Hip-hop is a diverse genre, but many fans hope to hear women’s perspectives more often in the music. This is one of the many reasons fans should give Sammus a listen. She’s a rapper who began as a producer and continues to show growth in her work. Her latest EP, titled Infusion, shows that her music offers a lot of personality and substance.
In the conversation below, she discusses her creative choices and the wide array of issues spoken about on the project, such as racial stereotypes, the use of therapy and the African diaspora. And check out the premiere of her video for "The Feels" after the interview.
Blavity: A lot of times, people describe artists with terms that the artists themselves may not use or identify with. Because of that, I want to start off by asking how you describe yourself musically?
Sammus: For sure. When it comes to what I make, I’d call it black girl nerd rap. That’s the best way for me to describe it.
B: Cool, that definitely makes sense given what I’ve heard from you before. I’ve been listening to the new EP leading up to now, and something that stands out to me the most is the insight you give into who you are and what you’ve experienced. How important is content to you as an artist compared to the other elements of your music?
S: To me, content is everything. The kind of artist I am, everything has to sound good sonically. But, I’m personally tired of music that sounds great but is demeaning or homophobic. It’s important to me that my music reflects my values, because words matter.
B: For sure, I think that focus comes across clearly in your work. Building off of that, I heard you mention therapy a few times on the first song of the EP, “1080p.” Could you speak about how using that service influences you as an artist?
S: Yes, “1080P” is definitely a standout song. It’s the first song I made for the project, the first one I made after the last EP. When it comes to therapy, it’s connected to my time in school. I’m originally from Ithaca, NY, and I came back to New York to go to Cornell University. I did a PhD program, and a PhD just has so many ups and downs.
For a while, I was caught under the weight of academia on top of a serious relationship of mine coming to an end. From 2013 to 2014, I just wasn’t doing anything right. Therapy helped me out because it allows freedom. It’s liberating to share your experience with someone else. Going through therapy has motivated me to reveal more insecurities in my music.
B: Thanks for sharing that. Another thing that you mention, this time on the song “Mighty Morphing,” is the misconception of what it means to be black and what it means to be white. Was this something you only dealt with earlier in your life or is it a hurdle you still face today?
S: Well, that was a problem I mainly faced as a kid in Ithaca. Growing up, I was told that I was acting white because of how I talked and what my interests were. I was able to move past it when I was in college. I realized that there are different ways to orient yourself in the world as a black person.
Coming out of that, I don’t like being put in a box as an artist, and that happens often to women. A lot of times people label me as a conscious rapper, but I want people to know there’s a lot to me. I like to read, twerk, do calculus and go out with my friends to drink.
B: For sure. Another aspect of your songs that stood out to me is your delivery – from the way you intonate on certain lyrics to the comedic sense of some lines. How intentional is the way you deliver your rhymes? Is it deliberate or does it just happen naturally?
S: That’s a good question, I’m not asked that a lot. As an artist, my voice is still emerging. This project is the first one where my studio hasn’t been my bedroom. My mixer is a guy named Sosa, who works a lot with Homeboy Sandman. We originally connected at SXSW and, once we began recording, we had a long conversation about delivery.
He said that he loved my energy when I performed live, but it didn’t translate to my projects. Since then, I’ve tried to capture my emotions in a raw way. From playfulness to intensity, my delivery’s intentional.
B: That definitely makes sense. Now, I know video games and other forms of animation have been part of your music in the past. Could you explain how this influence adds to your music?
S: Well, I think that interest of mine is a niche that’s becoming cool. Right now, a lot of nerdy personalities are becoming big. One big example is Kid Fury and the success he’s had. I was a ‘90s kid and Nintendo became so big that those games became a large frame of reference for me. I spent so many days playing games with my brothers. And video games were the first place where I appreciated music.
B: That’s really cool. Going back to the EP, one of the standout songs is “Backstabbers,” where you speak about the diaspora and lineage. Could you explain what motivated you to make that song?
S: Yes, those topics were chosen intentionally because I wanted to deviate from my last project and show I can rap about more than just video games. I’m a first generation African-American. My mom’s from the Ivory Coast and my dad’s from the Congo. Growing up, I didn’t feel deeply tied to the culture of the Ivory Coast or the Congo. I chose to talk about my insecurity in fitting in on the song.
I have anxiety talking about issues within my race on my songs because a large amount of my fans are white. I’m weary of how people challenge injustices that happen to us with things like “black on black violence,” which is a trash argument. Yet, I don’t want to overlook the bad ways I’ve seen black people interact. In the past, I was asked things like “did you play with lions as a kid.” We all have shared histories and individual histories and ultimately we’re all trying to heal. I’m anxious to see how it’s interpreted.
B: For sure, it’s a topic that can be spoken about for an hour, even used for a lecture. It’s hard to cover it in one song, so I’m glad I got to ask you about it. To wrap up, what do you hope to achieve with your music moving forward?
S: I have personal benchmarks to reach. One is to be 100% self-sustainable as an artist. I also want to do more workshops and speaking engagements. Ultimately, I want to show that black womanhood is a growing experience. I hope to be an influence on little black girls by sharing my authentic experience. And something I’d love to be part of is a cartoon with a diverse cast of rap women that are bounty hunters.
Make sure to listen to Sammus’ Infusion EP and check out the premiere of her new video below!
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For introverts, the social side of adulting can be pretty tough. Whether you rushed off to another city to follow your dreams or your employer shipped you across the country to open a new office, it can easily start to sink in that somewhere along the way you forgot how to make friends.
Here is a list of Meetups around the country for introverts, extroverts and unicorns of color:
Forest Park, GA
Founded in September 2015, this group already has 1,173 members. If you’re in the Atlanta area and want to connect with other artists, musicians and creatives, stop by one of their jam sessions or poetry meetings to get involved.
The Tampa SECRET Society of Nerdy Black Chicks
If you’re a nerdy black chick in Tampa, you’re in good company. This group capped at 50 members on Meetup, but you can still join the Facebook Group. If you dig gaming, graphic novels or samurai words, there’s a group of nerdy soul sisters waiting to greet you in Klingon.
Black Geek Society & Nerds of Color
New York, NY
New Yorkers can also now fellowship over comic books and sci-fi movies. This meetup just started a few weeks ago, and already seems to have a group of excited “Blerds” prepping for a "Captain America Black Panther Party" in May.
Silver Spring, MD
This group is for women who have felt like outcasts, only to find out that they’re really unique, one-of-a-kind, beautiful black unicorns. This group meets often for food, fun and friendship.
Suga Puddin Guild: Creative Subsistence & Crafty Tomfoolery
This Meetup is the embodiment of "Why Be the Black Martha Stewart When You Can Be Yourself?" These Oakland ladies get together to share tips on all things DIY, homemaking and crafting for fun. Join them to get in on their next sewing workshop or fabric store scavenger hunt.
If you're looking for cool people to connect with for miscellaneous fun, link up with D.C.'s Afro-Hipsters. This trendy group of friends is down to talk about anything from dating to politics. You can catch them anywhere between a black art gallery and a #BlackLivesMatter rally.
Nappy Roots Beauty
If you find yourself on the other side of the northern border, you might drop in on Alberta's group of obsessed naturalistas. Although most meetups like this just eat brunch and swap products, Nappy Roots Beauty offers much more. If you want to engage in fun discussions about natural hair and practice unique styles with a few friends, sign up for one of their upcoming summer meetups.
Writers Evoking Buzz (WEB) Society
These Maverick City professionals are joining forces to make a difference in the community. This Meetup includes not only writers, but also publishers, editors, agents and academics. They have regular meetings to showcase their writing and support each other through new writing projects and publishing. They even get together to discuss literacy and mentor other writers.
Lipstick & Laughter
Falls River, MA
If you can talk makeup for hours, you'll want to check out this Massachusetts meetup for flawless makeup mavens. There's no need to sit at home bored with YouTube tutorials when you can join this group of face-beating fanatics for discussions on skincare, beauty on a budget and the ever-popular product swap.
Black Vegan Meetup
Healthy eating is only half as hard when you have a support group. If you're a vegan or are thinking about making that lifestyle change, Atlanta's Black Vegan Meetup has over 1200 members for you to connect with. Check them out for awesome physical activities, dining at unique vegan restaurants and even their book club!
Phoenix Black Photographers
If you're trying to capture some dope shots out there in the desert metro, the PBP meetup is a fine place to connect with others and hone your photography skills. The very consistent group has been around since 2010 and already has meetings scheduled through April 2017.
On Saturday, May 21st, we’re hosting our inaugural conference about how creativity and technology are changing our daily lives, from our hobbies to our work. Will you be joining us? Tickets here.
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On Wednesday, April 20th, Filmmaker Spike Lee presented the 2016 Atwater Lecture at The College of William & Mary. In addition to inciting students to pursue careers that feed their passions, the controversial director, producer, writer and actor referred to millennials as the most socially conscious generation since the 1960s and '70s. In his address, Lee attributed the rise of the democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and the current wave of political and socially progressive movements to the persistence of black millennials. "Ya'll are woke," he said in reference to the black student movement covered in his upcoming documentary on the Mizzou protests.
And Lee is absolutely right. Here are just a few ways that the millennial generation (born between 1980 and 2000) has awakened the consciousness and changed the social and political landscape in America:
Unwilling to submit to the status quo, millennials are calling out hypocrisy and demanding social justice, equality and economic opportunity.
The first African-American president of the U.S.
In 2008, Barack Obama was elected as the first non-white President of the United States due in large part to the grassroots mobilization of hundreds of thousands of campaign volunteers and voters under the age of thirty.
Equality Millennials overwhelmingly support social equality and equal rights regardless of race, sexual orientation, religion or sex. Millennials, more than any other demographic, self-identify as liberal.
The tactical protest, civil disobedience and direct action of millennials has ushered in movements such as Occupy Wall street, Black Lives Matter and the Dreamers campaign for a legal path to citizenship.
By harnessing our collective energy, inspiring strength and leveraging social media, millenial creatives, artists and techies have been vital to this moment in history.
Millennials have transformed the tone of the political conversation, shifted the social paradigm and influenced real change in policy...and we're just getting started.
How do you think millennials have changed the social landscape? Let us know in the comments below.
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At the end of 2015, I told the world everything I struggled with. Since then, I’ve experienced the kind of discomfort that usually comes when you’re onto something great but weren’t quite ready for it. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It's important to celebrate growth. It affirms us in our development and helps other people see that it’s possible. But we should not romanticize it. It’s not comfortable. And like puberty, weird things happen that we can’t explain and don’t understand until much later.
Career decisions can be fraught with uncertainty. The scariest ones for me haven’t been about good or bad, but something much deeper: How well I know myself.
Don’t eat their gumbo
Trips to my grandparents house, especially in the summertime, meant good laughs and better food. If we got lucky, my grandfather would whip up his world famous gumbo. It was the type of meal that would bring tears to your eyes and laughter to your heart. Good ideas are just like that meal I miss so much now that he’s gone. They cook slowly and methodically, a delicate process of adding, steeping, stirring and repeating. It requires patience and preparation because the time you take to make it has a direct impact on how good it tastes.
Not knowing yourself leaves you open to someone else writing your narrative.Those authors aren’t always malicious or seeking to destroy you. It’s not about the people who doubt us or want to do us harm. It’s much more nuanced than that. It can come from those who love us most and only want the best. We do far more damage accepting a good idea of who we could be instead of the persistent discomfort of discovering more about who we are. Sometimes their love can tell an even more harmful story than hate ever could.
We want comforting lies instead of unpleasant truths. So much so, that we are willing to let other people tell us stories about who we can be that feel easier than the actual stories we want to write for ourselves. If someone has spent more time thinking about you than you've spent knowing what you want, their ideas for you will always win out.
Creative confidence allows you to pass up great opportunities simply because they aren’t right for you. No need for justification or guilt.
It doesn’t feel good, though
You microwave popcorn, not growth. It‘s not pictures of sunsets with a prearranged life planner or a color-coded schedule filled with perfectly-sized sketch notes of clouds and ideas bubbles overlaid with the Crema filter. This sh*t is brutal. People get hurt. Relationships grow apart in the short term so they can be healthy in the long term. You fail at things. It’s confusing. You ask questions no one can answer and even fewer want to engage with. You know people really don’t want to try it with you because you don’t even want to be around yourself.
I fear we’ve tried to romanticize the idea of personal growth, that we deify people who are doing it and ridicule ourselves that we aren’t further along in our own process.
Creative confidence is imperative during periods like this because it keeps you focused on what you can control — your time and sustained effort. Discomfort and discipline aren’t meant to be cruel masters. They are necessary guides on a road that is uncharted and doesn’t have cell signal.
Your greatest challenge might not be finishing your book, getting into grad school or launching a business. It might be fearlessly telling your own story and rejecting anything and everything that's not a part of it, even the ‘good’ things that might come along. There will be no shortage of opportunities as you continue to level up, but there is a limit on how many you should choose to take on.
Growth makes your entire life feel like a comment section with unlimited scroll. You don’t want to go there, everyone looks crazy, and, after a while, you get confused as to how you even got there in the first place.
This is what it feels like
Creative confidence has a few distinct manifestations that I’ve seen and experienced. It looks different for everyone, but for me, it has shown up in my life in a few different ways:
"Am I right about this?" becomes "Is this important?"
"I love you" becomes "Let me show you what you mean to me."
It’s remembering that people take you for granted only when you don’t know your own worth, and how to communicate it.
It helps you act like your own entity, instead of just a freelancer or contractor.
It's the act of learning yourself and the application of that truth in real time.
It's entirely yours and grows with you.
It reminds you that loyalty is never based on comfort.
Creative confidence keeps you up at night, but it also allows you to rest because what you’re doing and/or making is a part of the future you want.
If those definitions feel too nebulous, let me ground them with real people I know, doing it every single day. Thankfully they all have Twitter accounts, so the gems are free — but the application will cost you:
My life has felt so messy this yr - an insane amount of transitions + awakenings. Yet, deep down I know that I'm being set up for greatness.
— Melissa Kimble (@Melissa_Kimble) February 17, 2016
Cosign yourself. Validate yourself.
— Anthony Frasier (@AnthonyFrasier) March 24, 2016
I'm not into what we already know works...I'm interested in what else could work.
— Darian Symoné Harvin (@dariansymone) March 24, 2016
slowly learning to be more selfish with my time and not feeling bad about it. progress is a process.
— Everette Taylor (@Everette) March 31, 2016
- Best advice was and is to keep your
head down and work in silence.
Your achievements will be the noise.
— #MakeItHappen (@mercedesfbenson) December 30, 2015
18/ Wanna know the real difference between them and me? I don't fit your pattern. You have no archetype for me. So the bar for me is higher.
— Matt Joseph (@_mattjoseph) March 19, 2016
Believe in yourself.
Just keep pushing.
— tristan walker (@tristanwalker) March 13, 2016
Monthly user numbers from 12 months ago. -- stay low and build. Consistent focus will help you grow. pic.twitter.com/wRuuDlwghP
— Morgan DeBaun (@MorganDeBaun) February 25, 2016
Providing value > whatever the latest version of cool is
— Tiffany Hardin (@tiffany_hardin) March 10, 2016
If it's not their lane don't ask their opinion.
— Besidone (@iamBesidone) March 3, 2016
I've decided to hold everything I touch to the same standard I hold my full-time work. Trust me, people peep the difference.
— Joymarie Parker (@heymissparkerr) February 27, 2016
...and on and on it goes.
The margin for error
Creative confidence is not reserved for the Etsy shop owner or the personal branding expert. It's for anyone who has touched anything that required a decisive action. It's not bound by your design skills or the long list of clips you’ve amassed. It’s not even the thing you're doing right now or even necessarily your future.
Your ideas need as much oxygen as you do, particularly the bad ones. You are more than the sum of what you make, even when it doesn’t feel like it. We are trained to celebrate output and shun rest to the detriment of everyone and everything. Evaluating the outcomes of creative work before they happen ensures you will never know what to create, and you will never develop the confidence to push through your own ruts.
We treat passion as if it is the only fuel used to accelerate creative confidence, but it's often a controlled byproduct. I don’t always feel passionate about writing. Truthfully, I didn’t like writing most of what you’re reading. It was slow, sluggish, overwhelming and felt like garbage the first few drafts. Sentences felt like root canals. I thought about deleting it, scrapping it, or worse — sending it where writers send things they are embarrassed about but aren’t ready to delete yet —the drafts folder.
But I love a good story. Great ones can encompass a lifetime in a single moment and change how people see themselves and the context of where they are. I love when the words fit together after days of trying to find their place. I love when the chaos of my life can make sense in the confines of a page. I love when people see themselves in words I’ve written. It's in those moments I feel awake. I grow through words.
We leave parts of ourselves in the work we do, even if we aren’t defined by it. As creatives, we would do well to remember that. Creative confidence reminds us that we are more important than our ability to produce. That freedom, and the realizations that come with it, allow us to make things that will outlast us.
Come work on your creative confidence at Blavity's first ever conference! And share this post on Facebook below.
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Fueled off the concept of difference, Off-Kilter magazine is a printed publication for creatives to express their individual truths. Designed to be an open space for all bodies, the magazine has been in the making for a few years and is finally coming to life.
The man behind it all, Felton Kizer, is a 21-year old Chicago native who has dabbled in all things art. Well known for his photography, Kizer was able to take his love for art and his desire for change and create a publication like no other. "It's a safe space for diversity. Diversity in its whole, the good and the bad."
Off-Kilter is a quarterly print publication and each issue highlights a variety of creatives. The magazine is stationed in Kizer's hometown, but in no way does he consider it to be local. "[The] majority of the people featured are from Chicago. But I've also had people from Pennsylvania in it, somebody from St. Louis, somebody from D.C., It's based in Chicago but it's not all Chicago people."
Whether it's the striking cover photo or the name, people are definitely here for the new publication. The word off-kilter means "unconventional or eccentric." Kizer says that from the moment his friend suggested the name, he knew that it was the one. He feels it's a perfect description of the message he wants his magazine to present to people.
So far people have provided tons of positive feedback about the publication. Kizer attributes the positivity to people's natural desire for something out of the ordinary.
"People want inclusion and something different. But it's scary. You're opening up that room for error but deep down people like that. I feel like people are tired of sticking to the script. It's 2016 and lines are being blurred more. I'm just doing what people want to do but are afraid to do."
Not only does Kizer aim to highlight creatives from an array of ethnic backgrounds, he also focuses on many types of creatives. "I would not necessarily consider it an art magazine. It's definitely influenced by art because I'm an artist. It's more about creators."
Kizer continues to focus in on the magazine, constantly searching for new ways to cover creatives. He hopes that his publication can appeal to anyone who enjoys creating things, and ultimately sees the brand becoming more than a magazine and more of a community of individuals. The first edition of the magazine is available for order now on offkiltermag.com.
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These days, there is no shortage of friends, family members, college roommates or exes that need your support. Everyone seems to be some kind of maker or creative. Someone is about to release a mixtape, someone else is launching a clothing line, another friend just released a novel – the list goes on. Trying to support everyone can be overwhelming and a little expensive. However, showing love to a friend who makes music takes nothing out of you and can be pretty rewarding.
Let's say you have a friend that's a producer or recording artist. They've been hounding you about listening to their latest project, but you just don't have the time. Nonsense! Listening to your friend's mixtape is one of the most effortless acts of support you can provide. Find out if your friend’s music is available for streaming. If so, the amount of effort needed to take a listen decreases significantly because you don’t have to spend time downloading. Simply throw on the music while cleaning or taking a drive. It costs you nothing to throw a little background music on during things you planned on doing anyway.
Although you put little into the experience, listening to your friend’s mixtape can offer some pretty high yield returns. You could actually like their music. There might be a track that lifts your spirits or inspires you to do something you have always imagined doing. There might even be a song about you – a song you would have missed by skipping the listen.
Tuning in to your friend’s mixtape could also go a long way in maintaining and strengthening your friendship. People need support in different ways. Although you might need someone to listen to your job or family issues, your friend might need someone to listen to their art. Simply put, it’s your duty as a friend.
Depending on the dynamics of your friendship, it might also be your duty to offer some brutal honesty. Some friends will want you to give them a complete review of the work and how they can make improvements. Some friends won't be very receptive to criticism. In any event, a healthy friendship should at least allow you to say, “It’s not for me, but I’m proud of you.”
This is also a bit of a reward. A friend that trusts your opinion will use your critique to improve. They will likely appreciate you for your honesty and call on you again in the future. If you’re just not feeling the sound, your honesty could come with some benefits as well. In the future, your friend might never ask for your opinion about their music and you can find other ways to show support.
In the end, you never really know what the future holds. Whether or not you think your friend is a musical genius, they might turn out to be a big hit. You will want them to remember you as a friend that showed support when possible and always kept it real.
What are some other ways you can support your friends' endeavors? Let us know in the comments!
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"Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better." -Martin Luther King, Jr.
You know you feel it. That inkling, that nudge, the persistent tugging you keep trying to ignore. "It doesn't make sense," you tell yourself. "What am I supposed to do with it?" you ask as you go about the business of checking boxes and being normal. Your gifts are beckoning and it's time to heed the call. Trust it, go with it, whatever your it is. Let your passion lead you to your creative niche. This moment in history is dependent on creatives, artists, and intellectuals to inspire, record, articulate, organize, sing, act, design and photograph it. You are the James Baldwins, the Gordon Parks, the Madam C.J. Walkers, the Richard Pryors, the Josephine Bakers and the Diane Nashs of our time. We need you!
Since its inception, this country has struggled to view us as whole human beings with full moral agency. Oppression has been an indisputable reality for people of color in this country and every major stride of progression has come with three components: severe backlash, a vital grassroots movement and an explosive surge in artistry and creativity. The Slave Trade Act that banned the importation of slaves into the U.S. was followed by more brutal treatment of black slaves in America. The Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves within the Confederate States escalated the Civil War and brought with it savage brutality imposed upon blacks. The Reconstruction Era bred black codes and Jim Crow laws to legally restrict the freedom of African Americans in Southern states. The passing of the Fifteenth Amendment that gave black men the right to vote was followed by the expansion of the KKK and an increase in lynching in an era of sheer terrorism directed toward black people in the United States. The Civil Rights Era and the Black Power Movement were followed by the introduction of crack cocaine and the implementation of the prison industrial complex that devastated black communities in the 1980s and '90s.
True to form, our generation has inherited this pattern of progress, backlash, movement, and creativity. We have witnessed the ultimate symbol of progress in the election of the first African-American President and, like clockwork, we are now experiencing the backlash of unadulterated hate, terror and strategic attempts to strip away our basic inalienable rights. Like those that came before us, we have engineered movements to address these issues. Now is time for creatives to stand up and create. Our struggle in this country has always birthed great thinkers from Frederick Douglass to Martin Luther King, Jr. and countless names that have gone unrecorded. Profound artistic movements and artists have been a vital force at every critical juncture in our history - administering therapy, stimulating thought and inspiring strength. From old negro spirituals to blues, jazz, spoken word, rap and hip-hop, when we're at our wits end, it's our creatives that remind us "We Gon Be Alright."
History will remember this as our moment, our New Negro Movement, our Harlem Renaissance. Leaders and visionaries such as DeRay Mckesson have stepped up to implement strategies and create platforms for our voices to be heard. Creatives and artists such as Lena Waithe, J. Cole, Quinta B, Amandla Stenberg , Misty Copeland and Franchesca Ramsey are telling our truths, directing our stories, embodying our beauty and sparking laughter. It's this unbreakable spirit and the inspired genius of artistry that continues to sustain us and propel us forward.
Our work is necessary. So come forward creatives; It's time to get in formation.
Are you exercising your creativity? Comment below to let us know how. Don't forget to share this post with a fellow creative in your life via Facebook below!
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Some have it twisted. They think when chaos and challenges show up in people's lives, that person must be doing something wrong. "They must have gone against the orders of God." "It must be payback for something they've done." This might be the truth in some instances, but definitely not the truth in all instances.
Some people are facing challenges because they have chosen to stand firm in their personal power. They’ve chosen to grab life by its horns and take it on the way they see fit, relinquishing any need for validation. These people are the creatives. They allow their passion and vision to lead their lives, held only by unshakable faith in themselves. They become the pioneers we crystallize in history as an anomaly of amazingness! They are our leaders.
We are often encouraged to surrender our personal power to that which exists outside ourselves and hold tight to the belief in an afterlife of grace and ease. But the creatives, they know the present is a gift and seize the moment with joy. They are brave enough to trust in the beautiful mystery that is life and walk the path of sovereignty in full understanding that they are the greatest authority over their own lives. They know they are the creators of their destiny.
Most people need certainty. The creatives live by purely knowing that all is working for their highest good all the time and they will always be where they should be. They know the magic of allowing their heart to guide them is the same as reliance on the love and guidance of God. The two are not different.
Creatives know when you claim yourself as the prime creator of your life, bullsh*t will rain down on you in an attempt to put you back to sleep. Your spiritual muscle will be tested. Your belief in yourself will be called for intense examination on many days.
Life will fall apart as you know it, all an effort by the architects of the matrix to keep you deaf, dumb and blind. The agents will give it their best shot to discourage you! They will call you crazy, talk mess behind your back and ridicule you to your face.
Do not be moved.
All of this is to say – when you see another person’s struggle, when you have the honor to witness their challenges (an honor when you know they are expanding and are reminded of your own expansion), offer to assist if you can.
Encourage them to keep going, that their challenge is only temporary.
Hold your judgments. Be compassionate. Celebrate their walk. Hold faith for their victory. Silence your criticisms.
If you can't do any of that then please, just do nothing and shut the f*ck up!
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One of the best things about the Internet is the way it reveals how others live. Seeing the day-to-day lives of others can offer both insight and inspiration. This definitely applies to Erin O'Garro and Sarah Harry-Isaacs, two London-based creatives who have created a great new web series. French & the Artist follows Sarah (French) and Erin (the Artist) as they navigate and have fun in London’s creative community.
What is it?
French & the Artist is a mixed vlog/documentary-style web series. Shot on a handheld camera, each episode offers an intimate insight into the lives of the two young creatives. You see them in their shared bedroom, you see them on the London Underground, you see them dancing in random streets in Camden. You also get a view of various creative projects ranging from portrait painting and photoshoots to musical events.
Watching French and the Artist offers a welcome insight into the real lives of creatives. Unlike the highly constructed portrayals of creativity we see in the mainstream media via reality shows such as Bravo's 2010 'Work of Art: The Next Great Artist' or even Project Runway, you get a sense of the hard work, challenges, compromises and fun of being in the creative industries.
Why should I watch it?
Sarah and Erin are being open about their lives in order to help others who are on a creative journey or those who are considering entering the creative world. If you are working a 9-to-5 and want to start something on the side, this is the series for you. You'll see what it really takes to be a creative. In addition, the series is just really well put together in terms of visuals and production, and it has some lovely random touches, such as Sarah and Erin running around a park or going grocery shopping.
What can I expect?
Five episodes of French & the Artist have been released so far. Episodes are released every Sunday. Here’s the very first episode:
French & the Artist is quite simply a fun web series. Sarah and Erin don't take themselves too seriously, they are frequently hilarious and always open and honest. I think that it is admirable that they want to inspire and share their experiences with other young creatives. Yet, even beyond the series, with the glimpses of their exploits that we get, I am sure that these two have bright creative futures ahead of them.
Follow French & the Artist:
French (Sarah) - Twitter/Instagram
The Artist (Erin) - Twitter/Instagram
Have you checked out 'French & the Artist?' Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
READ MORE: This web series is a "visual mixtape" of a creative's transition to...
Creatives have a longing to produce work that is engaging, interesting and unique. Maybe even more so than that, creatives have a desire to generate something that's never been done before — to craft something into perfection in such a way that it challenges what the limits were supposed to be. Creators, especially millennials, strive to be innovative and trailblazing but most of all original.
Creativity has lived long enough to witness every fundamental idea imaginable. In many art forms, it's stated that there's no such thing as being original because everything has been done already. Yet here we are, voice, pen, color, hands spitting in the face of what tells us “you can't.” We continue climbing because it's worth the fall, and that's what keeps us going. Then the question, forcing its hand through the clear ceiling you made for yourself, asks how can I be original if everything has been done already?
Do what's been done already, but do it your way
We live in a time when biting off of someone or something isn't looked down upon when it's done the right way. All the blueprints are laying flush against your eyes. Use and build upon them. The definition of originality is constantly evolving. Add your own personal twist. You might not have been the first to do something but you can be the first to do something your way.
Be the melting pot
A lot of the individuals you call your favorites in whichever craft you've chosen aren't the originals. Most likely they are what happens when you combine multiple traits of people they consider their favorites. The idea is to take what you like from those that came before you, put it in the pot, press it down, shake it up and let it runneth over.
Originality isn't dead. You're alive, which means it is...
This article is the second installment on a series on writing, poetry and liberation. Read the first installment, featuring Safia Elhillo, here.
The voids that have been filled by black female poets have been refreshing and overwhelmingly fulfilling to say the least. The rise in exposure of these writers’ work goes to show that they are quenching a very real thirst. Their poetry and storytelling have validated the experiences of many, creating a bond between writer and reader that is rarely seen. The work of black female poets has contributed to the journeys of healing, self-love and liberation for many of their readers.
Key Ballah is a Toronto-based writer and Hip-hop enthusiast. She is the author of the poetry collection, Preparing My Daughter For Rain, she melts faith, love and her experiences of being a woman of color navigating the western world in her writing. She believes in empowering the brown girl to reclaim her selves and her body by connecting and healing collectively, over borders, oceans and time zones, through storytelling and poetry. Below is a conversation with Key Ballah, discussing spirituality, self-love, writing and raw storytelling.
BLAVITY: Toni Morrison once said “Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” In what ways has writing been a form of liberation for you?
KEY BALLAH: Toni Morrison has changed my life so many times. This quote has always been, to me, a conversation about being responsible for yourself. Freeing myself is writing, it’s telling truths that burn on their way out. It’s watching people hear my stories and poems about white supremacy and colonialism and watching their disposition change. It is having people come up to me and ask me what I truly meant, and if I don’t feel like it might be divisive. The other half of that is my response, my ownership of my free self, taking responsibility for my truths and the way they affect the world, is in itself freeing for me. Standing in my self and saying “yes I wrote that, yes I meant that, yes this is my life on a page” it means so much to be able to do that. In so many parts of this world, people write anonymously because they must, and I am grateful for the opportunity to stand together with myself and say “Yeah, thats me”. Writing forces me to be honest, it forces me to tell truths that I haven’t even admitted to myself yet, it demands truth. This is what is freeing — the ability to tell those truths and stand beside them, in one way of another.
B: The Self Love To Do List from Preparing My Daughter for Rain, is one of the most freeing things I have ever read, describe your journey with self-love and healing.
KB:I hear self-love and sometimes it makes me cringe. The self-love to do lists out there can be so capitalist, and sometimes so counter-intuitive to self-love that I’m almost offended by them. Buy yourself something, sit in a tub with bath bombs from Lush, with aroma therapy candles and flower petals, and I’ve read those before and thought “Yo, Lush is expensive and my favourite store is mad expensive and I hate soaking in the bathtub” so I wrote a self-love to do list for myself. My journey to self-love has been shedding everything that I’ve been taught about myself and renegotiating that with myself. Sometimes, when things get rough in my life, I stay in the house for days, and sometimes all I need is to stand on the balcony and that heals something instantaneously. Talking to my mother is always healing, hearing her voice, listening to her stories, her "I love you’s" are the most sincere "I love you’s" I have ever heard in my life and so to hear them truly affects me. For me, healing and self-love is activating what is truly authentic in my life, the bare bones, the simple, the true and not overindulging, but taking only what you need. Self-love for me is about balance, it's about actually taking care of yourself. It’s about identifying what you need and giving it to yourself and being grateful for it. It is apologizing to yourself, to your body, to you heart and saying, “It’s been rough these few days, these few weeks, these few months, these few years, but I’m recommitting myself to you.” It's about cutting away toxicity and making amends. Sometimes it means getting one thing done on a to do list, calling your friend and apologizing for being a flake, drinking more water, going for a walk, writing a bunch of poems, or stories or love letters. It doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive.
B: In Preparing My Daughter for Rain, you dedicate a fourth to "The Body" touching on body politics, self-forgiveness, being unapologetic, the divinity of the body, and worth. In your opinion, is emotional healing inherently tied to physical healing?
KB: Absolutely. How you feel about yourself and your body affects who you are, affects how you see the world, how you interact with and participate with it. When I feel like I’m bigger, when I put on weight, I become obsessed with how much space I take up. I see people sitting on the subway and wonder how much space I will take up or how much inconvenience I will bring if I try to sit between them. I stop trying on clothes because I wonder how bad I will feel if I don’t fit into the clothes that are hanging on the wall in the change room. When my friends want to do things like go swimming or go out somewhere that requires me to dress up I don’t go. Not because I don’t want to because I am obsessed with how my body will be viewed in the space. It is isolating and lonely and it hurts and it's all because I feel like I can’t love myself, because I don’t love my body, my body which shows me day after day after day that it loves me. My relationship with my body has been an emotional rollercoaster, I try really hard to love my body, to treat it with kindness and respect, but I’m not perfect. I see the difference in how I feel when I am actively caring for my body and loving it and appreciating it and showing it gratitude and when I’m not. Caring for your body, healing your body, is healing your self and healing your self is healing. I think that the more we care for our bodies, the more time and effort we put into them, and I don’t mean necessarily spending hours in the gym (although for some people that is what it looks like), I mean listening to what you need, what your body is saying, are you stretching, are you walking, if you aren’t able to walk [are] you doing other things that your body needs. When you do something good for yourself you feel good, it feels right. We need these things for our spiritual, our emotional and our physical health.
B: Your poems often deal with the complexities of love, whether they be unrequited, familial or romantic. What are your thoughts on the relationship between learning to love yourself and recognizing how you deserve to be loved by others?
KB: God, the process of learning to love myself has been a long and exhausting one and I don’t always realize what I deserve, and what I don’t. It is a lot of trial and error. It’s a lot of being hurt and hurting other people, its a lot of being lonely and being happy being alone, it’s a lot of loving myself and a lot of not being sure if I actually do. It’s such a human process, so full of mistakes and overindulgences and forgiveness. I don’t have a special recipe, I am just learning that tomorrow is always a new day and every morning can be a new beginning if you wish it to be. It’s been A LOT of taking responsibility for myself, my words and my actions and making sure that the people that I surround myself with are taking responsibility for theirs. If everyone takes responsibility for themselves, then when you hurt someone they can tell you and you can recognize and things can change and vice versa. This question is really difficult to answer because I don’t know it all yet, I just know what I must tell myself when something hurts, “You are worth more than those words, than that action, than that inaction,” everything else either falls into place or doesn’t, but if we are taking stock of how we feel and taking responsibility for those feelings, things can change, and we can be on the road to understanding how to love yourself, and who you allow to love you and how.
B: What connects me to your work is how beautifully, and honestly, you speak on your relationship with Islam. In my view, Islam and poetry have always been intertwined, in what ways has Islam influenced your writing? And in turn, how does your writing bring you closer to God?
KB: My ability to write, I believe with all of my heart, is from God. I am grateful every day to the being that I believe has created and curated me, and I am grateful for this and that alone brings me closer to God. Islam is ingrained in my everyday life. I’m a veiled woman, I see the world through this lens. So especially in that way, Islam affects everything in my life, including my writing, because everything I experience comes, in a way, from my religious/spiritual location. However, in terms of creativity, Islam to me is intricate and designed, and I see it often when I’m writing my poetry, even when the subject matter is about love or more political and not specifically about Islam, I try to be conscious of intricacies and design when I’m writing. I don’t know, I feel like Islam is part of me, It is an integral part of who I am, so it affects everything that I do, everything that I see, everything that I say. It exists there in the background, I bring it with me always.
B: You do not shy away from addressing sociopolitical issues in your writing. How do you channel the hurt, anger and frustration that results from oppression into your work?
KB: I don’t know how to express feelings like anger and frustrations well outside of writing. My favourite poems are political and address oppression, my favourite writers can write about oppression and politics in one breath, and in that same breath write about love and sex and God, I’m not sure that they are so far removed from one another. As a Muslim, it is incumbent upon me to seek peace and fight oppression, just as it is important to speak with love and kindness and reverence for God. I am a writer, and so I believe that it is how I must express my hate for oppression. I am also black, and so I experience these oppressions that I write about intimately: emotionally, bodily, psychologically, viscerally. My writing is how I advocate for myself, how I shed light on my experiences navigating this, as bell hooks puts it, "imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” I use my political writing to locate myself in this world, to stand beside people who believe in revolution, to create awareness. It’s really important for me to write these things, because everything else depends on humanity, and that's what I’m writing about.
B: If we don't tell our own stories, no one will. What are your thoughts on the need for black poets, storytellers, and writers to continue to create?
KB: WE NEED MORE! There are so many stories, we live so many lives, we are a people who not only have deep skin but deep stories and our literature needs to reflect our multiplicities. I think a lot of writers, especially black women writers, fight to carve a space for themselves, and to see someone else come into the space you’ve carved is difficult to feel good about. People often ask me how I feel about other black women writers who are on the come-up and they expect some hostility, but I can’t be anything but thankful and happy for them. Warsan and Nayyirah are (to me) the mothers of black woman poetry for my generation, and their wave made it easier for me to share my poetry. They inspired me and I am so grateful, they showed me how possible it was to write and publish and be heard. If I wasn’t able to access them and speak with them I wouldn’t be the writer I am today. We need more, we need more black women writers, we need stories, we need love. I love reading black woman literature, it makes me happy and proud and I want...
“Trust in your ability to expand.” –Kerry Washington
The quarter-life crisis is rough. For the first time we have to pay taxes, listen to parents yap about procuring our own medical insurance and make enough money to avoid student loan defaults. I’m already counting down the days to retirement. But between now and then, I hope to find my professional purpose. I mean, that’s what college was about right? I invested in the expensive piece of paper that says I’m qualified and competent enough to change the world. I paid my dues, went to class and pulled all-nighters to neatly bridge the gap between who I am now and the doctor I aspired to be.
For the past quarter century, I've meticulously prepared myself for the arduous journey ahead. My education consisted of STEM classes, UIL competitions, AP credits, pre-medical prerequisites and MCAT preparation. My resume is filled with experiences that include shadowing and interning in various hospital settings. I did everything I could to get a head start on my career path — until I changed my mind.
Now I feel like I should be cast on True Life: I Don’t Know If I Want to be a Doctor Anymore.
Part of my crisis is that I'm now an eager, overeducated, underpaid millennial trying to navigate a career change. I'm what some would refer to as tabula rasa, or a blank slate. I have no prior knowledge base or professional point of reference to rely on when it comes to exploring the creative sector or really anything other than the medical field.
I’ve reached a crossroad marked by two signs. One sign points to the right, leading toward practicality, financial security and plenty of on-call late nights in hospitals. The other points to the left, toward music, editorials, fashion, creation and purpose.
This is the part where I insert a resourceful statistic that legitimizes the burgeoning amount of millennials making their dreams synonymous with their reality. Forget the data. I see it every day and everywhere. I watch Lupita Nyong’o insist that “[my] dreams are valid” in her Best Supporting Actress Emmy acceptance speech. Beyoncé has convinced me that I’m "***Flawless," so why not "wake up like this" and live accordingly? These are two incredibly famous black women living their dreams. If I started naming the everyday phenomenal black women that are out here doing the same, it’d be an endless list: Chanelle Graham, Hannah Bronfman, Mamé Adjei... The bottom line is that all of these women motivate me to launch myself into any and every professional capacity that I please.
That starts with acknowledging your desires. You’re lucky if you have your dream job by 25, but for those of us who don’t, dabble in the things that make you happy. Write an article for your local newspaper, take an art class or buy a Nikon camera. You never know who will be inspired by your prose, your paintings or your photography. Business school, schmizness schmool; not everyone needs another "bagillion dollar education" to validate her entrepreneurial ventures. Draft a business plan, find investors, harvest your market and execute. Forget the lack of Facebook likes on your poetry post and the next-to-nothing compensation you get for your internship. Do it anyway, learn something new and get better. Opportunity knocks in the most unlikely of places at the moment you least expect.
Full disclosure: I haven’t quit my job nor have I completely abandoned plan A. It’s what got me here/what pays those wretched student-loan bills. But I have made a plan B and allotted time for the things that bring me utter joy. I've slowly begun cultivating the confidence needed to smear some paint on that tabula rasa. I’m dipping my toe into the creative lagoon and massaging my other passions. I’m putting on my big girl pants, filling up that glass of wine and taking Kerry (Olivia) Washington (Pope)’s advice. It’s difficult, but I’m trying, expanding and embracing the change.
True life: I’m an eager, overeducated, underpaid millennial and I might perhaps maybe someday possibly want to be a 'Huffington Post Black Voices-meets-Vogue-esque' Editor-in-Chief.
Hey, a girl can dream, right?
Are you career crisis-ing through your twenties? Embrace the struggle; share your experiences below! ...