All the polite, well-meaning talk in the world means nothing without a call to action. The Seattle hip-hop/jazz duo of Black Stax’s MC Jace ECAj and vocalist Felicia Loud understands this all too well.
As the recent police shootings and subsequent street protests mounted into a deadly standoff in Dallas, Black Stax continued to show the face of activism in the music, a riotous, thought-provoking, always original mix of hip-hop and rap, jazz and the far-reaching ether of the global — one dope video drop at a time.
While professional talking heads offered up thoughts and prayers, pushing political agendas, and the bickering masses unfriended and blocked meaningful dialogue, furthering the racial divide, Black Stax walked the walk by doing what it’s always done: stackin’ activism in the music for the people.
Black Stax continued, as always, to show its humanitarian activism by showing up to support everyday people struggling with hardship, and by shedding a light on other small, indie artists from near and far who have something more to say than the average pop star.
For these two, music is more than a two-album shot at a bigger gig and a bigger name. Music is life and death.
Nirvana may have introduced grunge music to the populace, and Macklemore, popularized rap for the suburbs. But Black Stax is Seattle’s living, breathing street cred, keeping the city honest and making dope music that crosses all those boundaries, uncompromising in its moral, for the people aesthetic.
Ever since Black Stax released its 2010 album, Talking Buildings, with the hit single, “I Love My Life,” the current duo of Loud and ECAj has kept people talking and thinking about deeper subjects than the hook of a melody or commercial branding.
So when the police shootings sparked race riots in the streets, AXS went to the critically acclaimed Black Stax’s Felicia Loud and Jace ECAj for their take. Earlier today, they served up the unadulterated truth, just as they do in the dope music videos they post online every so often.
AXS: Listening to “Loyalty Is Royalty” right now, which is very hardcore rap with the swampiest, grittiest drum solo ever. Who is that guy, and who are all the rest of the players who helped bring this track to life?
Felicia Loud: It appears you enjoyed the cut. Good. Music always has several layers prior to the finished project. Here are the names of everyone who participated in “Loyalty is Royalty.” The beat was produced by EzyBeatz, he's out of Mississippi. Jace-ECAj the MC. Myself on vocals. Barry Johnson came with the video concept and directed the piece. The videographer was Aaron RF Anderson. Davee C is the "grittiest" drummer. DJ Sean Malik on the one's and two's. We also had several supporters present during the shoot.
Jace ECAj: Yes, I'm glad you were able to dissect the vibe of the cut [smiles]. Like Felicia said, “Good music has a few layers,” so, in the sense that we are a group that says we are about “Staxin’ ‘em,” it felt good to remind and expose this layer. EzyBeatz is an ill producer/beatmaker out of Mississippi. We were able to make contact with him and get a few tracks. “Loyalty is Royalty” stood up and out, the music, the concept, it spoke to where we are, what we're about and the importance of establishing a dope presence for who we represent. Barry Johnson, visual artist, director/producer of Sonic Painting, reached out to us and wanted to do something with music, but didn't want it to be typical. We shot him “Loyalty is Royalty,” we met with him and Aaron Anderson, who is a dope videographer! And, shortly thereafter, you have this visual presentation of “Loyalty is Royalty” in a Sonic Painting. Davee C is a legendary drummer in town and we were honored to have him hit the sticks for the piece. DJ Sean Malik, SeaTown's finest, came in and added his hands to the mix. And, we had a few people come down and enjoy the experience with us.
AXS: It seems Black Stax drops these singular singles out into the outer, online universe. But is that enough for this Seattle band with so much to say?
JE: You know...that's interesting. Because we don't have a release date for most of the music we put out. Of course we do have projects we promo for and have scheduled release dates. But, with us, sometimes we just get a buzz off some work we thought would be great to just share. Is it enough? Enough for the status quo or industry quo, probably not. For those looking and listening for good music, music that has something more to it than just the beat and rhyme, song, we're doing our best and want to make sure we reach you in the online universe.
FL: Fortunately we have tactics. We have our own way of maintaining our relevancy within this industry. So there is a method involved.
AXS: Where is Black Stax at musically right now? You’ve released some singles in the past few months. Catch us up.
FL: Right now, we are working on several new pieces, including an up-and-coming release entitled, “Freedom.” It is a great compilation. Produced by Rob Eramia and Rob Banks Beats. Featuring writings by Erika Bell/eBellz and Tuesday Velasco, along with Black Stax. Mixed at ...studio by DJ Sean Malik. Look for that July 22, 2016!
JE: We're in a great creative space! We feel like we're in a good, creative zone with some very creative and committed people with us. We've put out a few joints... “Deep Hole,” featuring eBellz, track by Rob Banks Beats, “Way of the Gun,” track by ThirdEyeBling, recorded by ThirdEyeBling, and “Loyalty is Royalty” track by EzyBeatz. And, “Freedom” is set to drop on July 22. That's us with eBellz and Tuesday Velasco and another Rob Banks Beats track. We do most of our recording out of Vocal Chi Studios (Kevin Gardner) or SMS Studios (DJ Sean Malik).
AXS: A lot’s happened in the past few weeks, a lot of bad things like those two shootings by cops and the retaliation in Dallas of cops. Speak to the violence, the protests, the riots, the deeper divide these shootings have evoked.
FL: Speaking to the violence… These violent attacks committed by those "civil servants" that we are witnessing are being supported by the same system that supported the awful, unlawful, inhumane cruelties of slavery. That is the issue.
The protests. The protests have been happening for over 400 years in this country alone. In 2016, the bullies, the murderers within the "civil servant" departments, the supporters of the bullies and murderers are being called out on their behavior and they do not like it. Various generations of black people are working together and demanding, without apologies, that the system be changed. We are fearless, we have the evidence of mistreatment, and murders. So the truth is on our side. I appreciate those who are brave enough to videotape these attacks, I appreciate being part of a collective that chooses not to be silent.
The riots. What riots? I see “reactions” to injustice. I see “frustration” due to injustice. I see “revolt” when denied justice. I see "pain" from injustice. I see black people “demanding” justice. However, I have not seen any riots.
JE: Exactly. No riots, no retaliation, just continuous and continued brutality by the public servant paid to protect and to serve the communities they patrol. Need complete police reform.
AXS: How do Black Stax and its music stack up in response?
FL: Black Stax is a musical duet comprised of a black man and black woman. Jace is a father, husband, son, brother, nephew, uncle, and friend. I am a mother, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, and friend. We live in response every time we leave our homes.
JE: There is balance in our thoughts and presentations. So, there is balance in the messages and realities in our music.
AXS: What do you think is the main problem and the main solution to all this racial/economic divide?
FL: The main problem to the racial divide is that it is being called a racial divide. This is particularly about murderers not being held accountable for killing black, unarmed men. As far as solutions for the racial/economic divide, that is personal responsibility.
JE: Solution is in accountability. And, not segregated accountability. But, general accountability... to me, especially to those who hold positions of power and influence to maybe even a higher standard of accountability. Particularly, when it deals with life and death.
As far as economically and racially, that's a huge honest conversation. Because, that's a great responsibility to take on. As my daughter's title of her book [reads], we'd have to “Outweigh the Gravity.”
AXS: One of the biggest controversies surrounds the term, #BlackLivesMatter. People are fighting over this instead of looking at the big picture. What are your thoughts? Is it a war over words, a distraction, an important part in the movement to open minds?
FL: Black lives matter is the big picture.
The bickering over the term is a distraction. The statement is calling for black people to open our minds and — as Erykah Badu put it — “stay woke!” We have always known we've mattered. For me, “I sometimes forget how much.”
JE: That's what I'm talking about. How are we making the term/hashtag BlackLivesMatter a debate? You can't distract movement, ‘cause you don't define it!
AXS: How is Seattle and its musicians uniquely poised to change minds in light of the race wars going on?
JE: The one thing I'm happy to see is that high-profile, black faces aren't ducking or dodging the issue and the urgency of this epidemic. They're using their platforms to at least speak, even if they get blasted following it. I'm happy to see organizations come together to find ways to build on the next momentum. And, I say, action beats all talk!
As far as Seattle artists, we have to deal with our own truths in this city and the policies that make this playing field slanted. We can have as many Town Halls and community Q&As as we like. But, action beats all talk. I think and believe we have the talent to be a pulse in the world with contributions through art. Will we?
FL: I can not speak for other musicians in Seattle. But we speak our truths and that in itself has the ability to change minds. Many people walk around lying to themselves all day, because they refuse to acknowledge these vicious attacks as murder.
AXS: What’s coming up for Black Stax, in terms of the next live performance?
JE: Next show in Seattle is Aug. 20 at the Houser Music Festival for the Emergency Feeding Program, a wonderful organization that does some incredible things for the people of the town. Aug. 19, we're in Tri-Cities, part of a reentry program for ex-cons. End of August, we're in Chicago for a couple events and in September we're in Los Angeles for a couple events (will send flyers once we get them). And, in October, we're doing two events with TAF. And, one in November with Sharon Nyree Williams [for] her book release, “Consciousness of Love.”