Black Charleston-area musicians reflect on activism and the role their music plays 

Song Remains the Same

click to enlarge Tazz Majesty got involved in activism in college - RUTA SMITH
  • Ruta Smith
  • Tazz Majesty got involved in activism in college
Charleston activists and politically minded musicians often intersect for justice-focused and intelligent music. The city’s been awash with sentiments in support of the black community, touched off by a wave of protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but artists have been speaking out about the black experience through their music forever.

Cody Dixon, rapper Slim S.O.U.L., has picked up the mic at rallies around downtown over the last two weeks. It’s not too surprising, considering his background in advocacy. Dixon started S.O.U.L. Power Productions, a nonprofit dedicated to arts and education, when he was in college, and used the platform to build a recording studio for the IQRA Bilingual Academy in Senegal.
“A lot of homies have been saying the same thing in their music,” Dixon said, citing Benny Starr, Matt Monday and Jah Jr. “They were doing this work and putting this work in before it got real out here. It was calm, collected, we were able to go out to live shows, they were still saying that same thing, telling people to vote, to organize … the message has always been there.”

Contour songwriter Khari Lucas doesn’t consider himself an activist, but said his presentation of his humanity and emotions are “inherently political” because he is a black artist. “I would define people who dedicate their lives to political reeducation, organization and community work as activists,” Lucas said. “It’s really important to me to contribute to those things, but I don’t want to take up space by claiming that label.”
Lucas believes that everyone’s life is political to some extent, but as a black person in America, he can’t ignore the ways his life is inherently political.

In the past few months, Lucas has participated in activities calling out some streaming services for their monetary practices, and occasionally posts about topics on social media.

“While donating, sharing information and participating in actions during a violent and explosive national crisis is necessary, it is also literally the bare minimum,” Lucas wrote on Instagram. “And i’m wary that for many [white people], this solidarity is more indicative of a recently recognized social status quo than it is indicative of a willingness to truly evaluate your individual complicity in white supremacy.”
Rapper Tazz Majesty had a history of activism while at College of Charleston. In fact, experiencing racism while at school was what motivated her to speak out. “It was my freshmen, sophomore year that I really saw a lot of racism toward me,” she said. “I started to realize that I didn’t get jobs or positions or I didn’t get asked to do certain things because of the color of my skin or because I had dreads.”

After now infamous incidents at the College where students dressed in offensive and racist costumes on Halloween, Tazz began participating in and organizing protests. Fuel was just added to the fire when events she tried to organize were consistently turned down “because of the participants.”

“They have this stereotype that if we congregate a whole bunch of African-American people or minority people, it’s going to get out of hand and we’re not going to be able to control it,” she said. “That’s what really hit home for me.”
When it comes to music, Tazz tries to portray her value in “everything positive and everything just,” similar to her history in activism. “My music speaks for me in a lot of ways and I think activism is a strong part in everything I do.”

Benny Starr, possibly the area’s best known rapper, often seeds activism in his music, writing thought-provoking lyrics about struggles unique to black men and women in the Lowcountry. While admitting there are activist tendencies in his songwriting — frequent dissections of specific topics that affect the black community in the Lowcountry — Starr refers to himself as an artist instead of an activist.
“I think that documenting things is critically important,” he said. “Documenting history, documenting the present, because I have to express the way I feel about things, the things that affect me, the things that affect people that I care about.”

Thanks to the voice that music provides him, Starr has spoken out in other areas, as well. He endorsed Elizabeth Warren for president and caused a stir when he left TEDx after a racist comment was said behind the scenes. Recently, Starr has been working with PolicyLink’s Water Equity and Climate Resiliency Caucus, and he’s building a curriculum based on his 2019 LP A Water Album with Charleston Activist Network founder Tamika Gadsden.

“It’s important for artists to use their voice. I don’t always feel that it’s a requirement for artists to use their voice,” he said. “Some people may be confused or they may not know how to most effectively use their voice, they may be on that path of learning, they may be on that path of self-actualization.”
Niecy Blues’ most recent EP, CRY, was her response to “some of the childhood traumas I have associated with being a black woman.” While she has been involved in activism in her personal life, Blues doesn’t label herself as an activist in her music. “I would just consider myself a truth teller,” she said. “I guess those things do show up in my music because it’s just my experience as a black person.”

Healing is the goal for her music. “My overall intention is healing,” Blues said. “Healing of myself and hopefully sparking others on that journey of healing. Hopefully my words and my music embody that. That’s really the only intentional thing about my music.”

But, she clarifies an important point when discussing the black experience. “Black is not a monolith. I can say that 10,000 times because I don’t think people understand that. It’s not monolithic, everybody has a different experience. And I don’t think people should police how black people respond to generations and generations of trauma.”

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