Late last night, Downtown Baltimore's favorite singer :3lON dropped his debut EP, a 5-track project titled Ronin. Last week, the project's lead single "Many Moons" was debuted on Afropunk. Stream Ronin below, which is out on Nina Pop Records:
It's no secret that women are underrepresented to a shameful extent, in music and otherwise. Shit, in every industry just about. It's also no secret that not enough fight against that goes down which is why things like The Exchange II are starting to pop up in Baltimore and all around. We need discussions like those to continue challenging the patriarchal structure of our society. Amy Reid of Baltimore duo, Chiffon, is doing her part in that challenge with her new Baltimore-based party, GRL PWR, which exclusively showcases women performers and DJ's. Her last party featured performative dance by Fluct, a live set by Ami Dang and DJ sets by Genie and Isabejja. Aside from proving that they didn't need any men to pack over 300 people in a tight warehouse space, it also showed that there are tons of talented female artists that go unnoticed. Wanting to know more about the origins and intentions of GRL PWR, I caught up with Amy recently.
What was your initial mission when conceptualizing GRL PWR? Was it to show that you didn't need men or was it just to celebrate women?
Amy Reid: Definitely to celebrate women performers. Exclusion is the opposite of what I want. There is an obvious focus on women performers but I'm all about including people who want to be a part of it. Originally, I wanted it to be strictly DJS and then I realized how boring that could be to exclusively have DJ sets. I think the best shows are when you get a taste of everything which is why I love Baltimore. It's not out of the ordinary to walk into a show where there's 4 different genres of music being represented on a single bill and I love that. I also wanted GRL PWR to represent a mixture of established artists, up and coming artists, and people who have maybe never performed before. I was just getting into djing and I was trying to find women djs in the area and I had a hard time and I was kind of puzzled. I had a drink with a friend and they brought up a good point that I had never really thought of but if you don't see yourself represented in a genre or art form it's hard to picture yourself doing that. I think that's a little extremist but still holds some truth.
When you think about it, it's pretty crazy that there haven't been any women-focused shows in the city. But it's so common for an all-guy lineup to be booked without it even being a thing. I've been guilty of it too when putting shows together. How's all that make you feel?
AR: That was a driving force for sure and I know people don't do it intentionally I just hope that this event brings awareness to that. There have been a few that have happened over time like Puss Fuss, Female Front Fest, and Lady Fest. They are all cool events and there is always room for more. Like those events, mine is curated. I want every show to make sense even if it's in a non traditional way. There's a focus on electronic, club and movement/ dance performance so far but I'm not going to limit it to be only that.
Did any anxiety come during the planning process when you thought of how the party could be received?
AR: I definitely had anxiety before both events. Some people freak out when you start to talk about things like gender. I look at this event as a positive reaction to further support women performers and have a conversation about it if someone thinks differently. There was one person sort of trolling the first event facebook page which made me pretty bummed out. But realistically, you can't please everyone and not everyone will agree with you and that's okay, I am interested in the conversation that happened anyway even if I feel uneasy or start to second guess afterwards. That's how we grow, we listen to each other, contemplate, and agree disagree or meet somewhere in the middle. For the most part it's been positive.
Playing in Chiffon, you've done a good amount of traveling through touring with Future Islands. Was the disparity in women being booked a problem in other places as well?
AR: It's not unusual for me to be the only woman on a bill but thats not to say that it's 100% of the time. We play with a pretty broad spectrum of artists from a lot of different genres and backgrounds. When I'm on the road I actually forget about it cause I'm just doing my thing with Chase, my best friend/ bandmate. I don't really notice a difference in treatment or anything. It's when I take a step back and think about it, that's what makes me want to address it in a positive empowering way.
It's a common thought that women are marginalized the most in hip-hop culture but this party speaks to multiple genres. Is that struggle of being ignored just as prevalent in other genres, in your experience?
AR: I think that DJ culture is what initially sparked my interest in starting GRL PWR. It's a problem when you can't name more than 5 women DJS in your city and part of that is me learning more about djing in general. I obviously don't know everyone who is djing or interested in it, that would be stupid to assume. I just want to meet those people doing it or provide an opportunity for people interested in it.
A great thing that I noticed at last week's party was that the all-female lineup had little-to-no effect on the crowd's diversity in comparison to other shows in Baltimore. Was that something you put a lot of thought into?
AR: Yeah, definitely. I want to put on shows that slay every time which is generally the philosophy behind every show I play or book. I think that everyone can get down with celebrating powerful women performers and I am confident in everyone I ask to play or that wants to play. I want people to come to GRL PWR knowing that they are going to have a great experience.
How've people been receiving GRL PWR?
AR: By the turn out alone I think it's going well. The first one was about 150 and the second was about 300 which is crazy and i was not properly prepared for. I was talking to isa bella about that earlier, DJ isabejja, and we were trying to figure it out. It's one of those things where I have no idea at this point if its the performers, the event, the philosophy behind the event or a combination of why people want to be a part of it. Either way, I'm grateful that people want to be a part of it.
What effect do you hope the party will having on booking trends throughout Baltimore?
AR: I hope that people who perform at GRL PWR gain more attention and people become more open to giving budding artists a chance to shine. I also hope that people think more deeply about the ways that shows can be more dynamic and interesting be it location or performers. Not saying that this already doesn't happen, but there is always room for things to grow into something more.
Dream acts to have play at GRL PWR?
AR: Missy Elliot, Tink, Holly Herndon, Kelela, Grimes, Kali Uchis, Emily Reo.....everyone that has already performed has been that dream come true.
Last month, True Laurels presented FLAT OUT with performances by D.R.A.M., Greedy and Sadaf, with music by Potionz and DJ Dizzy. Time Spent came through to capture some footage of the performances and I got to catch up with some of the acts as they were finishing up sets or just getting ready to go on. Check it out and stay tuned for the party's next installment!
In his The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction, James Baldwin said: “Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self: in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which one's nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned. This trust in one's nakedness is all that gives one the power to change one's robes.”
Those words always come to mind when listening to Abdu Ali's music. While the quality and energy in his music has changed since his raw ballroom-tinged debut Invictos to the electricity and supernatural ambience of last month's Infinity Epiphanies, Ali's music has always been centered around the recognition of his own identity—a habit that we could all stand to adopt. Comfortable or not, he's always shared his personal trials with being gay, growing up in the hood or just figuring out who the fuck he is. And even though he seems to be more self aware than most hope to be, he's still digging. He's fresh off of releasing his third project, the end-of-man themed Infinity Epiphanies, a self-curated tour with Chiffon through the south and midwest and will soon be moving to NYC in hopes to expand his artistic reach. To get some insight into how all three are helping him shape a new chapter in his career, I sat down to talk to Ali. Check it!
True Laurels: Last month you released Infinity Epiphanies. How do feel about its reach? Did you accomplish what you wanted to with it?
Abdu Ali: I did have a set out plan as far as the delivery and I achieved a goal with that. It was all set up from being premiered to dropping a video. The tour with Chiffon helped extend its reach to new people too and more people are starting to know me. It also helped really define what kind of artist I am and what I sound like.
Everything about the project felt post-apocalyptic from the industrial production to the lyrics centered around destruction and rebirth. Where’d that inspiration come from? Is it a metaphor for where you are in life?
AA: I took a class on post-apocalyptic literature and was in awe of the stuff we were reading because I felt like, even though it was about this end-of-the-world scenario, it’s still relevant to now. We’re always living in a post-apocalyptic world where people think the world is about to end. People think that’s some kind of new thing. We’re obsessed with the end and destruction. Look at how we destroy celebrities and destroy ourselves with the shit we put in our bodies from shitty food to drugs.
Post-apocalyptic stories are usually about how this main character has to adapt to a dystopian world and learn to survive. Conscious or subconsciously, we’re constantly figuring out how to survive in a crazy world. I just wanted to artistically create music that’d be the soundtrack to these stories I was reading.
You do everything on your own. From touring to releasing music to sitting in with producers. Do you like how that’s working out or would you consider letting other hands in the pot?
AA: Well the tour was already kinda set up but yeah, I’m definitely a control freak. I’ve always been very conscious of everything I do and how it represents me. I can’t imagine me doing something at someone else’s will. Maybe because I grew up in the hood and if I wasn’t this person who always went out and did what I wanted to...I don’t know. If I left it up to my environment or the social structure to shape who I would become, I probably would’ve been a fucking mess. Ever since I was little I knew I had to take control over my life. I treat music like that too. I never want it to falsely represent who I am. Whether it’s a pop star like Beyonce or somebody like Erykah Badu, you can tell they’re in control of every process.
You’re moving to NYC. How do you think that environment will help you progress as an artist?
AA: I think it’s gonna push me and motivate me. It’s gonna make me extend my reach even more. At least, I hope it does. Baltimore is cool and I think I did a lot. Doing what I’m doing based in Baltimore is kind of a gag. I’m not sure if NYC will artistically inspire me because I get bored by the scene. I also hope to bring more traffic from Baltimore to NYC and help those who I see with talent here. If I didn't have that type of help when I first stayed in NYC, I would’ve went nowhere.
From Invictos to now, you’re aggression has steadily risen. Is it still climbing with the music you’re working on now?
AA: It’s not necessarily aggression that’s on the rise but it’s the freedom. I feel less constraint every time. I was thinking aggressively with my projects before but I was getting bored with it. It’s part of me but not all of me. I’m gonna try to be a bit softer and intimate with my music.
How hard is making a transition in the energy you put out over tracks?
AA: I’m an emotional person so it’s not hard. With my friends I’m very open. I just hope it makes sense and doesn't confuse people who’ve heard the stuff I’ve done so far. It’s gonna be genuine, though.
As you’re getting more and more into your sound, do you want to start producing all your own records? You’ve managed to carve out a distinct style even while working with different producers.
AA: It has to get to that point. I do love working with people but I gotta make my own. Me and B L A C K I E were just talking about how back in the day everybody played an instrument. Every artist that I look up to knows how to play an instrument or has a hands-on role in their production. To progress my sound I have to get to that stage. I realized that when I listened to B L A C K I E’s music and how his shit is so solid all the time because he makes it. I’m not gonna lie, it’s intimidating but I feel like there’s so much strength in being a producer and an artist.
What’s been your biggest reality check as an artist?
AA: Same thing. Knowing that I need to get more into my production. Also, a really big reality check was accepting that I really need to believe in myself. It’s like if I don’t believe in what I’m doing, what’s the point? Touring taught me a lot too. I learned how important traveling is from bands like Future Islands, Chiffon and Dan Deacon. People think indie artists just pop up out of nowhere but they tour their asses off non-stop. They have core fans in different places. That made me realize that I need to do that more.
The lack of Baltimore artists being represented in music isn’t a secret. How do you think relocating will help you chop down that reality?
AA: I think it’s gonna help but I’m only one aspect of the city. Every time Baltimore gets national or international attention it’s always exaggerated and exploitive. I hope we can get it together and take control of our own image, as far as black culture goes. It’s hard for black artists to get it here. I can’t even blame the social structure of the city because who says that people in Chicago don’t face the same shit? Sometimes I really do think it may be something in the water. But I hope the hood and backpack crowds get it together and break out. The main problem is that some artists here try to sound like everybody else.
Follow Abdu Ali on Twitter: @AbduAli
Today I realize that I'm not like many people. As I've been told my entire life by many people. I'm similar to my music, my music is me. Different...astranged...created off earth. Where ever I go, my music goes with me. Journeys written into a melodic tune. It flows in my head through times of melancholy and when I feel joy it takes off into my body. Wave length. Taking off in to outer space. Let me go so I can free my mind. I swing my maschete full of treble cleffs, eight notes, do...re....me's...fa's...and sorrows. I'll blow you away baby, blow you away. Chrissy Vasquez. That's what they call me. I smile. As well, I'm hesitant. As I step on stage. The tune plays, I sway my hips and range my vocals with my hand. Strange voice. Numb and glazed. They didn't expect this, did they? Capturing pictures of the essence. Fifteen minutes...only fifteen minutes. Fifteen fucking minutes.
As they applauded, the noise filled up the room. The smell of drunk, the smell of fucked up...I still smelt a scent of love.
Love is universol. Love is all you need.
I grew up...without love. I grew up, with heartaches. The house on Rogers Ave, living bottom under the crack addict on top of us. I struggled. I've seen more than you think. You'd think the only thing I'd be witnessing in a child stage is the frog pad, and cartoon figures on the televsion screen. I knew what guns were before I even seen one, I knew what fear was because I scent it. I knew what pain was. It was all around me. Mami don't cry, I will protect you. The cops knocked the door down...
Love...love.........it's out here. Mami...do you hear me? Love...love.
He blacks out.
HI$TO is one of the more well-versed producers in Baltimore right now. Originally from Houston, he's immersed himself into the city's underground electronic and rap scenes where he's produced for collectives like 7th Floor Villains and last month at KAHLON, he completely ripped his DJ set. Last month he also contributed to True Laurels Vol. 3, as he touched on his journey as an artist and looked back on SWSW 2013. Read the full entry below and check HI$TO's SoundCloud.
March 11, 2014
Yo, you know the cool thing about spirit? When you truly listen to it, destined things happen. I moved to Baltimore from Houston after graduating high school with pursuing my music career burning deep in my spirit. There were some, even people closest to me, that couldn’t understand my actions and grind (some still to this day). But I remained true to myself and where my spirit guided me.
I’ve been around here almost 4 years and I’ve experienced a lot acting out on this journey. From countless studio sessions to DJ gigs I got, and deal-ing with different artists. Living here pursuing this dream sharpened me all around from the good and sometimes crazy situations I been in. Some people said they didn’t believe in me, some ﬂaked, some faded away, and some stayed down. But now after some time and a more conscious mindset, it’s seems the right people have been placed in my life in the craziest ways.
March 2013 I went to go visit Houston for SXSW in Austin. Everyone I planned on going with ﬂaked most of the week and I really wanted to go. The night before I sat down and thought about going alone. I didn’t have enough for a place to crash there over night and I thought staying on the streets would be risky. I woke up the next morning and it was burning in my heart to just go so I bought my MegaBus ticket for noon and got my mom to drop me off at the station. As I boarded this guy already seated instantly gave me a CD and said he rapped. I sat across from him and said I produced. There was another guy boarding that over heard me saying that and asked what type of stuff. I told him I was pretty versatile. He sat in front of me then he asked if I knew a producer named “Juke Ellington.” I said I had a homie in DC that just did a remix for him and he said the same, plus he runs a Juke collective in Chicago. His name was Rashad.
From that point we exchanged SoundClouds, listened to each other’s sounds, talked about the events going on and ended up teaming up the whole night in Austin hitting up events. We ran into so many positive people together and went on a random adventure after everything ended. Next afternoon on the way back on the Megabus, we kept talking until I ﬁgured out he lived 5 minutes from where I was staying in Houston. Rashad and I kept hanging while I was in town. We made music, discussed ideas, and kept building. In January we put out a huge mixtape called Juke World Order that’s been featured on Rewd Bull, Do Androids Dance, FACT Mag and more.
Crazy experience but I went where my spirit led me to. Ever since, I’ve gotten to meet more people who are really down and positive. These people show love, keep me motivated and do positive things together. We’ve gotten far doing what we do. Not just for ourselves, but what the universe destined us to do. I’ve come a long way and I’m seeing how things are getting better for myself and the people I surround myself with. We still have a way to go but persistence is the key. So if you have a vision or passion burning in your heart, just go for it and don’t be afraid to ﬁnd your full potential. Life’s short. So what do you have to lose when you could gain the whole time? Peace.
If you're in Baltimore next Saturday (November 9th) you should definitely come be a part of KAHLON—an all night dance party and rager with live sets by my friends Abdu Ali, TT The Artist, Ponyo, Gurl Crush and David Revlon. But best of all, KAHLON will also be the release party for the first issue of True Laurels' zine! I've been working on this for a while and I'm excited to finally share a physical component of the blog with people who've been reading from the start and anyone who happens to stumble by. Overall, it's a collection of conversations and insight with people that inspire me a great deal. Catch Cities Aviv, Abdu Ali, DUOX, Modi (DCtoBC/Trillectro), Neil Martinez-Belkin, TT The Artist and 83 Cutlass in the first issue, along with contributions from some talented friends! I've been fiending for a more personal connection with artists that are featured through interviews, profiles or docs in various pubs, so that was the aim for the zine—intimate moments with those who push the culture forward. Without mouthing my way to completely defeating the purpose of an invite for its release, come by The Crown (1910 N. Charles St., 2nd Fl) next Saturday. For those not in Baltimore, some online components of the zine will be posted soon after the release.
RSVP to KAHLON here!