Exploring Life’s Complexities in Foreign Colour’s Debut Album, Weight of a Rose

Fall has personally always been a relentlessly nostalgic season, pelting a world of memories in your brain synapses…kinda like that particular scented candle that brings you back to a specific space and time. In this case, I think the latest release–and debut album, Weight of a Rose–from Raytheon Dunn’s Foreign Colour embodies that same feeling.
The ten-track album encapsulates a horde of emotions colorfully painting a beautiful but complex picture of life displayed and imagined through the existence of a rose. The rose is the symbolic crux of the album, fulfilling its ordained role of carrying the burden in representing life, joys, passions, struggles, doubts, and love—like Atlas holding the weight of the world…this is Weight of a Rose.
Read my track-by-track take on Foreign Colour‘s debut album along with some insight from the artist himself.

Your Heart, My Flower

Jasmine Rodriguez: Pivotal in setting the tone and mood of the album, “Your Heart, My Flower” exists almost like that time-lapse your bio teacher would play when learning about the genesis of a flower in the plant kingdom. “Your Heart, My Flower” is that flower bud—that love and life ready to bloom.

Foreign Colour: I knew I wanted this song to be the intro. I used to play this song in-between breaks with my old band. I was inspired a bit by The Last Bison after seeing them live for the first time some years back. In the background, there is an older man speaking. That sound comes from a recording we had during one of our jam sessions, and when things got quiet, we heard this old recording coming out of my amp.

My amp was sort of old and not the best, so it picked up a radio frequency, and we thought it best to keep for future use. When I got to this song, I felt like it needed something underneath the music to help give it a dreamy feeling, so I added that recording. The beginning of the song is my old friend David recording himself walking and hitting his tape recorder.

Goodnight (I’m Happy for You)

JR: Moving on from the previous track’s somber melody, “Goodnight (I’m Happy for You)” opens up both in a musical and figurative sense with a bright shimmering sound matched with a colorful array of percussive instruments. The track symbolizes a new beginning, a new life that brings along with it bittersweet emotions. This can best be understood in lyrics ‘I heard the days have changed / It gives us new life to gain / But when your problems they grow / We all know how the story will go.’ Exuding child-like energy, Dunn manages to temper naive expectations while also uncovering all of the possibilities that life brings forth. The flower is in bloom.

FC: This is probably the oldest song on the record, going back almost nine years. There are probably eight versions of this song floating around the internet somewhere. Musically, I wanted this song to be a bit festive/colorful. I was listening to a lot of Washed Out albums, Paracosm and Purple Noon, which had just come out. I would like to add that I don’t know about anyone else, but I get a rush of inspiration when I hear new music from musicians I really enjoy. I just have to create while the energy is there; it’s too powerful not to do so. I remember that feeling riding my bike late at night last summer and hearing the entire song in my head, so when I got home, I got to work, and a few days later, it was done!

Lyrically, this comes from a relationship I was in many years ago where the person I was with was very prideful, which caused many problems in our relationship. Too stubborn, you get in your own way; too stubborn and there will be no room for you to grow. More or less, it’s a song about agreeing to disagree about how to grow a flower.

Sundancer

JR: Like you always do‘ is the core sentiment of Foreign Colour’s debut single, “Sundancer.” Approached similarly to “Goodnight…,” a light and airy nature consume the five-minute track, playing out to a cyclical scheme of rhythm and lyrics, which is kind of genius of Dunn. In an interview earlier this year, Dunn gave some insight on the origins of the song, noting heavy existential questions that would make any nihilist nod their head–or really anyone during 2020. Despite the hardships and growing pains that life presents us, Dunn reminds the listener that at the end of the day, you’re still moving, breathing, and accomplishing things, no matter how big or small. And that is something to dance for.

FC: This was the first song I wrote and completed for this album. Originally, this song was much darker and moody, which is how it usually goes when I write on acoustic, but when I brought it to my studio, I realized I might have something bigger here. The rhythm guitar is a rendition or inspired by my old band’s song, “Sleepy River,” but with more groove to it.

I battled a lot with my friend/mixer & mastered engineer Severin about how the song would end because for some weird reason, I wanted the outro to play for an obnoxious length, and he quickly told me, ‘Don’t do that!’ I just enjoyed how it sounded, and I was proud of it, so I didn’t want it to end in a weird way. Once I got the music right, or the sound I was looking for, I sent it out to some friends to get reactions. After hearing [the song], I felt like this would be the debut single whenever I put out this [album].

This takes inspiration from my wife sort of having a mid-life crisis questioning ourselves as humans and our place in the world. In the midst of lockdown, we talked about a lot of things, what our purpose was, and honestly, the meaning of purpose. After many late-night conversations, it all came down to no matter where she goes in life, I will love her just trying and figuring out what life means to her—to love someone without being possessive of where their future will go.

The Flower

JR: “The Flower” is the comedown from the former high-tempo songs, replacing the youthful, exuberant energy with something more grounded and mature—perhaps signifying that the flower is now fully developed. Reassurance in lyrics ‘I’ll wait for you / The flower as it blooms ‘ paired with the sweet and soft lulling melody assures the person on the other end that all of their worries and aspirations are valid. Because regardless of how things turn out, “the flower” will be cherished for all of its qualities and for simply being. This is the calm before the storm.

FC: This song was written sort of out of the blue but for a good reason. I found out while recording this record that we were going to have a baby. I was extremely emotional about it. My wife suggested this was a perfect song to write about and something for her to listen back on. So I tried to bottle everything going [on] when I first found out [and] let it out over this song.

“The Flower” represents my daughter, Sienna, who I try to [symbolize] [as] a flower. With a taste of the sun and water, she will bloom into a beautiful human being. I wanted the music to be like a lullaby. Also, the piano in the middle of the song is called “Fairytale Lullaby.” I wanted it to be something she could listen back to, or my wife could play for her to help her sleep. It’s funny too because she said it does work! My favorite part of the song would have to be the guitar solo panning left and right during the bridge.

Under Your Spell

JR: If “The Flower” was the calm before the storm, then “Under Your Spell” is the storm. Juxtaposing the last song, “Under Your Spell” introduces a nice change of pace with a gradual build-on instrumental that carries an energy not see before in the album. I imagine if this was played live, the lighting engineer would have a field day. This song positions itself as the rough storms we weather in life and can be interpreted as the turning point in the album.

FC: In my opinion, this marks a turning point in the record where the tone is less lighthearted. This song was supposed to be on my band’s record, but we went different ways before the record could debut. I felt like this song needed to be heard by everyone, so I re-recorded the guitars, added some synths, and there it is. It’s a song I can’t way to play live. I love when bands/artists show off how beautiful and powerful their music is when there are no vocals. It can feel like an organized jam session.

A Swan Song

JR: The title immediately caught my attention for this track. Typically, a swan song is like the final bow that an artist or performer carries out. That being said, it makes me wonder if Dunn had doubts about continuing on with his passion which, in the context of this album, represents the flower slowly wilting away. Whatever the case, Dunn really shines in this stripped-back song with an acoustic accompaniment that emits a hauntingly beautiful aura. It’s my absolute favorite song from the album and one that I wish I would have written.

FC: This one is quite personal. I had the first couple of lines I sang for about three years or so, but I could never find the words to help me finish it. I was writing about something I felt inside of me, but it wasn’t clear for me to distinguish exactly what it was. It wasn’t until things took a turn for the worse that the song found its meaning, and it wasn’t about me anymore.

I found myself in my relationship where my partner lost someone extremely close to them. I have learned in the past to never put yourself in their shoes but just be there for them when it’s hard to do anything else. The emotional battles we fought would take a toll on us, and I did my best to understand it all. Our time together ended before the light could be at the end of tunnel. With this song, I wanted to tell my final feelings—a sort of wishful, ‘Goodbye, I hope you found it in the middle of it all.’

Hallucinate

JR: Continuing the darker sound in the latter half, “Hallucinate” instills an almost hypnotizing-like quality with its swaying rhythm and lyrical refrain of ‘I can’t let you go, ‘ signaling a cry of defiance against the once resigned fate drawn in “A Swan Song.”

FC: This was the last one I wrote but also the fastest. I think I finished 90% of it in a day; the lyrics came a couple of days later. This song was fun to play and write. I had this bass line stuck in my head after listening to Fontaines D.C.’s song, “Televised Mind.” That song gets me excited! The drums came naturally after [listening] [to] that!

I listened to an interview of Kevin Parker of Tame Impala saying, ‘You know you got something special when you can just play the drums and bass line on loop forever.’ That’s what I did. The crazy thing is I’m still trying to decipher the meaning of this song–it doesn’t have a huge meaning, but is something you will just have to determine.

Adorn

JR: The curveball of the album! I did not expect to hear a “jazz meets samba fusion,” but here we are. It’s the way Dunn sings ‘ How I love to, to adore you / Feel my love now, all around you‘ that makes you feel like you’ve been enveloped in the warmest embrace. Coupled with the comforting lyrics, the gentle presence of “Adorn” brings respite from the prior sullen soundscapes. The flower has been revived.

FC: This song probably took the longest for many reasons. Growing up, my mom did her best to expose us to different kinds of music [that] I really gravitate[d] towards, [like] blues, jazz, and R&B [with] artists like The Isley Brothers, John Legend, and (most of all) Sade. I’m a huge fan of Sade’s work and sound. This was originally called “Whisper,” which is an entire song itself, but out of curiosity, I changed the BPM of the drums to something faster, and all of a sudden, we had something different, a brand new feel.

There are so many elements in this song that it was a little complicated for me to mix myself [in], but I knew I struck gold with how this song could potentially be. What was also cool about the song was that I felt like I was the producer because I sent this song to a friend of mine who plays trumpet, and I knew it was the perfect element to add to the song; without it, the song was lackluster.

I think he sent me about four takes of the song. [From] [there], I picked and stitched parts together that I liked, placing them in different places throughout the song. It was a tedious process, but it needed to be done! I always knew this song would be a [feature] debut, but who would it be and would they help elevate the song? I would sometimes hear my friend Ciara singing on her Instagram stories (before she deleted her IG), and I thought she would be perfect for the job. We sat down and had long talks about the song and approach I needed from her to make this song something special. I think after two sessions, she nailed it and for that I’m eternally grateful for her giving this song so much life. People are really surprised with this song because there’s nothing like it anywhere else on the record.

The Doppelganger

JR: Jolting the listener out of the previous dreamy-like reverie is the unsettling “The Doppelganger.” Serving as a reality check, “The Doppelganger” delivers a foreboding warning to establish who you are before someone else does it for you. It’s a reinforcing track about taking back control against a world that isn’t always so kind and forgiving.

FC: This song really came out of nowhere. I don’t remember exactly how I got started on this song; if I remember correctly, I was listening to a lot of In Rainbows by Radiohead, and I wanted to make something weird and progressive. At the beginning of the song, my guitar is making a crazy feedback kind of sound which was totally done on accident. I was getting flustered with how the recording process was going, and I just started hitting the string hard and randomly. When I listened back, I said, ‘I think this could work for some odd reason.’ I tried to stray away from playing chords and lean on just playing leads throughout the song, which I think I nailed down during the chorus. I was focused on the delivery of my vocals, wanting it to be as smooth as possible like I was talking on a phone.

Another big influence on this song was HRVRD. They have a demo floating around the internet that inspired a bit of lyrics in this chorus. This song [came] to me after reading this book called Supermarket. It was a short but twisted book about a man losing his own mind in the effort to be successful. After reading it, I thought about myself in this man’s situation and how I would be if the person I feared the most was myself.

Sound of Your Dreams

JR: Closing out the album is the mystical, “Sound of Your Dreams.” Despite the track’s tranquility, it doesn’t pose itself as the deus ex machina. Instead, there’s an air of unfinished business strewn throughout that screams “to be continued.” Maybe it’s because of the song’s short length, or maybe it’s because the song just fades out with no clear ending. In any case, the closer is the epitome of life being a mixed bag. The ups and downs…lessons learned and personal victories earned…all make life worth living.

FC: I was attempting to build this song into something very whimsical, something orchestrated to where you could feel the world around you while listening to it. However, I think I was towards the end of the record feeling the need to just surrender what I have and really take the time to make something like that on the next go around. I feel like you need to look at each instrument like it’s its own character, and you need to find where they belong in your story. I have always liked the phrase “Sound of Your Dreams.” It’s something that I carried with me in several different projects, so I thought it was time to give it a home. Besides, I did feel like it sounded like a dream.


Featured image artwork courtesy of Severin Di Croce; edited by Raytheon Dunn.

Thank you to Raytheon Dunn of Foreign Colour for providing a behind-the-scenes look into each song. Weight of a Rose is out now on all streaming platforms!

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The Journey to Finding Peace in Shaolinn’s Blackstone

Tap into your inner self tonight with the help of rising VA artist, Shaolinn as she premieres the latest in her soul-gripping musical collection with the “Blackstone” EP, out now on all streaming platforms. The show, specially curated by Shaolinn herself, will be held at the Bunker Brewpub in Virginia Beach, with doors opening at 8 PM and the show starting at 9 PM. Other featured artists joining the night’s celebratory events include Gee Litt, Boris the Lucid, Brooklynn, Tson, Khi Infinite, and DJ J-Rok. Read Sumone’s short and sweet conversation with the Heir Wave artist below.

Your release show for your upcoming EP, “Blackstone,” is [tomorrow]. What are you most excited about for the show since it will be the first show you’ve personally curated?

Just seeing all the talent and working with a band for the first time.

What were your thoughts working through the curation process when developing the lineup for the show?

Seeing my favorite local artists peeps and performing with a band for the first time.

Did you find growing up in the 757 to be influential in your creative process or musical style?

Yes, in the process, but not in a musical way. A lot of the artists I listen to aren’t from the 757, but more from the world. I do work with a lot of talented people from the 757, though.

How did you find time to record music prior to being signed to Heir Wave? Was it difficult recording during those times, or do you look back at those moments more fondly?

It wasn’t really different; because to get there, I already had a process in place. It can get expensive, but I had supportive people around me to lend a hand.

When do you feel you create your best work?

On nights when my mind is clear, and I can really dive into the music.

In “Heavy Heart,” you repeatedly mention “being free,” “letting go,” and “finding peace.” What are some words of encouragement that you or someone else provided that ultimately led you to let go and find your peace amidst your self-love journey?

I’m actually still finding my peace. It’s something we all need to work towards. Surrounding yourself with positive people helps a lot.

In a previous conversation, you stated that you did not think people would like “Heavy Heart” “but surprisingly listeners did.” Has your mindset changed when it comes to writing or releasing music after seeing a lot of people gravitate towards your music?

Yes. I didn’t think people wanted such a “talky” song. It’s not a catchy melodic song. I didn’t think people would care about me talking about my life. When I perform it, so many people come up to me and tell me how they relate to it. After that, it made me feel more encouraged to be open about my personal life.

On your IG live minutes prior to the visual premiere of “Vivian,” you expressed surreal excitement. What message did you hope fans would receive when watching the video?

The perspective of a drug addict and how hard it is for someone going through the struggles of it all. The harm isn’t malicious. It’s hard on everyone.

What are you most proud of thus far in your career?

I’m just proud to be here and have this opportunity and the inspiration from all of the people around me. I just want to keep going and, along with myself, make everyone around proud of me.

What do you hope listeners get from your music?

Anything. Anything that they feel. I speak my story, and I hope it makes people tap into their own story and bring something special out of them.


Featured image by: @playknows

Thank you to Shaolinn and her team for the interview, you can get your show tix here. “Blackstone” is out now on all streaming platforms.

Celebrating Juneteenth with Norfolk’s Finest at the Smartmouth Juneteenth Solstice Festival

Join the city of Norfolk’s finest for a day full of music, art, food, good people, and most importantly…good beer.

It’s safe to say that after the past year, people are yearning to get back together and celebrate life and all of the beautiful things that come along with it. Luckily, the good folks at Smartmouth Brewery have got us covered with this Saturday’s Juneteenth Solstice Festival.

In honor and celebration of Juneteenth, Smartmouth has teamed up with local NFK brands and organizations to throw a good-ole fashioned block party. The day’s festivities will consist of a black-owned art & vendor market, food market featuring black and POC-owned restaurants, chefs, and food trucks, and a diverse range of musical acts throughout the 757. The festival will be held at the Smartmouth NFK HQ from 12 PM – 10 PM, is free, and welcome to all ages.

Get up to speed with the day’s details below.


Utopia Feni Art Market | 12 – 6 PM


Nomarama Food Market | 3 – 9 PM


Music Lineup

Listen to our specially curated Popscure playlist while you get familiar with the stacked lineup below:

Well seasoned producer Gabe Niles is a household name in the city of Norfolk. When he’s not producing earworm tracks like Shelley FKA DRAM’s “Cha Cha”–or working with his partner-in-crime for experimental outfit, Sunny & Gabe–the producer is delivering larger-than-life mixes that are bound to whisk you away. 


Hot off her latest EP release, “All My Friends,” Koren Grace is more than ready to take on the masses and introduce them to her world. There’s no plane of emotion and existence the singer/songwriter can’t take you with a discography rich in colorful sounds.


Dariel Clark has a powerful, magnetic presence about him that amplifies when he cranks the amp up. Sparing no niceties, the Virginia Beach musician delivers a one-two combo through his weapons of choice—his guitar and voice.


Headed by the musical virtuoso Big Torrin himself, Big Torrin’s Fusion Groove is the sonic definition of the phrase “good vibes.” With tasteful flecks of jazz, r&b, house, hip-hop, and soul, Big Torrin’s Fusion Groove is sure to satisfy every groove nerve in your body.


Rapper/lyricist Cam Murdoch is known for his pensive, neo-soul inspired raps that focus on the ‘self’ as much as they do fictional characters. His latest single, “The Wave,” carries on this wave of introspection through an unlikely combo of soothing ukelele riffs and strong trap beats.


While fairly new, Kyere Laflare is not to be underestimated. Debut single, “How Does It Feel,” brings in a throwback r&b vibe that’s sure to remind you of simpler times.


If you go by 1pump and wear Scott Summers-esque visors, you better come with the heat and charisma. 1pump certainly doesn’t disappoint with a strong, bombastic release in Scott Summers II: The Light Within.


Known for her hypnotic but real delivery, Lex Lucent is ready to put you under a spell with a laidback flow and unique instrumentals. Her debut project, “Incase You Forgot,” solidifies the rapper as one to look out for.


Getting Gritty for a Good Cause with Crime Line

“Loud, fast, snotty rock and roll” is how members of Crime Line describe their sound. Their debut EP released in January includes six punchy, punky songs all under 4 minutes that grab hold and don’t let go – rock for rock’s sake. The group is made up of local artists and musicians prevalent in the Norfolk music scene for years – Steve Marsh, Jared Fritzinger, Andy Harris, Charles Glover, and Raymond Braza.

This Saturday, May 15th, they’re rocking out for a good cause. They’ll be playing at Marsh’s restaurant LeGrand Kitchen with 3 other bands – Raise Hell Over the Summer, Hobots, and Danet Jackson. All proceeds for the event are going to Punk Rock Saves Lives, a non-profit focused on community music events to promote unity, nurturing, and positivity.

We got a chance to catch up with guitarist Steve Marsh and lead singer Ray Braza via email…


Popscure: Tell us a little bit about how Crime Line started.

Steve: Crime Line started when singer and guitarist of Norfolk Nightmares Charles wanted to just solely play guitar instead of singing too. We got together with Jared to mess around with some music and clicked and started shopping around for a dedicated frontman.

P: What led the band to get Ray as the lead singer?

Ray: Steve mentioned how their band needed a frontman while we were at LeGrand and so I came to the next band practice. About a month later we played our first show at Smartmouth!

Ray Braza and Steve Marsh playing at Smartmouth last November

Q: Was this your first musical project? If so, what got you interested in it?

R: Yeahhh! Aside from the garage noise Eric Laginess and I drunkenly made one hazy night, this is my first ever musical project. It’s pretty amazing to see the whole process from beginning to end of a song. I dig it! It’s the creative outlet for me. Ha!

P: What made you all want to go from Norfolk Nightmares to Crime Line? What are some different things you’re channeling in this project?

S: The transition from Norfolk Nightmares to Crime Line is great! I always love the aspect
of a dedicated frontman singer and Ray fits the mold perfectly.. all of us in the band are really stoked about him and the project as a whole!

P: What made you think of the name?

S: We like making references to our area.. Great Dismal Swamis and Norfolk Nightmares… there’s lyrics in one of the song I wrote “see your ass on crime line” thought the name was cool. [You] can tack on the 1-888-Rock-U-Up and it’s golden.

P: What are your songs about?

S: Songs are usually about seedy personal experiences or love and heartbreak. But also skateboarding, drugs, or partying.

P: Do the lyrics or the instruments come first – or do they come separately then see what happens at rehearsal?

S: Usually music comes first but Ray might have lyrics or subject matter already in mind. Me and him might work on the structure of the song before going into work [at LeGrand where Ray is a chef], so it’s more productive when the band gets together for practice.

Songs are usually about seedy personal experiences or love and heartbreak. But also skateboarding, drugs, or partying. 

Steve Marsh

P: Steve, you absolutely shred. How long have you been playing & what got you into guitar in the first place?

S: I’ve messed with guitar since middle school. Stopped for a very long time. When I was early 20s I wanted to pick it back up and play like Johnny Thunders from the NY Dolls… so I taught myself Chuck Berry licks and all that and over the years kinda developed my own guitar identity.

P: Tell us a bit about the organization Punk Rock Saves Lives and why you chose it?

S: Charles chose Punk Rock Saves Lives. Hoyt and him have been best friends since high school and he believed that’s what Hoyt would be most stoked on.

P: Tell us a little more about Hoyt, the drummer from Spells the show is dedicated to.

S: Hoyt March was a dear friend to a lot of people. I met him years ago when he was playing drums in the Larchmont Trash. We hit it off and bonded over hot dogs, agriculture, and skateboarding (he was a farmer/florist). He started growing me produce and we became closer friends. Loved his name so much I named my son the same. He was the most generous person and would go ridiculously out of his way to help you. We lost him last year due to suicide and are still heartbroken about it.

P: What can people expect at the show Saturday night?

S: Saturday will be fun as long as everyone’s respectful. I believe we all need a little fun to blow off steam from the last miserable year and some.. seeing live music and congregating with humans will hopefully help a lot of peoples mental health and well being.

Making Sense of the Foreign with Foreign Colour’s “sundancer”

Raytheon Dunn is no stranger when it comes to revealing a little bit more of himself in each and every different project he undertakes. Popscure’s Jasmine talked with the Norfolk artist about his progression as an artist, the meaning behind his newest project–Foreign Colour–and where music all began for him.

I’ve been a fan of some of your past projects like Dear Adamus since the Shakas [Live] days. Do you find this project to be a natural progression from your past projects? Is this a solo endeavor?

Hey! Thank you so much! This project came about so naturally thanks to the free time I was given during [the] lockdown, but also out of this weird state of anxiety and wanting to create music but not knowing exactly how I would achieve that. Luckily, when I really want something to happen, I typically will figure it out, and that’s what happened.

This is a solo project. [A]rtists such as From Indian Lakes & Tame Impala really showed me that your sound, the sounds you want to make, can come from just you—you just got to work a bit harder to make it happen.

What’s the significance behind the name Foreign Colours?

I’m a black man in America; my colors will always be foreign to those who choose to not grow and understand. [B]ut in all seriousness, thinking of a name for this project was hard. I settled with the name because my other two choices were taken. When Dear Adamus was going through a rebranding phase, Foreign Colours was one of the names we picked. I took the “s” off because it’s just me.

Image Courtesy of Katie Lange

Your first single is titled “sundancer.” What’s the meaning behind the song and title?

During lockdown, my wife and I found ourselves with a lot of free time to just be together. [I]t was like our unofficial honeymoon, but there was one day in particular where she just seemed off. She would ponder with questions like, “What’s the point of anything if we are just going to die?” and “Why are we here? What does it all mean?”

Too much free time can leave us wondering deeply as to why and what our purpose is on this planet. So I wanted to write a song about those who are just trying [to] live their lives day by day and just want to be loved while they try to figure this thing called life. We are all dancing around the sun, and we just want to be loved and feel love.

On first listen, there are evident hints of bands like Copeland, American Football (notably their most recent self-titled LP3), and Balance and Composure. Would you say these bands were big influences on your approach to this project?

I love Copeland; their newest album is a work of atmospheric joy for me. Balance was an amazing band. I did load-in for those guys once, and we talked about J. Cole and Better Call Saul. I’ll have to go check this album [American Football (LP3)] you’re talking about! I could say yes because I really enjoy these bands, but I can’t.

I did my best to listen to everything. Maybe last year, I watched an interview of Tyler, The Creator, and another of Phoebe Bridgers, and they both said the same thing, ‘Listen to new and different music.’ Because of that, not only am I listening to music way more, I’m seeing why it is important, and it helps me to step out of [my] music listening comfort zone. You just never know what could inspire you.

I noticed your vocals were placed behind a layer of some light, compressed distortion. Is this more of a stylistic choice, or are you trying to convey something deeper?

Honestly, I just thought it sounded kind of cool with the song. I recorded those vocals using the microphone built in the iPhone headphones while my wife and daughter were shopping in Kohls, haha! There’s a part in the song where I sing, ‘Like you always do,’ and you can somewhat hear a car passing by! During lockdown it was hard to record vocals at home when everyone is home, so the car became my vocal booth for a bit.

Sonically, what are you trying to achieve with Foreign Colour?

I just want to write the music I hear in my head and create something I’ll be happy to listen back on in the future. I hope the music finds its fans, people who genuinely enjoy the music I make.

You have a stunning repertoire of visual art, including a really dope coloring book based on your hand-drawn art. Do you find elements of that passion making its way into your music?

I appreciate that. My personality type is that I don’t do things without reason or passion. Without those, nothing gets done. [S]o when it came to music, I just went for it with the fuel of passion, making everything happen. It may sound strange, but I have these moments where I feel like I’m on auto-pilot and things just get done…I forget that I’m tired or hungry.

Artwork by Raytheon Dunn

The best part of that is knowing when to walk away from a song like I do when I work on my art. It’s because I am not sure where to go next with it, and in those pauses and breaks, I may have what I need to finish a piece or a song…but those breaks can be as long as they want to be. I don’t rush it. Like this song, though it was the first song I started writing for this project, [it] doesn’t mean it was the first one finished. Then there is a song on this album that only took two days to write!

How did you get started in music?

We had a drum set growing up, but when my family moved to Virginia Beach, we down-sized a lot, and that was it for the drums. I got one of those Walmart First Act bass guitars in middle school—I played that thing until the strings broke off.

In high school, I asked this guy, Joshua Polanco, to teach me how to play guitar because we liked the same music like Copeland and The Mars Volta. Between his lessons, I would go to his band practices and watch like, ‘This [is] the coolest shit in the world!’ One day after their practice, one member gave me a ride home, and he had an acoustic guitar in the back, and I said, ‘That’s a cool guitar!’ He said, ‘Thanks, you want it?’ I said, ‘Nah,” and he gave it to me anyway. From that point on, I taught myself how to play.

Image Courtesy of Katie Lange

What’s your go-to approach when crafting a song (or starting a project)?

I think it has to be, of course, an organic experience. Writing lyrics that mean something to you or trying to create a listening experience takes time. Sometimes I will go sit at my tiny studio and just see what happens. There’s a song on this record called “Hallucinate” that [was] birthed out of me [by] letting the writing process be whatever it [was] going to be. With the song being made with no real agenda and not being sure exactly what it [was] about, [it] leaves my interpretation of it changing every single time—which is pretty cool.

Any local artists you would love to collaborate with?

I’m not too sure, honestly. I really want to get into writing sessions with other musicians and producers for fun! Just to see what we can create!

What can others expect from Foreign Colour in the future?

Another song to come, maybe a music video, and an album with a release date!


Featured image artwork courtesy of Jake Taylor.

You can listen to, and download, “sundancer” at the Foreign Colour bandcamp site.

Step Into the Multi-Dimensional Debut of Lex Lucent with “Incase You Forgot”

Following the release of her first project “Incase You Forgot,” rising VA rapper Lex Lucent gave Popscure member Cam a little more insight on the magic behind her hypnotic sound.

“Before this rapping shit, I been writing music since I was 13. I got my ass beat at the age of 13 for . . . a fucking rap on a piece of paper . . . and my mom found it, and she beat my ass. [S]he said, ‘This shit’s fire, but why are you cussing at the age of 13?’

The saying, “Watch out for the quiet ones,” is relevant in the case of Lex Lucent. And that’s not to say the Brooklyn-born, Virginia-raised rapper is short of bravado. Underneath her laidback delivery, Lucent is giving it to you straight. “I’m literally just me, and that’s really what I wanna be,” says Lucent, “[A] lot of my lyrics…it really just be how I be living my life . . . . So it’s just like in a cool way, I’m just gonna explain to y’all what kind of person I am, and it’s just like I hope y’all fuck with who I am.”

That message comes across loud and clear in Lucent’s unique style of delivery. She doesn’t have to put on a front to be the next “Cardi B” or “Rico Nasty” or “Flo Milli” with emphasized vocal execution or over-the-top trap beats. Lex Lucent can bring to the table her hypnotic style and still get the point across just the same.

Listeners got a taste of the VA rapper’s vibe in the 2020 Flip Phone+ compilation album, Phone Calls, with playful track, “B.D.E” (best known as Big Dick Energy). “…how this song came about? . . . I guess you can consider it a freestyle,” she explains, “[C]ause I be like, ‘Alright, what am I about to talk about? I want ya nigga ya feelin’ me / You told them don’t sleep wit the enemy / You cannot fuck wit my energy / You cannot fuck wit me period.’ And it’s like, you can’t fuck with my energy because I just be knowing. I have that intuition, so…you can’t fuck with my energy…you can’t fuck with me, period.” And quite frankly, that’s a testament to how Lucent carries herself throughout her short but impactful discography.

While somewhat new to the game, Lucent has been quickly making moves, recently landing a joint music video premiere under Pusha T’s Heir Wave Music Group for 2019 single, “Y.U.M” and “Incase You Forgot” opener, “PeriodT.”

Lucent goes on to explain how the anthemic track came to be, “I was just sitting at the computer, and I’m like, ‘What am I gonna do with this?’ Because I really liked the “PeriodT!” Like that part…”PeriodT!” And that’s kinda when like the City Girls was doing the whole like “periodt” shit. And I’m like, ‘Alright. What would make you say periodt?’ “A nigga gon do what I say so / Play wit a nigga like Play-doh / PeriodT!‘ You get what I”m saying?”

In the rest of “Incase You Forgot,” her signature cool and collected demeanor is harnessed and amplified with FAKE UZUMI‘s trance-like production, ultimately making the two a match made in heaven. Tracks like “Bomb$” and “Look @ Me” capitalize on Lucent’s chill flow with dreamy instrumentals that make you feel like you’re floating only to come back down with cutthroat lines like, “If I see you in the streets / Imma hit you with this heat,” or “I’m the only bitch in VA doing real rapping shit / A lot of you niggas be cappin’ shit.” Other songs find Lucent having fun with fellow Flip Phone+ artists MACK and WhoGotDaDutch in “W.T.A” and “Dingleberry,” both filled with clever metaphors, catchy melodies, and plenty of bravado—I told you.

But the standout track in “Incase You Forgot” has got to be “Blue Confetti + *69.” Described as “straight poetry” by Lucent herself, the joint track channels the vocalizations of legends like Erykah Badu and Jill Scot in the first half while seamlessly segueing into a Lil’ Kim-esque flow in the second half. The track showcases the musical agility and promise of the rising artist displayed throughout “Incase You Forgot,” serving as a reminder that behind the illusion of Lucent’s laidback style is the nitty-gritty realness of what Lucent is really saying—she is not the one to mess with…Incase You Forgot.


Artwork by MadStartt

“Incase You Forgot” is out now on all streaming platforms.

Get Ready for the Reign with tyler donavan’s Virtual Concert Series

Adding on to the experience that is inhale, triple threat–rapper/singer/songwriter–tyler donavan presents the first edition of his BREATHE virtual concert series—ACT 1: INHALE [LIVE].

The concert, produced by creative hub 9th Nimbus and Richmond-based video production firm NO FUN, will be streamed via the 9th Nimbus website on Friday (April 9th) at 9 PM EST.

Viewers can expect a complete performance of the inhale EP alongside other songs in tyler donavan’s discography, as well as several special guests, like rapper King KolTrane, to drop-in and perform.

You can RSVP for free here and snag a limited edition shirt while you’re at it!

Catch a sneak peek of the concert below with tyler donavan’s relentless performance of “the lamb,” a song chronicling the artist’s journey of self—steeped in conviction through the confrontation of his own doubts and insecurities.


You can watch the rest of ACT 1: INHALE [LIVE] on Friday, April 9th (9 PM EST) at 9th Nimbus.

A Headphone Masterpiece

Image courtesy of Lou Cambridge
Following the debut solo release of Sunny & Gabe’s Sunny Moonshine, Popscure writer Jerome Spencer got the inside scoop on the record that’s been a long time coming, Listen to Me, Lightning.

“I’m afraid I’m going to say something that’s like, self-deprecating, and I’m trying not to do that,” Sunny tells me when I ask her what she wants people to know about her new album, “I mean, listen to it when you’re in your feelings and in the headphones. And you don’t really need to listen to it with other people around. I kind of feel like I’m secretive about it, and I feel like everyone else should be too, but I don’t know if that’s true.”

I don’t know if that’s true, either. I’ve spent a lot of time with Sunny Moonshine‘s new offering, Listen to Me, Lightning, and it’s pretty difficult to keep it to myself. And I don’t even own headphones, but Sunny’s lush, layered soundscapes and warm vocals make me wish I did so I could catch every sonic detail. From the shimmering bounce of “Coconuts” to the hazy closing-time-lounge vibes of “Drughands,” Sunny makes a big impact in just ten tracks. It feels like an effort years in the making with a lot of painstaking attention to detail, and that’s (sorta) true.

“I had all these demos, and I put them all in a playlist,” Sunny says, “It was maybe 25 songs, and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t really know what to do with these.’ I wanted to figure it out because I’d been putting out demos in SoundCloud, but what would happen if I tried to make them better? Like what would the finished version be? So I posted something on Twitter, and I think I asked for 10 people’s emails and sent 10 people the SoundCloud link. I asked them to give me their favorite songs. I may have said why, but the biggest thing was just finding out which songs people liked before I decided to go and finish some of them. And that’s sort of how I picked the first ones. From there, it was me buying speakers, watching like all these videos on how to mix music, trying to go in and make the beats, which was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

I’ve never felt self-conscious like I do with this material.”

Listen, the beats are dope. “Light Years” is one of the stand-out tracks for me, not only for its adventurous, compelling structure and eventual deconstruction of itself but also for the way that beat just sneaks in and out of there, unassuming and subtle until you notice your neck snapping under its uncomplicated endurance. Most of the beats on Listen to Me, Lightning, are insidious like that—nothing too flashy, but getting the job done and doing it extremely well.

“I decided that drums are my absolute weakness,” Sunny confesses, “But I had to do it. You have to do everything to find out what you may be good at. And there was a lot of it that I feel like I was okay. I got a lot better at dealing with my vocals. I got a bunch of extra plug-ins. I downloaded every sound from NASA and just fucked with those. I had sort of an idea of how I wanted my music to be. And it is what I wanted for the most part; besides, I’d wanted someone to go through and redo the drums. At the end, I had Gabe [Niles] and [Mike] Mizzle—I brought them in and said, ‘I’m done. I need y’all to kind of like maybe switch out the drums.’ And they’re like, ‘Nope, you gotta keep your drums.’ And I’m scared because I didn’t want my drums in my songs, but they’re there.”

Image courtesy of Lou Cambridge

And that’s the thing I find most admirable about this album – it’s all Sunny. We all know Sunny. She’s (literally) synonymous with Sunny & Gabe—her wildly successful, genre-bending duo with Gabe Niles—and she wowed the local music scene with her short-lived yet unforgettable band Dapzam—yet she chose to make a true solo endeavor. And for all the right reasons.

“I didn’t want to, but I kind of had to,” Sunny tells me about doing an album mostly on her own, “Because I want to be autonomous. I didn’t want to be always bothering someone; I wanted to see what I [could] do. It was less about having to do everything myself than it was about wanting to do everything myself. Because there was a lot of exploring I had to do in order to build the songs up. I didn’t know what I was doing the whole time. It’s like years long of just…layering guitars and putting things in reverse and discovering automation and Ableton and things like that. So it’s all stuff I wanted to do.”

And that’s probably why Listen to Me, Lightning feels personal. Sunny’s perseverance and tenacity pay off in a culmination of strange beauty, heady soundscapes (those NASA sounds, though), hypnotic melodies, and crisp beats. It also feels intimate, though. It’s as if Sunny has let her listeners behind the curtain—even if it’s just a glimpse.

“It was intimate.” Sunny says, “Like, I don’t know how much of it is like deeply personal about breakups and how much of it is just lyrics that you thought sounded good. You know what I mean? I don’t really know what every song is about because it might be about five different things in one. I just know that it’s pretty much like influenced by just heartbreak of all different kinds.”

Image courtesy of Lou Cambridge

“I wanted to help people. That’s the only reason why I want to release this. Because I feel that being very, very vulnerable, like that is something that people need, too. You can help people to deal with whatever they’re going through. It’s very scary. I’m a wreck about it. I’ve been a wreck. That’s why it’s taken me so long. I’ve never felt self-conscious like I do with this material. Listen to it when you need to be comforted because the last time I was having a day, and I thought, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ all upset, I really did lay there with the headphones. Like it wasn’t mine. And I was like, ‘Oh, okay. This helped me.’ I was like the outsider in that situation. So it really is kind of something for people to like lean on or relate with.”

And that’s beautiful. Sunny really hits home with her headphone masterpiece, but that doesn’t mean it’s short of bangers, either. The Mike Strong helmed “Annalise” is sure to be bumping out of trunks all summer long, and the undeniable bounce of “Icicle” is destined for DJ booths. There’s a delicate balance not often valued in today’s single-obsessed SoundCloud, and it’s bound to keep Listen to Me, Lightning on repeat for a long time…or at least until Sunny drops the next joint.

“Oh, I know what’s next,” Sunny tells me, “Because I’m so far past these songs that I’m at the point where I’m just like finding ways to make fun of them. So I feel like I have to release them in order for me to really move forward. So at this point, I’m finally gonna do it. It’s going to make me feel more free. But yeah, what will be next is—“

You know, maybe this is one of those things I will keep to myself.


Featured image courtesy of Lou Cambridge

Listen to Me, Lightning is available wherever you listen to music and you can probably order headphones on the internet somewhere.

Of What Could Be, Of What Can Be: The Reimagining Tale of Black Spirituals

Embark on a one-of-a-kind expedition through time to Slawstrips Kalb–“a hyper-satiric alternate reality” where the audience is subject to the “Black American life” by way of four teenagers working through the challenges brought on by “the choices they make and temptations they follow.” Written, composed, and directed by the Newport News Contemporary Arts Network’s (CAN) Tunny Crew, Black Spirituals is a “retelling” of the black individual’s story “from a place of empowerment.” The art installation will debut this Saturday, January 23rd at the Newport News CAN HQ, and will run on each consecutive Saturday for the entirety of Black History Month (visitors may also purchase tickets to tour the exhibit on Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout the month of February). Purchase your tickets here and read up on Popscure member Jasmine’s pre-debut thoughts on Black Spirituals below!

There was a general route I would take during my daily commute from the James River Bridge to the far ends of Newport News. Every day I would pass through this monochromatic route of grays and browns—heightened especially on gloomy days. And each day, I would scan the surrounding buildings…my mind always on autopilot mode. That is…until I saw a building I’d seen a million times, but this time things were different. This time the building had character…presence. Funnily enough, the building’s side was painted in a pattern of black and white—yet, it was as if it was saying, “Look at me!” As time passed, more murals were added to the lone building, ultimately creating a beacon of life amidst the lifeless stretch of road—signifying the possibility of what could be, of what can be.

Little did I know that I would be in that same building (many) months later taking in before me a vast set-up for an art installation—Black Spirituals. But just limiting it to the description of “art installation” almost doesn’t seem to do Black Spirituals, or its vision, justice. Deemed “an emancipated Negro Spiritual,” the experience is a stimulating amalgamation of mixed media creating an alternate reality as expansive as its goals to produce dialogue and education through topics ranging from mental health surrounding grief and loss, police brutality, racism in America, the drug epidemic, familial dysfunction, and exploitation within industries. With works from the CAN Foundation’s First Patron artists (Mahari Chabwera, Nastassja Swift, Asa Jackson, Hampton Boyer, and Adewale Alli) and CAN artists (Dathan Kane and Alex Michael), the collaborative venture bypasses traditional limitations in favor for delivering its message through a play and exhibition, original motion picture, and album. And really, I think that is the underlying beauty of Black Spirituals.

The topics in and of itself are undoubtedly important and way past overdue for discussion, but the true gem of Black Spirituals lies in the possibility…the possibilities. To me, the reclamation that is Black Spirituals transcends past its initial purpose to educate and furthermore invites you to imagine…to manifest…to change…to reclaim. The black narrative has been tainted throughout all aspects of life in history with black people being consistently portrayed as lesser than…lazy…sexual deviants or violent criminals—all damning qualities consciously and subconsciously taken without any further thought. You see it in the way the media portrays black individuals after the umpteenth fatal death by a police officer’s hand, or the way young black girls are seen and treated as sexual beings before they’re even able to comprehend what that even means. No one ever seems to ask about the “how’s” or “why’s” of social disparities as it relates to poverty and welfare, lack of education, drug abuse, or the most favored red herring of debate—“black-on-black” crime. How do you think a young child would feel if they were constantly inundated with such toxic preconceptions before knowing what that word even meant? Black Spirituals reclaims the black narrative, reimagines the story, and reveals the possibilities. Black Spirituals is the reclamation of identity…sense of self-worth…sense of purpose…sense of belonging. Black Spirituals is the possibility of what could be, of what can be.


All featured images courtesy of Nathan Croslin, Nalan Smartt, and Chip Jackson

Black Spirituals will debut tomorrow and run from 7:00-10:00 PM. Can’t make it? Don’t worry—the installation will run throughout Black History Month every consecutive Saturday and be open for Wednesday and Thursday tours throughout February. Get your tickets and find out more information here, and be sure to stay tuned for more from Black Spirituals.

A Little Respect: An Examination of Representation, Double Standards, and Gatekeeping in Kpop & Hip-Hop

There’s something that has really been grinding my gears lately (amongst the million other things that have made the past year more than trying). Admittedly, it doesn’t take a lot to make me agitated (s/o to my fellow fire sign friends), but there have been slights about a particular music genre that has seemed to increase in volume as of late.

I’m talking about Kpop.

You may have heard it. Western coverage on big groups like BTS (who just became the first Kpop group to be nominated for a Grammy in a major category) have been on the rise since 2017, when the Korean group became the first Kpop act to perform on a major American awards show. Performing their then single, “DNA,” the group wowed just about anyone that was completely unaware of them.

Personally, I had no idea about who these guys were or what their music sounded like. I tuned in with a peaked curiosity that was satiated far past expectations. It was more than their sound, or their ability to sing and rap…more than their charisma or their impeccable style. It was their aura. There was an overwhelming sense of passion that exuded from them that was undeniably alluring.

The next day I decided to play their recent release, Love Yourself ‘Her”, on my commute to class. I re-listened to the song, “DNA,” bopping along as I crossed the bridge to my destination, but what ultimately sealed the deal was the track, “Intro: Serendipity,” performed by one of the members, Jimin.

The best way to describe the song would be to personify it as the feeling of finally finding someone or something and euphorically falling in love. For instance, my euphoric moment would be my first true discovery of music. There are no words to explain that feeling because it’s just that—a feeling. So, flashback to my car commute…I hear this song…and I experience that feeling again. Without warning, I fell in love again, and I realized that those three letters, “BTS,” were more than an acronym.

“Intro: Serendipity” – BTS

But we’re not here to talk about just BTS or Kpop for that matter. Instead, I want to impart a broader lens on the bigger picture of music, culture, and entertainment between the western and eastern world, two worlds with so many differences, but even more similarities. And because I don’t want to bore you to tears, this will be an ongoing series because I got a lot to say. So sit down, get comfy, grab a drink (preferably water-stay hydrated), and get ready to have a much-needed discussion on some things.


Hip-hop. We all know it and love it (at least, most of us do). And when we think of hip-hop, what culture do we immediately associate it with…black culture. And nothing is inherently wrong with that, right? Because hip-hop has been a part of black culture since that first Bronx basement party in 1973, thrown by DJ Kool Herc. Hip-hop is to black culture as black culture is to hip-hop.

So what happens when other cultures latch onto arguably one of the most defined, prominent, and influential music styles of time?

Of course, there are going to be emulators and inspired artists; good music is supposed to move people and create some sort of manifestation of influence. With the decades of hip-hop and rap, there’s bound to be a major movement of others feeling the need to express themselves in the same way.

So picture this – It’s the 80s, and the top-charting pop songs in your country are placid, “safe” ballads with predictability waiting around every verse and chorus—this was the case for Korea. The country had what they called “healthy songs,” songs that were non-controversial and patriotic wrapped up in a pop-ballad formula for the mainstream airwaves…the only airwaves. With limited access to other various styles of music, the hunger for something different swelled, leading to a much more significant result than imagined.

Flash forward to 1992. Trio, Seo Taiji and Boys enter the scene with a loud western presence. I mean these guys were wearing the baggy clothing, breakdancing, and owning the stage with a charisma that rivaled any American performer. So you can imagine how the older generation felt with apprehension and confusion filling the minds of many—a classic case of the “moral panic.” That same group would continue to pave their way towards becoming one of the first coined Kpop idol groups for Korea, further spurring what would become known as the “Korean Wave” or Hallyu.

Seo Taiji and Boys

But what really drives this event home (at least for me) is their unapologetic fervor to speaking and expressing their truth. 1995 track, “Come Back Home,” a song about the enduring, societal pressures facing the younger generations, presents hard-pressed questions like, “What am I trying to find now?” or affirmations like, “My rage toward this society/Is getting greater and greater/Finally, it turned into disgust/Truths disappear at the tip of the tongue.”

What they did was bring an element of connection and catharsis into their music that seemed to be lacking from previous Korean pop music. They spoke their minds and expressed their feelings allowing for a space of connection and dialogue to occur amongst the younger public. You could say that “Come Back Home” was the Korean equivalent to 1982’s “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five—a very pivotal song in the history of hip-hop and social commentary.

This brings us to the two main topics of discussion—representation and cultural appropriation.


Representation and Double Standards

Whether we realize it or not, all forms of media have had, and continue to have, outstanding implications and influence on our daily lives (think the Arab Spring protests and the BlackLivesMatter movement). At this point, you may be asking, ‘Why are we talking about this? I thought we were talking about hip-hop and Kpop?’ Well, as the lovely subtitle above says…this is a section on representation and double standards, much of which is very reliant on entertainment and media.

For example, the late 19th/early 20th century introduced a western portrayal of Asian immigrants through film with roles that were meant to degrade and subjugate. Belittling generalizations like fictional character, Fu Manchu, depicted Asian people as cunning invaders biding time until achieving global domination, furthering the perception of Chinese immigrants as the evil “yellow peril.”

And yet on the other end of the spectrum, fictional characters like Charlie Chan would paint Chinese immigrants as passive and intelligent but socially inept with a poor grasp on the English language. Rest assure, however, that there was more to add to the representation package of Chinese immigrants with coveted roles that included playing servants and prostitutes. For the cherry on top, these characters were performed under the guise of “yellow face.”

Consequently, these stereotypes defined Chinese immigrants as either sinister masterminds or buffoons, inevitably leading to a distasteful amount of xenophobia and nationalism.

So how does this relate to today? As many like to say, history repeats itself, and while things are arguably better, there are still insinuations of the past that linger in a more covert manner. Enter the stage—double standards. New York Times piece, “Why do Asian-Americans Remain Largely Unseen in Film and Television?” by Thessaly La Force, speaks on the persistence of worn-out prejudices towards Asian-Americans with tired tropes depicting them as smart and hard-working, but boring and plain.

I mean c’mon…we all know we’ve heard or said something along the lines of Asian people being so good at math or the martial arts. We never, if rarely, see Asian actors consistently occupying a prominent part in a feature film – nor do we see them ever playing the roles they were originally written for (e.g., Ghost in the Shell, Doctor Strange), until recently with films like Crazy Rich Asians. And sure, we have classic martial arts films like Enter the Dragon, but there’s more to Asian people than just martial arts—their identity is as dimensional as anyone else’s.

Furthermore, Asian artists in the music industry are not taken seriously in comparison to their peers of non-Asian descent. Groups like Far East Movement experienced xenophobic insults and harping on social media during the height of their career in the United States. 2010 single, “Like a G6,” took off and launched the collective to become the first Asian-American group to reach #1 on the Billboard’s Hot 100. Yet, that wasn’t enough for some American consumers as condescending comments aimed at the group “to go back to Asia” filled social media.

Which brings me to a more recent example from the 2019, “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” special. BTS was scheduled to perform during the night’s festivities, something that many fans were excited about, me included. It was an opportunity for more representation on a program being watched by about 7.2-10.7 million viewers, but with one step towards progression are two steps backward. CNN correspondents for the night, journalist Anderson Cooper and Bravo TV reality host Andy Cohen, couldn’t help but make snide comments about the Korean artists as they proceeded to talk throughout the entire performance.

It’s remarks like these that make me wonder what else Asian entertainers can do to gain the respect of the western world? Breaking all of the records possible or achieving the unthinkable are all great and fun, yet seem to never amount to anything in the western gaze. Maybe that’s the lesson in all of this – they don’t need the approval of others…they’re surely accomplishing much of what they set out to do, regardless. But I can’t help but think about La Force’s words, “And that is why we will never be compelling enough to be the hero in your eyes.”


Gatekeeping

Cultural baggage…what better way to start this section than with those two words. Cultural baggage is in the words we hear… the songs we sing… the thoughts we think. Like anything else in this world, it’s complex.

For this section, the words “cultural baggage,” mean the long, long years of history that have resulted in the suppression of black voices. I’m talking about the years and years of thievery against black artists and the black identity. As a result, there may be a better understanding of why there is an expressed need for gatekeeping within the hip-hop community, consequently ensuing discussion on what counts as cultural appropriation.

While writing this, it really dawned on me how interconnected moments in time really are. The year 1900 may seem so far away, but when you really analyze it, you start to realize that underneath it all, some things (a lot of things) really haven’t changed. Frankly, it uncovers the interpellated state that really all of us are in for most of our lives, that is…until we start to question.

Growing up, I was inundated with all kinds of music, ranging from merengue to disco to grunge rock to R&B; there was no genre untouched. I remember one artist in particular that my little, Hispanic grandma loved, Elvis Presley. Growing up during his heyday, my grandma was a big fan, so naturally, I thought he was cool because my grandma is cool—duh. There wasn’t really a specific moment in time when I found out that Elvis sung songs that weren’t his, the realization just kind of accumulated throughout the years.

Songs like “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog,” originally written for and performed by Big Mama Thornton, were “culturally cleansed” to appeal to the masses—the white consumer. Where once existed a drawl and lag of ache and soul, came a sterile, clean, upbeat version with plain accentuations and musicality to dazzle the uniform minds of white America. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t anything innately wrong with enjoying the Elvis version over the original. Music is subjective after all, and some people may prefer a cleaner pop sound as opposed to a grittier, soulful sound. That’s fair.

The gripe resides in the fact that so many black artists of that time delivered really good, authentic music, but because they were black, that owed success was never met. Elvis was just another symbol of appropriation…another symbol of control over the life of the black individual. He was the ultimate signifier that, ‘Yeah, you’re good…you have talent…but you’re black. But this guy over here? This guy has got good looks, can carry a tune, and he’s white.’ Of course, this sentiment was carried out in a more subdued manner, but you get the gist.

Yet some black artists had nothing but respect for “the King.” Artists like Little Richard to James Brown respected Presley and Presley, in turn, praised the many black artists before him. But like I said, the gripe was never fully against the individual—it’s always been against the system. The system that has been against black people since the beginning. Detailed accounts of minstrel entertainment in the mid/late 1800s to early 1900s proves that this notion of “theft” has been around for longer than many would like to admit. However, in this case, the theft wasn’t solely music-related but instead immersed in the stolen sense of identity.

Minstrel entertainers like Thomas Dartmouth Rice (also known as “Daddy Rice”) or the Virginia Minstrels were all the rage for white Americans who lauded at the overly dramatic, blackfaced performers; meanwhile, black slaves toiled away to survive, nevermind live. If our translated emotions of hardship into sounds of raw expression weren’t enough to take away, then the identity of who we were would surely solidify the feeling of humiliation that was meant to define our status in life—our status in the system.

Thomas D. Rice dancing in blackface

So you can see WHY gatekeeping in hip-hop is almost a means to survival—it’s ingrained in the nature of the people who created it, who lived and breathed it, who depended on it. It’s more than a fad or a trend…it’s more than fame and accolades…more than a genre or a simple name. It’s one of the few things that hasn’t been totally capitalized by others outside the black community—in a way I think it’s almost sacred. When you have the public and music industry saying your sound is “too black” to be considered country (e.g., Lil Nas X – “Old Town Road”) or your simple blackness is “too sexual” (e.g., Little Richard – “Tutti Frutti”) it gets old…fast. And that kind of gatekeeping is still prevalent today. Like I said…some things haven’t changed.


Wesley Morris’ “For centuries, black music…” instilled in me perhaps the most resonant revelation in the matter of this entire piece; “Americans have made a political investment in a myth of radial separateness, the idea that art forms can be either “white” or “black” in character when aspects of many are at least both.” What’s wild about this WHOLE thing is that we have all, to some degree, fallen victim to this idea that music ever belonged to one race.

Why is it that music has been categorized into an ignorant, social construct? Why was there even such a thing as “race music” in the 1920s-1940s? Why do black kids get made fun of for listening to “white people music”–in other words, rock–from their own community? Give me a break. Music, in its purest form, is a feeling…an expression of emotion…an outlet of happiness, anger, joy, pain. Morris states that it’s more complicated than any word could define. The term “appropriation” only skims the surface of what we are really talking about here.

So where does that leave us? I think we would all be doing ourselves, and music, a disservice by falling prone to these invisible boxes of delegation. That’s not to say that respect shouldn’t be given where respect is due. All of the Chuck Berrys, Sister Rosetta Tharpes, Sam Cookes, Rakims, and Notorious B.I.G.s (the list can go on and on) should undoubtedly be given the respect they deserve—because, at the end of the day, it all comes down to a level of respect and understanding.

The most important takeaway from all of this is the transcendence of music. Music transcends all languages, expectations, judgments, skin colors, ideologies, wars—it transcends all.

You see it in songs like the 2000s-esque, R&B “Lookin 4” (Crush feat. Devin Morrison and Joyce Wrice), trilingual homage “Chicken Noodle Soup” (BTS’ J-Hope feat. Becky G), or bias challenging “FSU” (Jay Park feat. GASHI and Rich The Kid); all songs that bring various representations of culture and flavor under one umbrella.

“Chicken Noodle Soup” – J-Hope feat. Becky G

Again, I stress that that isn’t to say that respect shouldn’t be given where it’s due. Many love to take and suck all that they can from black culture—from our music, to our clothes…even to our hair; yet, they fail to show that same appreciation and respect to the people behind that culture—black people. It’s, unfortunately, seen countless times in Kpop, and as we move forward it is my hope that the respect will become second nature to artists and labels of that industry.

Being a homogenous culture, it’s a work in progress but recent events have shown that there is solidarity and respect with Korean artists like BTS, Jay Park, Crush, Tiger JK, GOT7, and others showing their support through statements and donations towards the BlackLivesMatter movement this past summer. Crush aptly said, “Many artists and people around the world get so much inspiration by black culture and music, including me. We have a duty to respect every race.”

That level of recognition and awareness is key to moving forward into a realm where respect is formed and nurtured through conversations between one another from different cultures. Korean YouTube channel, DKDKTV had a segment on cultural appropriation in Kpop, imparting the valuable lesson to “not fall trapped in our own world…to engage in conversations with people from different cultures…to widen [our] views of the world.” It’s so simple, yet unbelievably overlooked.

And with that, I hope the main thing you get from all of this isn’t me telling you that you should listen to Kpop because I think it’s good. Rather, I implore you to take a quick minute of introspection and look at your own biases—whether that be in music, culture, food, WHATEVER IT MAY BE. Because it’s in those moments where you may realize that we all aren’t so different after all.