The Ypsilanti R&B vocalist and Amplify fellow welcomes a new era of artistic growth, emotional strength and inner enlightenment on her latest album, The Art of Keeping It Real, out now via all streaming platforms.
“I didn’t come up with the title until afterward. The word that stuck out to me was ‘honesty.’ A lot of it has to do with emotional passages whether it’s friendships, relationships or fun; it’s everything that’s deep in your spirit,” Rashon said.
“When I got the chance to work with the fellowship, Rod (Wallace) and I spoke, and he was like, ‘Well, what would you like to do?’ And I was like, ‘I want to put it all out,’ but I explained to him that it’s very hard for me because I get writer’s block. He said, ‘I want you to write everything down,’ so I began to write everything down.”
That journaling process allowed Rashon to deeply reflect on her transition as an emerging artist and expectant mother. She spent five months crafting the seven authentic, insightful stories that would become The Art of Keeping It Real. (The project also features her 2020 single, “Ymmfb.”)
“I found out I was pregnant, and I went through all the emotions you can imagine from being pregnant. By the time it all came together, I’m like, ‘This is a story; this is something interesting that someone can relate to on many levels,’” said Rashon, who’s inspired by Amy Winehouse, Beyoncé, Erykah Badu, Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige.
“I wanted to go with these songs and focus on transparency and honesty, so I decided to go with The Art of Keeping It Real. Everything I’m summing up is art, and the art I’m projecting is keeping it real.”
“We want to bring a full Approachable Minorities experience to all who come and watch the stream. Since last year we have been working hard to bring new material for our fans, and we are excited to share that with everyone,” said TJ Greggs, aka MC Lewy Seifer of Approachable Minorities.
“We plan to play some new songs for the Grove Sessions set to give a small glimpse of our new album that we will be releasing over the next year. We continue to practice and work on our craft regularly so that we may bring the best performance for any event that we are a part of.”
Along with his Approachable Minorities partners – MC Druzi Baby, aka Drew Denton, and DJ OnDemand, aka Marcus McKinney – Greggs relishes rejoining Tru Klassick for another live show and teaming up with Soundproof’s Mark Cooper for the first time.
“Tru Klassick always brings superior lyrical diversity and captures the true essence of hip-hop. We have worked and performed with Tru Klassick on many different occasions, and it is always a great time to watch his talent at work. We have not yet had the chance to perform with Mark Cooper, but we are excited to have the chance to share the stage with him,” said Greggs along with his bandmates.
One of the project’s most compelling tracks includes Approachable Minorities’ thoughtful, percussive “See Me Dead,” which was inspired by last summer’s Black Lives Matter marches.
Together, they reflect, “Why they wanna see me dead, why they wanna see me dead/Probably cause my skin/Why they wanna see me dead, why they wanna see me dead/Probably cause my hair/Why they wanna see me dead, why they wanna see me dead/Probably cause I’m Black/Why they wanna see me dead/See another brother take two to the head.”
“We were on vacation in Florida when the protests initially began. We had to drive back through the country seeing alerts about the curfews and were worried about our safety while being in the south during these times. We spoke with Rod Wallace, Jamall Bufford and Louis Picasso on our way back, and they explained the situation in Detroit to us,” said Greggs, who formed Approachable Minorities with Denton and McKinney in 2016.
“We had friends down on the front lines being tear-gassed and shot with rubber bullets, and it was horrible to see the videos of the events. When we got back home, we immediately went into the studio and began writing.”
The international collective of hip-hop producers, musicians and curators reveal compelling conversations, thought-provoking narratives and tenacious tales about social injustice, systemic racism, internal struggles and personal aspirations on their latest quarantine-fueled album.
“The songs that came out are representative of the discussions and conversations we have as men when we’re not recording. Because as a group, we still get together on a weekly basis or sometimes two to three times a week to just talk. We have members of our collective who may have autoimmune situations, so they haven’t been able to be out and about,” said Rod Wallace, a metro Detroit hip-hop producer.
“We have members of our group who have been through a lot in the last few months. A part of what we do is support them by meeting up and talking regularly; even a song like ‘Piss’ is a song that represents us playfully jiving with each other and talking crazy. It all was just very organic.”
Wallace and his Six Feet collaborators spent the first 100 days of the COVID-19 pandemic writing, recording and producing the project’s seven raw, honest tracks through Songlab TV, an innovative, online one-session approach to songwriting that’s documented by Digital Hustle Films.
“When COVID hit, we decided to build something called Songlab TV where a sample or an idea is given to a producer who makes a beat while a rapper writes and records their verses and an engineer mixes it,” said Wallace about Dirty Ol’ Men’s creative approach for Six Feet.
“Four of the seven songs on the album came from that process; while the other three, they just weren’t recorded, but they went through a similar process. We acknowledge that a lot of music is made that way these days, but a lot of it isn’t made at the time because those four songs were synchronous experiences.”
Executive produced by Wallace and Anthony “Gadget” Mims, Six Feet serves as Dirty Ol’ Men’s second release this year since dropping the Motor City-fueled East Grand in February. Collaborators from Michigan, California, Tennessee, Florida, Illinois and Japan brought initial stems, beats and samples online to share their profound musical conversations with listeners.
As a fresh community-based hip-hop album, Formula 734poetically encapsulates shared stories of struggles and successes for men of color in Washtenaw County.
“I feel as though we’ve created a historical document for this particular time in history for Washtenaw County that people can refer to, or they can gain some primary source analysis of what it was like to be in Washtenaw County during the COVID-19 pandemic and the unrest related to the death of George Floyd,” said Rod Wallace, who co-executive produced the project with Jamall Bufford.
“Jamall and I started to talk about our desire to engage young people with hip-hop in a positive way that taught a number of different skills. We started planning for the project, and our first meeting was in November,” Wallace said.
“One of the intentions of WMBK is to engage in discussions with men across generations as opposed to only focusing on young men. There are men across the spectrum of color who need support and who need positive experiences, so we try to bridge that gap, and through this project, we were able to do so,” Wallace said.
Concocting Formula 734
With Wallace and Bufford at the hip-hop helm, Formula 734 weaves introspective rhymes, thoughtful monologues, crisp beats, old-school jams and deep grooves while authentically amplifying the voices of local men of color. All 12 tracks challenge false narratives about men of color and raise awareness about the underlying causes of systemic racism.
“We want change to happen in our communities, in our neighborhoods and in our schools. One album probably won’t accomplish that, but we want this to be a stepping stone in the right direction to some of the systemic changes that we want to see for black men and young men of color in our community and around the country. We want this to hopefully be a catalyst for the conversation that needs to take place about what’s happening in our communities,” said Bufford, who’s a WMBK project specialist and Formula 734 co-executive producer.
The international collective of hip-hop and soul producers, musicians and curators blends clever rhymes, pulsating beats and introspective narratives into 15 compelling tracks on their latest album, East Grand, which dropped Feb. 29.
“I think everywhere we go, we’re very inspired by where we are. I’m always a huge advocate for what’s happening in Detroit and so that drove a little bit of the inspiration as well as the sounds and what we captured while we were here and being together, too,” said Rod Wallace, East Grand executive producer and a metro Detroit hip-hop producer.
“We’ve all had a really huge effect on each other. All of us have very, very diverse styles. You have producers that have very, very pronounced kind of styles that are very noticeable amongst the group, and we’ve rubbed off on each other.”
Last July, Wallace and 14 other hip-hop producers gathered in a Detroit loft at the corner of East Grand Boulevard and Oakland Avenue for a three-day Scratch Magazine retreat to collaborate on tracks for the new album. Dirty Ol’ Men collaborators arrived from Michigan; Ohio; Illinois; Washington, D.C.; Maryland; Virginia, California; Florida; Pennsylvania; Tennessee; and Japan to participate.
Creating East Grand
Together, the producers, musicians and curators brought initial stems, beats and samples to lay the foundation for their fifth collective project while magically capturing the authentic vibes of the Motor City. They also visited local record stores and dug through crates to find alternative sounds that could inspire music for East Grand.
“I think part of what’s built into the culture of digging and sample-based producing is taking the most obscure music possible and trying to pick something out of it. Customarily, we don’t necessarily look for music based on who’s making it, but we look at the potential vibe and sound that could be involved. It may just be something that we don’t have, like something with church bells,” said Wallace, who’s been part of Dirty Ol’ Men since their formation in 2014.
Known as The Plugin, the producer-beatmaker showcase and competition will spotlight “The Dirty Thirty,” a 30-minute sample chopping contest with catchy creations from emerging hip-hop artists.
During the contest, artists will have a half-hour to make beats from a previously chosen sample they can download. After the 30-minute time limit is up, they will showcase their beats and be rated on a point system for their mix, creativity and arrangement by a panel of three judges. The winning artist with the most points will receive money or another prize from Plugin event sponsors.
“After we do the competition, then we allow the winner to do a beat set, and they can play some of their instrumentals,” said Rod Wallace, a metro Detroit hip-hop producer and beatmaker who oversees The Plugin. “We also may have people there who are seeking things to do with sync licensing, and then they get a chance to hear from the artists. It’s always been a great party.”
The former high school administrator and teacher launched The Plugin in May after running a student music education program. He teamed up with Grove Studios, an Ypsilanti-based rehearsal and recording space, Double Negative People, a Detroit record label, and Mic Moseley to host and sponsor the monthly event.
“As I had the opportunity to come back to Eastern to direct a program here, I also began working on my PhD, and I was focusing around how music technology can be used to teach kids transferrable skills,” said Wallace, who’s also a lead engineer for Grove Studios and a second-year doctoral student at Eastern Michigan University. “What I found in doing some early research was producers are very adept are teaching themselves how to use software. They’re very adept at teaching themselves skills using YouTube and using video.”
Wallace also noticed how music technology education connects directly to STEM-based curricula and teaches student producers and beatmakers transferrable skills. The goal is to provide laptop musicians with a productive, creative and educational outlet for developing and sharing their own music.
“Another thing that came up in the research is the fact that there isn’t a lot of collaboration. People are kind of like mad scientists, they stay to themselves and do what they do,” Wallace said. “They might work with an artist, and they might not work with an artist. I wanted to create a venue where not only could they work together and show off their skills, but it was also an environment that catered itself toward networking and connecting with artists.”
Those connections start with other producers and beatmakers who perform at The Plugin each month. Tonight’s event will feature sets from Brooklyn Beatz (aka Josh Johnson), Josh Hype, Tru Klassick (aka Taylor Michael) and DJ Buff as well as classic hip-hop trivia and a 50-50 raffle to benefit local nonprofits.
“We’ve spent our time trying to gather more sponsorships and trying to make some more connections with producers who can really come through and show people what to do as well,” Wallace said. “It’s always a really fun time, and I just look forward to continuing to do it.”
For Grove Studios, fall’s arrival calls for an annual celebration of music, creativity and community.
The Ypsilanti rehearsal and recording space will host an “Equinox Party” Saturday to bring artists, musicians, creatives and community leaders together for an evening of networking and performances.
“We had a similar event last year, and it’s like an anniversary party for us. It’s also a back-to-school event celebrating the fall intermixed with networking and performances,” said Erich Friebel, Grove Studios partner and director of operations and community. “We’re going to have people from different support organizations and service providers and feature performances from a variety of rock bands, hip-hop artists and DJs.”
“I just want people to take away how welcoming and opening the vibe is and how it’s a place where artists can come and they can create, and it’s not just about coming into a studio space with 55 racks on the wall that are never being used,” said Wallace, who serves as the studio’s lead engineer.
“It’s really a place where true collaboration and true artistic freedom can happen, and there’s a great deal of trust that the owners have in allowing people to come into this space 24/7/365.”
“These presentations and performances are from people who use our space and patronize our growth. We’re about a year and a half in at the current location, and prior to that, we had been doing events at Riverside Arts Center,” Friebel said. “Before that, when we were at the Michigan Avenue location, Alexis Ford from the Music and Arts Guild was doing a lot of the booking for us for events there.”