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.
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.
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.
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.
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 about7.2-10.7 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.”
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 respectfor “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.
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 totallycapitalized 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.
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.
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, DKDKTVhad 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.
Era Hardaway is a twenty-seven year old rapper, producer, and entrepreneur continuing the honored lineage of innovative thinkers and musicians from Virginia. Following the release of the emcee’s latest EP, “Undeniable,” I had the opportunity to get better acquainted with Hardaway’s journey and vision.
Era and I met up at his studio in Norfolk, VA, where he develops the bulk of his material. As an artist who is always working, you always have something new and crazy sounding to play, and today I was the lucky guest. Displaying his range as a more than capable producer that’s laced countless other artists with beats, such as Young Crazy, he began to demonstrate a number of styles from trap and drill to cinematic soundscapes that belong in the next Final Fantasy.
How did you get into music, was there something else you wanted to do before that?
I learned the turntables early on, but it wasn’t something I really had my heart set on. Before the music shit, I really wanted to be a street ball player. My mom bought me a basketball, and I’d be in my room rolling the ball between my legs acting like I’m shaking defenders off. I had all the And1 mixtapes, even the joints where they went overseas. I used to always watch the marathons on ESPN. I started getting into other leagues that started up like YPA and a few others in the street ball community. So that’s what I wanted to be, then I decided I wanted to go to the NBA, but I was ass at basketball. I had handles but my shot was wack. I mean, now I’m alright but back then? Yeah, nah.
What got me into music at first was when I started DJing parties with my pops. This was probably like age 7 or 8; my pops would get a party and let me do half the set and keep half the bread. When I started doing that, I thought, ‘This might be it,’ because I started buying kicks and shit. But I still just wasn’t ready to step into rapping yet. One day when my dad was teaching me how to blend, I said, ‘Man, who is making these beats?’ When you listen to a beat without the lyrics, you just wonder how they put it together. So around the age of 13, I did my research and found out about Fruity Loops, and once I started making beats, I knew this is what I was going to do.
It kind of started from there. For Christmas, my dad bought me the little M Audio package with two small studio monitors and a dynamic mic with the desk stand. You could only do input or output on that M Audio interface; you couldn’t do both. It sucked, but I made it work. I stacked shoe boxes on top of each other in my closet, put my mic on top, and made a make-shift pop filter with a stocking cap—and that was my studio.
Would it be correct to say your parents were supportive of your creative exploration?
Yeah, they were. Both my dad and my mom, although [my] [mom] didn’t really understand it and still doesn’t to a degree. They were always supportive. My dad was one of those people who, no matter what I wanted to do, would support me even if he didn’t understand it. I know as I got older and more mature, they didn’t approve of some of what I was saying about gas, smoking weed, and pulling different girls. I know they don’t want to hear all of that, but this is what’s going on. I’m not capping on anything.
At first, my mom didn’t even know I was rapping. She knew I was DJing, and she didn’t really like that because she was worried about me getting caught up in the party scene. I’m actually glad my dad introduced it to me early on because now when I’m in the club, I don’t even want to be there unless I’m celebrating or I’m paid to be there. It’s old to me now.
I really started rapping in 2009, when I was 16. My mom didn’t know, even though her office was right next to my room. I’m cranking music, but she had her speakers as well, so don’t get me wrong…she was cranking in there too, but I know she can hear me through the walls because I can hear her. The funny thing is, she didn’t realize I rapped until I handed her my first mixtape, “Yeah I Rap.” I spent all my money making about 100 CDs to take to school to give out for free, and they were gone before the first period. People from the Burg hit me up to this day like, ‘Yo, I still got that CD.’ After that, I go home and hand the CD to my mom, and she says, ‘Oh, that’s what you’ve been doing locked inside your room all quiet for long periods of time.’ I was surprised when she said she couldn’t hear me there.
You’re self-taught as a musician, was your process always this DIY? If not, when did that change?
I’m an Internet baby. As computers were being developed, I was around it. I mean, we didn’t always have that, but since maybe around the time I was fourteen, [we] started having iPhones and computers. Even before that, I always asked questions when seeking the source was just asking somebody. When I found out that seeking the source could be a simple search online, I began to look it up first before asking somebody…especially with simple stuff like “how to tie a tie.”
After hearing some of the beats you have, I’m compelled to ask, have you ever thought of composing for video games?
Hell yeah. I’ve also thought about scoring for movies. That’s really the main goal aside from rap. I want to be able to build suspense in a situation with music…really learn the process of that, even the mixing and mastering style of it.
Who were some of your early influences?
Dilla. Definitely Dilla. He was a heavy influence towards my junior & senior year (of highschool). Madlib, of course. And other people I used to watch on YouTube growing up, like Lex Luger and Southside.
I used to always watch everyone’s come up stories because you feel like you’re right there with them. I remember watching Lex Luger talk about how he used to have the computer with the full CPU, monitor, and a keyboard in a bag, and he’d just pull up. The side plate was gone, so you could see all of the computer chips and everything on the inside, and the power button was gone, so he had to hit it a certain way to make it power on. Lex Luger was making beats on that, and that’s when I knew I could be successful wherever I was at as long as I had the tools to make music. As long as I got a computer, I’m good.
When I recall some of your earlier work, like “Slightly Hyped,” many of those earlier influences like Dilla and Madlib shine through. But, there seem to be followers that saw your progression into The Juug Tape as an abandonment of the earlier, more “boom-bappy” sound. To what do you attribute the change in your music?
On “Undeniable,” I rap, ‘The whole juug won’t to dumb it down, just give y’all another sound to show you that across the board I don’t fuck around.’ That was the juug, and that’s why I was making the The Juug Tape. I was giving people bars, and it was cool but I was also like, ‘Let me have fun.’ There are still bars, you know what I’m saying? If you listen, there are still bars in there. A lot of people were telling me, ‘Aww you’re doing the trap sound now?’ and really there’s just a difference between what you make and what you put out because I’ve been making beats like that, and I’ve been making songs like that, but they never heard it until I put out a concentrated version.
Plus, it was just my environment at the time. I always tell people Fredericksburg was cool; that’s where I learned. But being down here in Norfolk really made me a man. I really saw things that I was taught about back home but never got to embrace. So going through all of that, seeing all of that, and growing as a man was what made that music as well.
So now, when I give people the bars, they’re like, ‘Oh shit, he can spit!” Yeah…I’ve been doing that. It’s about having fun. The only thing you can do in this life is take a craft and have fun. The world will try to rob you of all of that, your peace, love, and happiness. So you got to keep yourself excited, do it for yourself first at all times.
You mentioned the difference in experiences you had growing up in Fredericksburg as opposed to Norfolk. Tell me about your upbringing in your hometown compared to what you came to find in your second home?
Fredericksburg is a bit country, my mom is from there, and my dad is from Jersey. My cultural retrospect was very universal. I’d always be out there at my grandparents’ house riding four-wheelers, playing in the dirt, and things of that nature. We’d try to help my uncle work on cars and clean up the shop, my cousin Nick and I. If we weren’t there, we’d be at his house playing ball. It was very wholesome. Fredericksburg is like a commuter town, so there’s not much for the youth to do, but it can get wild out there. There are still hoods out there, and everybody from the Burg knew about the VFW before it got shut down. There used to be parties, but it’d always get shut down when people got to wrecking and shooting. That was the only thing out there until we got Jay’s, and that got shut down too, but by that time, I was in Norfolk. There wasn’t much for the youth, so we’d just hang out at the mall or go to the movies, typical middle-class childhood shit.
When I came down to Norfolk, that’s when I started to see things. Like I was saying, my dad is from Jersey, so he and my uncle used to tell me about certain street shit. They would always be like, ‘Watch out for that,” or ‘Look out for this.’ Before I was ever smoking, my uncle told me the difference between “mid” and “loud,” just so I would know. When they taught me things up there in Fredericksburg, it was never really applied until I came down here to Norfolk. I came down here to go to college, but the environment surrounding it is really gritty, and you have to know how to navigate. With certain people I came to be around, even with some of the things that I got into…I had to dabble in those environments and know how to move. That’s when all that I’d learned in Fredericksburg became applied and I could see, ‘Oh, this is what pops or unc was talking about.’ I’ve seen some wild shit being down here, and that’s why I say it made me a man, the experience. Experience is the best teacher.
There are six songs on “Undeniable,” but as we know, you have plenty more in the tuck. Tell me about the selection and arrangement process for the songs that made the cut.
Initially, I wanted there to be more, but I decided to give a more concentrated body of work. With the arrangement of the tape, I was talking with my manager, and he was like, ‘Bro, I rock with it, and I see what you’re doing, but I think you should take “Step” off or rearrange it.’
I believe sometimes you’ve got to humble yourself with your art, and if it’s someone that you consider very close to you and have respect for their musical ear, you’re going to take that into consideration. That night I rearranged it, and as I was sitting there with my shorty listening to it, I was like, ‘Yeah, he was right.’ Once I made that change, the whole tape flowed differently.
What was your mindset going into the new project, and why the title “Undeniable”?
At this point in my rap career, that’s just how I feel. I can do anything, and you could put me in the studio with damn near anybody, and I’ll make it happen. There’s a high percentage I might body you on your own track.
Quinn Christopherson is a singer and songwriter born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. He writes painfully humbling and brutally honest songs with a style that takes influence from his Athabaskan family’s storytelling tradition. He won NPR’s songwriting contest in 2019 and has since been working on what will inevitably be a soul-crushing album telling the stories of his life. – by Noah Daboul
What drew you to playing music and songwriting, and what’s it like to play music in Alaska?
I think I started playing music and writing music as a means for therapy for myself to feel better. It helped…it did help. So I just kept doing it, and it’s become something that’s evolved over time. I used to write these really crushing songs because when I wasn’t a musician full-time, I had a full-time job and all the other stuff life throws at you. I had a really small sliver of time for music, and I guess I subconsciously had to use it wisely. All of my music writing was solely just to feel better, like therapy only. Now that I do music full-time and have a writing space…now that it’s my job, my writing has changed too. Not totally, but I don’t have to just use it to get my “sads” out. I can write about anything now, and that’s a big change from not doing music full-time, I guess.
Does being able to write about whatever and not having to keep songwriting as a cathartic experience make it more freeing, or is it overwhelming?
So much more freeing. It was like a job before. It was the only thing I could do with writing, so it kind of put me in a box. Now I’m not in a box anymore; I can chase my passion, and that has been totally freeing.
From the songs I’ve listened to, since you only have two on Spotify and a couple more on your Tiny Desk performance, I’ve realized that your songs and lyrics are totally just…brutally honest. What kind of pushes you into that realm?
I think the way I song-write is what I’ve learned from my family in the way that we storytell. I think that’s really where it starts and ends. I grew up around storytellers, and I see myself as a storyteller, so that’s what I try to do with my songs.
I had a question about being descended from an Athabaskan storyteller, and I was going to ask if that influences your songwriting, but you kind of just answered that.
For sure. It does, though. That’s just how we were raised.
What was it like doing the Tiny Desk Concert at NPR? How did it feel winning that contest? What made you enter in the first place?
I entered because I’m like every other poor kid. I grew up in a small town, and I want[ed] to write a different future for myself and my family. I never thought it was possible, but you kind of just put your name in a hat and try for it. When I entered, it was really more just like a fun thing to do. It’s fun to make a video; it’s fun to play music with your friend and make a day of it—just a fun thing. The first time I entered, I entered with a song about my grandmother, and they did a little radio interview for me. That was kind of the biggest thing to ever happen for me, although it’s really like small potatoes now. Thinking back, it was so special.
The next year , I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got to do this again! Maybe they’ll notice me this time!’ It just felt like something I had to do. When I won, it was the craziest thing I ever could’ve imagined. It changed my life. Maybe I could’ve been a full-time musician before, but being here in Alaska kind of limits that. I never felt like I could ever do that. No one ever told me I could or should do that in a serious way. I never thought it was realistic. That was a turning point for me; I thought, ‘Oh, other people think this is maybe good enough, so maybe I should chase that.’ I did, now I’m here, and I don’t regret any of it.
I mean, I wouldn’t either! Going back to the storytelling traditionin your family, what does it mean to you to be a storyteller and a musician?
That’s all I know. I don’t know what else to write about or talk about. My grandma would tell us stories, and sometimes they would be so short. She would almost say nothing, but we got a whole world view out of like five words. I always remember her saying so much without really saying anything at all, and I just thought that was so powerful. Sometimes when I write songs, and I feel like they’re really dense, I think about what information is there that I just don’t need. How can I say more with saying less words, you know? That really influences me.
Who is the person you trust the most musically? Who’s your go-to bandmate or collaborator?
Definitely my go-to collaborator is my partner, Emma. She’s the most talented person I know. She’s a filmmaker and an artist; she doesn’t do music, but I think that when you’re collaborating with people who do different mediums than you, then all of your art comes out stronger.
The song “Raedeen” is one of the most brutally honest, humbling, and just…cathartic songs I’ve ever heard. Could you tell me the story behind it?
It’s a true story. The story is there within the song. That song for me is really special, too. Something I like to pay attention to when I’m writing songs, or poems, or whatever it is, is the timeline that you’re in. With that specific song, it spans over years. I think with that song, it’s all there. All the information is there. It’s honestly…a lot to put on the table for people. When I put that song on Spotify and Apple Music, nobody was listening to me. It was maybe a few people in Anchorage. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal; I was already singing that song for every drunk person at an open mic with maybe five people in the crowd. It wasn’t a whole lot to give away at the time.
Now that I’ve given that song away and other people are listening to it, not just in my little town, I sometimes think it’s a lot to share with everybody. I don’t regret it, but what I will say is that I released that song because at the time, I hadn’t heard from my sister in months and I was really scared. I had no way of reaching her. I just thought that maybe if I put that on the internet, she would stumble across it somehow and hear it. Here we are, about a year into her sobriety, and she’s really turned her life around. She said that the song helped her to want to chase a different lifestyle. In the end, that song did exactly what I wanted it to. I don’t know if I needed to share it with the world to do that, but maybe I did. Who knows, but it worked.
I’m glad it worked. You’re based in Anchorage, right?
Yes! I live in Anchorage.
Anchorage is a cool town. I remember getting the worst food poisoning possible at the Hard Rock Cafe there. Do you think you’ll end up staying in Alaska, or do you see yourself moving outside of the state eventually?
You know, if you asked me that question a year or two ago, I would’ve said I’m getting the fuck out of here, you know? But over this year or year and a half, where I’ve started this music career, gone on a US and Canada tour, done the whole musician thing-I had a European tour planned too, that got canceled because of COVID…it’s been rescheduled, though-I realized I’m not stuck here, and I can travel around. I’ve had a lot more appreciation for my home and knowing that it’s not about really where you’re at, but who you’re with. All of my family’s here, and we’ve been here for generations.
I realized this place is a lot more special once I knew that I’m not stuck. That goes for a lot of people living here. It takes so much money to get a plane ticket out of here. Just going to Seattle is so expensive…getting out of the country is crazy; it’s a really expensive thing to try to leave this place. A lot of Alaskans will actually go on little vacations to other parts of Alaska because it’s cheaper. I think that can really affect people’s mentality about not wanting to stay here…like you can’t just drive to another city. As I’ve gained more privilege to travel and have gotten more access to that, I feel like this is my home, and I’ll stay here.
Throughout the COVID pandemic, what’s it been like up there with everything going on?
We get everything a little later here. We’re pretty behind with all sorts of things, especially COVID. In some places where it’s been dying down, here it’s actually been amping up. Our cases this week are going up. They’re over the hundreds and people estimate that they’ll be in the 500s as the weeks go on. Right now is when we’ve been seeing the spikes that the lower 48 [states] saw weeks and months ago. It’s scary, but we’ve been on a lockdown level since March. But it is Alaska, a lot of us remained doing our “outdoorsy” things; kept going on walks and being outside. I have a huge backyard, I have plenty of space for myself, and I think it’s nice. We’re all getting really scared because we know that snow’s about to come. It was really cold today; my house was 58 degrees [F] when I woke up in the morning. We haven’t turned on the heat yet, but it’s getting to that point. I don’t know what will happen when we’re all stuck inside and can’t congregate outside.
Cases in the 500s are still a little low compared to the rest of the country, which seems like a silver lining.
We’re still really low, which is really good.
With all the time you’ve had being locked down, have you been writing a lot? Have you been working towards an album at all?
Yes! I’ve been writing a ton. I’m working on my album right now, actually. It’s kind of going with the flow. I couldn’t tell you, or even myself, what songs are going to go on it or what the name of the record will be. I’m working with a couple of producers and continuing to write. I signed with a label, and we’re working on it. I feel like I’ve written the record, I do. I feel like that part is done, even while I’m still continuing to write. I feel like I have a record there, and now I’m just finessing these pieces to get it put together. Hopefully, I’ll fly to go and lay final vocals. I wish I had a timeline, but I’m thinking sometime [this] month, but I’m not really sure. With COVID, it’s all pretty up in the air, but the songs are being worked on. I’ve been waiting a long time for this, so it feels like the gears are really turning. I’m going to release this record hopefully in early 2021. That’s my hope, but I don’t know what’s to come with COVID and what the rest of the year has in store, but that’s my hope—and I’m rocking and rolling with it.
I’m excited for it for sure, I’ve definitely been a big fan since I saw the Tiny Desk performance. Who have you been listening to lately?
Thank you so much! I’ve been listening to Black Grapefruit; she’s a Brooklyn songwriter and artist. She’s amazing, you’ve got to check it out. I think she’s still pretty low-key; she has one EP out from 2019, and she just put out two singles that are just amazing…I can’t wait for the rest. I don’t really know what else I’ve been listening to. I’ve really been on discovery mode. The new Jazmine Sullivan single, “Lost One,” is crazy. If I’m in a bad mood, I put that on repeat, and I’m better. It’s the perfect song. There are no drums, it’s just [the] guitar and her—and the words in it are amazing.
Featured image courtesy of Sean Rhorer
A gracious thank you to Quinn for the heartfelt discussion. Be sure to be on the lookout for his debut album in *hopefully* early 2021.
Following the livestream takeover from our Instagram last night, Popscure Editor-in-Chief Shannon Jay chatted withlaboratory scientist, Brianda, better known as “Flyyscience” to discuss all things science, including the recent pandemic.
Brianda is a medical laboratory scientist working on achieving both her Masters in Biological Sciences and PhD in Molecular Medicine. If that wasn’t enough on her plate, she’s also a YouTuber that connects pop culture, society, and science. Under the name @flyyscience, she engages in all of her passions – music, arts, sports, and (obviously) STEM. Her hope is to communicate science to a general audience in a cool and interesting way!
Ever wanted the break down how a bath bomb works? There’s a video on that. How about the science behind that siqq ink you’re rocking’ on your arm? She’s got you covered there too.
Blending her love of hip-hop and medicine, she talks about some of her favorite rappers’ battles with diseases. She starts her Eazy-E video out in his signature shades before talking about his battle with AIDS.
In her J Dilla video explaining how he died from TTP, she starts off by grabbing a sweet snack that’s a nod to his signature album “Donuts,” and even uses Stars Wars figures to explain how the disease works. Need I say more?
Missed the livestream? Don’t worry, you can still view it on our Instagram story for a limited time! Stay tuned to our IG for future live Q&A’s with Flyyscience and subscribe to her YouTube channel!
Sometimes it’s just better to do things the old fashion way, and that’s what Liz Wendelbo and Sean McBride are all about. As a duo they’re Xeno & Oaklander, touring the world and twirling thousands of knobs along the way. Haunting yet poppy, brooding yet bright, their synth-heavy electronic music goes back to (not so) basics and eliminates any laptops.
Witness their vintage, analog setup in all it’s tangle wired glory tomorrow night at Charlie’s American Cafe. A super-stacked lineup celebrates the debut release from Good Glass Records. The mind behind it all, Andrew Horton (playing his own synthy songs tomorrow as Young Hierophant) was kind enough to send the band a few questions. He gained insight on their new album ‘Hypnos,’ Greek mythology, and eau de toilette inspired by the purest electronica.
Many of our readers aren’t necessarily up on the vagaries of music production. Would you kindly describe to the non-anorak spectator how X&O’s approach is different than using a laptop for making electronic music?
Liz Wendelbo: Think of the immediacy and raw power of an electric guitar – that’s the analog sound, it’s electric and it’s dynamic.
Sean McBride: The difference is akin to playing Grand Turismo on one’s video game console and actually driving a 60s Aston Martin or Mustang.
On your new album ‘Hypnos,’ one of the first things that jumped out at me was the polyphony – string machines, etc. after years of extremely minimal arrangements. But they don’t overwhelm the skeletal arrangements. How do you balance polyphonic chords with such minimal counterpoint?
SM: Much of the song writing begins sketching out the character and arrangements on the piano. and then it is simply the task of building the scaffolding of the songs with Monophonic bass and arpeggiations. The chords or polyphonic voicing, at this point, fall perfectly into place.
Speaking of the new record – many of the tiles and lyrics seem rooted in greek mythology, and I’m immediately reminded of your first album as a duo, ‘Sentinelle’ – with the acropolis or Parthenon on the cover. What do the Greek myths mean to you? How do they resonate, thematically, with X&O?
LW: Greek mythology is fascinating because it speaks the language of our dreams: Hypnos is the god of sleep and the underworld is his universe, a cave-like space. We’ve always loved how imaginative and free Greek mythology is. The mind wanders and you can just create your own stories. We love architecture. The Parthenon is a wondrous edifice – an ancient temple that sits atop a rock in the center of the city of Athens in Greece, called the Acropolis.
Perfumes are like music, scents are layered like a song.
– Liz Wendelbo
The album cover, which you designed, has an almost lenticular effect. Would you kindly talk about how it came about?
LW: I’ve always been into 3-D and creating that effect in simple ways. For the album artwork for ‘Hypnos’ I used several plastic sheets that I printed stripes on. Think of silk-screen printing techniques, or even analog photography, in the days when people used to project slides. I then super-imposed the printed transparent sheets on top of each other and that created a Moiré pattern. It’s an optical illusion that the surrealists were really into, Salvador Dali loved that effect. It tricks the eye into seeing movement or a pattern. Also the pattern reminds me of the Aegean sea in Greece, that blue.
What are you reading lately? Do you read on the road?
LW: We like to listen to books on tape while we drive, right now we’re listening to free Yale University lectures on Youtube by Paul Freedman on the Middle Ages, about the fall of Rome – it’s an interesting contrast to the wide open horizon lines and bright blue skies that we see as we drive on our tour of North America.
In addition to all of your other projects – music, film, print, fashion, etc. – you’ve released several scents in the ‘Eau de Xeno’ line. What are your favorite – or least favorite but memorable – scents that you associate with music? What are your favorite base notes and top notes? What interests your nose?
LW: The first one is always the best! Jasmin, Eucalyptus and black pepper. Perfumes are like music, scents are layered like a song. Scents tend to sing best when fragrances keep each other company, so in Eau De Xeno a flower such as a Jasmin flower ascends out of the bottle thanks to the uplifting nature of Eucalyptus and sustains its note thanks to the aggressive quality of black pepper.
What’s your favorite Chris Marker project? What about Agnes Varda? Favorite Scott Walker song?
LW: I like Agnes Varda’s vagrant stories such as ‘Sans Toit Ni Loi’ or ‘The Gleaners and I’ somehow I can identify, tour life sometimes resembles that vagabond feeling.
What’s the largest thing you’ve ever killed? Was it on purpose or an accident? [credit to BabySue for this question – I always loved when they’d ask it]
LW: Killing an idea is the closest we’ve come to that.
Ahead of their show at Charlie’s American Cafe, we asked artist Sunny Moonshine to send a few questions over to the Filipino dream pop musician and producer Idris Vicuña, known by his stage name as Eyedress – in the midst of his first tour of the United States, here’s what was discussed…
Have you been to America before?
I used to live in Phoenix, Arizona from the age of 6-13 then I lived in San Clemente, CA and moved to the Philippines when I was 15 and have been living there ever since.
Are the people here boring compared to other places?
Not at all. All my fans been showing mad love. They got me in almost every city. They hook me up with any party favours I might need. The love is too real! Fans always come up to me after a show to get me drinks or smoke me out. I don’t get that kind of love anywhere else but the States. Shout outs to the fans.
What has been your favorite meal on tour so far?
We hit a couple fire Mexican spots but honestly I only get hyped when we go to [a certain fast food chain, maybe ask him at the show] lol
Do you feel like there are duties attached to being an artist?
Yeah you gotta be responsible and not party every night. Gotta take care of your health and make sure you’re good to go for the next show cuz lately the shows have been constant and we barely get any days off to just rest. So yeah a good diet and the right dosage of vitamins helps.
What is your favorite instrument to start a song with?
I like starting songs off with chords most of the time. It sets the mood. Then I follow with the drums and just fill it all in after that.
Are you going to crowd surf at your show in Norfolk?
Haha i donno if the crowd wants to catch me maybe, I’m too paranoid for all that tho.
What shapes/colors would you use to describe your music?
My shit is like a rainbow, I got that variety. As for shapes idk a circle I guess cuz I can’t fuck w squares :p
What advice do you have for artists struggling to find a place for their voice?
Remember why ya started n don’t forget to revisit the classics.
Is there an issue on any topic that you feel very strongly about as of late?
There’s a couple things I feel strongly about but I’m in a good mood today so ima just say it’s all love on this end for now, peace!
When I met with RBLE’s Max Fullard at Thank You Gallery in Norfolk, VA for this interview, he took a few minutes to go live on Instagram and talk to his followers. As he perused the gallery’s collection of books, zines and clothing, Fullard joked and laughed while he held his phone and coveted a Star Trak shirt in the collection. This was somewhat of a homecoming for Max since he relocated to LA in 2017 and he seemed happy to be home. He was quick to get down to business, though. And once we got the interview rolling, he was focused and genuine – a combination of qualities that is somewhat rare for someone who interviews musicians on a regular basis.
I’m assuming you’re already familiar with RBLE, but I’ll give you a quick refresher; Virginia-based hip hop collective came together around 2010 (don’t fact-check me, I’m going off of memory) and quickly became eminent in the 757 due to the hustle and grind they devoted to the scene. For a while, it seemed like at least one member of RBLE was performing on any given weekend and their name was on everyone’s lips. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the clique, you’re probably still well-aware of RBLE affiliates DRAM and Sunny & Gabe; the two acts have had a pretty big buzz for a minute now with momentum still building. Regardless of what impetus each member distinctly possesses, the RBLE fam stays close and diligent and Max Fullard is always in the mix; usually front and center.
Fullard has been consistently dropping tracks for the better part of a decade, most notably 2014’s A Rebel Named Max and 2016’s Nights of the Forth, but it was only in September of last year that he decided make the trek to LA. While Max’s reasons for moving to California may have seemed inconsequential at first – “Honestly, man, weather,” he tells me, “Anything drops below 70 and I feel cold” – his motivations were actually more specific and focused.
“One of the reasons I wanted to move to LA, I’m not gonna say I was depressed, but I was a little down,” he confesses, “Like everyday I’d wake up like ‘alright I gotta go to work’ and I’d spend unnecessary money trying to find happiness. That’s why I had to get some of those darker songs on Nights of the Forth out. Because I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel.”
A stellar example of one of those “darker songs” is Hurt One, a somber record about feeling alone and looking for hope. But the beat is a banger and Fullard doesn’t want you to think he’s on that depressive tip. In fact, the guy is brimming with optimism and positivity.
“Not to knock anybody who ever thinks really dark thoughts,” he says, “but I was on the outside looking in at myself. I knew I was sad and I knew how to get rid of the sadness; I just wasn’t there yet. You try to put all of your emotions in one song so I was just like ‘I need to get this shit out’. When I went to LA for the first time I was happy.”
So this really becomes a story about a man searching for himself and, for Max, a change of scenery was what he needed.
“I’m not saying it was Virginia that was making me sad it was just Groundhog Day shit,” he continues, “I was like I need to get out. I need to see some other shit. I was working everyday because I was living outside of my means. I bought a drop-top convertible. I bought jewelry. I was racking up my credit cards just trying to find something that was gonna make me happy and I knew I needed to stop or I was gonna fucking fold. So when the LA thing came around I was like this is it.”
LA also found Fullard on his own for the first time. Up until then, he lived in “the RBLE house” with the other members of the crew, a situation that could be a little overwhelming in terms of creativity.
“Now that I am away I get my own solitude and I can become more of who I wanna be,” he says, “As myself instead of who I am in the crew. We have the big RBLE House so – I’m in my room making music, Gabe’s in his room making music, (Artel) Carter’s in his room making music – you’re gonna hear each other making music. So naturally you’ll bust in like ‘what’s this’ or ‘you should do this’ or ‘will you listen to this’. So now that I’m by myself I’m able to form my own identity. I’m not hearing Gabe make his beats and telling him I want it so he’s able to expand and finish his stuff with Sunny & Gabe. Sometimes I’d be like ‘yo, that shit’s fire. Let me get that’. Now, I started using more dudes that I was finding. I utilize Youtube a lot more. I like to straight up buy your beat for what it’s worth, get the stem, and get the contract. That’s it. I lot of Youtube producers give you that on the reg, you don’t gotta meet them, they don’t have to be involved. “
That creative environment also motivated Max in a different way, helping him shape who he wanted to be and what he wanted to get out of making music. “I would come home from work and I’d have a little bit of jealousy that these dudes get to sit around all day and play Madden and work on music. And Sunny & Gabe was popping off and DRAM was popping off and I’m at work, fucking waiting tables. You know, you make a song like this gonna be it and a week later it’s only at like 100 plays. But then I started appreciating 100 plays. When I wrote the song Ten Fans, I was like I have ten fans and that’s it. And those are the people that I’m gonna show my love for, those are the people that I’m gonna keep pushing for.”
Finding his identity outside of RBLE has proven very productive for Max. He released the Max EP on October 26th which showcases a clearly more ambitious and adventurous Max than we’ve ever heard before and he plans to follow that up very soon with two – yes, two – new full lengths in the near future. Max’s influences have always felt West Coast – “the 2000 Myspace West Coast vibes,” as he puts it – so LA seemed like a logical second home for him. LA also puts him geographically close to “cousin of RBLE” DRAM, a detail that isn’t lost on one as motivated as Fullard.
“He lives ten minutes away from me. I see his crib and I’m like I can get this,” he says, “When DRAM blew up I saw that it was possible. So now I go a little harder. Not even in a jealous way, but like DRAM got it I can get it. Because he has the same exact resources that I have, obviously he’s on a label now, but he had Gabe, I have Gabe. He mixed and recorded all that shit in [his sister] Sophia’s kitchen. So he showed us that it was possible with the exact same resources that we have, you know? Same foundation, same fanbase, everything he had with Cha Cha… I just need a Cha Cha, or even if I get three-1/3 of Cha Cha. I just gotta be consistent and he’s showing me that as long as you’re consistent and putting out good product and just keep pushing, it’s gonna happen.”
When Max isn’t learning from his peers, he’s learning from his mistakes. The Max EP showcases the ambitions of a vet that is ready to step into the majors.
“I was very inconsistent before I met DRAM,” he admits, “I was going thru the wrong avenues, I was paying for PR, I was trying to get on blogs. I’ve been in Billboard, I’ve been in Fader and all that shit, but if you’re not consistent it doesn’t matter. Once they see the tweet at the end of the day, you’re at the bottom. So if you’re not getting people to post about and talk about you, you’re just gonna fade out. You gotta stay consistent. Once one song takes off, they’re gonna go back and listen to everything and then I’ll be fine. So that just keeps me going.”
These are words to live by, kids. My dude Max could do a TED Talk on perseverance and following your passions. Or you could just listen to his music and support his dreams. I know he’d do the same for you because he told me as much: “If anybody’s ever feeling lonely, lost, sad or even just happy you can reach out to me – dm, Twitter, IG, email – you can talk to me.” I’d do it soon, though, before he blows up.
POPSCURE PRESENTS TAKES LOCAL & TOURING ARTISTS, RECORDS INTIMATE SESSIONS WITH A FEW SONGS AND CHATS ABOUT THEIR PROCESS, INSPIRATIONS, AND NON SEQUITURS IN BETWEEN
Did something a little special for this session. We gave Chesapeake Shormey the setting her lo-fi disco dance tunes are made for – a prom, complete with a mirrored ball. Shout out to Zeke’s Norfolk for giving us a venue to live out our party fantasy, and all our sharp-dressed extras who weren’t afraid to get down.
We talked nonchalantly in our interview about influences, a move away from sad emo songs to dance tracks, and never overthinking feel-good tunes.