Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Hip-hop artist Benny Starr and attorney/musician Elliott A. Smith's podcast Emcees & Esquires channels political and creative passions

Shift the Baseline

Posted by Kelly Rae Smith on Wed, Jun 20, 2018 at 4:15 PM

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Fans of the Very Hypnotic Soul Band have a new reason to celebrate today as members Benny Starr and Elliott A. Smith launch the podcast and blog, Emcees & Esquires. The platform is one that, according to the pilot episode that debuted today, merges art, culture, politics, and philosophy with the ideas and concepts and beliefs that drive and connect them all within the local community. Guests will include local activists, artists, and politicians as well as original music from Charleston artists — in the first episode you'll hear Samira Miche of IllVibeTheTribe and "Tantrum in Azure" by Contour, for example. Smith and Starr call it a political blog/podcast made by creatives.

Though Starr and Smith, two-fifths of the Very Hypnotic Soul Band, are both creatives, Benny being a hip-hop artist and Smith a keyboardist, there's much for the two to explore beyond the arts, from vulnerability in art to the city of Charleston's decision last night to apologize for its role in the American slave trade.

Smith is a lawyer who was also part of BACE League creative-political nonprofit, which focused its efforts on the 2015 Charleston mayoral election. He says that since then, he's craved deeper conversations on the state of Charleston today. And because of Smith's background, he has an interesting perspective to offer. "Law taught me a lot about what systemic racism means," he says. "I saw those systems up close."




Starr says he discovered art, specifically hip-hop, during a time when he'd abandoned intellectual pursuits — he lost his grandmother and sister within a span of a year and lost his focus in college. "I walked away from school but that intellectual yearning came out in music," he says. Eventually, he reconnected with books (he's now a student again, too) and was "led back to a place where I could rekindle that deep desire to learn more, read more, engage more, be more expressive and emotionally honest, and challenge myself more," he says in the pilot episode. "I wanted to redefine and self-actualize as a young brother from small-town-South Carolina, Pineville in the Lowcountry, a creative, a hip-hop artist — all these things I embody. I wanted to incorporate wisdom and an informed conscious perspective into that artistic process."

And between the two creative minds, both looking for more meaningful dialogue, a platform like Emcees & Esquires was inevitable.

So what do they hope to accomplish here? "Conversations build foundations for a lot of movements," Starr says. "They can contribute to ongoing movements moving forward."

"Shift the baseline," Smith continues.

To find out more, you're gonna just have to listen via Soundcloud at emceesandesquires.com. And don't forget to check out the site's reading list, a.k.a. required material, where you'll find references heard in the podcast, like Fannie Lou Hamer, court cases, articles, books, and films.

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