’t feel like they have one.”

Photo by The1point8



Maclay Heriot

Portugal. The Man launch foundation with an emphasis on causes impacting Indigenous peoples

Back in July, Portugal. The Man announced the launch of the PTM Foundation, an organization focused on the issues of human rights, community health, and the environment, as well as increasing the representation of Indigenous peoples, helping their communities, and amplifying their voices. “We know Indigenous peoples face persistent and enduring challenges to their communities, their lands, and their basic human rights, with extremely limited support from the government as well as the broad spectrum of philanthropic

institutions,” vocalist John Gourley stated. “This is wrong, and our band has decided to do something about it.” The PTM Foundation has already announced a nonpartisan grant program called Get Out the Native Vote, promoting resources necessary for Indigenous peoples to participate in elections. This follows a COVID-19 Native Community Relief grant program from May that gave funds to 20 organizations. More information about the PTM Foundation can be found at www.PTMFoundation.org. — Danielle Chelosky



for good

Raymond Pettibon’s iconic “I stole my sister’s boyfriend” illustration on the cover of Sonic Youth’s 1990 release Goo has morphed into a kind of iconic snapshot. Throughout the past three decades, the cover art has taken many forms, revamped as characters from Breaking Bad, Stranger Things, Pulp Fiction, and Star Wars. In another twist, the art is also being used in more social and political messaging, beginning earlier this year when Canadian artist Nicole Legault revealed her Goo revamp “Save Our Youth,” featuring Breonna Taylor and Isaiah Lewis, two young Black Americans who lost their lives to police violence. “I was a know-it-all white teen who grew up in the predominantly white city of Moncton, New Brunswick and didn’t know shit,” says Legault. “I learned about blackface when I saw it in the movie Ghost World. I didn’t learn a whole lot in school…I’ve learned a hell of a lot in my thirties… And if I’ve learned anything in more recent years, especially the last few months, it’s how much I still don’t know about most things, especially the experience of BIPOC in North America (and of course around the world).” Following the overwhelming feedback from her art, Legault, who draws portraits under the moniker Look I Drew You!, started producing T-shirts with the apparel brand Rock Roll Repeat, featuring her artwork with 100 percent of the proceeds split between the Taylor and Lewis families. Although the first batch of shirts have already sold out, Legault has been given clearance by both families to produce more tees, which will be available this fall. “I initially created this drawing as an homage to Goo turning 30 earlier this surreal year, but cannot get the state of our world off my mind,” says Legault. “Breonna Taylor and Isaiah Lewis’ lives mattered. Keep your eyes wide open, everyone, and please vote.” — Tina Benitez-Eves



Pusha T photos courtesy Feed Your City Challenge

How Pusha T, Jhené Aiko, and other artists spent Summer 2020 on the Feed Your City Challenge

Their goal is straightforward and essential: “To provide as many people as possible with a robust box of fresh and healthy groceries.” With that mission statement, former NBA player Ricky Davis and Suave House Records founder Tony Draper launched the Feed Your City Challenge. “Since our enslavement in America in the 1600s, Blacks have been suffering in this country,” Draper said. “There is still a vast divide economically, financially, physically, mentally, and emotionally that are real signs of systemic racism. Our goal is to give these families some relief. Fighting for the poor and underprivileged is a personal mission of ours.” As such, they organized non-contact drive-through sites in six cities across America over summer 2020. Helping get the word out to local communities, the pair enlisted local celebrities for each stop. In Norfolk, Virginia, it was rapper Pusha T. Oakland, California, had Raphael Saadiq, while Jhené Aiko, DJ Mustard, and Roddy Ricch held things down in Los Angeles. In Miami, none less than Rick Ross answered the call. “We have a full understanding of what it means to come from poor households,” Draper said. “With the strength of God and hard work, we overcame and made it through and that’s why we give back.” — Scott T. Sterling



Aleka’s Attic opens to commemorate River Phoenix’s 50th birthday Photo by Michael Stipe

It’s hard to believe actor River Phoenix would have turned 50 this year. To commemorate the milestone, his sister Rain Phoenix released two previously unreleased songs, “Alone U Elope” and “2x4”—both featuring new bass tracking by River’s friend Flea—from Aleka’s Attic, the band she shared with her brother from 1987 to 1993, the year he died. In the months leading up to River’s birthday, Rain showcased artists that had a six-degree connection to River — including tracks from his sisters Summer and Liberty— every two weeks via LaunchLeft, the label and podcast she started in 2018. The platform gives artists who might otherwise not get exposure a spotlight—something her brother was a huge proponent of throughout his life. An advocate for the underdog, River was the kind of person who, if he saw someone feeling out of place in a room, he’d approach them. For River, knowing one’s true power was linked to a sense of harmlessness. “With my brother it was the idea that harmlessness was sort of the key into your own power,” says Rain Phoenix. “If you could have empathy and you could care for not only other humans, but other beings and other animals and our planet, and see the connection of all of that, that’s the beginning to knowing your true power, because we’re all connected. And that’s something that was, like, beyond ahead of its time, in terms of a heartthrob young actor.” Limited edition vinyl, vintage T-shirt designs, and posters for Aleka’s Attic are now available at LaunchLeft’s online store, with proceeds benefiting charity. “It felt important to celebrate River’s 50th birthday with the release of his music,” says Phoenix. “My brother was a creative activist who cared deeply about the planet, the people, the animals. To honor him further, all web store profits from Aleka’s Attic merchandise will support animal rights, racial justice, and environmental organizations.” — Tina Benitez-Eves FLOOD 23



Nearly a year and a half after Krill stopped being Throughout Knot, Furman grapples with this “forever,” as their track “Theme From Krill” put it, mental and social shift over riffs as acidic and the Boston rock trio unexpectedly resurfaced for wiry—but nowhere near as spastic or moshone final Facebook post. “The indie rock world... ready—as Krill’s. On “Justice,” he reflects on often fails to spur real action,” read the post. Imhow his activist work has reshaped his thoughts mediately before that: “We’ve gone to a lot fewer about justice and power. He says the song shows this year and a lot more organizing meetdetails “transitioning to an idea of power as ings. Join us.” [something] we [should] want,” instead of fear, as a tool for effecting social change—it’s less a It wasn’t virtue signaling. Since Krill disbandteaching moment than it is a series of thoughts ed, frontperson Jonah Furman and drummer Ian about another series of thoughts. “Foam” likeBecker have respectively devoted their lives to wise details the way a political mind fluctuates: labor activism and work with state housing deBACKSTORY: Former indie rockers who left the “I believe in people’s power,” Furman sings over partments. Guitarist Aaron Ratoff is close to scene to pursue full-time activism and law school mildly caustic, midtempo arpeggios, “but not at finishing law school and looking for work as a FROM: Brooklyn and Washington, D.C., via Boston this late hour, personally.” civil rights lawyer. All three Krill members—who YOU MIGHT KNOW THEM FROM: Being the have reunited as Knot, along with new member Knot is mostly musings of this sort instead of cult Boston DIY sensation Krill, but with an added Joe DeManuelle-Hall—ultimately followed the sociopolitical manifestos (save “I Live in Fear,” member and less bombastic songs Facebook post’s imperative to “make political in which Furman pens fervent satire from the NOW: Keeping music as a side passion while reengagement and anti-capitalism a central part perspective of “some racist-whatever Trump maining focused on activism of your life.” person”). That’s by design. “There’s an uncan Now, Knot’s members are doing both that and making music—in fact, ny valley,” Furman says, when “the world is edging on insane revolution and Furman first met DeManuelle-Hall through labor organizing. “I asked one time you’re like, ‘My band is politics!’ That feels dumb.” Put more succinctly: “I if [Jonah] wanted to play music,” DeManuelle-Hall says, “and that organically feel concerned about the idea of positioning ourselves as...the band of the grew from there.” Or, as Furman sings in his signature nasal, ready-to-burst movement. It is not at all true.” sneer on “Fallow,” the first track on Knot’s self-titled debut album, “Now I’m Where Furman leans toward cynicism, Ratoff and Becker find silver linings. back, and now I’m ready to return.” “I’ve tried to at least hope that someone is excited about this band, and this is Although this return to music after years of activism could easily lead to giving them...a thing that they like because it’s such a difficult time for everyone,” explicitly political art, Furman stresses that Knot is “not a polemically political Ratoff says. Becker posits that the conversations Knot starts about what it’s record.” Instead, it’s “an analysis of what it means to live an explicitly political like to think politically could actually make a difference in indie-rock spheres: life,” whether as an activist or otherwise. “A lot of people, after Trump was “After COVID, in whatever new reality we’re all dealing with,” he says, “maybe elected, were like, ‘We have to think politically,’” Furman says. “Starting to there’s an opportunity to restructure music scenes.” A band of full-time activists think politically is an interesting experience as a person...it changes how you and organizers seems pretty well-qualified for the task, and Becker says that, “to the extent that we can support that in any way, I’m sure we will.” Join them. relate to the world.”




NICHOLAS BRAUN Long before he broke out as a fan-favorite member of the Succession ensemble, keep it going. As long as it feels easy.” Nicholas Braun was making music. “It’s a love of mine that I’ve had my whole life, Even when his bit began to blossom into a reality after Atlantic Records since I was very young,” he tells me. “I was playing piano as a kid, I was singing, took notice of “Antibodies,” Braun kept that same energy. He recalls, “This and I’ve been writing songs for a while. I just mostly keep them hidden away.” That A&R guy from Atlantic Records DM’d me, and he was like, ‘I know this is changed definitively with the late-July release of kind of funny, but I actually really like that bridge “Antibodies (Do You Have The),” a tongue-in-cheek and that second verse, and the chorus is stuck charity single about the challenges of finding love in my head. Do you want to make this song?’” Teaming with pop-punk hitmaker Colin Brittain, in the time of COVID-19. Braun turned “Antibodies” into an infectious “Antibodies” began as more of a cabin fever– banger, and the song of a summer like no othinspired comedy bit than a full-fledged song. In er, with proceeds from streaming, music video an early-May Instagram video, Braun delivered views, and merch (including face masks) benethe chorus (“Do you have the antibodies? / Do fiting Partners in Health and the COPE Program, you wanna be with me? / Do you have the ana pair of organizations working to support attibodies? / ’Cause if you don’t, you better stay risk communities during the pandemic. away!”) in a playful, Johnny Rotten–esque a cappella, half-jokingly inviting any musically inclined Though it’s entirely different from the solo followers to set it to instrumentation. “I definitetracks he’s shared sparingly via SoundCloud in ly didn’t intend to make this song when I put my the past (“Normally, I’m in an R&B, electronic first Instagram video out,” Braun recalls. “I just kind of zone,” he notes), Braun sees the suchad this chorus and thought it was funny, and cess of “Antibodies” as an opportunity: “When there’s some reality to it.” you’re trying to be an actor, it’s tough to be like, ‘Hey, I also do this thing! Will you accept me as The reality in question? Braun, quarantined in this other thing?’ It’s a hard kind of redirect for a friend’s Los Angeles guest house, found himself people. Putting this song out and being able to longing for a romantic connection while stymied by the coronavirus. “We’ve had to reframe how BACKSTORY: On the heels of his first Emmy nod, make this when I can’t film, it’s just felt like the we are with humans,” Braun says of the emotion- Braun is making the most of his pandemic-forced right time to make music. I would love to put out break from shooting Succession by way of his some more stuff.” al drive behind the song. “If you come within six feet, I have to do a different thing now. You know, debut single That includes more “Antibodies”: Atlantic if you don’t have the antibodies, I have to be fear- FROM: Born in Bethpage, N.Y., Braun is based in plans to release various covers of the single, then ful of you.” Finding love was difficult enough be- New York City collect them on an EP later this year. “We’re workYOU MIGHT KNOW HIM FROM: Acclaimed HBO fore a global pandemic rewrote the rules of how ing on that now,” says Braun. “I don’t wanna say series Succession, in which he stars as the goofy, we interact with one another. too much, because we’re not sure where it’s headyet deceptively shrewd “Cousin Greg” Hirsch ed, but we’re reaching out to some bands and That sentiment, as well as Braun’s appeal to NOW: Working on an “Antibodies” compilation the artistry of a cooped-up audience, clearly res- EP, and soon to appear in Janicza Bravo’s much- talking to some people about alternate versions.” onated—his video quickly went viral, inspiring As much as it has Braun looking forward to anticipated A24 feature Zola fan renditions of all kinds, some of which Braun the future, “Antibodies” is, at its core, an effort signal-boosted to his Instagram followers. As the song continued to take on to deal with the overwhelming here and now, both by coping through comedy a life of its own, Braun realized he had tapped into a rich vein of creativity: “I and helping to combat the COVID-19 pandemic—a crisis that has affected probably got over 150 videos from people. Some people sent multiple videos Braun personally. His 81-year-old father Craig contracted the virus in early of different renditions. I think a lot of people were excited to make some mu- March, which Braun says “made it very real for me very early on. I definitely sic and get their brain firing in that way.” He soon shared more lyrics and set could have lost my dad to it. And luckily he survived, but there are people up an email address, committing to the bit with just one caveat: “The whole in my life that I have lost, and that’s the foundation of my understanding of thing felt like, ‘Well, I’m just gonna keep this going as long as people want to what this is.”




GHETTO KUMBÉ Started in 2014 as a percussionist party and musical laboratory before ma- bia. Along with an empathy with the country’s Aboriginal and Afro-descendant turing into a politically charged artists union focused on the transmission of population, Mercado stated that his trio’s identity “in the musical, in the culimessages steeped in social criticism and poetic narrative, Ghetto Kumbé nary, in the ways of speaking, the way we dress, all of this is because we are serves a higher purpose beyond guiding a good groove. Merging tribal tradi- aware that we live in conditions of very marked inequality.” State policies have harshly affected the Wayuu communities, particularly tionalism and Afrofuturism with global left-leaning rhetoric is a mission for its the diversion of the Ranchería River’s flow to favor large companies. “They are members, each from Colombia’s Caribbean coast. The Ghetto Kumbé trio—singer Edgardo “El Guajiro” Garcés, rhythmatist beings of the sea, tropical forests, and deserts,” says Mercado of the Wayuu. Juan Carlos “Chongo” Puello, and multi-instrumentalist Andres “Doctor Key- What “Vamo a Dale Duro” does is continue their denunciation and protest with a message extended to all people in a state ta” Mercado—released its eponymously titled of vulnerability, conditions of inequality and full-length debut in July, having previously only state-sanctioned abandonment, from the anshared a few hypnotic EPs. It’s a genre-splicing cient to the future. With that, “Vamo a Dale Duro” gem ripe with hot house beats, multi-ethnic meis a cry of unification, a wake-up call to inequality lodicism, complex Afro-Caribbean rhythms, and and change, and an invitation to transform selfsociopolitical lyricizing from a slew of rappers ishness into something commonly good. “It is a and call-and-response vocalists. Combining battle cry to seek union and improve the reality these ingredients, Ghetto Kumbé cooks like a of many people who suffer,” he says. steamy soup, fluid and fragrant, but eats like a That Ghetto Kumbé make music at all— wildly hearty meal providing food for thought. dedicated to the past or the present, to the “The group manages an aesthetic of analog Indigenous people or their homeland’s onpercussion on a platform of electronic music texgoing struggles with poverty, racism, and tures, with the presence of plug-ins that frame us violence—is a risk unto itself. “Colombia is within the new music of the world,” shares Mera country polarized by its internal political cado during a Spanish-language exchange about wars,” shares Mercado. “Social networks Ghetto Kumbé’s initial impulses. For the trio, it’s and their immediacy generate tensions. Artthe drum that serves as the base for all they surists are abandoned and unprotected, and the vey. “The drums have an energetic, communica- BACKSTORY: Two longtime musicians from the internationally acclaimed fusion act Sidestepper pandemic has worsened our situation.” Lucktive, and present character,” notes Mercado. “The team up with a renowned dunun player amidst ily, Mercado claims groups such as Ghetto drum is guided by the human intention of how the mix of DJs and visual artists in Colombia’s Kumbé have alliances with “friendly music lathings are said and helps to strengthen the intenwarehouse scene. bels to ensure stability in our work and maintions of those ideas. The drum is a catalyst for our FROM: Bogota, Colombia tain our independence.” emotions.” YOU MIGHT KNOW THEM FROM: Beyond any sinThe journey of Ghetto Kumbé began with an Mention the sway of leftist politics in their gle dancefloor smash or remix, their educated brand exploration into cumbia, an ancient Colombian angry, dissatisfied lyrics and Mercado claims of sociopolitical consciousness precedes them musical rhythm and folk dance derived from Ghetto Kumbé is neither left, right, nor center. NOW: After a handful of EPs, the trio signed to ZZK Records for the recording of their eponymously Indigenous and Black slaves on the Caribbean “We believe in action and critical thinking,” he titled debut album, released in July Coast during the Spanish conquest of the Aztec says of his trio’s search for truth and plumbEmpire in the 1500s. “Starting off, we had many ing memory to reach forgiveness, reparation, concerns about the origins of cumbia, concerns that sent us to West Africa and and reconciliation. “It is not necessary to belong to any political affilithe music of our Aboriginal territories, leading us to a musical, cosmogonic, ation to realize that many things in the world fail in shaping the fabric and empathic identification with their stories.” of social communion. One day we should forgive, reconcile, and repair Going back to “Soy Selva,” and carrying through to their new album’s ourselves in order to create a wonderful utopian world where politics “Vamo a Dale Duro,” Mercado points to a through-line dedicated to Wayuu based on love and life reign, and leave behind this politics of death that culture, the Wayuu being an Aboriginal people on the northern coast of Colom- has degraded us.”




CHAD GOES DEEP Chad Kroeger was stoked. After weeks of closures due to the COVID-19 pan- tions is radical kindness, and maintaining an ‘aura of stoke,’” Chad explains. demic, the beaches in Huntington Beach, California had reopened; Kroeger— “We read stoicism a lot, and that’s kind of the crux of that philosophy—always not to be confused with the Nickelback frontman of the same name—was stay stoked within. By maintaining that, you can kind of de-escalate the ‘situlooking forward to hitting his favorite surfing spots, and maybe even grabbing ache’ and help get your message across.” a meal afterwards at Bear Flag Fish Co., one of his favorite poke places. But The mask handouts were not Chad and JT’s first venture into activism; what he saw when he pulled into the beach comthe duo have been showing up for several years munity concerned him greatly. now at city council meetings around Southern California, and speaking out on everything from “I noticed that a lot of people weren’t wearzoning laws and scooter bans to pet projects of ing masks,” recalls Chad (real name: Tom Allen), their own devising—like their proposals to add comedian and co-host of the podcast Going a second Fourth of July to the U.S. calendar, or Deep with Chad and JT. “Naturally, I thought that build a statue memorializing the late Fast and the supply chain must be boned up, since we’d Furious actor Paul Walker. heard early on in the pandemic that there was a shortage of PPE.” “Around the last election,” Chad recalls, “We Determined to help solve this apparent noticed that the country was pretty divided, so we thought we should go speak to the San Clemask shortage, Chad and his bro/podcast partmente City Council about how a statue of Paul ner JT (real name: John T. Parr) scored a bunch Walker could bring this country together. And of masks from a pal at the MULCH California from there, I guess we realized that we do have clothing company, and tried to distribute them. a powerful message to bring to the people, so “We just thought we’d go out and hand them out we decided, ‘Let’s just keep speaking on things for free, so that people could start rocking them,” that are near and dear to our hearts, and maybe Chad explains. people will vibe with it.’” But despite the pair’s laid-back methodology, the response to their mission—as captured While the videos of Chad and JT’s city council in a now-viral YouTube video—was significantly appearances are agreeably goofy—JT usualBACKSTORY: Perpetually stoked Southern less than enthusiastic. While Chad and JT did ly manages to work an a capella song into his Californian comedians channeling their inner Sean Penns as they attempt to make a positive find a few takers, most of the folks they spoke speech—they also subtly reinforce the idea that difference in their community to countered their offer of free masks with medeveryone can and should get involved with comFROM: San Clemente, California, but can now be ical disinformation, crackpot theories, bellicose munity politics. found on any cool Orange County beach declarations of personal freedom, and even “I think our stoke-filled, lighthearted approach YOU MIGHT KNOW THEM FROM: Their popular physical threats. A second mask-distribution forhelps to open up the conversation to people who podcast, Going Deep with Chad and JT ay, this one filmed in the duo’s hometown of San might not otherwise be interested in politics, or NOW: Developing an animated Chad and JT Clemente, proved equally unsuccessful. “It was think that they’re not interested in it,” says Chad. series for Hulu interesting to hear people’s take on it,” reflects “Like, we have a buddy who never watched the Chad, “but in Orange County, people don’t really like being told what to do.” news before we started doing this stuff, and now he’s like, ‘Dude, I love poli “It’s like when I was in little league, and they tried to make us wear cups,” tics!’ He’s really well-versed in all the city council agenda items now.” adds JT. “I thought they were really cumbersome and refused to wear one. It “I used to watch Real Time with Bill Maher a lot,” adds JT. “And when wasn’t until the third baseman on my team got hit by a ball right where you Sean Penn would go on there, it would say on his chiron, ‘Sean Penn—acwear a cup that I was like, ‘All right, these are pretty important.’ I think that, tivist/actor,’ and I was like, ‘Whoa, he’s an activist first!’ And I really respect whatever the issue is, it needs to strike close to home before people start Sean Penn, so I was like, ‘I’m an activist first, too!” So when we go to the taking safety precautions.” city council, there are aspects of our speeches that maybe help it pop a But even during their gnarliest mask-distribution encounters—like the little, but the first thing is always activism. We definitely want to make it San Clemente surfer who ran up and coughed in their faces—Chad and JT viewer-friendly, and put the sugar on the pill that will make people want to remained impressively chill and undeterred. “Our approach to all those situa- watch it, but it’s all for the cause.” BY DAN EPSTEIN – PHOTO BY MARK RIGHTMIRE FLOOD 30



Nailah Hunter’s debut EP, Spells, came out of a crefor yourself so that you can get back to reality forative drought when she began viewing songwriting tified,” says Hunter. “That’s something I struggle like the ordered steps of an incantation, but the with as a Black woman—me sitting here talking Los Angeles–based harpist understands if new lisabout the Lady of the Lake is not going to stop teners aren’t on board with the witchcraft aesthetic, the police from killing Black people.” especially with its recent co-opting by Instagram in Finding a group in Los Angeles similarly fofluencers, TikTok, and Urban Outfitters. cused on healing music while non-performatively pushing for racial inclusivity seems like a Hercu “Witchery, being spiritual, all those things lean task, but Hunter credits Leaving Records for are really trendy right now, so I’m sure there are building a community focused on all of our likepeople who are like, ‘Oh cool, she thinks she’s a nesses. She met Leaving founder Matthewdavid witch,’” Hunter acknowledges with a laugh. “Havthrough John Carroll Kirby, who she worked with ing come from music school, I needed to get back to basics. I needed to get back to why I like to cre- BACKSTORY: A multi-instrumentalist and com- on an acoustic session for Kali Uchis, and was poser primarily on harp, Nailah Hunter is carving soon invited to play the label’s free concert seate, and it’s because I get to tap into this place a singular lane for herself alongside champions of ries, Listen to Music Outside in the Daylight Under that is removed, but also a place that is ancestral the modern new age movement, Grammy-nomia Tree. Amidst art installations and the abunand feels natural.” nated singers, and meditation circles alike dant greenery of Highland Park’s La Tierra de la In just under 12 minutes, Spells’ six songs FROM: Los Angeles, CA Culebra, the Listen to Music series hosted Ana genuinely create magic in their brief yet transYOU MIGHT KNOW HER FROM: Her debut EP, Roxanne, Carlos Niño, Flying Lotus, and Hunter portive nature, conjuring the harp’s medieval Spells, which came out earlier this year on Leaving among countless others in an all-genre melding associations with the wistfulness of a Studio Records—prior to that, you could find her collabpot of jazz, ambient, live beatmaking, and sound Ghibli score. At the same time, Hunter’s debut orating with Kali Uchis and John Carroll Kirby, as well as performing for Leaving’s pre-COVID concollage. Unlike Hunter’s typical performance exfeels timely within the recent new age revival cert series in LA’s Highland Park perience of lugging her harp into venues to the that has brought undersung heroes like Laraaji NOW: Reissuing Spells on vinyl and working on confused reactions of bar staff and patrons, the and the late Hiroshi Yoshimura to long-overdue her debut album for Leaving while teaching harp series was a revelation. praise. It’s a lineage that makes sense for Hunt- lessons and conducting the occasional private er, given Spells’ world-building ambience and her “I think that community is really open to all sound bath via video call prior experience hosting sound baths before the kinds of people and all kinds of music, but the pandemic—but more than anything, Hunter sees her fantasy-driven music as one throughline is this tapped-in quality,” she adds. “This sounds dramatic, but an intuitive respite from the state of the world as a Black artist. there’s a focus on the divine and finding that next answer, which a lot of music “Definitely fantasy is an escape and a safe place, but you create that space is not about right now.”





me. That it would be my work, and mine alone, It’s hard to choose just one defining moment on to interrogate what I had unknowingly internalcountry newcomer S.G. Goodman’s debut reized about myself and about those who made cord. It could be during “Old Time Feeling,” the that process so painful.” tune that acts as the gorgeously forlorn new alDuring our lengthy conversation—which debum’s title track, and speaks to bigoted lowered toured into unpacking her favorite year for music expectations of her Southern home. It could be (1971, with Link Wray’s eponymous LP, Karen the slow, rangy manner in which Goodman sings Dalton’s In My Own Time, Harry Nilsson’s Nilsthe autobiographical tale “The Way I Talk,” which son Schmillson, and Bill Fay’s Time of the Last frames her father’s backbreaking existence as a Persecution as obsessions), much of which political statement. It could be how she injects informs her reverberating, beautifully grungy the lyrical éclat of “Space and Time” with consound—Goodman uses the words “detective” fessional elements related to suicidal thoughts and “interrogate” as often as a beat cop might. and queer romance. She plumbs every topic—from the natural room “I believe that the South is the soul of the sounds of boots walking and guitar picks clickcountry, and if the soul is sick then so is the body,” ing, to the cottonmouth snake her dad holds on says Goodman from the same porch where she BACKSTORY: The daughter of a proud and digher new album’s cover, to the narrative distance wrote “Red Bird Morning,” another one of Old nified family farmer/sharecropper rising through necessary for writing autobiographically—like Time Feeling’s poignant, pointed moments. “The the ranks of the Kentucky bar band scene in order she’s wringing out a damp washcloth of its last South has historically been the scapegoat for to front her own echoing, raw country rock endrop of water. “It’s all I have going for me, so I those who don’t live in this region to point a finger semble with wry autobiographical lyrics better,” she replies when I note how seriously toward bigger problems and regressive policies. FROM: Hickman, Kentucky she appears to take songwriting. “I also have a I wonder what would happen if people invested YOU MIGHT KNOW HER FROM: If not her music then perhaps her consistent disgust and interreverence for being respectful to my characters, time and energy into a progressive idea of what even if the character is myself, which might be the South could become. If there’s anything pos- net-mediated resentment toward Mitch McConnell harder to be respectful of.” itive that can be attributed to this administration, NOW: Goodman, her producer Jim James (My Morning Jacket), and her longtime band unAsk Goodman about how she got involved in it’s that it truly lifted the veil of how widespread leashed the magical Old Time Feeling onto the politics and speaking up for greater visibility for these social injustices and deep-seated beliefs world in August left-leaning people in rural places, and she says are, and how certain injustices attributed to the it’s because she’s “a living, breathing thing. As far as my art goes, that’s a repSouth are actually in every neighborhood in this nation.” Regarding sexuality, Goodman is just as frank. “I didn’t have the ‘plea- resentation of who I am and what I’m experiencing in my daily life. That’s as far sure’ of coming out, I was found out. Given few choices of how I could go as it goes. I don’t sit down with any intention of writing about a particular thing. about my future, I chose one of authenticity and the consequences that You can’t dissect it. It’s me writing through experience. There’s no separating. come with that. So ‘living out’ became a journey of reconciling to my new- Even if I choose not to engage with politics, that doesn’t mean that they’re not found reality—of understanding that forgiveness would have to start with engaging with me.” BY A.D. AMOROSI – PHOTO BY MEREDITH TRUAX FLOOD 34

FLOOD 11 (Shepard Fairey/H.E.R.)

FLOOD 11 (Shepard Fairey/David Byrne)

FLOOD 11 (Shepard Fairey/Vic Mensa)

FLOOD 10 (Animal Collective/Alex Honnold)

FLOOD 10 (Swoon/Jeff Bridges)

FLOOD 9 (Paul Dano/Wu-Tang Clan)

FLOOD 9 (M.I.A./Tenacious D)




Molly Lipson

Nabhaan Rizwan is not the only actor in his family. “My mum’s so famous in that uses nonviolent civil disobedience to take action on the climate crisis. India and Pakistan, and even in parts of Leicester [a city in England with a A multi-faceted artist, Rizwan had been working on some new music for a large Indian population], we can’t take her anywhere,” he laughs. He’s not as while. During XR’s October rebellion last year, he read out the lyrics to his song “Fantastic Planet” to a crowd of expectant activfamiliar a face on the screen as his Bollywood ists and hundreds of police officers against the star mother quite yet—but he will be soon. After majestic backdrop of Trafalgar Square. Rizwan acing his first-ever audition to nab the leading dropped his first EP, which features the song as role in BBC’s Informer in 2018, Rizwan’s been the title track, at the end of July. working almost non-stop. Over the last year he’s been building a rather “The activist community is a really important prophetic showreel. Alongside two films, he also one to be held up by,” he stresses, recalling what stars as Hari in the HBO series Industry, out in it was like to stand up there in front of such an the U.S. this November, about a group of young informed crowd. “They’re the ones holding sofinanciers on Wall Street during the 2008 ecociety up to a standard, they’re the ones always nomic crash—the second worst this century afdemanding better from everyone, and they’re ter this current, pandemic-induced collapse. And the movers and the shakers. So being linked before lockdown he was filming Station Eleven, with them in some way is a great opportunity for another show for HBO about the last remaining regular reflection and accountability.” It’s why he survivors of a flu-like epidemic. brands all his work as political art, in equal measure thought-provoking and thoughtful. What Rizwan grew up in Essex, a county just outmatters to him is intentionality, making careful, side of London. It didn’t inspire his creative mind, deliberate choices about words, style, sound, so he moved out when he was 17 to start buildmovement, tone, and expression. He swears by ing his career. It wasn’t just the art world that the Solange interlude “Nothing Without Intenenticed him—capital cities are notorious for BACKSTORY: An award-winning actor—and tion:” “That’s a really good motto.” endless protests, many of which Rizwan attend- rapper under the name El Huxley—who’s about to become a familiar face on the music scene and ed in earnest, including the Occupy showdown in He also applies this adage when deciding the big screen 2011. There was something about these events what projects to take on and how to perform that deeply affected him: “There’s a certain en- FROM: Essex, UK; now living in London those roles. He accepts acting jobs partly based YOU MIGHT KNOW HIM FROM: Informer on BBC ergy that comes with a public speech in a square on whether the character exists as more than a or the new HBO series Industry that stretches back thousands of years, and stereotype or a token: “I’ve been thinking a lot NOW: Starring in upcoming films Moghul Mowgli it’s really an unbeatable way of storytelling and recently about brown dreams, brown people and Last Letter From Your Lover communication. That’s essentially what my art being able to dream, being able to think cosis, that’s what music, writing, filmmaking is—the distribution of information mically. That’s the thread between all the art I admire and aspire to create.” through storytelling.” Discussions of race within the arts are often too shallow. It’s not just about Rizwan’s not professionally trained, but he acquired much of his performa- visual representation—being in a show or a film isn’t driving any kind of radtive flair whilst attending these rallies. He observed speakers on soapboxes ical movement if scripts aren’t reflecting depth of character and a range of and absorbed their talent for vocal projection, impersonated how they carried emotional existences. themselves on stage, and marveled at the tools they employed to help cut Rizwan might not consider himself an activist per se, but he does recogthrough the noise, both literally and metaphorically. It’s his self-taught style nize his role in the field—particularly now, as much of the world is starting to that makes him so captivating to watch. rise up in protest. “It’s important to turn up to the rallies, and more import His own debut performance at a protest took place during the occupa- ant to have conversations. Is music part of that conversation, or art, or film? tion of Central London by social movement Extinction Rebellion (XR), a group Definitely.”



Voice of the

People Producer Dem Jointz and Keedron Bryant discuss the 13-year-old vocalist’s powerful viral hit “I Just Wanna Live” and collaborating on a full EP.

As soon as multi-platinum producer Dem Jointz heard Keedron Bryant’s voice, the Compton-based musician was on a mission. Like millions of others, Dem Jointz—who has worked with the likes of Dr. Dre, Janet Jackson, and Brandy—was drawn to the powerful words and emotion emanating from the then12-year-old on his gripping, a capella video for “I Just Wanna Live.” The clip became a viral sensation—Will Smith, LeBron James, and President Barack Obama are fans—when it was posted in May in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, who was killed when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.



Katherine Levin Sheehan

©Christopher Parsons

Dem Jointz tracked Keedron down and flew him and his mother to Los Angeles. With Keedron’s name buzzing in music circles, the young singer soon signed to Warner Records, which released his debut EP I Just Wanna Live on September 11, featuring production from Dem Jointz. Inspired by the work of John Legend, Marvin Sapp, Jennifer Hudson, and others, Keedron wants to make sure his voice and his message continue resonating. Part of what made “I Just Wanna Live” so powerful was seeing you standing up for what you believe in and what you know is right. What has the song’s success taught you, Keedron, about the importance of standing up? Keedron Bryant: After the song went viral, people were telling me that this is the new Black anthem for 2020, and that for years and years to come it’s going to be our anthem for freedom. That’s when I said that I have to keep on being the face [for the movement] and not get off the path. That’s why standing up is one of the keys to keep being the face—because I don’t want to just put out a song and then months later nobody knows about me, and people are like, “OK, that was just one little video.” I can keep standing up, keep on proclaiming freedom, keep doing the work that God wants me to do. I had to not be afraid of what people are gonna say about me. It’s been hard, but I’m still going to keep trusting in God, and He’s been protecting me.

political messages in music. What do you think this song shows us?

KB: Police officers need to hear our cry, and that scene was basically around that point of view. The police officer heard our cry and so he put a hand out to just help in a way.

Dem Jointz: God’s given us a gift to where we can actually create a way for them to want to hear [messages]. Just off the video DJ: I feel like it was more of a symbol of alone, outside of the message being so ur- hope. That’s what we would hope to see as gent, his voice is crazy. So then you just see opposed to what we’ve been witnessing. this young kid crying out, and that alone touches you, even if you set aside what he’s Throughout the entire campaign, Keedron, crying out about. But I think these talents you’ve been doing interviews with your that we put in together strengthen what mom. What was special about being able the message is. to sing a song that your mom wrote and do stuff with her on the promotional side? Keedron, at the end of the “I Just Wanna Live” video, the officer is approaching you KB: That was one of the best collaboraDem Jointz, I think there’s a common re- with his hand rather than a gun. Why was tions that I did with my mom. So it was like, frain that people don’t want to hear about that important to put in the video? “Wow,” just to get that kind of impact from


that collaboration for “I Just Wanna Live.” It’s always good just to work with my mom because she’s very, very intelligent and she knows me. Dem Jointz, how did you first hear “I Just Wanna Live?”

that he has as you go. Man, it’s a blessing. As you work on Keedron’s debut project, what are you trying to bring out of him as a producer?

“I can keep standing up, keep on proclaiming freedom, keep doing the work that God wants me to do.” – Keedron Bryant

DJ: I was at the house chilling, watch- DJ: He’s a crazy singer. ing TV with my girl. She was on Instagram His voice is incredible, so and she’s playing Keedron’s a capella. So of course we have to utiI heard his voice first. I didn’t even know lize that. You’re definitewhat he was singing about. I just thought ly going to hear more thoughts on different his voice was amazing, so I paused the TV topics surrounding “I Just Wanna Live.” But and we’re listening to him and he gave me at the end of the day, it’s banging. It’s super that moment, that moment when you listen dope. A lot of it is from the perspective of to songs and it hits you in the gut, gives a 13-year-old boy. I feel like he is the voice you the chills. It was difficult to ignore. I of the people, and that’s pretty much what was like, “I gotta do something with this.” I wrapped everything around.

A lot of your work, especially the stuff that’s What made you choose “You Got This” as gotten notoriety, has been with super es- the second single? tablished artists. So given that, how have you found working with Keedron is similar DJ: Dealing with quarantine and coming or different from the Janet Jacksons or the out of racial injustice, we can assume that Dr. Dre’s of the world? it’s exhausting, everyone’s tired and might be feeling down. It’s summertime and we’re DJ: To be honest, I don’t think about that, not necessarily taking advantage of what because if I thought about that with Dr. Dre comes with that. So we felt we wanted to or Janet Jackson and I’m like, “Oh my God, switch it up a little bit and give the peoI can’t believe I’m in the studio with them,” ple something to feel good about, the light then I probably wouldn’t be able to perform. at the end of the tunnel type situation. It’s I try to be the same, keep the same pro- more motivational. Anyone feeling doubtfessionalism, and just do my thing. But the ful about whatever they’re going through, crazy thing about it is that Keedron’s first it’s for them. No one’s really talking about time in the studio, he was professional. He people recovering from COVID as opposed caught on quick. After a couple of hours in to people catching it, so we’re just underthere, man, you could have sworn he was a lining the brighter side of things on this professional that’s been in there for years. and just keeping it motivating and inspirYou start realizing all the different talents ing. And it’s funky. FLOOD 41


uan Pablo Wauters was 18 years old in 2002 when he boarded a plane in his hometown of Montevideo, Uruguay and flew to New York City to reunite with his father. Wauters arrived on a tourist visa; six months later, when the terms of that visa expired, he joined the approximated half a million undocumented immigrants living in NYC. Of that number, more than a third are believed to reside in Queens, which is where Juan’s family had decided to make their new home.


Juan’s father had flown north two years earlier to escape the looming economic crisis that, in July 2002, caused Uruguay’s banking sector to collapse. Once Juan joined him, the pair worked side-by-side at a picture framing factory and saved up enough money to bring the rest of the family (Juan’s mother and two brothers) to the U.S. “They consider themselves to be in economic exile,” Juan explains from his parents’ house in Jackson Heights. “They don’t think they chose to move here, they feel like they were cornered and had to make that decision.” The decision to immigrate is not something anyone takes lightly. I went through the process of immigrating to the U.S. last year, and was amazed at the toll it took on my mental health. A citizen of New Zealand, I had one of the easiest ways in—my wife, who is also from New Zealand, won the diversity visa (or green card) lottery, which was introduced in 1990 as a way to diversify the immigrant population in the United States. In 2017, nearly 84,000 applicants were selected, and almost 50,000 people from 185 different countries were issued green cards through the visa lottery program. Despite what some critics say, including former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, visa lottery winners do not hit the jackpot and get to expeditiously live in the United States permanently. Winning the lottery simply gives you the

right to apply for permanent residency; you’re married, provide your original maryou are still thoroughly vetted, just like riage certificate and a trove of evidence to every other person who attempts to cross prove your marriage is legitimate. You can the border. Though the process to obtain a do this by showing a lease with both your visa this way is less bureaucratic, there are names on it, by printing out social media still monumental barriers that make win- posts where family members have comning the lottery bittersweet—these same mented on photos that you’re both in, or barriers exist for most people wanting to by showing travel documents where hotels immigrate to the United States. were booked under both your names. Along with attorney’s fees, which can That’s the so-called easy way. If you reach into the thousands, the current marry a U.S. citizen, as Juan did after non-refundable application fee to obtain being undocumented for a period, your permanent residency is $330 per person (for spouse must also provide evidence that someone already living in the U.S., the fee is $1,140, plus an additional $85 fee to have your fingerprints and photo taken). This fee needs to be submitted with a form, in English, that details the last 10 years of your life. As part of the Trump administration’s war on immigration, all of these fees are about to rise astronomically, and you are now also required to provide a list of social media handles that you’ve used over the last five years with your application. Unlike other government agencies which receive funding from congress, U.S. Customs and Immigration Services relies on fees to keep the agency running—nearly 97 percent of the department’s budget comes from fees collected at the border. When you meet with a U.S. immigration officer, which is mandatory, you must also present an original copy of your birth certificate, provide police certificates for every country, state, or jurisdiction that you have lived in, show that you’ve completed high school or gained an education comparable to a 12-year course in the United States, prove that you’ve passed a medical exam, and, if



they can support you financially, and if approved, you get a temporary green card that’s only valid for two years. To get a 10-year green card, you and your spouse must again sit before an immigration officer and answer questions to prove your marriage is still intact. “Looking back, during those days we were in survival mode,” Juan says of his experience with the immigration department. “Everything had to be done right, so I was very focused, and we did the whole thing the proper way. I hired a lawyer and the person that I did it with, she was also very responsible with all the paperwork.” Juan’s brothers were 13 and 10 when they arrived in the U.S. Today they’re part of a group of individuals known as “Dreamers”—a label used to describe those who were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents. Juan considers himself part of this group, too, even though he never had to enroll in the DACA program. “I was a teenager at the time, still dependent on my parents economically in all senses,” he says. “I was not given any opportunity to make my own decisions.” Now in his mid-thirties, Juan’s immigrant background is what makes his music stand out among the crowded field of white American indie rockers that have helped turn his record label, Captured Tracks, into one of the nation’s most prominent labels of its kind. DIIV, Dum Dum Girls, Wild Nothing, and Mac DeMarco all made their mark with the label’s backing, but it was Juan’s former band The Beets that made the label’s first full-length release in 2008. “We’ve known each other from the beginning,” Juan says of his relationship with Captured Tracks’ founder Mike Sniper. “One time The Beets played a concert that was programmed either by him or one of his friends, and from that day on I’ve been

releasing music on Captured Tracks.” The Beets released two albums of rackety, lofi garage rock with the label before dissolving in 2014 (they put out a third album with Hardly Art Records). Juan has since released four albums under his own name. His most recent, Introducing Juan Pablo, is a bilingual record sung in both English and Spanish that references the interculturalism that connects the many immigrant communities in Jackson Heights, and reclaims the middle name that he stopped using once he had assimilated in the U.S. Few artists ever manage to sound like New York City does, but within the cosmopolitan sounds of Juan Wauters’ joyous indie-pop music you can hear how the cities’ different cultures collide. That’s because his own neighborhood, Jackson Heights, which is one of the most ethnically diverse in the country, is never far from his mind. “I thank the universe for bringing me here,” Juan says. “I’m very happy and very proud, I feel like this neighborhood has influenced me a lot. Living here, I have become much more aware of other people’s lives. I am much more aware of how everybody can learn from everybody, and how everything should be considered.” This attitude is clear when Juan talks about the current political climate, which has become extremely hostile toward immigrants, particularly those who came to the U.S. undocumented like Juan and his family did. It can be easy to overlook the immigrant population when you don’t recognize yourself within it, but the fact is that most immigrants have a love for this country that is much more tender than the nationalist version promoted with pomp and grandeur by the current president. Juan says he recognizes why some people in the U.S. may be upset and want to blame immigrants for their problems.

“I feel for them, because when I travel through the country I see how these people live, and I relate,” he says. But he believes President Trump is taking advantage of people’s ignorance. “I don’t hate those people that live in the country and vote for Trump. I’ve gone through the country and it looks horrible out there,” he says. “We live in New York, so we don’t know. Here we have a lot of opportunities and we see people from other countries and we all get along.” FLOOD 45

Flaming Lips leader Wayne Coyne on COVID, community, and promoting pet causes on social media. BY WAYNE COYNE (AS TOLD TO DAN EPSTEIN)


conservative Midwestern place,” or whatever. But for me, it’s really not like that. I mean, I grew up here in a big, big family, and my older brothers all had freaky friends. They took drugs, they rode motorcycles; they just did not live by anybody’s rules, you know? So my life has always kind of been like that. But at the same time, I’ve also known politicians here from when they were in high school, and watched them grow up and become people in the community that can help other people. I’ve personally known David Holt, the mayor of Oklahoma City, for over 15 years. He was the previous mayor’s chief of staff. I think he’s Republican—I don’t really know— but I know he helps me, and he helps my neighborhood. But if I show support for him on social media, there are a lot of dumbasses out there that feel like they need to tell me how stupid I am for supporting the mayor of Oklahoma City, who I have known for years…

©George Salisbury


’m sitting here in Oklahoma City, in our giant warehouse where we keep our guitars and our amps and our unicorns and space bubbles and mirror balls and things. Usually, all this stuff would be in two or three trucks right now, traveling across America and being used to rejuvenate the spirits of Flaming Lips fans out there. And here it is all just sitting in our warehouse gathering dust. But this is the state of the world right now. What can you do? The night we made the video for “Flowers of Neptune 6” [from The Flaming Lips’ latest album American Head] was that same night in March where that NBA game here in Oklahoma City was postponed right before tipoff because of the pandemic. That was the night we realized that the shutdown was really happening. Since we were shooting the video out in the country, it was quite a long drive back to the base where we work. Everybody was talking in the Jeep about Tom Hanks, the coronavirus, and the Thunder game, and how this was happening in Oklahoma City—our city. I’ve said it before, but Oklahoma City has done far more to shape The Flaming Lips than we have done to shape Oklahoma City. I think people have maybe a simplistic view of what it must be like to be “these freaky artists living by their own rules in such a

“Army of the future carrying the real weapons that will preserve mankind: Smiles, curiosity, light and flowers” by Wayne Coyne

FLOOD 48 ©Wayne Coyne

I try to show support for a lot of different people and causes on social media. I mean, we get looked at plenty; so many people have supported us and our music over the years, so I never feel like I have to constantly be saying, “Hey, look at us, because this is going on!” There’s so many cool and important things in the world that could get a great amount of help with just a little bit of notice from somebody, a little bit of boost on Instagram and social media. I can’t tell you how many artists I wouldn’t have known about—but because of Instagram, I’ll see their stuff and I’ll go, “What the fuck is this?” I think that’s one of the great things about social media: You get a little moment to say, “I think this is cool— and maybe you agree?” The other side of it is that there are always people who use it as an opportunity to tell you how to live. But I would say to anybody, don’t let that stop you from saying great things and being brave. If that stopped everybody, nothing would happen. I always try to remember, there’s going to be 500 people responding to whatever you post with “Fuck yeah! Do it, brother!” And there’s always going to be 10 people that are saying, “Oh, you’re stupid.” So fuck those people, you know? There are sometimes things where I think, “I don’t need to chime in on that,” or “Instagram is just not the place to say this.” Like the music that we’re putting out now, it’s not this radical, loud, “Let’s fuck up society!” sort of music. A lot of it is very gentle, emo-

“I always try to remember, there’s going to be 500 people responding to whatever you post with ‘Fuck yeah! Do it, brother!’ And there’s always going to be 10 people that are saying, ‘Oh, you’re stupid.’ So fuck those people, you know?” tional music. I’m not screaming at people that motherfuckers are dumb, and we’ve got the answer. I don’t have an answer, but we’re singing about emotional things that anybody can relate to. I don’t always promote a lot of Oklahoma City–specific events on social media, because when I’m on Instagram I’m talking to the whole world; it’s rare that I’m saying, “This is only for people in Oklahoma City!” But, you know, we’ve lived here forever, well before anyone even knew what an “internet presence” was, and most of the things we’re doing and involved with here are person-to-person things that you don’t necessarily need to let the whole world know that you’re doing. But we love our city, and we love being a part of it. Oklahoma City has become a cool spot, but a lot of people wrongly think that’s because of me. It was really just sheer coincidence, you know? I grew up here, and I liked living here as an artist and a musician, because it doesn’t cost much money, and no one is telling you how to live. I could see if you were a young guy in a band, saying, “I wouldn’t mind living the way The Flaming Lips do,” and I’d say, “Yeah, I agree. I live the fucking best life ever!” But such a big part of why I do is that there are so many other people here, creative and otherwise, who live here for the same reasons that I do, who are actively involved in the community and make it a better place.



Filmmakers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine and subjects Steven Garza and René Otero reflect on the unique political microcosm captured in their documentary film Boys State. BY CARLOS AGUILAR

dolescent naiveté rejuvenates and challenges the two-party system in the American Legion’s Boys State program, a week-long recreation of the U.S. political process for high school students held annually since 1935 in all states except Hawaii. Inside that hormonal microcosm, rowdy yet politically engaged young minds are randomly divided into factions, Nationalists and Federalists, to play at developing a party platform, passing legislation, and nominating a candidate for state governor to run against the adversary band. In a provocative gesture, the kids in the 2017 Texas iteration of this simulation, which has nurtured former presidents and relevant figures on both sides of the aisle, voted to symbolically secede from the union. Their mischievous jest caused a media stir and caught the inquisitive eye of documentarians Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine, who saw the program as a rare space for people from opposite ideological spectrums to practice civil discourse. “In this moment of deep division, we loved the idea of exploring the potential that young people have to agree,” says Moss. Equipped with 28 crewmembers and six cinematographers, the co-directors captured the 2018 Texas gathering through the lens of four participants who exemplify the country’s clashing perspectives. As compelling as it is terrifying about our election prospects, Boys State, the resulting film, was awarded the top non-fiction


prize at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and debuted on Apple TV+ earlier this year. “Our goal was not some sort of objective balance like certain newspapers,” notes Moss about the subjects the project centers on. “We come with our own politics, our own biases as human beings. We bring that to every choice we make of who we put in the film, but we also weren’t looking to reinforce our own viewpoint.” Thriving in a white-dominated and highly conservative environment, two of their real-life stars, Latinx teens Steven Garza and René Otero (who identifies specifically as Afro-Latinx), had to walk a tightrope with every interaction while not betraying their progressive ideals. The proud product of an immigrant family, Garza is an advocate for gun reform and one of the organizers of March For Our Lives Houston. He cites Senator Bernie Sanders as a major inspiration in his political awakening, and aspires to work behind the scenes on similar campaigns. Nevertheless, Garza doesn’t discount the possibility of running for office one day. At Boys State, he got a glimpse of the logistical and emotional demands of running as the Nationalists’ gubernatorial candidate. FLOOD 52

“They didn’t have the extra pressure of looking different or having different opinions,” says Garza about his fellow statesmen who were in the right-wing majority. But despite his unapologetically liberal stance, Garza was able to garner support from the group at large. They responded to his genuine interest to compromise where possible in order to find common ground. Rather than being discouraged by the roadblocks he encountered, the experience reaffirmed his commitment to seek solutions. “I walked out feeling more hopeful, and even more idealistic that maybe we’re not quite there yet on coming together and trying to make this country a better place for everybody, but we’re a lot closer than most people think. And definitely leaps and bounds closer than the adults are,” adds Garza. Cast during the shooting—as opposed to being interviewed in weeks prior like the other young men—after impressing the directors with his oratory skills, Otero symbolizes a strong voice for the underrepresented. “As someone who has experienced what it’s like to be treated differently off the basis of something you can’t control, my politics are oriented to have the empathy to not allow that to happen to anyone else,” he says with firm resolve.

Embracing the camera following him around throughout the ordeal, Otero found courage in defending what he stands for and decided to use the platform to show his true, magnetic self. As of now, his hope is to interact with politics from an alternative angle, perhaps activism, education, or nonprofit work. Invigorated by the longevity and visibility of the recent Black Lives Matter protests, in which he participated, he hopes to build intersectional bridges within the Latinx community from which, as a Black person, he’s often felt isolated. Notions of masculine identity and particularly how these played out in the political arena are also examined in the film as the numerous boys put them on display. For the directors, Garza embodies a compassionate version of manhood, while Ben Feinstein, a pro-military teen who uses war metaphors to describe political tactics, exudes a violent masculinity. To provide a counterpoint to the testosterone-heavy picture painted in Boys State, they want to pursue a follow up focused on the initiative’s female counterpart, Girls State. Prompted by Garza and Otero’s compassionate diplomacy, Moss noticed a connection between the bright teens and pastor Jay Reinke, the protagonist in his acclaimed feature The Overnighters, which chronicles the religious man’s efforts to comfort and support countless people who arrive in North Dakota to work in the oil business. Individuals like them, with a selflessness that leads to meaningful action, can enact change in others—at least that’s his hope. “In Steven, I was reminded of how powerful it is when someone who naturally embodies soulfulness, authenticity, and sincerity

truly believes that politics is about serving others and not yourself,” adds McBaine. “It was a reminder that the right person can really summon us to be our better selves.” Both Garza and Otero know the United States has veered into an abyss of disillusionment toward institutions—even more so with the current administration. But they are also clear that the only way out is to stare this dark moment squarely in the eyes instead of idealizing a nation that has proven to not be working for all—or even most—of its citizens. For Otero, patriotism in the American sense has been rendered a flawed concept because it demands a blind devotion to the homeland. True love for your country, he believes, should come with accountability and the ability to question its malfunctioning systems. “The real patriots are the ones that are willing to tear at the foundation if that’s what it takes to see America be the best it can be,” explains Otero, almost as if describing both himself and his kindred Boys State comrade. “I genuinely do love the United States of America,” concludes Garza. “I’m very patriotic about this country, but that doesn’t mean that I believe it’s above criticism. I criticize it all the time, and I criticize it because I truly believe that it can be even greater than it has been.”

i S  1

 2


e l p m M  3

 4


n a  5


 6

 7

Director Mary Wharton and producer Chris Farrell discuss their new documentary Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President, which showcases the former President in a new light. The merest mention of Jimmy Carter conjures up a variety of images and personas. There’s his 1977-81 term as the 39th President of the United States, and the highs and lows it encompassed. There’s the post-POTUS Carter—Nobel Peace Prize winner, Habitat for Humanity advocate, artful negotiator of international conflicts, and dedicated human rights activist. And then there’s the pop culture Carter, the one with the big smile, the folksy drawl, the peanut farm,

and the wild brother named Billy. “Music devotee,” however, isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President, a new documentary from award-winning filmmaker Mary Wharton, details Carter’s genuine love for a wide array of musical genres and performers, including rock acts like The Allman Brothers Band, soul and gospel artists like Aretha Franklin and Mahalia Jackson, and country legends like Willie Nelson.


But popular music was more than just throughout Rock & Roll President, as do something Carter enjoyed in his downtime; affectionate testimonials from many of the it was also a means for Carter to connect musicians who caught Carter’s ear, includwith potential supporters during his 1976 ing Nelson, Gregg Allman, Roseanne Cash, bid for the presidency. Long before Beyon- and Dylan, who speaks in arcane but movcé and JAY-Z used their influence to pro- ing terms about the many facets of the formote Barack Obama, or Bill Clinton played mer President. sax on The Arsenio Hall Show, Carter understood that forging a connection with pop- For both Farrell and Wharton, the impact ular performers could help to elevate him of Carter’s love of music on many facets of

“Carter was always thought of as a little square, but he was friendly with Bob Dylan and pot-smokin’ Willie Nelson and radical longhairs like the Allman Brothers.” – Mary Wharton in the eyes of a key constituency: younger voters. And in an incredibly savvy move, Carter tapped Bob Dylan, Nelson, the Allmans, The Charlie Daniels Band, and Jimmy Buffett to play at his campaign rallies and whistlestop events. Written by author, producer, and radio host Bill Flanagan, Rock & Roll President also shows how music motivated Carter to address the issues of the day. One moving sequence in the film shows how, during the Iran hostage crisis—in which 52 American citizens were held captive by Iranian revolutionaries for more than 400 days —Carter would retire to his White House study and meditate on his course of action while drawing solace and inspiration from a gospel recording by Nelson. Another clip finds Carter speaking frankly about race to an assembled crowd of politicians after a jazz summit on the White House lawn featuring, among others, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Herbie Hancock, and Ron Carter. “When Carter stands up and says we’re guilty of racism—and, that while jazz has given so much to us, [we also need to] think about the history and segregation,” says Rock & Roll President producer Chris Farrell, “that’s a very powerful moment.” Powerful moments like these run FLOOD 56

his personality—including his faith, his connection with the average American, his wry humor, and his capacity for empathy—was the connective tissue for the documentary. “It’s no big secret that Carter was a music fan and there were all these concerts at the White House,” says Wharton, whose directing and producing credits include the 2009 film Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound and episodes of VH1’s Behind the Music and Legends series. “The whole story was hiding in plain sight. But what we did was dig a little deeper and use it as our touchstone. We had this opportunity to explore these really big ideas about the power of music, what it means to connect with other humans, and how music plays a role in that. And, to give people a different perspective on someone they thought they knew.”

 8

 10

 9

 11

 13

 12

 15

 14

 16

 17


While Rock & Roll President shines a spotlight on nearly every aspect of Carter’s life and career, the filmmakers note that the rock and roll connection will probably be the most eye-opening aspect for viewers. “Carter was always thought of as a little square,” says Wharton. “But the fact that he was friendly with Bob Dylan and potsmokin’ Willie Nelson,” she laughs, “and radical longhairs like the Allman Brothers— it’s a little bit surprising.” Unlike some subsequent brushes between Presidents and pop performers, Wharton and Farrell say there’s nothing phony about Carter’s connection to music. Throughout the film, Carter—who was in-

1. Jimmy Carter’s official Presidential portrait 2. Jazz concert on the Front Lawn of the White House 3. Willie Nelson 4. John and Annie Denver 5. Crosby, Stills & Nash 6. Luciano Pavarotti 7. Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson 8. Dizzy Gillespsie on the South Lawn of the White House 9. Lionel Hampton on the South Lawn of the White House 10. Muddy Waters performs on stage on the White House lawn 11. Charles Mingus *12. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter sitting on the White House lawn 13. Dolly Parton at the White House Luncheon for Country Music Performers *14. Bono and Nile Rodgers 15. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter honored by the Dagumba people of Tingoli, Ghana 16. The Bee Gees *17. Bill Flanagan, Chris Farrell, Bishop Curry, and Mary Wharton Photos courtesy of Habitat For Humanity International *Photos courtesy Jimmy Carter Rock & Roll President

terviewed for the project in 2018—sounds deeply enthusiastic while recalling his own musical upbringing and his journey as a listener that began as a boy with country and gospel radio, connected him with Dylan’s activism in the 1960s, and helped him find common ground with his sons in the 1970s. As civil rights activist and Congressman Andrew Young, who served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under Carter, notes in the film, Carter’s breadth of musical knowledge allowed him to enter Black churches and sing along with the assembled without referring to the hymnal. “His connection was very authentic and genuine,” says Farrell. “There wasn’t that sort of hokey showmanship. The reason those musicians [campaigned for him] was that they liked and respected him.” The footage of the Allmans working out on “Whipping Post” at a Carter campaign stop, or a beaming Willie Nelson gripping the candidate’s hand, will undoubtedly please music-minded viewers, but it’s what the performers say about Carter that lands with the greatest impact. Gregg Allman speaks at length about how Carter’s friendship (and political pardon) got him through the turmoil following his testimony against road manager Scooter Herring, while Paul Simon and Allmans/Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell weigh in on how Carter’s integrity and commitment to progressive causes drew them to his campaign. “Paul Simon talked about how as an artist, you’re asked to be the front act for a politician,” says Wharton, referring to one segment that unfortunately ended up on the cutting room floor. “You end up feeling like a pawn, that they’re using you. But he never felt that with Carter. That speaks volumes.”

Though music is the through-line for Rock & Roll President, Carter’s essential humanity is also present in every scene. The factors that capsized his bid for re-election—rising gas prices and taxes, as well as the widespread perception that he had erred in refraining from using military force against Iran during the hostage crisis—are examined in detail, as is his return home to Plains, Georgia, and his focus on humanitarian issues in the decades that followed his White House run. In each instance, Carter is depicted as a man who viewed his leadership role as an opportunity to help his fellow Americans and the world at large, with little thought given to his own interests. “He was an effective President,” says Farrell of Carter. “I think he passed more legislation than any one-term President, and he did some pretty progressive things. But he’s gotten the short end of the stick, some of which had to do with his style, and some of which had to do with external events. If the worst thing that can be said about a President is that he had moral courage, I’d take that any day.” “I was looking for a quote from the 1976 Democratic Convention,” says Wharton. “And I remember getting chills when he said, ‘The American people will want to be proud again. We want the truth again.’ He said a wall has gone up between the people and the government, and we’re tired of it. All of those things felt like they could be said right now. “So it’s happened before, and I hope that [this film] offers a little bit of hope. That’s what I think has been missing—a lack of participation in the process. I hope that people are inspired by this to get on board.” FLOOD 59

Eaddy and theOGM trace the lineage of conservative fear-mongering in music to the present day, which sees the release of the punk-rap duo’s politically charged BLURR mixtape.


o99o9’s latest video project channels their experiences in 2020 into a hair-raising sensory overload. The hardcore industrial punk-rap duo from New Jersey have been pushing the envelope since their formation in 2012, ramping up songs such as “United States of Horror” or “Pigs Want Me Dead” with supercharged visuals. In the fulllength video for their 34-minute BLURR mixtape, classic scenes from Nightmare on Elm Street, Rob Zombie’s Firefly series, and wrestler Lex Luger collide with news clips of police brutality, COVID-19, Charles Manson, and 9/11. For Ho99o9’s members Eaddy and theOGM, life as young Black men in America can easily be paralleled with a filmmakers’ darkest fantasies, where one overstimulating image quickly replaces the next. “Our concept with BLURR was that so much has happened this year so far,” says theOGM, joining Eaddy on a Zoom call from their home in LA. “With the way the internet and technology are changing things, everything is a blur. Before George Floyd, people forget that just last year two similar cases happened. Kobe Bryant died earlier this year, and that shit is a blur to people. It’s not even in the conversation anymore, and the election is coming up too. It’s an overload, man.”



“It’s just like kids today loving trap music,” says Eaddy. “Parents think their children will grow up to be outcasts, not go to college, and not have a good job. Back in the day I remember seeing a story about how a Judas Priest song made these two The BLURR video opens with Barbara kids commit suicide. They said if you play Walters’ introduction to a special episode the music backwards there’s a Satanic of 20/20 from 1987, when reporter Stone message that you should off yourselves. Phillips investigated the “ghoulish images The band went to court for that, and the and violent theatrics” of heavy metal. Star- trial was dismissed because it was outraing doe-eyed into the camera with a look geous. The outside world puts these titles of exaggerated concern, Walters cranks her on music. We just make it how we feel.” “Conservative listeners are always gofear-mongering tactics up to 11 and asks, “Is there a message that may be too loud for ing to judge us for being free artists,” adds us to hear?” The members of Ho99o9 know theOGM. “We know that comes with the the conservative media have been trying territory. But the Bible is way scarier than to scare parents about their kids’ musical what we’re talking about!” obsessions since before the days of Black Earlier this year, Ho99o9 released a Sabbath. As long as artists speak freely song called “Christopher Dorner,” based with a style of music that’s deemed ag- on the tragic true story of the LAPD offigressive, someone will try to suppress them. cer who killed several colleagues and civilians. As Dorner explained in a manifesto on Facebook, he had experienced racist bullying since his time in the military, before being fired by the police for reporting a fellow officer who had used excessive force. Ho99o9 were compelled, like any other artist might be, to write a song about a serial killer, but make it clear they don’t support Dorner’s actions. “What he had to go through being on the force as a person of color was really intense,” says theOGM. “They tried to punish him and he snapped. We just touched on something that already happened, but definitely aren’t telling people to do that.

Filmmaker Tyler Bradberry has tapped into a subcultural vein that includes projects with Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman, Eric Andre, DJ Douggpound, Power Trip, and Macauley Culkin. He first teamed up with Ho99o9 on their “Mega City Nine” video, before turning “Pigs Want Me Dead” into a commentary on George Floyd using clips from Grand Theft Auto V. For BLURR, Bradberry edited together clips selected by Eaddy and theOGM such as the scenes from Straight Outta Compton that open “Flesh and Blood.” Bradberry believes that when people can’t agree on what reality is anymore, notions like horror become increasingly subjective, with anyone able to exploit it for their own gains.

Motherfuckers to glorify “Motherfuckers trytry to glorify Christopher Columbus, Christopher Columbus, but but they don’t want toabout talk they don’t want us toustalk about Christopher Dorner? Christopher Dorner? Get the fuck Get the fuck out of here!” out of here!”



“The Information Age is crazy,” he explains. “We’ve all been given instant access to the world’s information while trying to figure out how to triage matters of importance as they’re happening.

It’s really easy get It’s really easyto to get overwhelmed, and a lot overwhelmed, and aof lot of people people have not developed have not developed the tools to discern between the tools to discern between good and bad information. good and bad information. Combine that with bad actors that want to use disinformation for their own gains, and it can paint a pretty scary picture.” Ho99o9’s list of musical collaborators continues to grow in 2020, with features on BLURR from like-minded rapper Pink Siifu and Michael IX Williams, who fronts the sludge metal band Eyehategod. This follows their performance at a Black Lives Matter virtual event with Blink-182’s Travis Barker sitting in for their primary drummer Brandon Pertzborn (who’s also played with Marilyn Manson and Black Flag). They’ve been kicked off the Warped Tour, whose organizers’ fears might be shared by Barbara Walters, but fit right in at the Gathering of the Juggalos. “Mad respect to the clowns,” laughs theOGM. “Whoop whoop!” Yet nothing compares to their appearance at Berlin’s most infamous nightclub, Berghain, where Eaddy was inspired to strip down to his socks. “If you go there on a Thursday, you might be in there for two or three days,” says theOGM. “That shit’s like a black hole. For the show we played there, our manager and drummer at the time were tripping, like, ‘Yo, you’re about to play the best club in the world. All the flyest people in

the world come to party there.’ The sound system was amazing and it was super dark inside. It was a dope experience.” “Me getting naked was the least freaky shit going on in there,” Eaddy chuckles. “That was like a bag of chips to the Berghain.” Reflecting on why this year’s protests spread across the globe, Ho99o9 see people united by a common cause, just like their fans they call the Death Kult. In the same way the nines in their name are meant to flip the script on 666 and inject some positivity into culture, they see their music as a continuation of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” Released in 1967 when populations were divided by racism, segregation, and war, Armstrong aimed to spread messages of the beauty that can still be found in the most difficult times. “We don’t like to call ourselves activists, but we are,” says theOGM. “We’re actively pushing that agenda and always have been. You can go back to our record United States of Horror from 2017, and we were talking about the same things because it was the same climate then. There are a lot of eyes opening and changes happening now, but other people are showing their true colors. Whether you’re out protesting or just witnessing things, you’re still affected by everything that’s happening. Prison reform is part of the conversation and it’s beautiful to see everyone coming together. What a time to be alive.” FLOOD 65

The Seattle-based design lab Amplifier harnesses the change-driving power of analog art in a digital age.


uring the run-up to Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration, the city government of the District of Columbia, anticipating throngs of protestors in attendance, released a list of items that would be banned from ticketed viewing areas on the U.S. Capitol grounds. Backpacks, weapons, and explosives were unsurprisingly listed, but signs, posters, and banners were also flagged as forbidden. For Aaron Huey, founder and Creative Director of Amplifier, a Seattle-based design lab dedicated to “amplifying the voices of grassroots movements through art and community engagement,” these latter restrictions—which seemed purposely designed to squash displays of dissent—represented both a worrying development and a creative opportunity.


No Touching Ground

Gregg Deal

“It was the most restrictive inaugural route policy in history,” recalls Huey, “but we figured out a hack: They couldn’t stop people from carrying newspapers.” In less than two weeks, Amplifier’s “We the People” campaign raised 1.3 million dollars from nearly 23,000 Kickstarter backers, using the funding to purchase full-page ads featuring images by artists Shepard Fairey, Jessica Sabogal, and Ernesto Yerena in the pages of the January 20 edition of the Washington Post. These ads, which included such messages as “Defend Dignity” and “Protect Each Other,” could then be carried and displayed in the restricted areas without fear of confiscation. Such creative “space hacks” have always been part of Amplifier’s modus operandi. “We’re constantly in pursuit of ways to get our artwork and messages into new spaces,” Huey says. “In the digital Amplifier Summer Camp space, people put a lot of value in impressions, where someone sees something in their social media stream for maybe half a second. While we’re also trying to get those impressions, I think that some of the most important work we do is the analog pieces that live on a teacher’s classroom wall for the entire school year, or in the window of the coffee shop that you walk by every day. you a graphic every single day onsingle your way day to workon thatyour says, way If yousee see a graphic every ‘We’re Greater Than Fear,’ it lands in a different way. It sticks; you to don’t work that ‘We’re Greater Than Fear,’ it lands swipe pastsays, it.

in a different way. It sticks; you don’t swipe past it. It just does more work, I think.” Huey’s passion for finding new ways to disseminate thought-provoking combinations of image and message has its roots in his earlier career as a photojournalist. “I was working on really big stories,” he recalls, “but the publications I was working for, it wasn’t their job to do activism. So a lot of what people were telling me in the streets, things that I thought were some of the defining stories of our time, had no outlet. My dream was to find a way to break out of the structure of magazines and the limitations of editorial, to bypass publications and take it straight to where people couldn’t choose to subscribe or not subscribe.” Huey initially worked with Fairey and Yerena to create artwork amplifying the voices of Indigenous communities, which was then made available to the public via free high-resolution downloads. “We wanted to make everything infinitely accessible and movable,” Huey explains. “The free downloads also created some



FLOOD 70 Content From Ya homegirl

Jessica He

Jessica Sabogal


Artwork by Bo Lee – Photo by LunaPark

protection, because we needed plausible deniability for when that work showed up in illegal places.” The project’s potential to achieve a broader scope in artwork, messaging, and audience was almost immediately apparent. “It became very quickly obvious that if this was going to be movement work, it was not appropriate for it to be my lens, since I was not from these communities,” Huey says. “It became a larger community conversation as artists came in and as it expanded in topics.” Formally founded in the winter of 2014-2015, Amplifier now boasts a massive portfolio containing the work of thousands of artists—90 percent of whom are women, gender non-conforming, and/or BIPOC—speaking truth to power on subjects ranging from voting rights and economic justice to climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Through our open calls to artists, we’ve been been able to take a snapshot of artists’ able to take interpretations a snapshot of artists’ interpretations of these very specific of mothese very specific moments history we’ve gone ments in history in that we’vethat gone through through overover the the pastpast fivefive years,” yeasays Cleo Barnett, Amplifier’s Executive Director. “And they’re completely unfiltered; it’s a completely open platform where people can share whatever their thoughts and feelings are to this moment. So while we have around 150 artworks now added to our free downloads at Amplifier.org that people can use, we also have 10,000-plus artworks living in this archive on our website that really showcase how everyone was feeling in that moment, whether it was the Women’s March, March for Our Lives, or now in this moment of COVID.” In all, Amplifier has launched over 30 art campaigns in collaboration with more than 65 grassroots movements, which have distributed over 10 million pieces of artwork across the U.S. But perhaps the most powerful and potentially influential of Amplifier’s projects is its “We the Future” campaign, which highlights 10 young leaders from 10 different movements that are working for positive social change in America. The foundation provides free artwork and teaching tools related to those leaders and movements to over 20,000 educators around the country—including parents who are home-schooling their children—in an effort to inspire and engage the next generation of voters. FLOOD 73

FLOOD 74 Shepard Fairey poster

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

Stat The Artist

Cristyn Hypnar

“When our ‘We the People’ artwork started showing up in schools,” Barnett explains, “we got a lot of call-outs from parents, students, and teachers saying our artwork was stimulating all these conversations in the classroom, but there were no tools to guide the conversations in a healthy way. So when we launched ‘We the Future,’ it was really important for us to think through the tools that we’re creating that go alongside the artwork. With this campaign, we send free artwork to classrooms, but we also send lesson plans and discussion guides created to drive the conversation one step further.” As the November elections loom into view, Amplifier is taking a multi-pronged approach to voter education and outreach. “We’re working with a combination of grassroots movements that are locally focused,” says Barnett, “as well as national movements and distribution channels so that we can build campaigns locally, but then help distribute the work nationally. And we have very specific target audiences. We’re We’re working working with with one one group

group onyouth the youth and we’re then we’re on the vote, vote, and then also also working other organizations to into working withwith other organizations to tap older tap intoaudiences. older audIt’s all very hyper-segmented.” Huey reveals that Amplifier has some new media experiments up its sleeve for November, as well. “We’re in the process of designing an app and filters that will bring some of our art to life where the art can literally interact with you, and talk to you,” he says. “I still believe that these like two-, three-, five-word hooks and powerful imagery are important to gather us under common symbols. But how do we go beyond that couple of words to a deeper level of conversation? Sometimes, I think that literally needs the human voice. So we’re going to try to do that with this augmented reality.”




The two songwriters talk collaboration, inspiration, and fighting the good fight.

istory is swayed by the shifty hands of subjection and perception, a lesson our country continues to grapple with centuries after its foundation as we’re subjected to the lies of the media, the fraudulence of the American Dream, and other deceptive falsehoods that are sold to the U.S. population. History is not the truth. But the truth is something H.E.R., a polymath musician with enough vigor and grace to capture the attention of hundreds in a lecture hall, or thousands in a stadium, is preoccupied with—a personal quest that translates to the music she releases. In 2016, the first half of her breakout eponymous album revealed H.E.R. to be one of the most captivating R&B voices in recent memory. In the four years since, she’s amassed a pair of Grammy wins, and her catalogue has blossomed into an array of soulful ballads, blues-indebted tribulations, ’90s R&B bangers, and reggae-inspired triumphs. She follows in the footsteps of Marvin Gaye, Lauryn Hill, Fiona Apple, and other musicians that fearlessly deliver prudent lyricism. In a time when pseudoscience and political propaganda are virally spreading at the expense of the lives of our country’s Black population, H.E.R.’s music shines like a revelatory light—one that exposes malevolence and generational trauma, while also acting as a galvanizing beacon. Some of her most poignant tracks have been bolstered with verses from fellow musician and activist Cordae, whose lyrics are fueled by the same steadfast faith and unapologetic vulnerability. The two gave an unforgettable performance at the 2019 BET Awards of the ground-shaking “Lord Is Coming” from H.E.R.’s double-EP I Used to Know Her, released that same year.


H.E.R. and Cordae Will Lead You to

Donning a shiny black outfit straight out of a Hype Williams video, black sunglasses, and a black beret covered in crystals, H.E.R. took the stage and proceeded to break down several of the monstrosities plaguing our society. “History”—she forcefully pushed the word out of her mouth, as if trying to suck out its venom—“is not my brother’s story. The original founders were buried in the ground where men have planted seeds of disease.” Moments later, Cordae joined her and delivered a remixed rap from “We Gon Make It,” one of the highlights of his debut album The Lost Boy. At the end he shouted, “God Bless America, and God Bless Sudan,” bringing awareness to the human rights crisis in Africa and the global fight for true justice and democracy. A little over a year later, this past July, he would be arrested for protesting on Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s lawn after no arrests were made following the police murder of Breonna Taylor. H.E.R. and Cordae are delineating truth and championing the struggle for justice and radical change. Over Zoom, H.E.R., in her overwhelmingly pink room in Brooklyn, and Cordae, outside his Los Angeles home, reflect on the poignant socio-political messages their songs delve into and how their activism exists inside and outside their art.

“Faith is always there. Faith is what holds me together. It’s what gives me hope.” H.E.R.

How did you guys initially end up connecting? Cordae: It was over two years ago easily. That’s the night that we cut “Racks.” H.E.R.: That’s right! I was like, “Who’s this guy? He’s fly. He’s dope.” But I had heard about your music, and then I put it all together. At that time you were one of the greatest up-and-coming rappers—conscious, super lyrical. I could tell as soon as I met you that you just loved music, and that’s how we bonded. Cordae: It was dope! We was probably in the studio for six to eight hours that day. We probably was just kicking it for, like, seven hours, and then spent like an hour on the song. We were able to vibe in a genuine, organic way. That’s why even through these years and through the next decade it’s always going to be real love, real family. “Racks” is a perfect capsule of themes significant in both your catalogues—artificial happiness, dealing with social media, and that discrepancy of presenting yourself versus maintaining inner peace. H.E.R.: I think the main thing in relation to that song and this time is when we said, “All of them racks and things / They don’t relax the pain.” Throughout this quarantine everybody is realizing what’s important, and that stuff is not important. There’s no area or space to flaunt anything. Nobody cares about what jewelry you got on, what kind of car you drive. You can’t even get in your car to go see your family, and people are starting to realize that that’s FLOOD 83

what’s important. So we vibed on that level as well, as far as the authenticity thing and what matters to us both. And that stuff is great. Those things are a stamp in a representation of our hard work. But this song really is talking about exactly what’s going on right now. How none of those things ease any kind of pain or struggles that we have.

H.E.R.: When they introduced us after we performed, when we walked up to them, I couldn’t even hold it together because I had just watched the documentary. So when I met them, I couldn’t hold back tears, How did you guys get connected for “Lord I started crying, because of the years they Is Coming?” Was faith a major conversa- lost. Money can’t bring that back. tion when you got in the room together? Can you talk about the process of making H.E.R.: Actually I wrote it three years ago. “I Can’t Breathe”? It’s a little bit political, but it definitely is about all this stuff that’s happening in the H.E.R.: It happened in the middle of all the world right now. It’s true as they say, “The protests. It wasn’t even a specific moveLord is coming.” Everything that’s happen- ment or anything that pushed me to write ing right now, it’s been prophesied. We the song. It came straight from the pain wanted to talk about the real stuff that’s of seeing videos online. It wasn’t fueled by going on and break it down and talk about anything other than anxiety and pain and all these biblical stories that are relevant worry for Black people. I had actually flown to today. It’s never too late to turn around. to the Bay Area to be with my family. I’m It’s never too late to look at what’s real- at home watching all these videos thinking ly going on. Faith is always there. Faith is this could be my uncle. This could be my what holds me together. It’s what gives me aunt or my sister or my dad. That’s really, really hard to deal with. That’s really hard hope. to comprehend. Cordae: What was dope for me was the I had a conversation with Tiara Thompeople that introduced us before that per- as, somebody who I write with a lot. She’s formance was the four guys from When like my big sister. It was a good two weeks They See Us [the men convicted in the where that was all we could talk about. EvCentral Park Five case]. When she hit me ery conversation you had had to be that—it up to write my verse for it, I was on the always ended up there. We’d been asking road and we’d just finished watching that ourselves all these questions, like, “Why is on the bus. There was a full-circle moment this happening?” One of the lines in the when I was able to meet the four guys that song was a real question that we had, that was based upon. That even gave me “How do we cope when we don’t love each more of an emotional push-up for the per- other? What is a gun to a man that surformance. This isn’t important just because renders?” The song really came out of that we’re live on the BET Awards, but this is go- conversation. ing to be something that people are going And then, a few days after I wrote the to be talking about and looking back on 10 song, I felt there was still more to be said so I put the spoken word on the end. It years from now. FLOOD 84

easy when you reach a certain level to become out of place or disconnected. We have to stay connected with our people means so much to say “I can’t breathe.” It’s and things that are going on on Earth. a tribute to George Floyd. We’re not really free because we’re suffocating and we’re Cordae’s music has touched on this but, do scared. That’s not freedom, living in fear. you have thoughts on your message and art crossing a generational gap? Is it challenging for you to be articulate about current events in your songwriting? H.E.R.: I don’t personally think it’s youthbased. It’s all people of all colors, of all H.E.R.: My writing process is all over the generations. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, place. Nothing is ever easy to write about. Trayvon Martin—that’s three different genSome things are easy because they write erations right there. I don’t think just the themselves. That’s the thing about being young people are speaking up. I think all creative, you never know what’s going to people are speaking up, and all people are happen when you step in a room or studio changing. But we are the future. So that’s or you pick up a guitar or your voice mem- why our voices matter. We are going to be os. It can be difficult. Sometimes I have to the future leaders. We are the ones that go through it first, and then write about it, have the voice. We are the ones who conor sometimes I have to be in the moment trol social media. The young people control writing about it. It depends, but everything the culture and what’s hot. I write is based on personal experience, I’ve seen other people in different whether it’s exaggerated, or it’s plain and countries put Black Lives Matter outside simple. their windows or paint it on their doors. It’s not just in the U.S., and it’s not just young Cordae: You never know what the voice people. There can be a mentality differnotes—or a conversation—can turn into, ence. Honestly, to me it doesn’t matter like how much music is made based on because we all want one thing, and that’s conversations. The first time we met, before peace. Every mother wants to see her son we made any music together, we had really come home safely. And every daughter dope, meaningful, genuine conversations. wants to see her dad at her graduation, That’s where the best music comes from. or at her wedding, and not have to worry It’s the same thing when you’re speaking about that. about world events. It’s our job as artists to create markers in time. That’s always been Cordae: When I knew that performance done in art, from Gil Scott-Heron to Kend- was truly, truly powerful, I was on tour in rick Lamar. It’s our duty as the new leaders Europe. I was at the Louvre. A little kid of music to speak on things that are going came up to me and was like, “Thank you for on in the real world, whether it be through showing love to Sudan. That really meant music or through our platform. That’s what a lot.” That’s when I realized how powerful we’re here to do, to create change, to inspire, to speak on things that some of our listeners may or may not know about. It’s

“This could be my aunt or my sister or my dad. That’s really, really hard to deal with.” H.E.R.


this music shit was. I don’t think there is no generational gap or disconnect with this issue that is going on right now. It’s bringing more of a togetherness with everything. It’s right from wrong.

We was singing along to that song. That was huge for me.

H.E.R.: “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye is one of my favorites. I’m a huge old school head. Every single Stevie Wonder song. H.E.R.: That’s what we said in “Lord Is Com- There’s this one song called “Village Ghetto ing.” Everybody knows right from wrong. I Land” on the Songs in the Key of Life that don’t care what religion you are, where you touches on things that we don’t necessarily come from, everybody knows that killing touch on. There’s even songs like “Love’s in somebody based on the color of your skin Need of Love Today” that’s so beautifully is wrong. Regardless of everything going written. “Hate’s going ’round and breaking on, we all have this bigger picture of what’s many hearts,” that’s a powerful line. really important. Life is too short. We lost There’s a lot of songs, to me, that might Kobe Bryant this year. We lost Chadwick have been love songs but made it feel like Boseman this year. Two amazing Black songs for change. One of my favorite songs men who inspired a generation. We have of all time is a Michael Jackson song, “Earth to continue to live and walk in our purpos- Song.” He talked about the planet. There’s es. You never know who’s touched by what a lot of animals that will be extinct in the you have to say, or your art. When you’re next few years that our grandchildren genuine with yourself, you help somebody won’t even get to see. And that’s really else without even realizing it. You don’t heartbreaking. necessarily have to move intentionally to Aside from being an artist and using a be intentional and to touch people. platform, I saw you, Cordae, being a frontline protester. Can you tell me about that What was the moment growing up listen- experience? ing to music or any type of art that made you realize art and activism, or a message, Cordae: It was in Louisville, obviously the could coincide? situation with Breonna Taylor is going on, and I felt like that was sort of getting Cordae: I was, like, five years old when Nas swept under the rug. After George Floyd, dropped “I Know I Can.” He was teaching there was a real big movement, like a shift us in a super dope, authentic way about to where everybody was done with all the our history, to believe in yourself, and know bullshit that was happening. But it was for that you can accomplish whatever you about two to three weeks, and then people want to and know that you come from a were starting to go back to their everyday race of kings and master architects and lives. I was raised by all Black women—my mathematicians and scientists, and be mom, my aunties. When I saw Breonna proud of that. Also, with Kendrick’s “Alright,” Taylor, I thought that could be my mom, my I was protesting when I was in high school cousins, my aunties, so I got really emoabout the same issue that’s going on today. tional. And you know, Tamika Mallory of Until Freedom is a real good friend of mine. They told me about what they’re doing in Louisville. We sat on the Attorney General’s front

yard of the new house that he just bought. We protested in his yard, and we all got arrested. Daniel Cameron, the Attorney General, he personally called up there to make sure we all got hit with felonies. I wanted to use my platform and to make a statement to let motherfuckers know, like, “Yo, we are not letting this shit go. You have to arrest the cops that killed this woman.”

“It’s a traumatic experience to see people that look like you being killed by the police and nothing is being done about it.” Cordae

H.E.R.: That’s why we’re here. We’re thankful to be able to talk about these issues and talk about our experience and our perspective, to continue to spread love and awareness through our music—and continue to heal from our music, because that’s what music does, it heals. It teaches. It makes you happy. It makes you escape, sometimes from the real world, or it takes you to a reality that you may not choose to face, you may not want to face. And I’m really proud of you, Cordae, for doing that in your music and in your personal life. Cordae: Thank you, sis. And I’m proud of you for always using your platform to speak on what’s going on. It gets tiring speaking on these things—this is some post-traumatic stress shit that we’re going through. It’s a traumatic experience to see people that look like you being killed by the police and nothing is being done about it. I’m proud of you for continuing to use your platform and being a leader. We gonna continue to do this. I’m with you for life. Can’t get rid of me, fam. H.E.R.: We’re gonna continue to fight the good fight. FLOOD 87

Courtesy SaveMoneySaveLife Foundation


The Chicago-reared rapper returned home before recording his latest project, the V TAPE EP, and engaging in a turbulent moment in city politics. city’s soul is expressed through its politics, and Chicago’s is full of paradoxes. Nothing is as simple as it seems; nothing is only one thing. It’s a city that reveres Abraham Lincoln as a secular saint and plasters his face on everything from diners to dumpsters, but has resisted racial integration as steadfastly and successfully as any Southern metropolis. It’s a place that celebrates its crucial role in the labor movement, but also reveres the police force that was founded to brutally suppress it. It’s a place where the line between activist and criminal is often blurred far past the point of recognition, at all levels of power, from South Side corners to City Hall. Vic Mensa was born in the midst of the city’s contradictions in the neighborhood of Hyde Park, five blocks from the Obamas in one direction, five blocks from the projects in the other. He grew up in a stable two-parent middle class home, the son of a free-spirited white hippie and a Ghanian academic, watching FLOOD 89

Nolis Anderson

crack dealers at work outside his front window. “It was blatantly obvious to me that these two different Americas existed,” he told me the first time we met, over coffee at a New York City luxury hotel, just before the pandemic. “I lived in one, but I was a neighbor to another.” Trying to make sense out of the surreal inequality around him provided the friction that first gave him his creative spark. Every rapper that comes out of Chicago—from Common to Chief Keef—embodies the city’s contradictions. The “conscious rap” that helped put Chicago hip-hop on the map in the ’90s by tapping into the city’s history of socially aware soul music and radical Black political thought was bankrolled by local street gangs (which themselves were, in many cases, originally founded as community activist groups). The drill revolution that popped off early last decade was scorned by critics as the chillingly sociopathic antithesis of conscious rap, but the teens who created it grew up in community programs started by the Panthers, and have in many cases gone on to found their own community programs to honor that legacy. Even for a Chicago rapper, Mensa is particularly full of conflicting ideas, and he loves exploding dualities more than any other Chi-Town rapper since Kanye West, one of his early mentors. He’s an unabashedly political artist with a catalogue full of crossover-friendly pop-rap singles celebrating late-capitalist consumption-as-hedonism, dripping with shout-outs to luxury cars and designer clothes. He’s an idealist with a nihilistic streak, who flip-flops between inspirational lyrics and paeans to “27 club” rock stars who died tragically young. He takes conspicuous pleasure in upending expectations from all sides, whether it’s shouting out crime lords in “conscious” songs or tweaking orthodox rap fans by starting a punk band (or provoking as wide an audience as possible by doing glam drag in a sequined body-hugging Confederate battle flag dress for one of their videos). Of course, provocation and paradox make for great entertainment. They’re why we love rock stars like Iggy Pop and Kurt Cobain that Mensa not-so-subtly strives to emulate. He’s one of the most technically gifted rappers on his level, and he’s got the one-step-ahead instincts a young JAY-Z (who signed him to


“It was blatantly obvious to me that these two different Americas existed. I lived in one, but I was a neighbor to another.”

Courtesy SaveMoneySaveLife Foundation

Roc Nation backstage at a Chicago concert shortly after a guest spot on Kanye’s “Wolves” shot him into the public consciousness), so when he takes risks—which is pretty much every time he puts something out into the world—there’s a good chance they’ll land. His new V TAPE EP is just such a risky proposition—seven songs that abandon most of the platinum pop approach that Mensa’s refined over the decade or so he’s been recording in favor of the kind of hard-hitting hip-hop that hasn’t been in fashion since rappers discovered AutoTune. It’s a rap record in the mold of classic Nas, heavy on lyricism and sparing with hooks, blending stark confession, raw grievance, and street-level political analysis into a turbulent emotional cocktail, all delivered over beats layered in caked-on grime and flecked with bits of vintage chipmunk soul. Mensa raps like someone with his back up against the wall, lashing out at those who’ve wronged him, self-lacerating over the hurt he’s caused others, and delivering indictments of the system backed up by a substantial reading list and lived experience. It’s his most overtly political record yet, but also his most emotionally vulnerable. On “2HONEST” when he recounts finding a childhood notebook at his parents’ house where at age five he’d written, “I hate myself, I wanna die,” he’s close to tears. It might be a tough sell at a time when superstar rappers tend to treat the idea of fussing over lyrics with contempt, except that even when Mensa’s not aiming for pop playlists his music’s still hard to shake, even once the earbuds are out. The whole project came together after COVID and quarantine, which brought Mensa back to Chicago from LA and inspired a return to his musical square one. Being locked down suited him. “Honestly, man, it’s been great for me, creatively,” he says over the phone in August, a few days after V TAPE dropped. “It’s just forced me to slow down and face myself and commit to myself. It gave me some space to sit back down with the pen and really focus on my lyrics and be rapping as much every day as I was doing when I was, like, 16 in my mom’s basement and that was all I wanted to do.”

One of V TAPE’s recurring themes is the deceptively blurry line between what we think of as “good” and “bad” people, and how pointless it is to try and fit people in one category or the other. Mensa’s his own prime example. He presents himself less as a hero than as a collection of warring impulses and deep flaws—too reckless with himself and others, too easily distracted by the seductions of stardom and the street—still trying as hard as they can to do what they think is right. But he also talks a lot about Chicago street culture, which absorbed a lot of revolutionary thought when the city was a Black Panther stronghold, and where the same people enacting violent crime within a community can be the same ones protecting it from the threat of violence from outside. “In Chicago we’re part of a legacy of organizing and organized crime,” Mensa explains. “Organizing for social causes, and for the protection and empowerment of the people, and also organizing for things that have been destructive to the people. And in my life, these worlds constantly cross paths. I go to Chairman Fred Hampton’s house, where he was assassinated, every December with Chairman Fred Jr. I also go to Moe Town [a rough neighborhood on the city’s South Side] with real live killers, and it’s just kinda my experience.” Mensa’s willingness to consider all sides of an equation extends even to the young men responsible for Chicago’s gun violence epidemic, who he refuses to demonize the way both the right and the left have. “It’s not black and white like people think it is,” he says. “What we have is a toxic environment that’s a product of sustained systemic racism and inequity, and this toxic environment produces toxic actions. It also produces activists. And sometimes the lines get crossed. The shooter and the victim are one and the same.” Mensa absorbed a lot of radical thought growing up. “My parents were very political,” he says. “They kinda always gave me some more insight into history and society than I might get just

“What we have is a toxic environment that’s a product of sustained systemic racism and inequity, and this

toxic environment produces toxic actions.”


Courtesy SaveMoneySaveLife Foundation

being miseducated in school.” He also traced back the lyrical references he found in records by Common, Mos Def, and A Tribe Called Quest to sources like Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, and Huey P. Newton. (He has an old-time lefty’s habit of peppering conversation with well-worn quotes, like Martin Luther King Jr.’s, “Rioting is the language of the unheard,” as verbal shorthand.) But it wasn’t until the 2014 murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, and the City’s attempt to cover up video evidence of the shooting, that he felt inspired to address politics in his music directly. “At that point in time I really started to think about solidarity and think about making impact past just my words,” he says. “At first I was just jumping on planes and in cars and on busses and just going. Pulling up to be in Flint, Michigan, to be in Baton Rouge when Alton Sterling was killed, to be out there in the West Bank and Palestine.” He brought a busload of Chicago artists, poets, and activists to Standing Rock, along with a load of warming supplies and Reebok gear donated by a close friend, Pyer Moss designer Kirby Jean-Raymond. He started talking to victims of gun violence and people locked up on marijuana charges. “As an artist, as a musician, I feel like I traverse in the currency of human experience, human emotion,” he says. “What better way to accrue that than to look somebody in the eyes and talk to them about what’s going on?” In 2018 Mensa launched SaveMoneySaveLife, a philanthropic foundation that puts his words into direct action. It serves as an umbrella organization spanning a range of programs and initiatives covering everything from STEAM education for BIPOC youth, to cannabis justice, to training civilian first responders on the South Side, to helping compensate for the lack of official emergency services in an area plagued by gun violence. SaveMoneySaveLife’s work is suffused with Mensa’s talents for provocation and spectacle. When Chicago cops were caught in a scheme to entrap residents of the impoverished Englewood neighborhood by leaving a “bait truck” full of sneakers unlocked and unattended (but under surveillance), Mensa and SMSL re-


sponded with an Anti-Bait Truck that distributed 15,000 pairs of donated sneakers to Englewood residents. Their efforts tend to be bluntly pragmatic, but also effective agitprop that highlights, by way of contrast, the neglect and abuse the city heaps on its Black neighborhoods. The generosity of the Anti-Bait Truck spotlights the cruelty of dangling free sneakers in front of people who can’t afford them. SMSL’s Street Medix program wouldn’t have to exist if the city cared enough about its Black residents to provide them with basic lifesaving medical care. Like Mensa, the foundation is also flexible and quick to adapt. “When COVID kicked off, we largely pushed our focus to food and protective equipment,” he says. They got a local distillery to make hand sanitizer that they distributed throughout the city, along with masks, gloves, and a hundred thousand pounds of groceries. “And when everything kicked off in the streets, we picked back up with Street Medix and added a layer of attention to state violence, focusing on what to do in the event that someone is tear gassed, or how to recognize the sound cannons that they’re using.” It’s hard to imagine a more powerful indictment of the way the city of Chicago treats Black people than the fact that the same citizens who felt compelled to train as vigilante medics in order to combat gang violence have also felt compelled to train against violence from the people who are supposed to be protecting them. Mensa’s consistently been out in the streets during the BLM uprisings, even when things have been popping off. At one protest recently, when street actions in Chicago were surging, police had cornered a group of protesters in his neighborhood. “The crowd was small,” he says, “so the police were being extremely brutal. Hitting all of us with batons and pepper spraying.” He heard that a bigger group of “happy-go-lucky college students” was occupying Lake Shore Drive nearby. Mensa skated over to ask for help. “I got up there and I was like, ‘Yo, y’all need to be over on 53rd and Lake Park. That’s where it’s going down.’” Soon he was leading a march back over to Hyde Park with an army motivated by the situation at hand. The influx of bodies was a demonstration of the power of numbers, and the capacity for one charismatic voice to turn the tide. “They stood the fuck down,” he says with pride. “Because now we were 400 deep.”

Nolis Anderson

“As an artist, as a musician, I feel like I traverse in the currency of human experience, human emotion. What better way to accrue that than to look somebody in the eyes and talk to them about what’s going on?”


“We Are Not Divided,” the new project from David Byrne’s solutions journalism site Reasons to Be Cheerful, finds lots of ways to heal our political divisions —and to feel a lot better.

“We see lots of people let their ideology—or their various other kinds of rules that they’ve made for themselves, or hatreds, or emotional feelings —override their own common sense.”

mericans are, of course, politically divided. David Byrne is only too aware. The prolific artist behind the music of Talking Heads has fretted along with all of us as ideological disagreement has caused our country to stumble. We no longer mount meaningful responses to real challenges like climate change and gun violence and racial inequality. Worse, division has eroded the ecosystem of facts that we call reality, making us all feel crazy. And yet, he has faith. 19th century philosopher William James said in The Sentiment of Rationality that faith is the courage to act when doubt is warranted. Has there ever been such a moment to warrant doubt in the American experiment? A little over a year ago, Byrne launched a web publication dedicated to solutions journalism, Reasons to Be Cheerful—that title itself a statement of faith—looking not to expose more problems with our country, but ways to fix them. In the run-up to the November 2020 election, he and his editors at the publication are taking an in-depth look at the nature of our political disagreements with a new project they are calling “We Are Not Divided.” No, it’s not about denialism. And they’re not being cheeky or ironic. The package of solutions-oriented stories, to be released five articles per week at Reasons to Be Cheerful and on other partner sites during the two months before the election, explores the theory and practice of overcoming division. It turns out there are loads of people working on this problem right now. “Every article you read says, ‘Look how divided we are.’ Well, we’re not denying that,” says Byrne on the phone from his Manhattan office, chuckling. He laughs often; he understands how all this must look. “But we’re also saying that there are places and initiatives and institutions that are attempting to bridge those divides and allow people to find ways to talk to one another, and find things in common.” The stakes are high: a Pew Research Center study from 2019 found that Americans had internalized political division to such an extent that the vast majority saw the gaps only growing wider, and 54 percent of that majority were extremely worried about their elected officials’ ability to solve our major problems. In general, Americans were very pessimistic about their country, and the more divided we are, the less hopeful we become. But it’s the American way to try to fix things. After the 2016 election, groups appeared such as Braver Angels, which coaches folks on how to talk across the political divide in workshops they call Red/Blue and Bridging the Divide. Solutions like this have proven popular, as lots of people want to get away from the insults slung across the internet and restore the country to a workFLOOD 99

ing democracy. When Reasons to Be Cheerful editors Christine McLaren and Will Doig started digging into this phenomenon, warring parties in Kenya, and presented the findings on this “perthey found amazing projects bringing warring peoples together, ception gap” to both sides. “Without getting the groups together,” she continues, “they not just in the U.S. but across the globe. McLaren, for instance, is writing a piece about how a simple showed these surveys to the other groups, and the other groups but powerful psychological tool stopped deadly clashes between were surprised that it turned out this group didn’t hate them as Muslim youth and anti-terrorist police in the town of Isiolo, Kenya. much as they thought. And since that point, there have been no Activists there asked for help from the Peace and Conflict Neuro- major conflicts between those two groups.” “We Are Not Divided” explores programs to depolarize college science Lab at the University of Pennsylvania. “We always think that the people that we are in opposition to campuses, the neuroscience behind ideology (showing that what think worse of us than they really do,” says McLaren on Zoom from we consider to be our core beliefs are actually pretty flexible), and her office in Vancouver. “This has been shown through studies of how a new district attorney in Harris County, Texas, turned her various different sorts of divided groups of all kinds.” Study after county away from its reputation as “the execution capital of Ameristudy has demonstrated, for example, that American Republicans ca.” One longform piece looks at how Ireland’s parliament brilliantly and Democrats do not dislike one another nearly as much as they asked random citizens to consult on its 2012 constitutional amendboth believe. So the University of Pennsylvania lab surveyed the ment process, and how two unlikely participants—a conservative truck driver and a gay IT professional—ended up being friends. FLOOD 101

“The whole journalistic enterprise isn’t just to make me feel better. I think it also has that effect on other people, and that’s more important” One piece explores the fascinating editing process behind Wikipedia, and how it can be a model for conflict resolution. Some of the grandest battles of the culture wars are taking place across its pages, as editors of all ideological, religious, and academic stripe and persuasion maul one another’s copy, constantly undercutting, subtending, and casting doubt. It’s like a slaughterhouse floor in there. And yet, research shows that Wikipedia pages created by editors with opposing opinions are of higher quality: more accurate, better-researched and packed with citations, more carefully written. Given a set of constrictions, this friction can produce the most reliable information. “It’s almost like a natural experiment,” says Doig of Wikipedia’s editing structure, on the phone from his office in New Hampshire. “When you force people to work together, even if they might not be people who agree with each other or even like each other, you can end up with some pretty amazing outcomes.” If that makes you think of American democracy and the way it’s supposed to work, then you’re beginning to see the light. The “We Are Not Divided” project is not designed to sway you to vote

any particular way, or to make any partisan arguments. It does end up suggesting that ideological purity probably doesn’t produce good governance, since projects that actually work require compromise. “I see a risk of people acting out, whatever they’re getting all hot and bothered about,” says Byrne. “We see lots of people do that. They let their ideology—or their various other kinds of rules that they’ve made for themselves, or hatreds, or emotional feelings—override their own common sense. It’s kind of got to get beyond that, to go, ‘What’s really going to work here?’” We need these solutions, because we need to stop feeling crazy. Byrne started blogging solution stories a few years back, even before the 2016 election, because the regular news was so bleak. “I felt like there was increasing division and a lot of stuff that was getting me kind of depressed, and anxious, and not very hopeful,” Byrne says. “So as a countermeasure to that, I started bookmarking and saving articles I would read. It got a little more formalized over time; I actually made rules for myself. And I realized that it really was helping me, and I think other people really like it.” In April 2019, he hired staff and Reasons to Be Cheerful was born. The publication had a psychological function right from the start: to offer an alternative to the helplessness inspired by the daily news. It doesn’t go out of its way to cheer you up, per se, but action is just naturally uplifting. The site identifies problems, and then offers the upbeat reality that other people are already dreaming up ways to deal with them. FLOOD 103

“The whole journalistic enterprise isn’t just to make me feel better,” he laughs. “I think it also has that effect on other people, and that’s more important. The dream is that, at some point, policy makers and various initiatives or organizations might read about something on our site and realize, ‘Oh, there’s somebody in Belgium, or Canada, or someplace else that has found a solution to this problem that we’ve been dealing with. Maybe we should at least try out their solution.’ The dream is that the project actually has utility.” “We [journalists] tend to focus on this ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant’ sort of model, right?” poses McLaren. “That the only way that you hold power to account is by focusing on the negative.” But if you devote serious journalism to solutions, she adds, “you are empowering citizens with information that they need to hold people to account, because you’re enabling them to understand what alternatives could look like. Even if it’s not something that can be perfectly copy-and-pasted, you’re giving them the understanding of how things actually can move forward, which is just as empowering as telling them what’s wrong and who’s messing up.” Doig points out that the non-stop flow of doomy headlines, which sell a lot of newspapers, presents a skewed version of the world, a disaster every day, when our lives aren’t really like that. We laugh together, we act out of love, public utilities and administrations continue to function at some level, and good things happen. “In some sense, it’s a vicious cycle. Because by only reporting on everything that’s going wrong, not only are you providing an inaccurate picture of the world, but you can make things worse. “For example,” he continues, “when all you read about is how our institutions are failing us, not only is that probably not accurate, but then it decreases people’s confidence in those institutions. That decreased confidence then weakens those institutions even further. So, it becomes a downward spiral, where the worse people think things are, the worse they can actually become.” “And that has a major impact on your ability to go out and enact change on the things that you care about,” adds McLaren. “If you feel like there is no hope, then you’re going to act that way.” Byrne points out that living in NYC during the coronavirus pandemic has led citizens to some hopeful adaptations. For one, everyone’s biking. Well known for eschewing cars and cycling everywhere around NYC, Byrne now has lots of company. He feels like a certain proportion of them won’t go back to driving a car now that they see how easy it is to get around.


“The idea of a microcosm, I think, is really important. If you can do something on a small scale in one location, then there’s often the possibility that it could be copied or cloned in other places.” FLOOD 105

Maybe that hasn’t happened as much in other cities. But becoming a nation of cyclists would be good for our carbon footprint, for air quality, for a healthier citizenry. So it could catch on. NYC, as big as it is, could be a microcosm of the rest of the country. “The idea of a microcosm, I think, is really important,” says Byrne. “If you can do something on a small scale in one location, then there’s often the possibility that it could be copied or cloned in other places. It’s not like you have to solve the world’s problems or the problems of a huge nation instantly, if you can get a local solution. Maybe that then can be scaled up, or copied, or imitated, or modified, or whatever. It doesn’t have to be that you change everything overnight. It can happen in a way where people adopt different ways of doing things because they see that it works.” Talking, really talking, is the cure we’re all seeking, and Byrne leads by example. In his writing on Reasons to Be Cheerful, he’s clearly partisan, but he protects the rights of other people to respectfully disagree. The problem with social media and most of the internet, I’m sure we can all commiserate, is that it’s a bad place to actually talk about anything, except maybe puppies and kitties. The very algorithms that run these sites reward extremes, driving us to shouting and ugliness. They’re designed to bring out the hate. Reasons to Be Cheerful is a safe space by comparison. Byrne’s writing has sparked a few good discussions, including one about nuclear power: In response to a piece he wrote in which he mentioned that nuclear power was not safe, his frequent artistic collaborator Brian Eno wrote his own article supporting nuclear power, citing British environmental hero George Monbiot, and eliciting a contribution from Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand, who cites pro-nuclear enviro Michael Shellenberger. No one gets shouted down. It feels like a rational discussion amongst people who don’t care about being right, but care a lot about getting the answer right. That spirit informs the “We Are Not Divided” project, even if Byrne’s not doing a lot of writing. Maybe not any. Instead, he’s doing a series of drawings that will serve as illustrations for the project. He says he’s not drawing on specific topics, just drawing, and he’s leaving it to McLaren and Doig to figure out where they go. He’s also releasing a song that he wrote for a musical about Joan of Arc. The song is based on Bible verses from 1 Corinthians 12, in which the Apostle Paul teaches that, just as no part of FLOOD 106

the human body can simply get rid of the others, the church is a whole made up of all its members. In the King James Bible, verse 21 starts: “And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” In the context of Joan of Arc, that line represents the church leaders telling her to submit to their authority. But in the context of our current political moment, the metaphor of the body working together means something different. Even liberating. “In the moment that we’re in now, the song, and the Bible verse, really is about how in order to survive, we really do have to work together,” he says. “It has a completely different meaning, but it really works.” We really aren’t divided. We’re a whole, and the whole thrives or fails together. Now that you know where to start making a difference, go on. Dig in. FLOOD 107

Gives Back

to Chicago SOOPER crew by Frances Farlee

NNAMDÏ, Sen Morimoto, Glenn Curran, KAINA, and Blacker Face, the label’s co-founders and artists, wind up succeeding as activists without thinking too much about it.



NNAMDI by Maren Celest


Blacker Face by Samantha Callahan

Sen & Nnamdi by Sam Orlin

KAINA by Merceds Zapata

While Sooper Records wasn’t necessarily founded with an activist

mission statement, the Chicago-based label tends to find themselves speaking up for their community, as well as for national social justice causes. Just a week before this interview took place, Sooper co-founder Sen Morimoto made national headlines over a local controversy. The fallout around the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) censoring Morimoto is a perfect example of why this story felt relevant: This artist-run label and its signees don’t even have to explicitly pursue activism to start conversations and effect change. These are people who, by simply showing how they feel—in and outside their art, on and off stage—do the work automatically. But back to the controversy: DCASE asked Morimoto to precede his pre-recorded stay-at-home Millennium Park Summer Music Series performance with a statement about Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who presented the show. Morimoto says that “it seemed crazy to mention the mayor without talking about [her failure to address] some 100,000 protestors in Chicago demanding the police be defunded and the Civilian Police Accountability Council [CPAC] enacted.” Because he was asked to censor the message he’d included at the beginning of the performance, he wound up pulling the video from the lineup entirely, ultimately uploading the set to his YouTube channel. “I felt like [my comments were] really tame, and that nothing would happen,” Morimoto says. Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, another Sooper co-founder, agrees: “It was so well-spoken, and it’s just insane that this happened.” Morimoto also ultimately released the audio of his cancelled performance on August’s Bandcamp Friday to benefit the Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project, which connects inmates with teaching artists and scholars, just as Ogbonnoya—better known by the metonym NNAMDÏ—did with his Black Plight EP in June to benefit the Black equity–focused notfor-profit eatChicago and the anti-police violence group Assata’s Daughters. Ogbonnaya says that “everything colliding” made it clear that he couldn’t go on separating music and activism: “Either you’re all in or all out.” Where previously he funneled his politics into his music—“I’ve written several songs about police brutality against African-Americans and discrimination because I experienced it directly,” he says—he acknowledges that such conscious activist behaviors are relatively new to him.

Ogbonnaya, Morimoto, and Sooper’s third co-founder, Glenn Curran, all say they’ve rarely discussed how the label can effect change. One big exception: After George Floyd’s murder, they all asked, in Curran’s words, “What is our social media voice...what’s appropriate there?” Curran recalls that Obgonnaya and Morimoto emphasized the need to “amplify the voices of the people doing the work and putting out the information.”

“My existence is a form of activism. People get mad that I say certain things on stage or... that I even exist. I’ve learned from a very young age that that’s just the reality of my life.” – Kaina Castillo Sooper artist Kaina Castillo, who records and performs as KAINA, did exactly that last summer amidst a local crisis. The day of her release show for her debut album, 2019’s Morimoto-co-produced Next to the Sun, she learned that ICE would be conducting raids in Chicago. The first-generation daughter of Guatemalan and Venezuelan immigrants, Castillo says her listeners largely include “young kids of immigrants” and that news of the ICE raids was “truly heartbreaking for me,” so she used her show to make a difference. “It would have been so shitty to not address that when it was happening,” she explains—so she recruited an immigrant rights activist, Anthony Joel Quezada, to speak before her set and offer his help. “He made a call to action during his talk,” says Castillo, “about everyone pulling out their phone and signing [a petition]. I remember going on Instagram after my show, and I saw people sharing that.” Some of Castillo’s shows have reminded her that her mere presence as a first-generation Latinx person tends to offend certain people. “My existence is a form of activism,” she says. “People get mad that I say certain things on stage or...that I even exist. I’ve learned from a very young age that that’s just the reality of my life.” While people have gotten angry at Castillo during her shows, she says she hasn’t faced any physical violence. The Black members of explicitly radical leftist, Black liberationist, avant-garde Sooper act Blacker Face can’t quite say the same. Bassist PT Bell recalls “that one cat who tried to come at me with a knife” after a show. Frontperson Jolene Whatevr—who works full-time at the Detroit community organization nonprofit Auntie Na’s Village—shares an anecdote about the potentially transformative power of Blacker

Face’s music and live show, without which Whatevr says the band is “not a complete conversation.” “This person was like, ‘I’m a neo-Nazi,’” she says, but he loved Blacker Face’s show. A post-set conversation with PT led to change in that individual, Whatevr believes. “That person is for sure in the streets now, and they’re definitely into BLM,” she says. “They were just a baby from a rural place that was like, ‘Your music is something I identify with’ and was so easily turned.” As Castillo and Morimoto would say, Blacker Face’s existence is resistance. “We all saw them and were like, ‘How do we get involved?’’’ Curran says of when he, Morimoto, and Ogbonnaya first saw Blacker Face perform. Not long after Sooper signed the group, the label wrote a note of support so that the band’s “My Life Matters” video, which tackles the Chicago Police Department’s murder of Laquan McDonald, could receive grant funding from none other than DCASE. “It’s sort of funny to see the politics there,” Curran remarks. The grant provides an odd contrast to DCASE censoring Morimoto, but it’s really just another instance of Sooper’s crew showing who they are and what they feel—and, in the process, subverting long-existent systems. Or, as Ogbonnaya says, “Music is the one thing I know how to do.” The rest follows naturally.


Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper, 9th Wonder, and Terrace Martin on how their new supergroup is fit for the post–George Floyd world.




“For so long, [music’s] been a tool to bring awareness. It’s like, ‘OK, once you actually build awareness, how do you use music to help bring actual change?’” – Kamasi Washington


hen the supergroup of Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper, 9th Wonder, and Terrace Martin were crafting compositions for their upcoming project as Dinner Party, they had no idea how topical their understated police brutality meditation “Freeze Tag” would become. Just a few months after recording it, George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill, was killed by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. “Police brutality, or brutality against Black Americans, has been a thing for a very long time, whether the rest of the nation decided to look at it or not,” 9th Wonder says from his North Carolina residence. “These [kinds of] songs have been made before we even got to a George Floyd.” “Freeze Tag” was, unfortunately, timely and eerily prescient. It also fit in thematically, if not sonically, with some of rap’s most powerful songs. Even though Dinner Party is made up of artists who don’t rap, they all came of age as hip-hop culture exploded. Washington, Glasper, and Martin, of course, famously worked on Kendrick Lamar’s landmark 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly. For his part, 9th Wonder was a member of rap group Little Brother, and


has produced songs and albums for dozens of rap acts ranging from JAY-Z to Murs. For the first time in arguably decades, there seems to be a groundswell of activism, of actions that may result in significant change. Much of America believes that our system is broken and that new systems need to be implemented. Dinner Party wants its music to align with this new era. “There’s a possible shift that’s taking place now,” Washington says. “For so long, [music’s] been a tool to bring awareness. It’s like, ‘OK, once you actually build awareness, how do you use music to help bring actual change?’ What we’re trying to do is use our voice and our art to make people aware of the problems that matter. We’ve been here before in history where people become aware of those problems and it’s like, ‘How do we not repeat history? How do we not end up in the same place that we’ve been in for hundreds of years?’ I think maybe now the job is to keep people pushing forward, to motivate people, to keep moving, keep fighting, keep pressing to make things better because if you let go, we’ll fall right back to what we were.”

Chris Charles

Todd Cooper

Samantha Whitehead

Russell Hamilton

“We speak a little bit on police brutality and things of that nature, but we also speak on love at the same time. It’s kind of a Marvin Gaye approach, if you will.”– Robert Glasper


The Dinner Party project is a modern musical anomaly on many levels. It combines high-profile artists from North Carolina (9th Wonder), Texas (Glasper), and California (Washington and Martin) on what would essentially be considered a jazz project—but it was mostly built upon drums and grooves by 9th Wonder before the other three added piano, saxophone, and other instrumental elements. It also doesn’t contain any solos from the musicians. Instead, the seven selections arrive in a tight 23 minutes and are often accented by crooning from Chicago vocalist Phoelix, a talented rising artist with remarkable tonal range. Glasper likens each song to interludes, musical thoughts that can be digested like appetizers. “Freeze Tag” arrives with the most topical heft and significant attention, having logged more than 1.2 million streams on Spotify at press time. Although instrumental tracks “First Responders” and “The Mighty Tree” carry heavy titles, they contain a balance of forcefulness and elegance that enables the mind to explore a variety of emotions. There aren’t layers of complex musicianship and dizzying chord progressions—a conscious decision Dinner Party members made while crafting the music. “There’s room for your thoughts to move,” Robert Glasper says. “Some of this stuff is protest, but it’s not overly protest. Everybody’s watching the news. IG, Facebook, everywhere you look, everybody’s talking about police brutality. Sometimes with the music you want to escape all that stuff.” Time, though, wasn’t waiting for Dinner Party and its mission. So the quartet decided to be proactive. “We decided to drop [the Dinner Party project] now because we felt like the way this album was put together kind of works for the time,” Glasper says. “People want to escape what’s going on. We speak a little bit on police brutality and things of that nature, but we also speak on love at the same time. It’s kind of a Marvin Gaye approach, if you will. I think he was the best at masking protest music to where everybody loved it. It’s kind of like crushing the aspirin into the orange juice and giving it to your kids. It’s the sneaking of it in there to where it could do more than something that’s like hardcore protest music.” Life, Dinner Party understands, is not one-dimensional. It is typically full of dramatic peaks and valleys, ones that can be especially treacherous if navigated alone. “I want our music as Dinner


Amani Washington

Animation stills by Juppi Juppsen Additional animations by Mathias Lemaitre Sgard Background collages by Leonie Beck FLOOD 120

Party to be music that really helps people,” Terrace Martin adds. “Before you go do something crazy, you’re popping this in. Or if you want to love, you play this. If you want to have a conversation, you can talk to this. I want this to be life music. I want us to be very involved with people’s lives.” Dinner Party may have just become an official group, but the members have been gravitating toward each other for years. Martin and Washington bonded during their high school years in Los Angeles. Glasper met Martin at a jazz camp in Denver when they were 15, and has known 9th Wonder for a decade. Glasper was introduced to Washington through the LA jazz scene, when he would jump in on his sets. Washington returned the favor when Glasper played in Southern California. Dinner Party was Washington’s first time working with 9th Wonder, but he was familiar with him through the other members. So once they actually started collaborating, it was a largely seamless process. “It wasn’t like we’re four musicians and we’re coming together for the first time,” Glasper says. “It was like, ‘Yo, this is normal for us.’ Now we’re going to get together and let the world hear it.” How the world operates has changed quickly and dramatically since March 2020, but times of struggle and protest have inspired some iconic music in the last several decades. Dinner Party hopes to be included in that conversation. “As long as music is being made, people always use it as a vessel for message,” 9th Wonder says. “The longer we stay in the house, the music is going to become more message-driven because there’s no party to talk about. We’re all in the house and trying to be safe. So we’ve got to use this time, especially the window that we have when America is listening, to say what we’ve gotta say.” “Being open to collective work [to change society for the better], that’s the energy that this project is bringing to the table, and I think that it’s something that’s very much needed,” Washington adds. “I think that the problems we have in this world aren’t going to be solved by one person. They’re only going to be solved by the masses, by all of us coming together and bringing all of our energy together. One person can’t do it. But it can happen with all of us.”

“The longer we stay in the house, the music is going to become more message-driven because there’s no party to talk about.” – 9th Wonder


Erik Voake



With artists and venue staff at the forefront of the fight to keep live music alive, we talked to Best Coast, Phantogram, illuminati hotties, and more artists and club owners about the industry’s future. America’s independent music clubs and theaters have been dying one by one since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and those that have managed to survive are at death’s door. It will take an act of Congress and that indecipherable slash of a Trumpian pen stroke to save them. The pandemic has fostered a certain solidarity in clubland, as evidenced by the creation of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA). It’s an organization of roughly 2,000 independent venues across the nation, formed in the wake of the massive entertainment world shutdown in mid-March and the immediate loss of income for anyone connected to that world—club owners and employees, talent buyers, booking agents, caterers, doormen, and, obviously, the bands. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) act helped some club owners and employees tread water this spring, but that’s about it. As of this writing, there are two bipartisan, potentially industry-saving bills in front of Congress (which has recessed for August): RESTART and Save Our Stages. RESTART was first out of the gate, a June bill co-sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Sen. Todd Young (R-IN), which would offer partially forgivable loans to small businesses (like music venues) that have experienced a greater than 25 percent drop in total income since the shut-

down. Save Our Stages, co-sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), was introduced in the Senate in July, and would award grants to eligible venues. “Both acts have components that would fit our needs,” says NIVA spokeswoman Audrey Fix Schaefer, who is also Head of Communications for the D.C.-area venues I.M.P., 9:30 Club, Lincoln Theatre, the Anthem, and the Merriweather Post Pavilion. “Congress negotiates what goes into the overall bill. I can’t predict what will happen, and people who’ve made law for the last 25 years cannot predict what will happen.” “Save Our Stages is similar to RESTART in the way it identifies the business, but is more industry-specific,” adds Tobi Parks, the owner and talent buyer for xBk in Des Moines, Iowa, a 250-capacity club that opened last September. (The name of the club stands for ex-Brooklyn, where Parks hails from.) “Instead of a loan, it is going to be a lifeline. Any pure grant is going to face some hurdles. But if you look at the bank and airline industries, ours is a tiny drop in the bucket, looking for $10 billion compared to hundreds of billions.” It’s a situation that affects not just the venues, of course, but all those connected to them. “We’re a magnet for other economic activities,” says Schaefer. “People who come to a show have dinner before or drinks afterwards. For every dollar spent on a ticket in a small venue, 12 dollars of eco-

nomic activity is generated, considering the caterers for the act, other restaurants, transportation, and other things. The federal government assisting us is an investment—not just in keeping our industry from folding, but other businesses as well.” I first spoke with Schaefer while Congress was in the session ending August 7. After that date passed—and nothing had been done—I asked her thoughts regarding the Congressional Session that runs from September 8 through October 2. “We are still working hard, gaining more co-sponsors every day, and it feels like we have momentum,” she says. “But, of course, we don’t have a crystal ball. I wish I could tell you definitively what the future holds, but if I could, I’d be at the race track. We are still in the arena.” These are contentious times, to put it mildly, but Schaefer retains a certain cautious optimism. “Congressional leadership and the White House will get back to the bargaining table. Once they have a deal, that’s when the language in the pieces of legislation we are supporting can get poured into it.” And if there is no deal? Dayna Frank, NIVA co-founder and CEO of Minneapolis’s First Avenue nightclub, pauses before answering this question. “There are no other plans,” Frank says. “We looked at it, we brainstormed and tried to come up with a plan B, C, or D, but no. There are ways to save individual venues,


Erik Voake

but this is a 10-billion-dollar problem and the only way to save the industry and [music] ecosystem as a whole is through the federal government.” West Hollywood’s historic Troubadour nightclub is run by Christine Karayan, and has been in her family since the early 1980s. She admits that because of the market they’re in—and because of the club’s visibility and prominence—they’re not in as bad of shape as some others. Nevertheless, she says, “We’re going through the nest egg. I’ve shut off everything I can but I’m still cranking out X amount of dollars a month in rent and insurance. We’re probably OK ’til the end of the year. We’re not glitzy and shiny. We’re smelly and kind of old, what you see is what you get, and a lot of people appreciate it for the familiarity of it. “If [one of the bills] gets through, then, yes, it will be beyond a sense of relief,” she continues. “You could, at that point, start to breathe. But I don’t know what day I can open the doors or when I can get up and running. Can I take on more debt than I have in place and drown myself?” Parks, the owner of xBk, has sunk her life savings into her club. “If there’s not some kind of package, RESTART or S.O.S., or some combination, we will not survive,” she says. “The other proposals out there [in front of Congress] don’t work for our industry. We’re not like restaurants that pop up and reopen. This [pandemic] could be years. We are the only industry that literally has zero revenue. I have to pay my mortgage, and the electric bill comes every month.” ““Live Nation and AEG have the money to wait it out, and all we’re gonna have is Live Nation and AEG,” muses J.J. Gonson, self-described “proprietrix” of the Somerville, Massachusetts club ONCE. “The world

turned upside down and everything got many of those bands to play. handed to the bad guys. We’ve been in- “Not being able to put on a show is clusive and cooperative and caring of our death,” says Michael Dorf, founder and community. Are we going to end up with CEO of the small City Winery chain. “And nothing but corporate, hands-off booking?” the live industry is one of the only avenues for musicians to earn a living, an incredibly As the industry remains in a static, anxi- valuable aspect that is at risk of extinction. ety-fraught phase, Dayna Frank says some The world goes nuts when a bald eagle’s positives have surfaced. For one, the indi- nest is disrupted during a construction vidual club owners feel less alone: “We’ve project, and I agree that’s important, but never been so connected and so commu- we’re talking about live music culture and nicative and had as much support among it isn’t getting the attention.” Dorf’s right. If you’re a musician, unless ourselves as we do right now.” And, more generally, she adds, “The you’re Taylor Swift or JAY-Z, you’re most broader music industries are acknowl- likely making your living by touring. “Touredging what independent clubs mean ing is a huge part of my livelihood,” says to the industry as a whole. We’ve never Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast. “Not only seen that kind of tacit or overt support is it how I make a large portion of my infrom Spotify, YouTube, BMI, ASCAP, Ama- come, but it is also how I pay my employzon Music. The whole industry is saying ees. I don’t think people realize that bands the independents are the root and the are a business. We have a whole team of pillar of the music industry, and without people around us who depend on us for our rooms the artists don’t discover their their own livelihood, so losing the ability to voice, don’t connect with their communi- tour in 2020 has impacted not just me, but ties, can’t grow their fan base, can’t de- the entirety of my business.” velop into global acts. When you create in In June, more than 600 artists—includthe studio it’s an insular environment, but ing Dave Grohl, Billie Eilish, Brittany Howin a club, you get that crowd reaction, see ard, Willie Nelson, Lady Gaga, Neil Young, what works. You need both the studio and and Leon Bridges—signed a letter sent to Congress which read in part, “Independent the live environment.” But the openings of clubs and the- venues give artists their start, often as aters won’t occur until deep into Phase 4 the first stage most of us have played on. of the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. Even These venues were the first to close and will if there is an effective and widespread be the last to reopen… If these indepenvaccine available early next year—and dent venues close forever, cities and towns audiences feel comfortable enough to across America will not only lose their culmix and mingle in public again—tours will tural and entertainment hearts, but they still have to be planned and those artists will lose the engine that would otherwise will still need places to play. Yes, the clubs be a driver of economic renewal for all the owned and/or booked by deep-pocketed businesses that surround them.” In early August, David Byrne joined the promoting giants Live Nation and AEG may survive; but for the myriad clubs and fight with an op-ed for the industry trade theaters that aren’t part of those chains, if magazine Pollstar, in which he advocated they’re out of business, there’s no place for for the passage of RESTART and Save Our

Bethany Cosentino/Best Coast by Erik Voake Erik Voake illuminati hotties by @cowboycrush

Stages, as well as the ENCORES act that would create a tax credit for small live venues to help offset the costs of ticket refunds during the pandemic. “I’ve played a wide variety of venues,” he wrote, “and I came to realize that there’s a kind of ecosystem at work—the little clubs nurture the acts that will eventually play the 800-capacity clubs, and those in turn feed acts into the 1,500-capacity small theaters and ballrooms. Those venues support acts that will eventually play 2,500-seat theaters and carry their own crews and support. Each level feeds into the next. Musicians need each rung on this ladder to be in place in order to be able to reach the next one.” While many touring acts were derailed by the pandemic, emerging singer/rapper MOZIAH was in another position. “Before COVID, I was actively researching ways to begin touring,” he says. “It was the best next move for engagement, exposure, networking, and income. The inability to play live forced my team and I to find alternate ways to accomplish these virtually. It was a big pivot for us and for many, many others.” “People are finding new ways to release “I don’t think people realize their music and are enthat bands are a business. gaging with fans using We have a whole team of all sorts of technology,” people around us who depend says Lili Trifilio of Beach on us for their own livelihood.” Bunny and tiger lili. “I think the shutdown will – Bethany Cosentino, Best Coast have both a negative and positive effect on everyone participating. Even though there can’t be shows right now and so many musicians’ finances are negatively impacted, this space and time of uncertainty has also given way to new projects, new albums, and new inspirations. I predict that so much amazing music is to come out of this, as artists everywhere are continuing to write throughout the pandemic.” The most popular non-touring alternative, of course, has been live-streaming, with artists either charging an admission or putting out a digital “tip jar.” On August 21, A Song For Joe—an all-star fundraising concert in celebration of the late Clash frontman Joe Strummer, featuring performances by Bruce Springsteen, Tom Morello, Bob Weir, and many others—was broadcast via The Joe Strummer Foundation’s website, with all donations benefiting Save Our Stages. While it’s obviously better than nothing for artists and fans, the streaming option is, at best, merely OK. Sarah Tudzin, singer-songwriter of illuminati hotties, acknowledges streaming as one of the “many fulfilling ways to share music from afar,” but avers that “gathering in groups and partaking in art in real time is an irreplaceable FLOOD 127

Beach Bunny by Deanie Chen

human experience. Playing live has become integral to my career, and I’ve been fixated on how to fill that void for the foreseeable future.” “One of the most fun things to do is not only creating art and writing songs, but performing them live,” says Phantogram’s Josh Carter. “Live shows, in person, in a crowd, with a buzzing energy is how it should be done. The spirit of live shows creates an energy and unity for people. It should be an experience.” “Truthfully, we’ll be seeing a new normal all over,” says MOZIAH. “Putting things on pause has made it clear that some stuff we have in place to support artists and venues in the music industry should be updated. The way we’ve done things thus far was born out of a need. Now there are new needs, which calls for new ways of doing things. It’s causes like these that serve to jumpstart that conversation. “Streams and recordings are easily accessible and can be ripped nowadays, but there’s something still sacred about being in the same space as an artist. That experience has proven time and time again for centuries to be worth the ticket. Not preserving and supporting it is letting something truly valuable die off.” “If 90 percent of independent live venues go out of business, that will likely create a monopoly of large corporate-owned venues that will have control over ticket rates, who gets to play, and how shows are held,” says Trifilio. “Larger venues certainly serve their purpose, but the independent ones are just as vital to the music industry as a whole, especially in terms of creating a space for emerging artists to thrive. I truly hope that all independent live venues

Dayna Frank believes NIVA’s case is so strong it will transcend political bias. “It’s so blatantly obvious,” she says. “We are small, intimate spaces where people sing and talk, and you have a virus that kills people in small intimate spaces primariHow optimistic or pessimistic are club ly by singing and talking. You’d be hardowners and musicians about the survival pressed to find an industry that needs aid of these smaller venues? My research sug- more than we do, especially independents gests that everyone is on a see-saw. who have no ancillary revenue, no corpo “I’m cautiously optimistic,” says Austen rate parents, and no other ways of getBailey, talent buyer for the Mohawk Aus- ting cash right now.” tin club in Austin, Texas. “But we’ve gotta use the phrase ‘You can’t per- “Today, I’m a little more optimistic form a transplant on a dead body.’” overall. This will end at some “It depends on what day of the week you’re asking me,” says point. But there’s no way you can the Troubadour’s Karayan. “Today, open at a quarter capacity and I’m a little more optimistic overall. have it make any financial sense.” This will end at some point. But – Christine Karayan, Troubadour there’s no way you can open at a quarter capacity and have it People have sent over a million emails make any financial sense.” On a scale of one to 10—with total pes- to Congress in support, and on August 18, simism a one and complete optimism a 10— US Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumRobert Mercurio, co-owner of the historic er signed on as a co-sponsor of the Save New Orleans nightclub Tipitina’s, says, “My Our Stages Act. “Independent venues, like feelings of confidence go up and down. To- theaters and concert halls, are the beating day, I will say three. I watch the news and heart of New York’s cultural life and a drivtry to get a temperature of where Con- ing force in the economy,” said the Senator gress is at, and it’s a real tossup.” in a prepared statement. “That’s why it’s so Mercurio is in a somewhat unique important to provide dedicated federal asposition, too: Not only does he co-own a sistance to independent venues so when it is club, he’s also the bassist of the funk-rock safe, we can gather again for music, comedy, band Galactic. “We own the club and are theater, and other live performances in venstewards of this historic venue, one of the ues that have been around for generations.” “It’s not a red or blue issue,” says Schaemost storied venues in New Orleans and a big part in the history of our band. We’re fer, “but a green issue—helping business on a band so we’re doubly hit, struggling on Main Street, USA. It is a fight for survival both sides. It’s been extremely difficult. It’s right now. No sugarcoating it, we are on the precipice if we don’t get this help.” not like we have another day job.” get the funding necessary to stay open.” “If we lose independent venues,” says Cosentino, “It will change everything about the music industry. It’s not something I’m totally ready to think about just yet.”


Epp Sue

30 Years of Music’s Influence on Voter Registration

Ashley Lukashevsky


Gillian Dreher


Arielle Lee Campbell

Never Made

amanda phingbodhipakkiya

Unbelievable as it may seem now, there was once a time when you could broadcast a public service announcement on MTV or VH1 and have it reach 80 percent of the young people in the United States. The first non-partisan, non-profit organization to focus on building the civic and political power of young people, Rock the Vote tapped into the two music networks’ reach from its start in 1990. Founded by music executives as a reaction to the censorship artists like NWA and 2 Live Crew were then experiencing, Rock the Vote garnered a lot of attention thanks to impactful PSAs from its high profile advocates. At the time, having music superstars like Madonna, LL Cool J, Anthony Kiedis of Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Lenny Kravitz speaking about voting was novel and exciting. It fired up young people and made them aware of the importance of voting and representing their interests. 30 years later, Rock the Vote’s mission of empowering young people remains the same, but the tactics have taken on a very different look. Adapting with the times, Rock the Vote no longer strictly partners with musicians, but now enlists actors, athletes, journalists, and activists in the cause, and even collaborates with well-known brands in their Brands for Democracy program. “Social media has completely changed who a celebrity is and who a trusted messenger is,” says Rock the Vote’s president and executive director, Carolyn DeWitt. “Celebrities don’t live in the television, they live on someone’s phone. You can see what they’re thinking and doing all the time. They have platforms to share information about the issues they care about, even what the steps are to voting. In addition to that, because there’s much more information at people’s fingertips through the internet, Gen Z, in particular, is very sophisticated about how they think about the world.” Rock the Vote is no longer the sole entity of its kind. HeadCount, now arguably the most visible voter registration organization, was founded in 2004 by Andy Bernstein (also a co-founder

Tres Kiddos

Organizers of Rock the Vote, HeadCount, and Rave the Vote —and some of the artists they work with—share how music continues to push for democracy.

of National Voter Registration Day) and Marc Brownstein (bassist of the band Disco Biscuits). Originating in the jam band scene, HeadCount established its presence at concerts and festivals with booths where music fans could register to vote. The organization has since expanded to include a multitude of music genres, partnering with everyone from Grouplove and Silversun Pickups to Billie Eilish and Ariana Grande—the latter of whom holds HeadCount’s record for the most voters registered. “Our bread and butter was going to concerts and festivals,” says HeadCount’s social media and marketing manager, Sarah Frankel. “That’s where we were able to be on the ground and talk to people face-to-face and get them registered to vote. What was really cool about Ariana Grande was, every night, she would post that we were there and where we were. Fans would see this before they entered the arena so they’d be able to find us. They would say, ‘I’m so excited you’re here tonight. I saw you on Instagram. I’ve been waiting to register to vote with HeadCount at an Ariana Grande concert,’ or, ‘It’s my 18th birthday, I saw that Ariana Grande had you guys here and I want to do this right now.’” Despite not currently being able to interact with fans at

Natalia Anciso

Nicolle Whitten

Trina Merz

Shepard Fairey


Mel Valentine Vargas

Ashley Lukashevsky

Sarah Epperson

Anna Reishus

Sheila Cuellar Shaffer

Kate DeCiccio

Erin McAdams


FLOOD 136 Edith Belman

Katy Galvin

Alex Marino

Tyana Soto Amanda Sanchez

Diane Shaw

Alex Marino

Johanna Toruno Puno Puno

shows due to the pandemic, HeadCount continues its reach to music fans virtually, offering chances for video chats with artists such as Camila Cabello and Sofi Tukker in exchange for checking your voter registration status and registering via text. They have recently partnered with Evanescence for the band’s Use My Voice voter registration campaign, allied with LA-based promoter Insomniac Events’ “CHECK, REGISTER, VOTE” initiative (which targets the dance music community), and hosted “Vote Ready: A Concert for Voter Registration,” a virtual festival with The War on Drugs, Waxahatchee, members of Grizzly Bear and TV on the Radio, and Kevin Morby. “I used to think voting wasn’t for me,” says Morby. “As I’ve gotten older, I see how necessary it is. My goal in participating in things like this is to convince anyone that isn’t already convinced, that voting is actually a very important thing to do. I encourage anyone who is participating in the presidential election to also stay up on and participate in their local elections.” Similar to HeadCount, When We All Vote—launched in 2018 by cochairs Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Janelle Monáe, Chris Paul, and Lin-Manuel Miranda—the nonprofit organization works with a mission statement “to increase participation in every election and close the race and age voting gap by changing the culture around voting, harnessing grassroots energy, and through strategic partnerships to reach every American.” This year, When We All Vote partnered with Lollapalooza for their virtual festival, Lolla2020, cross-promoting on both entities’ sites to encourage voter registration for viewers, powered by Rock the Vote. Virtually is the only way Rave the Vote, one of the newest voter activation organizations, has connected with its target audience of electronic dance music fans. The digital event is the brainchild of DJ duo Soul Clap, who originally programmed Rave the Vote as a DJ tour that would hit universities and clubs throughout the Midwest, registering voters using a similar model to HeadCount. But beginning in July, Rave the Vote’s operation shifted to the virtual space, programming monthly 12-hour events on Twitch. In the process, with the assistance of Infamous PR and 2+2 Management, Rave the Vote has managed to reach up to 24,000 viewers at one time. Rave the Vote’s informative slide-style social media posts break down voting-related topics applicable to their audience into bite-sized, easy-to-understand morsels. These topics include the importance of the youth vote, voter suppression, local politics, and voting by mail. Rave the Vote’s diverse and heavy-hitting FLOOD 137

line-up of primarily U.S.-focused artists also reflects its audience. The fact that the audience interacts with the events on their computers makes the transition from typing in the chat to checking registration status and registering to vote a seamless one. “There are a lot of social media activism ideas floating around,” says Carré Orenstein, Rave the Vote’s executive producer. “Seeing a dance music artist say, ‘We have changes we want to see,’ and start talking about voting, that is a way for the community to get involved on such a low-touch level that everybody can get behind this collective message and spread it pretty wide.” “If you’re not registered to vote, you’re not even part of the conversation,” says Soul Clap’s Charlie Levine. “You can do all the complaining about the current system now, but if you’re not participating, then you’re just blowing hot air.” “There has been a concerted effort and propaganda to discourage young people from voting for a long time now,” says Levine’s Soul Clap partner Eli Gold. “In dance music, even older folks say, ‘The system is broken, voting doesn’t matter, both the parties suck.’ I don’t know where it started or when, but for most of my adult life, that seems to be a common narrative. It’s

so dangerous. It’s giving into this idea we’ve been fed that our votes don’t matter. It’s completely not true.” Rock the Vote’s DeWitt concurs that there is a lot of effort to combat the power of young people and prevent them access to the ballot. “Millennials and voting-eligible Gen Zers comprise nearly 40 percent of the electorate in 2020,” she says. “If or when young people show up, they have incredible power to determine the direction of our country and our community, and that scares a lot of people. The disparity between older and younger voters during the 2018 midterm elections was more pronounced. What we saw in the aftermath was that several states and communities started to propose bills moving polling locations off college campuses. They even started questioning the right of college students who were out of state to be voting in that state.” These efforts to disenfranchise younger voters were a big reason why HeadCount expanded beyond its original jam band crowd, and why Rave the Vote is pushing hard to make sure their audience’s voices are considered. Says Gold, “If all the politicians are older and believe their constituencies are older, they’re go-

FLOOD 138 Ryan Oakley

Fara DiNo

For Freedoms

Shannon Finnegan

ing to be making decisions based on that. If young people overwhelmingly voted in local elections, there would be very different calculations for decisions being made. Young people don’t vote, so politicians’ decisions and their strategies are around older votes. That’s how they get re-elected.” “Parties and campaigns spend money on what are deemed ‘reliable voters,’” says DeWitt. “These are people who are most aligned with their values and who are most likely to vote for their party and their candidates. They also spend money on ‘persuadable voters.’ These are most likely to turn out and they can sway if messaged to correctly. Young people, because they do not have an extensive voting record, are deemed ‘unreliable voters’ and therefore campaigns and parties don’t spend money on talking to them. These billions of dollars that are spent on campaigns aren’t used to bring young people into the civic process. The next election, the same thing happens. It has a cyclical effect and a young person, again, doesn’t have a voting record because they weren’t told to vote the last time or even made aware of the issue.” Tied in with voter registration is voter education—educating them on what they are voting on and how to do it. Rock the Vote and HeadCount include educational information and ballot tools on their sites. Additionally, the voters they register are sent customized texts and/or emails alerting them as to when and what elections are coming up in their area, and where to find


Ashley Lukashevsky Adriana Arriaga

information pertaining to that election. “Voter registration is just the first step,” says Kam Franklin of The Suffers, who sits on HeadCount’s board of directors. “We want our fans to show up to the polls and vote—and not just for presidential elections. The importance of voting in local and state elections is what needs to be amplified right now. The ‘My Ballot’ option on the site includes the ability to see who and what will appear on your ballot in November. If you’re like me and like a bit more time to research candidates, maybe you’ll find it helpful.” Rave the Vote also understands that younger voters have historically been the least involved and the least vocal about politics, and the most apathetic about voting. At the same time, the dance community is one that is severely affected by elections, particularly on the local level. “Educating young people on why voting actually does matter is our best way to fight disenfranchisement,” says Gold. “Educating on a local level may be the most important of all, because decisions that are made locally can literally impact what happens in your front yard. The local government is what determines regulations on nightclubs, what clubs can open, where they can open, how late they can be open, and how they can look and feel. On that level, it is so important to us because the dance music community is often looked down upon by local governments.” “It is all too common to feel helpless and become complacent,” says Justin Martin, one of the artists DJing at Rave the Vote events. “What people need to realize is that we can make a difference in our future. The easiest way to do that is to vote for officials we believe in.” There is a lot of pressure and attention on the younger voters these days, since the younger demographic is diverse, vocal—certainly on social media—and one that calls for change. Registering to vote is one small, but essential, step toward that change, followed by learning about the candidates and issues on their ballot from sources other than social media. Says DeWitt, “Every youth generation has been told they’re the problem generation, that they’re lazy, they’re apathetic, they’re the problem ones. It’s not particularly a problem of that generation. It’s a problem of our society that we don’t prepare young people to engage with our democracy and to understand the power they have.” “Noam Chomsky recently brought up this old socialist idea,” says Gold. “It’s not a partisan thing, and it should apply to everybody: Politics is not voting once every four years for president. Politics is every day, actively learning and participating in the things that you care about. That’s what politics is.”

Czariah Smith

Artist Lauren Halsey’s South Central LA hub Summaeverythang provides her neighborhood with just what its name suggests—resources spanning from fresh produce to martial arts training. BY SARAH GOODING PHOTOS COURTESY LAUREN HALSEY AND DAVID KORDANSKY GALLERY, LOS ANGELES



rtist Lauren Halsey’s work spans monumental modern hieroglyphics, “fantasy architecture” of sculptural shrunken cities, and now, the finest fresh organic produce Los Angeles County has to offer. For the past year or so, the artist has been taking over the space next to her studio in LA’s South Central neighborhood with the aim of catering to the community she celebrates in her vividly colorful work. Called Summaeverythang, the space intends to quite literally provide some of everything for children and young adults in the neighborhood. “Capoeira, tutoring, artmaking, film programs, gardening, field trips, etc,” reads a proposed list on Summaeverythang’s website. “The center is a site to develop Black and Brown empowerment: personal, political, economic, and sociocultural.”


SLH Studio

“Basically the mission of the space was to provide, at a very high level and for free, educational support to children and young adults in South Central,” Halsey explains on the phone from her studio. “But it would also branch out to moments of expressive activity, from music to dance to surfing to gardening.” The space was set to open in late summer or early fall, but the pandemic quickly rendered that plan unviable—at least for the time being. “When corona happened and I realized I wouldn’t be able to open the community center to the public, I started thinking about ways to still engage with the public outside of the actual space, because of those liabilities,” Halsey says. She realized she could redirect all of the energy, passion, and funds she’d been saving for the community center into something that would make an immediate, tangible difference: free food. And so, since mid-May, Halsey and her small dedicated crew have been sourcing and distributing boxes of fresh organic produce to families in the Watts neighborhood. By late August, they had delivered 7,500 boxes—600 every Friday. She says, “The plan is to continue it long into—at the minimum—next summer.” The project is a continuation of the “for us, by us” ethos that has run through all of Halsey’s work since she started working as an artist, having first studied architecture at California College of the Arts, followed by a BFA at CalArts and then an MFA at Yale. Halsey has always created in close


“The center is a site to develop Black and Brown empowerment: personal, political, economic, and sociocultural.�

“Because there’s trust and we work so closely together, I’m able to maximize my time when I need to on the art side of things, and jump back in.”oo


collaboration with her community; her work is equal parts creative expression and community service. In 2016, she put together a float for that year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in just 48 hours with the help of friends, family, and neighborhood kids who put down their bikes and lent a hand. “This collaborative ethos has become the soul of my practice,” she told the art publication Frieze late last year. In her exhibition at the beginning of this year at LA’s David Kordansky Gallery, Halsey reserved certain items for sale to “collectors of specific ethnicity.” It made sense given the content: recreated protest signs with messages like “Reparations Now!” and “Black Workers Rising! For Jobs Justice & Dignity,” interspersed with advertisements for exploitative home loans and logos of multinational corporations that have devastated low-income communities with predatory practices and products. Halsey’s message of anti-gentrification and exercise in ethical ownership continues with Summaeverythang’s nonhierarchical, community-driven approach. She hopes that others feel empowered by seeing her and her team launch the program with no prior training or background in food distribution. “People might find it inspiring that other people from the neighborhood are approaching these gestures as self-directed. And hopefully it inspires them to be like, ‘I can do it too!’”

She admits that it wasn’t all seamless, though. “The first week of the food program it was like, ‘Oh my god, what did I get myself into?!’ I had no clue; food advocacy isn’t my language. As a human, intuitively, right is right, and we all know that. But as far as the logistics, it was this cold Google search, like: ‘How to make a produce box,’ ‘Organic produce in South Central.’ We didn’t really get a system going until the third week. That’s when we went from having a U-Haul to refrigerated trucks, and from using janky dollies to buying pallet jacks, and really formalizing it.” This setup has also enabled Halsey to continue her arts practice concurrently with the food program. At the time of our interview, she was creating a new piece for the Frieze Art Fair in London, so she had to step back from some of the food program’s day-to-day operations. “I haven’t been going to the farmer’s market every Wednesday, as I was doing before, paying all the farmers, picking up the produce. My team does it while I stay behind and carve. Because there’s trust and we work so closely together, I’m able to maximize my time when I need to on the art side of things, and jump back in. By doing this collaboratively, and not really being the leader and giving everyone equal weight, I think they feel very confident to accomplish the food program without me.” It’s because of her art that Halsey is able to run the food program at all. “I source from about 10 to 15 farms every week. Sometimes things get donated, but FLOOD 147

“I have to also be in conversation with the context that makes all of this work —the subject, the people, you know.” FLOOD 148

a lot of it has been from personal savings—I spent a year saving for the community center.” She is incorporating Summaeverythang into her applications so that if she wins awards, she can keep directing funds toward the center. “But it’s very expensive,” she admits. “It’s at least $16,000 a week for the produce. “My goal with this was to buy the best produce that exists, that all of these beautiful restaurants on the Westside are sourcing from. I found that very important, to bump up and subvert the produce pallet that stocks the grocery stores here, which is sub par, and a lot of the times unacceptable, in my opinion. So, for me, it’s worth the cost. And I think folks can totally see the difference.” This consideration of her audience is where Halsey differs from many artists, who often shrink at the thought of bearing in mind those who will consume their work. Halsey defers from modesty in favor of active audience participation throughout the process. By doing so, she creates more honest, exciting work that her audience is deeply invested in—because it actually reflects them. “In my mind, there’s a certain audience that validates the work,” she concludes. “And that’s who I’m making the work for. If I have someone in mind, and invite them to the studio to see the work, they say, ‘Oh that’s tight,’ or, ‘Oh, I don’t know about that,’ I take it so seriously because they’re also community members. And I’m putting up these images as representations of us, or proposals of the future for us. If people are going to put me in conversation with the canon and art history and contextualize me in that way, I have to also be in conversation with the context that makes all of this work—the subject, the people, you know. It’s so important to me.”

What does taking social, political, or artistic action look like for you? Rain Phoenix reached out to Michael Stipe, Cat Power, Patti Smith, MUNA, Melody Ehsani, Grouplove, Aloe Blacc, and other creative activists for their input, as well as to learn what causes they’re most passionate about. PHOTOGRAPHY BY THE1POINT8 ART BY SHEPARD FAIREY FLOOD 151

…creative power, virtue, new life in every speck, small miracle, love; gather-us-in; fire, art, resistance, keep going. people have the power. Art is ACTION.

From a very young age I responded strongly to injustice of any kind. Our system of government is imperfect, but it does strive, at its best, to be fair and equitable to all, and to uphold the ideals of democracy. I despise feeling “taken,” swindled, jilted, punked, or pranked. When policy leaders, parties, or lobbyists rig the game or even treat policy and governance as a game or power play…well, my blood boils. Gerrymandering and redistricting to pitch the scales one way or the other is infuriating to me, as is voter suppression and election mismanagement...and so I was very impressed by two organizations that are both doing tremendous work to ensure a fair election this coming fall in the U.S.: Plan Your Vote (PlanYourVote.org), a brilliant initiative through VOTE.org, has been designed to help demystify the process of voting across the country, and Fair Fight Action (FairFight.com), started by Stacey Abrams, who, having lost the 2018 gubernatorial election in Georgia under very suspect circumstances, leapt at the chance to address these issues and push for solutions. Fair Fight Action and Plan Your Vote are initiatives and organizations that I support and encourage others to look into, read about, and help balance the scales towards fair elections and eliminating voter suppression in the United States. FLOOD 152

Action is a school girl standing alone with a sign school strike for climate a message magnified multiplied resonating unity an upright voice calling for the salvation of the earth

DESIGNER As with everything, I think the most important thing is authenticity. There are so many causes to be championing in the world, it’s important to find where and how you fit in. For me, from a young age, I’ve always been passionate about fighting for the equality between men and women, and against racism, in America. Depending on what stage of my life we’re looking at, my actions have always been different and have evolved as I have. I also incorporate it into my work. We host a monthly speaker series at our retail location, having beautiful candid talks about important issues. We also create products with messages and donate a percentage of proceeds to organizations we work with and believe in. The two that we are most closely tied to at the moment are the Watts Community Core and Summaeverythang community center. During the pandemic they have both been working to supply groceries and fresh farmers market boxes in the Watts community. The greatest joy of mine has been getting to personally know the residents in the communities that we serve. I think that the only way we can make actionable change is by working together and creating new communities.

The lockdown and the uprising have really emphasized for us the fact that it is time to give space and credence to other people’s voices, particularly those of BIPOC, working class citizens, and immigrants. We want to use our platform to mobilize our fanbase (and ourselves!) to take small, meaningful daily actions that can make a difference. We feel that the last few months have shown just how much can change when individuals move to engage with local politics, so we are interested in using our platforms to share information on a local level, not just national or global (although everyone should vote!). Creative action for us takes many forms, whether it be crowdfunding for PPE for protests, using language around releases that grounds our music in the political moment, or going off of social media and attending the weekly Jackie Lacey protest to listen to family members of young Angelenos killed by the LAPD. In some ways, listening is one of the most sacred political actions that can be taken. FLOOD 154

CAT POWER An activist’s heart is always unable to turn a blind eye. An activist’s soul has the strength to defend love, even without hope. Love is one thing we all have in common. Building anything from love is pure power in creating solutions of justice. Activism, to me, is the fight for the preservation, protection, defense, and care in all higher frequencies, truth, justice, love, and honor. They are what bond us together in solidarity, century after century, within this brotherhood, sisterhood of man, and this world around us. Activism to me is the courageous voice of love and simple common sense.

Our actions are based on the context and how we feel like we can be the best advocate for the cause. That could be donating proceeds of a song or merch. It could be using our social media platforms to raise awareness and encouraging our fans’ involvement. Oftentimes, it looks smaller and outside of the band. Marching, voting, petitioning, and learning. Democracy requires commitment from the people to have progress realized, so every part of the process requires our involvement for it to be for the people, by the people. We try to be as “all of the above” as possible Whether it’s climate change, immigration reform, criminal justice reform, defunding the police, income inequality, voting rights, education reform…every cause feels threatened, and every cause is vital. Because what we face is so all-encompassing, the cause that feels most urgent is voting. The U.S. is in a transition from democracy to authoritarianism, and we’ve really got one shot to head the other way before we lose the courts for the rest of our lifetime, and with it any chance at progress. HeadCount is a great, music-centered organization that registers voters and encourages people to get involved. Check them out! FLOOD 155


I find it deeply important to first identify which specific issues in your community matter to you personally. Then I think, “What value can I deliver that might contribute to making that issue better?� As a producer and musician, I think a lot about how we tolerate misogynist lyrics in music, and how I might be able to provide and design the alternative by both making songs that do not contribute to the oppression of anyone, and, more so, how I can DJ and playlist music that celebrates gender liberation. I am most passionate about working with Give a Beat (GiveABeat.org), where I volunteer teaching beat-making and DJing to incarcerated youth in California.


I think that taking a stance on anything where the end goal is in creating change in a way that benefits the greater good requires meaningful action. Not just in advocacy, but in figuring out a role you can play to help make sure those goals make it to the finish line, or if an ongoing thing, it becomes a well-oiled machine. I think beyond just using our voices and taking action through our respective art forms, it is also important to show up, and get your hands in the soil, utilize the resources you have acquired; create a community of allies who actually show up. Over the course of these past few months I have been introduced to some incredible youth justice organizations, and organizations working to end mass incarceration. Organizations like Free America, the Youth Justice Coalition, Justice LA, Schools Not Prisons, and others. Music industry–wise, I have been working on my own initiative focusing on diversity and inclusion in live music, events, and touring industries called Diversify the Stage. I started this work because of the recognition that this side of the music industry is often overlooked in its issues, when discussing change and making the industry more inclusive of our BIPOC, LGBTQ, female-identifying, and gender-nonconforming communities. I have been fortunate enough to connect with some incredible leaders in this space who also recognize the need for change, and we are currently working to make that happen.

Social action is marching out in the streets at protests like the ones led by Dr. Melina Abdullah and Black Lives Matter, demanding accountability for police brutality. Political action is being on the phone for hours on end with lawmakers like CA Senator Steven Bradford and civil rights organizations to draft and push legislation for justice reform. Artistic action is creating songs like “Black Is Beautiful” and “Madre Tierra” that uplift the movement and speak truth to power.

FILMMAKER Sometimes action looks like being in the streets, sometimes it’s volunteering, sometimes voting! That’s really important this fall. But in my day-to-day, it’s storytelling. I try to make sure my motivation for making something is bigger than just me, that I believe a project can help in some way. The film I just made is about moments in history that have felt like this one. I think education is a good place to start when we don’t know where else to begin. It helps us understand where we are, where we could go, what patterns undo us again and again. When I look at history, I see the story of ordinary people creating change against all odds. It shows us that the trials we face aren’t new, they don’t come from nowhere. We need to know those stories to make informed decisions in our social and political lives. On a personal level, I’m endeavoring to rejoice when I see good. I have to really work at not getting depressed or cynical about things I see happening in the world. It’s a practice to recognize the good around us so that we don’t lose hope or belief in our own capacity for change. Working with our own minds is a huge and accessible action we can all take, like a first step, or direct action for the mind. So, I’m telling you I’m going to work on that to remind myself I need to work on it. The story of who we are is a story of love and perseverance. I think it’s easy to forget that, or maybe that story isn’t told enough. I’d like to tell more of those stories, to help remind us who we can be. FLOOD 157

TOOTS & THE MAYTALS I just write about things that happen, and things that are gonna happen, and things that happened from a long time, put one and one together, two and two…put them all together and get wisdom, knowledge, and understanding…or defeat. So, we don’t want to cross the border of writing foolish songs, or foolish ideas that can hurt people… We have to think about each other, [we have] the same feelings, same actions whether Black or white, we have to come together instead of fighting each other. Too much prejudice when I was born, and a lot of that going on in the world today—but let’s put that aside. I just say, “One day people will know themselves, and know others,” you know? Because until you know yourself, you make the world uncomfortable… It’s a discomfort for someone to have prejudices in his heart, and in his mind, you know? I give them time to change. People have to know themselves, if you know yourself you will know someone else…

As an artivist, I am most passionate about creating songs that bring awareness to social justice issues, create conversations, entertain, and also fuel our movements. Collective songwriting sessions are also powerful ways to be in community, discuss issues the community faces, and build relationships through songwriting. At Artivist Entertainment we have produced “CharLAs,” gathering people and panels for discussions which have included poetry and music. My songs often align with nonprofit organizations I support. I wrote a song about affirmative consent, “Never Said Yes,” for Peace Over Violence, an organization that provides support and education around sexual, domestic, and interpersonal violence. My song “Crumble” speaks to the school-to-prison pipeline and police brutality. The #SchoolsNotPrisons movement inspired it. “Chocolate” talks about child slave labor on the cocoa farms. The nonprofit organization Not For Sale inspired this song. I also support the work that Community Coalition, Al Otro Lado, and Af3irm do, as well as the coalition that is The Movement for Black Lives.


REVOLVE IMPACT To me, social, political, and artistic action is having the courage to be your authentic self in a world that is constantly trying to manipulate and change you. That is why I practice my cultural traditions every morning—because I believe that we all are born with unique gifts and talents that are meant to be used in service to others. Our greatest teachers have always taught us that a deep transformation of society must first begin with the transformation of the self. That is why we must remember to take care of ourselves as we organize for a more just and equitable world. That is why we cannot separate the social, political, or artistic action—because it is all one. That is why we must remember the words of poet and activist Audre Lorde when she said,

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I am most passionate about doing all I can to bring multiple communities together. As someone who continues to be inspired by the Zapatistas of Southern Mexico, I live by one of their most famous sayings: “We are the same because we are different.” I try to use arts and culture as a vehicle to share the beauty and richness of our parallel struggles for liberation and freedom, but also to celebrate our unique differences. I am interested in advancing and embodying a new politics of love, one based on mutual respect and one that supports without sacrificing our unique selves and differences.

An initiative that I want to highlight is #SchoolsNotPrisons, a thriving online community and series of free arts and music festivals in partnership with communities most impacted by the overuse of punishment and incarceration. The goal of #SchoolsNotPrisons is to end mass incarceration and to promote investments in people, not prisons. Launched in 2016, #SchoolsNotPrisons has had tremendous success as both a brand and vehicle for community empowerment and action. Over 100,000 people have attended an #SNP concert, and the tour has gained almost a billion social media impressions visiting fifteen cities with performances in the community, as well as inside state and youth prisons. A number of incredible artists including Vic Mensa, Miguel, La Santa Cecilia, Ty Dollar $ign, Common, Pusha T, Ceci Bastida, Aloe Blacc, Los Rakas, John Forte, and many others have participated in #SchoolsNotPrisons. Given the impact of COVID-19, we are excited to be launching the #SchoolsNotPrisons: Stop the Violence 2020 Virtual Tour to raise awareness of local campaigns aimed at investing in alternatives to state violence while encouraging communities to vote in the critical 2020 November elections.