Black Power

Black Power  /ˈblak ˈpau̇(-ə)r/  slang. – a political slogan used to describe the mobilization of the political and economic power of American Blacks especially to compel respect for their rights and improve their condition. The Black Power movement was prominent in the late 1960s and early 1970s, emphasizing racial pride and the creation of black political and cultural institutions to nurture and promote black collective interests.

Interview with Kemet

Tell me about yourself. What’s your background?

My name is Kemet Coleman, otherwise known as Kemet the Phantom. I am a musician, urbanist, and Kansas City enthusiast. I grew up in Kansas City right around 75th and Troost — literally grew up on the dividing line in Kansas City — I lived in a world that was kind of on both sides, you know? I attended Kansas City Public Schools, up until high school, but had friends that were in private schools and on both the East and West sides of Troost. And that definitely influenced who I am and gave me the sense of agency to want to bring both sides together.

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And my parents were very into having an education. My dad was a civil rights attorney, sole practitioner, and helped hundreds, if not thousands, of clients overcome certain injustices in their workplace or in their lives. And I grew up seeing all that. I was also a preacher’s kid. My dad started preaching in 1998 in Butler, Missouri, a one room church that had like seven members…actually one member, but seven people who showed up every other Sunday. So that was interesting because, as much as I was an urban kid, I spent a lot of time in Butler, Missouri in a very small country town where the black population was essentially in my dad’s church.

So, kind of fast forwarding, I really got into music around age 13 and I made the decision at that point to either become a musician or a basketball player. I really wanted to play basketball. I had this basketball goal in my room..,it’s like the height of my door…and I said to myself, If I make this basket, then I’m going to try to work harder and pursue basketball, but if I miss it, then I’m going to probably just do music. So I wound up missing the shot. And here I am, you know, in 2020, making music and trying to bring people together. So I would say my music is more of a vehicle to express myself and to have a creative outlet. I do other business ventures as well that aren’t really music related, but the music seems to definitely contaminate almost everything that I do.

I have two different bands — One is called Brass & Boujee. It’s an 18 piece big band that has two MCs in front of big band material. Marcus Lewis, who used to be the trombone player for Janelle Monae and Prince and Aretha Franklin and Bruno Mars…relocated to Kansas City and started this group and took my solo songs and made big band arrangements to them. So that’s a pretty exciting project, especially with the Kansas City jazz heritage here in town. My other band is called the Phantastics and that’s one that I founded 10 years ago and we have a reputation of bringing a party for dance floors and special events and clubs. We definitely do our thing and kind of etched out our own lane here and in Kansas City. You’ll see us play and festivals like Boulevardia and the Plaza Art Fair — any major festival in town that has diversity in their music, or tries to at least, we’ll probably pop in at. You know, I’ve worked with a lot of different people here in Kansas City, including the previous mayor, Sly James…I did a campaign song for him. I’m working with the current mayor on a couple of things as well…hopefully with the new airport and I have worked with the Kansas City streetcar to help them really try to engage the public in a whole new way. You know, a lot of the public services don’t necessarily have a flare that will be interesting for the public, it’s just kind of a boring type of thing, I tried to make the street car “sexy.” So we got a lot of attention for that music video… Before it went public, they let me borrow a street car for a day and shoot the video and it has several hundred thousand views on YouTube and it’s kind of what I’m known for at this point in Kansas City, believe it or not. So that song has definitely taken my career to new heights and I’m excited to see where it goes in 2020.

It’s not lost on me that your name is significant to Black culture. Why were your parents inspired to name you Kemet?

I think my dad had several names in mind and mom kind of gave him the honor to do that. He gave her a few, one of which was Hannibal — which a lot of people associate with the cannibal or whatever from the movies. But, you know, Hannibal is one of the world’s most fierce warriors and conquerors. But you eventually got to Kemet and my mom liked that one. I think for his purposes, I really think he wanted to show me from the beginning, at birth, that black is beautiful and I think that name itself is such a powerful thing for me because it encapsulates so much within black culture and black history that its reputation precedes it. And I’ve been blessed to not have to really use my last name, which was my slave name. You know what I’m saying? Like, our slave masters gave us their last name. Even though, my family, we rep it, obviously cause it’s us, but to be able to be able to depart from that… It’s also something that is pretty powerful as well. So I think my dad was wanting to give me power as a black man by giving me the name Kemet.

“I see life through the lens of an artist and creative and I try to see beauty everywhere. One of my biggest things is really to try to help other people see beauty in things that they think are ugly, they never thought about as being beautiful.”

How would you define beauty?

I think beauty is an emotional response to stimulus. I think on the broad sense, that’s my definition of what beauty is. It’s like if you see, if you touch, if you smell, if you taste, if you absorb it in some way and you get an emotional response that you just can’t help, that’s my definition of beauty.

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And I think for me, beauty..and life…I see life through the arts, honestly. For instance, I’m looking at my dresser right now. I’m sitting here looking at it and I’m looking at all the symmetry and the craftsmanship it took to create this dresser. If I tried to do that, it wouldn’t be as beautiful. But I see life through the lens of an artist and creative and I try to see beauty everywhere. One of my biggest things is really to try to help other people see beauty in things that they think are ugly, they never thought about as being beautiful. One of those things is Kansas City, especially Kansas City music.

How would you define Black beauty? Black beauty? Black style?

Black beauty’s even that much more powerful because of the fact that with black beauty you have such a struggle that’s kind of been the underpinnings of these things that we have and we consider beautiful. For instance, hip hop music came from struggle. Gospel music came struggle. Jazz music came from struggle. It all comes from basically transforming something out of nothing, creating something out of nothing. And I think that just goes to show the ingenuity that black people are possessed with…and to really be able to tap into that strong heritage of culture and multi-dimensional prowess.

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You know, if we go back in history with the first mathematician, the first astrologist…the first…the first everything… I mean, not everything…but we had a strong hand in all of that and a lot of people focus on the past, and what we’ve contributed there, but I think to this day, all of the younger generations of artists, they got so much knowledge at their disposal and I just love seeing what the younger generations of black artists and musicians and creatives are coming up with because it’s like, Oh yeah, we did this. Let me, let me use that in my song. I just really think it’s cool.

So, black beauty for me is it’s the love that bonds all of our different takes on our response to struggle. And it’s such a powerful thing for me. As someone that was named Kemet — Kemet was an original name of Egypt so, I didn’t have any choice. I was definitely fed everything from the classic authors to some of the oldest thinkers…you know, from Imhotep inthe Egyptian times…and like Frederick Douglas…all these cats that really helped shape the black experience and black intellectualism and therefore black beauty….you know, it’s really, really cool to see how we as a people are beginning to finally get back to embracing our beauty, especially our natural beauty. That in itself is beautiful.

“Our ancestors built this country. Whether that’s from clearing the land to literally building the buildings. So black culture is just everywhere. It’s like the DNA of America and it’s hard to separate”

What comes to mind when you think of Black culture?

I’m from America, so when I think of black culture, I just think of America, like what America is. I feel like we built this country…our ancestors built this country. Whether that’s from clearing the land to literally building the buildings. So black culture is just everywhere. It’s like the DNA of America and it’s hard to separate… And, you know, I think people definitely want to pigeon-hole black culture to being explicitly black. I don’t know how else to describe that…but, it goes much more beyond, you know, Blacksploitation films and Black Twitter. It really reaches deep to our idea of what it means to be American, because without black culture, what would this country be? Without the food that we produced or came up with, using the ingredients we had? Without the music that we created to serenade ourselves in the beginning, under the incredible amounts of duress? To innovating entire genres? I mean, it’s unprecedented what black culture has done for America. So when we think about black culture, I think about it in a very three dimensional way…and even include people that you necessarily wouldn’t even think would be in there, like Neil deGrasse Tyson, I mean like, just think about how much swagger that man has when he’s talking about the stars and the constellations. And the other equivalent would be some other random white guy that’s in this position, not really bringing that real swagger to it. Everything we touch creates a force field of our own culture. Venus and Serena Williams, let’s think about what they did to tennis…It’s just an all encompassing thing that cannot be stopped, That’s my way of describing black culture.

So, how did you fall in love with music?

I didn’t really have a choice. I was so inundated with music as a kid. I have two brothers and they are 10 and 11 years older than I am, they definitely had an influence on me because, with the age difference, I was exposed to every music. It wasn’t just what my parents wanted me to necessarily hear. You know, I’m listening to like NWA, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and 2Pac and Jay Z and No Limit [Records] and all that stuff from my brothers. Meanwhile, my parents were feeding me jazz and gospel, and classic R&B. So I would go to concerts like The Four Tops and Maze and Frankie Beverly, and learned how to two-step and all that stuff from my parents….but my brothers would expose me to all this hip hop.

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After that I kinda started to get my own taste for music and started going into different genres that were also a part of the black experience….Mainly, house music — which a lot of people don’t understand that black people created, especially black people in the queer community in Chicago. And so house music is definitely something that I felt like was my first foray into discovering music for myself, especially uncovering this part of history that a lot of people don’t know about. But you know, as a kid I was forced to take piano lessons and to this very day when I’m composing music at my house, I’m so thankful for my mom for forcing me to do that because without the piano, my music would probably be much different. As much as I’m a rapper and vocalist, I’m a music producer and having that ear that I acquired back when my piano teacher from church bared with me — I was never practicing, but was still into it — I definitely appreciate that. So I think for me it was because of the fact that I did have a love for music and because I was forced to be trained on an instrument, I transcended from being a fan to actually creator of music.

What societal pressures do you feel because of your race?

I mean, probably all of them. For instance, when I used to work in the corporate sector, just me showing up and being well dressed was intimidating. I come from a lineage of preachers — my dad was a preacher, I have four uncles that are preachers — I’m used to being in a church environment where everybody’s dressing up. So I’m just being me. And you know, a lot of people see that as a threat. And also people not necessarily hearing the value of what I contribute, even though in a lot of those cases without my involvement those things wouldn’t be.

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I think a lot of us deal with overcoming these expectations, or lack thereof, the expectations of being a black person. You know, I think the old adage is correct where we’ve got to work twice as hard to do the same thing as a white man or woman. And so, just feeling those things on a daily basis is literally a part of everything in my life. It’s a lens that I have to look through in order to see what I want. For instance, I’m building a company right now with a couple of guys, all of them are black, and we’re in an industry where a lot of people are white, a lot of people aren’t black. And so we’re sitting here scratching our heads like, This could be a very profitable situation, but do we need to hire a white face for this company? And I don’t think that white people have to necessarily deal with that. It’s just not something that they have to come across.

So those are some of the ways that I deal with being a black person.

But then, you know, there’s also the flip side, which is being a kind of a black sheep in your own culture. I’ve definitely had my dealings with people from my own race that see me as kind of a different weird cat, and I think that a lot of us are kinda tired of that. And so you start to see groups, like all kinds of little subgroups that are popping up…and they’re, like, cool now. I see that and I’m like, Man, that’s dope, cause when I was coming up…that was weird, bro. So, I get it from both sides. But man, at the end of the day though, seeing yourself through a white lens can be very debilitating. Sometimes it’s a burden that a lot of us, as black people, are forced to have to deal with.

“At the end of the day though, seeing yourself through a white lens can be very debilitating. Sometimes it’s a burden that a lot of us, as black people, are forced to have to deal with.”

Have you ever experienced racism or discrimination?

So I used to do shows in Liberty, Missouri and there was one time…well, there’ve been several instances of either implicit or overt racism. Uh, when I was performing up there they just weren’t used to seeing two black rappers and their crew come through and perform the way they performed. They just weren’t ready for what we brought. At the time I was in a group called Center of Attention, which was like a rap group. At one point, we considered ourselves like the 2 Live Crew of Kansas City. So we were doing some wild music…and that’s not necessarily related to the direct story I’m about to tell but it’s some context….

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So there was one day we went up there and before we performed the venue would let us get food and get a couple of drinks… So there was this guy up the bar — I don’t know how many drinks he had and I don’t know if he was sober — all I know he just started shouting out the n-word. And at first all of my body was just like, Bro, you need to cut that out right now. Like, there’s going to be a serious problem if I hear that word one more time from you. But something in the back of my mind was like, Let me just hear this out. So all of a sudden he started talking to me and he was still still using the n-word, but he almost was trying to say it like he was a homeboy, like he was black, you know what I’m saying? I kinda went with it for a minute and eventually he was like, I was expecting you to get mad at me, and I was just like, I mean, I am mad at you, but I’m trying to understand why you’re saying that word right now. And so we had this whole conversation and he kind of put his guard down and…I mean…he still seemed like he was kinda racist. But I think having that one interaction with someone who didn’t, like, punch him in the mouth after he was drunk and saying the n-word at the bar, made a difference.

It’s funny because a few weeks later I had a show in Kansas City and this dude shows up and was like, Oh, I brought my friends to come see your show. I was like, Wow. So you go from saying the n-word and all that to like being a fan. So that’s one experience with dealing with someone that was like completely racist and trying a whole new way of thinking.

You know, in other cases it’s just like, workplace environment stuff where you know people don’t necessarily say anything directly, but you can tell by body language and the way that they favor things. There was one time I was working at this Mexican restaurant in Lee’s Summit and this guy said something like I was just like his assistant or some shit. So I was like, I don’t work for you. And so he like bucked up to me and said, What? And so I pushed him in the chest and then we had a little scuffle. Eventually it all settled out. But you know, there is always something, man. Whether it’s that person saying the n-word at the bar….or the dude at the workplace thinking that he’s your boss…. or the person that denied you for a bank account…or a hotel in Florida that says there’s no occupancy. And I’ve had all those types of experiences and man, it just sucks. But all I can do is just think about my parents and their parents and grandparents and all they had to deal with to even get us to this point — where I’m complaining, but I’m able to make a living and I’m able to have an education and I’m able to do whatever I want.

It takes a lot of energy to keep calm in racist situations. How do you balance your energy in those moments?

Honestly, that’s a question I ask myself every day. It’s like, How do you navigate this? There’s no roadmap for this. So, I think just understanding that we do have power, that we are beautiful, that we are some of the best in the world is a reminder that you can do whatever you want despite the odds and despite the fact that people might not appreciate you or might not see your contributions at first.

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For instance, when I was working at Boulevard Brewing company, I had several ideas that were laughed at when I worked there and I eventually got fired because I did a music video in the brewery after I got permission, but no one necessarily had my back. So next thing I know, four years later, they’re doing the ideas that I gave them and they’re calling me up to do events and stuff now. So.. I know that for me, I try to think long term. Like, Well you don’t see the value now, but you will at some point, and you’re going to be like, Oh shoot, Kemet was talking about this years ago, and then they’re going to need your help.So, I try to think long term.

And I try to think about history and I think just reading and traveling is also such an important piece. Because, reading you literally have information that people that had it worse are able to provide their own story or advice from books and literature and essays and speeches and all that. You know, just trying to find different examples of people in history that are kind of in my position of where I am career-wise or where I am relationship wise or geographically, are great reminders that you can have a certain balance between the two.

“I would say my children are my biggest accomplishment because creating life is pretty dope.”

What do you feel you have accomplished in your life? What are you proud of?

First, I would say my children are my biggest accomplishment because creating life is pretty dope. But, you know, as far as my personal contributions to the world… I would say my music is probably my biggest accomplishment. You know I’ve created almost a dozen albums and worked with so many different people. And I think it’ll continue to be my greatest accomplishment because I think it’s what’s gonna bring me to my ultimate goal, which is to unify people and to bring people together and to help them understand that the only reason why beauty exists is through diversity…and diversity on every single level. So I think music is definitely going to be that part for me and has been that part for me.

What are your personal dreams?

My biggest dream right now to be able to create community from a development standpoint. Really taking a look at neighborhoods that have been neglected, especially in the inner city, and finding different ways to make them viable or to enhance the viability of what they already have in place. And not necessarily swoop in, change everything, and erase the culture…I think that’s a huge problem that’s happening in the United States….As the cities turned more inward,where they were going outward towards the suburbs, but now the flight is reversing inward. And you’ve got changing real estate patterns and demographics, and we start to see all the Brown and black people are moving into the suburbs — which the white people told us was the Holy Grail and the place to want to be.

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I really want to help maintain the culture that are the generations of culture that we’ve produced in our cities to create these environments that we envy. I mean, we think about Black Wall Street and how that was just brutally torn down and bombed and just erased from memory, honestly, until this year for a lot of people…there’s tons of black people that don’t know about what happened in black wall street in Oklahoma. And you know, I think life won’t ever get back to when Black Wall Street was, but I do think that we can definitely enhance what was already in place in our cities. I would love to create communities…buildings….mix use… opportunities and have a holistic approach to building community, in Kansas City at first, but then also use it as a blueprint that can be used in different cities across America to thwart the bad side of gentrification.

I think what I’m doing would be some sort of gentrification — because literally gentrification just means bringing capital back to the city and what I would need to do is bring capital into the city — but the bad side of that is when you start erasing the culture that’s already there. So whoever creates that blueprint for creating these neighborhoods that have strong independence, but are also interdependent on the next neighborhood — whether that’s an Hispanic neighborhood, predominantly black neighborhood, predominantly white neighborhood, or any other types of subsets or racial groups…Yeah, that’s my dream.

“I think our lives don’t have to be this amalgamation of each other where it’s just a muck of mixed up stuff. I think we can all have our own characteristics, separately, but have a more symbiotic relationship where we work with each other and we understand each other’s beauty and each other’s value.”

Rebuilding communities is important to you. The history of Troost is complex, at times very disturbing. What are your thoughts on rebuilding neighborhoods, like on Troost?

One of the reasons why I think people are so afraid of Troost is because they don’t necessarily understand the history and the current situation that’s happening. I mean, Troost, if we go back in time, was one of the main thoroughfares on the Osage trail…I think around 31st and Troost was like a major lookout point where the Osage Indians could see the river before other buildings and all that stuff was there. So Troost has a rich history when it comes to America, even before it got taken over by the Europeans and the French and all those cats. It’s had so many different phases and I really think it’s important for us to know all of the phases.

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What I see people thinking about Troost now is opportunity because of the fact that it’s been so neglected for decades. And I think that’s an unfortunate part of what’s happening right now. And there’s a reason why it’s literally the hottest street in real estate right now. There’s hundreds and hundreds of millions of private dollars going on to Troost.

And really…I think that the ship has sailed, from a development standpoint. I don’t necessarily see a rising tide of pushback from both sides of the street to have a more equitable situation happen. I think people definitely have such a stigma with Troost that the thought of creating something that isn’t really out of that neighborhood is still kind of foreign. But at the same time from what I’ve seen in trends and as an urbanist and looked at cities, I think it’ll start that way. But unless people like me or people like all the different groups that are trying to make sure that Troost is retaining some of that culture that it’s gotten over the years…you know, developers don’t have any interest in that. And developers are the ones that are kind of leading the charge for a lot of the real estate transactions that are happening around there.

You know, back when I was growing up, it was like everything was boarded up. There was no construction happening. I saw everything from prostitutes to…I mean it was just like a bad scenario. And it still has its issues. I think Troost started psychologically moving westward several years ago, when Mac Properties started buying up stuff on Armour (Boulevard) — I used to work for that company, as well — and when they started buying up stuff on Armour Boulevard at 35th street and then went East…as someone that worked, unfortunately, for the company that was basically gentrifying…I would say, at that point, in a bad way…I started to see that there was definitely a renewed interest in the real estate that was around there. It’s a prime location. It’s a great street. It’s next to a lot of different things. And so as real estate started to have this national trend where people were moving from the suburbs and needed more space in the city and businesses are starting to take off… We started to see that the proximity of Troost isn’t necessarily a problem anymore. And so that dividing line, I think it moved West — it’s past The Paseo and now it’s on Prospect. I think Prospect is the new Troost. So that’s kind of where we’re at now.

How should we approach rebuilding neighborhoods while avoiding bad practices?

I think there is a way, it’s kind of my life goal to figure that out. There’s not necessarily a perfect blueprint for that — I’ve looked at different cities. There’s a guy in Atlanta that came out with a documentary about gentrification in Atlanta… And I’m definitely looking at different cities to see what has been done. But honestly, there’s not really any good examples. And so, I think it just has to be a case by case basis. I think everybody just needs to be on one accord — I’m not sure if it happens organically, or through regulation, or what — But I do think that knowing and accepting and embracing and just kind of realizing the history and having the knowledge of what actually happened is a great way to avoid doing it again.

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You know, whether that was red lining, blockbusting, all of that stuff. Like, we all just need to know development patterns from where blacks were able to be in Kansas City and to where when white flight happened — you know, how the whites moved out and they took their tax dollars….and the city tried to recoup those tax dollars by annexing other cities and making the city huge…next thing you know, the city is three times bigger than San Francisco…and we got all these roads and sidewalks and infrastructure to upkeep…but the tax base has moved out to Lee’s Summit and Overland Park and Leawood — so knowing that history of why that happened is a good reason to understand why some of our city’s infrastructure is crumbling. Especially on the East side. Because, with white flight came black flight and all of our business owners started to move…moving out to Raytown…

And so anyway, just kinda taking a holistic approach to life, honestly. And just taking the word “development” out of it. Like, this is just a way of understanding life and how we can work together as a people and as a community. I mean, until that happens, nothing else can happen. So, that’s definitely going to have to be a focus.

What is one major problem minorities face that you would like to bring awareness to?

I think we just need to be good stewards of our contributions. I honestly feel like black people are, in a lot of cases, undervaluing themselves. I think with that comes the fact that we have a certain limitation on what we think is possible. I think it doesn’t help that our white counterparts don’t necessarily uplift us — some of them probably do…it’s definitely not a one size fits all… But I think one of the things that we need to look at, you know, as a people is to actually break down own value. Whether you’re a producer of goods or a person that owns their own barbershop — really understand that you aren’t just a barber. You have an impact on the community that is unmatched. You know, you are the therapy…your haircut is such a therapeutic experience for so many people who can’t afford therapy. So really just kind of seeing our own impact is great.

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But also, I think it starts to rub off. I’m so inspired by this new generation. I feel like they don’t have as many of the shackles that I, or the generation before me, had. You know, some of these things that kept us back and really kind of hindered where we were able to go… they don’t have that. And I love it. It’s cool to see that. So I think really just like understanding our own value, maximizing it, monetizing it, quantifying it, duplicating it — all of that is one of our biggest challenges that we need to overcome.

What are you dreams for society?

So…It’s kinda like…there’s like this little bird that lives on the rhino and eats whatever bugs get on the rhino, but it cleans the rhino at the same time…You know, I think our lives don’t have to be this amalgamation of each other where it’s just a muck of mixed up stuff. I think we can all have our own characteristics, separately, but have a more symbiotic relationship where we work with each other and we understand each other’s beauty and each other’s value. And we can experience that to an extent that is respectful of each other and not have this expectation of changing to be more like you.I think just understanding that diversity is literally the reason life exists. And so diversity is a huge part…

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And so I think for society…I would love to get us to a point where we understand who we are, our own history, our own assets, advantages, and all of that. And have our own confidence to where when we are intertwined with different cultures and nationalities or whatever, we can represent and be in a place where everybody is represented as well and can work together more — kinda like that bird that lives on the rhino — have this symbiosis that happens. You know, you see a Walgreens next to a CVS, that’s not on accident. You start to see all these different players that work together, even if they are not necessarily on the same team. That’s where I think we need to go as a society and I’ve definitely made it my life mission to help people see that.

“I think just having that like inner confidence, inner peace with who you are and what you want and is good for yourself. If you can’t help yourself, then it’s going to be hard for somebody else to try to help you too.”

How do we make progress on your dreams for society?

I think it starts at home. Really honing in on who you are and understanding, embracing, who you are. One of my setbacks was…because there was no overt like praise of me as a black boy from the outside world… I didn’t necessarily see myself as an asset…just kinda thought I didn’t have that confidence — and I still work on that to this day.

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I think just having that like inner confidence, inner peace with who you are and what you want and is good for yourself. If you can’t help yourself, then it’s going to be hard for somebody else to try to help you too. I think that’s definitely one thing that we could start with…and everybody can do that. You know, we have literally have information times infinity. For instance, one of my best friends’ grandmothers is 102 years old. She’s from Kansas City, lived here all her life. She lives in Atlanta now, but I’m going to make it a point this year to go visit her in Atlanta to sit with her for hours and hours and just have her tell me her story. I think our elders are another underappreciated asset that we need to definitely tap into and we could start today.

So yeah, it was really seeing who you are — inside, outside, in a three dimensional way — and almost a way where you’re like on this journey. It’s a great way to start today. I talked to my dad the other day, I went over there to his house, I asked him, Do you celebrate Kwanzaa? And he was like, Yes, every day. It was like, You know what, I’m going to do that too. I know he wasn’t talking about celebrating the celebrations of Kwanzaa, but just living by those principles — whether you necessarily agree with them to a T or not — It’s like loosely seeing those principles and loving and living out what it means to be a black person.

What advice would you give to other Black people?

I would say we just got to get over the competition..or not necessarily the competition, cause having a competitive nature is great, that’s how progress happens…but there’s a way to be competitive and there’s a way to also understand the fact that just because someone might be not doing the same thing as you and that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad or wrong — I think a lot of people are quick to make assumptions and therefore write people off. And that doesn’t strengthen you. Like if you you go to a hospital everybody’s not going to be the same…the doctor needs the nurse…the nurse needs whoever’s doing the data entry…we need folks to answer the call to make the appointments…That’s life. And I think for a lot of people it’s hard for them to see because I think everybody is trying to make it to the top, I think it’s hard for them to see that we have to do it together. You can’t be like, Just because someone is doing something this way means that they’re not gonna make it to the top. Whatever “the top” means…I feel like we might even already be at the top. We just need to unlock certain parts of where we are. I mean, we might be sitting on treasure that we don’t even know about. So I think that’s definitely a nice nugget that I try to give to young kids whenever I go out in schools and talk it’s like, Hey man, just cause he’s into video games, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he should be ostracized just cause he’s the video guy…And to the video guy, Look, man, sports isn’t all bad like, playing basketball is great… Really just respecting everybody’s space and understanding that even though we’re black we are also all very different is the piece of advice I want to give.

“I think we’ve just normalized whiteness. So I think people aren’t used to seeing life outside of that and sometimes are threatened by it. But I think you can overcome that by just understanding that you aren’t in charge, you are just an equal part of this world and kind of taken down that guard is a way…”

What advice would you give to non-Black individuals to help them understand the Black experiences?

Really, just become a student. You know, take your ego out of it and understand that you might not agree with the format at which they live their life, but if you want to make any progress in having any type of social empathy or understanding of the culture, you have to remove yourself. You can’t judge it, it just has to be. And sure, you can keep your own thoughts, but keep your own thoughts and understand that you almost just kinda want to be a fly on the wall and kind of like enhance it when it needs to be enhanced. But definitely find that sense to really be able to tap in and be a benefit. Because I think for a lot of people outside of the race, they try to compare and contrast and like, Well, it’s all relative. All comparisons, especially given the history of this country, aren’t necessarily going to be applicable. The problem is white supremacy. And so taking those ideas of what you know of whiteness in general and taking it out of the norm… I think we’ve just normalized whiteness. So I think people aren’t used to seeing life outside of that and sometimes are threatened by it. But I think you can overcome that by just understanding that you aren’t in charge, you are just an equal part of this world and kind of taken down that guard is a way…I think… I mean I’ve seen it happen. And I’m married to a white woman and it’s definitely been a great experience, just seeing her grow as a person and seeing me grow as a person, as well. Being married to a white person definitely forces me to understand who I am as a black person because if you don’t, then you can easily slip away. And so, just reinforcing the fact that we are who we are as individuals and different folks in different races and really thinking about things in a 3-D way is always a great place to start.

To close with your love of music… How would you describe Kansas City’s music culture?

I would say it’s evolving into something beautiful. The only problem I see right now is we don’t have an abundance of venues. So back when back, in like our golden age, there were a ton of venues and they were everywhere. And now we don’t have a lot of venues, so we’ve got the players now here — I don’t know what happened in the last like 10 or 15 years, but there’s just been an influx of like really dope cats coming out of nowhere in Kansas City, I’d say we’re at the best that I’ve seen in my career in a long time. But I think, I think when we describe the music scene, I honestly feel like the country is waiting for us to get our stuff together. When I went to New York and went to LA, some of these major A&Rs (Artists and Repertoire) or executives…and all these record labels are like, Man, we’re just, we like in the city that just has so much talent…we can’t necessarily like be out there very often…but they’re definitely looking for that next city to really do what Atlanta did. Back in…Well, I mean Atlanta’s been puttin’ it on for a minute, but it had like that huge spike around like early 2000s when you started to see like all these local rappers get famous and we still see some of the benefits of whatever they did back then, today with different rappers and musicians coming out of Atlanta. I think that performance-wise, we just need to get our stuff together in Kansas City because our venues are spread out through a mix of private events…like art galleries. There’s only a couple of venues. I mean, I can’t name a rap venue, I can’t name a veue where I’m like, Oh, I’m going to go see some rap. Can’t do it. I do see some things happening at like 18th and Vine with The Juke House and the new restaurant, Soiree, and that’s positive, we just need to do whatever that is…times a hundred.

Brass & Boujee is such a cool intersection of old school music meets new school. Tell me about this initial creation?

Yeah, so it all stemmed from Quincy Jones, actually…I forget the exact quote, but he told Marcus Lewis, who’s the bandleader of Brass & Boujee, he said, Kansas City needs to find itself. He was like, When I was coming up Kansas City with all these cats…Count Basie, Charlie Parker…I think he told Marcus Lewis, basically, You need to go to Kansas City and help them find themselves. So it’s like you got cats like Quincy Jones saying and stuff like that, that’s a huge win for us because we literally got blessed with that task. And so just to be in the middle of that is just jaw dropping. And honestly, every time I perform with that band, it’s definitely a very powerful experience. One of the biggest problems I see though, here in Kansas City, with that band, is that people in Kansas City get used to talent and they just think it’s the norm. It’s not normal to have so much talent in one place at one time. And I think people outside of Kansas City, when they hear about a project like this, they definitely get excited. I mean, there’s a reason why we charted on a billboard…that’s the reason why we were number one on iTunes in the jazz category…and stuff like that. People from outside of Kansas City were like, I’ve never heard of this before. And this is, this is crazy. But, you know, one of the biggest problems here in KC is that they normalized such innovation and it should be seen as innovation and fairly as normal.

What other people local and national that you’re listening to?

So on the local side there’s a ton of musicians that are just incredible. I work with a lot of people that I’m a huge fan of.. Eddie Moore, definitely one of them. He’s been a transplant to Kansas City, but calls it home here….Marcus Lewis is a transplant, but calls Kansas City home, one of the dopest trombone players, like ever…played with Janelle Monae and Prince and all these cats. But then also you have other people that cross those two bridges — jazz and rap — Kadesh Flow is one of those guys. He plays trombone, like more on the jazz side, but raps as well, and does both at the same time a lot of time. Peter Schlamb is like, I’d be the coldest vibes player I’ve ever seen, he’s from KC.

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But, some other cats that are just making major moves…Justus West, I can’t even call him local anymore because he just won a Grammy, he plays guitar. This kid is like 20 years old and has an amazing voice as well. And he plays everybody from like Snoop Dogg…he played with Mac Miller before he passed. He was on Jimmy Kimmel, you know, he’s just all over the place and he’s 20 years old and I actually have a song with that cat…before we had the song I was like, I need to get this guy on this track right now cause he’s about to blow up, he’s just back home cause he’s from Kansas City, born and raised.

And everybody in my band, The Phantastics…everybody crushes it. Sorry to shout my own people out, but a lot of my band members have their own music as well. Tim Oguttu is one of the coldest guitar players in town, as well. So yeah, man, there’s definitely a ton out there. Oh, Love Macy, she’s dope,she reminds me of like, a Kansas City Aaliyah. a New Black City is dope, they do their thing. I’m also a big fan of The Popper. I love what he’s brought from the community, with his “I’m KC” movement….yeah, The Pop is dope. One of the OGs, Tech N9ne’s a big homie. Yeah, man, I can go on.

Additional Information

Editorial Note: As of February 2020, Justus West has only been nominated for a Grammy.

Interview Date: January 4, 2020

Day 28 — Story posted on February 27, 2020

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