The Breakdown: All Cows Don't Eat Grass

During the summer of 2014 I moved to Oklahoma for graduate school.  Moving isn’t an easy thing to do, and moving to Oklahoma from Philadelphia was especially challenging. To say that I was the victim of a cultural shock would be an understatement. I remember the summer before moving vividly. Family and friends would ask what my next move was, and I would tell them that I’d be moving to Oklahoma for graduate school. Immediately after telling people that I’d be moving to Oklahoma they’d typically start singing Oklahoma! (sigh) from the Broadway musical.  But I can’t blame them. Like many people from the east coast, I had my perceptions of Oklahoma, too, but hearing family and friends offer their interpretation of the song certainly didn’t help ease my worries of the coming cultural shock. 

For students attending school away from home (in my case 1,200 miles away from home), there’s the added adjustment of adapting socially and culturally to a new place, not to mention the workload; so to maintain some level of sanity, I needed a musical outlet. But where would my outlet be? How would I be musically fed? Like many of the people that would offer me their rendition of Oklahoma! when I told them I was moving to Oklahoma, I [ignorantly] only thought of Oklahoma as a place for Country music. But, after spending two years in Oklahoma, I’ve come to know some phenomenal musicians and artists all along the musical spectrum, one of them being Adam Ledbetter, a pianist, producer, rapper, composer, and member of Adam and Kizzie – a collaborative group with his wife. I caught up with Adam to hear his thoughts as someone raised in Oklahoma, a musician, and artist. Here’s our conversation:

STANLEY: Thanks for taking out the time to answer some questions about music in Oklahoma City! How would you describe the [Black] music scene in Oklahoma?

 ADAM: I would describe the [Black] Oklahoma City music scene as dysfunctional. Lol. Not my typical response because I love my city and the scene here but I feel like I should be totally candid. The artists themselves are very supportive of one another and I really believe that is what is sustaining the black music scene in Oklahoma. We can't lean on our fans because they are skeptical. We can't lean on professional colleagues (agents, managers, talent buyers, venue owners etc) because they simply don't exist, we can't lean on the radio stations because they have different interests but we lean on each other. I think that’s special because we believe in us if nobody else does. Oklahoma City in general has always suffered from an inferiority complex. We're too small and too close to Texas for our own good. The fans are reserving judgment until they see us get big enough to get props from everywhere else, the venues don't profit so they just bring in party and cover bands and we're left to remind each other "Hey, that's killer even if nobody else gets it." Jabee is a good example. His hard work is beginning to pay off but he's doing what he's always done: grind and put out albums like nobody's business. He did that despite OKC. OKC did not always have his back until he got an Emmy... Welcome to OKC. I dream of the day when OKC takes enough pride in itself to not need outside validation. There was a venue called Urban Roots that was the hub for black artists until it closed in May 2015. The owner, Chaya believed in the artists so she made her resources available to them. She gave us free access. We still had to put everything else together but what I witnessed over time was a chain reaction. The fans became more involved they became less skeptical. All of our shows went up in attendance. More artists were producing new music. People were participating. None of this happened because all of a sudden we got awesome. It was all because one venue owner said "I believe in you all". Other artists started making OKC a regular stop on their tours. It was magical and unfortunately aggressive gentrification pushed Urban Roots out of business. We're hitting the roads hard, game planning and hoping one day we can find a new nest to lay some eggs in. So yeah, dysfunctional - hopeful, but dysfunctional.

"I dream of the day when OKC takes enough pride in itself to not need outside validation."

STANLEY: You brought up a lot of interesting points, but I just wanted to highlight a few points that you made.

Urban Roots: When I first moved to Oklahoma and started exploring OKC musically, Urban Roots was the place I gravitated toward. It reminded me of my hometown, Philadelphia, but it had a fresh feel to it, largely because I wasn't expecting to find that type of venue in OKC. You know, you hear so much about Oklahoma, the music there, the culture, etc. so I think, more than anything, Urban Roots just caught me off guard.

Gentrification: It's ironic that you mentioned the aggressive gentrification that played a key role in the demise of Urban Roots, because the first time I visited Urban Roots I noticed the heavy construction and development being done in the area, as well as the neighborhood demographic, the style of housing (lofts, brownstones, etc.), and I couldn't help but wonder how this would play out for a black owned business. So, I leave Urban Roots after my 1st visit, I go home and look up the history of the Deep Deuce, the area where Urban Roots was located, and come to find out that the area was historically black, and at one point the epicenter of black culture/music during the 1940's and 1950's, only to be throttled by the highway development of I-35; a sad, but all too common trend for many inner city, Black communities around the United States. Seems as if the elimination of Black spaces has been an ongoing project for 70+ years.

While the loss of Urban Roots may have hurt the music community somewhat, I think Bistro 46 and Ordinary People Lounge has played a nice role in filling the gap and offering a space for artists and musicians to grow.

STANLEY: Who are some artists from OKC/OK that you think we should be on the lookout for?

ADAM: The artists to look out for in OKC are Adam & Kizzie (shameless plug), Jabee, Cooki Turner, Sean C. Johnson, J. Lee The Producer, Kadence, and Tony Foster Jr. Band. That's my bread and butter right there.

STANLEY: I'm familiar with most of the artists you mentioned. Y'all are the first group/people I mention when I talk about OKC's black music scene. I love y'all's music so much, seriously

 STANLEY: If you could change one thing (or more than one thing) about OKC/OK's music scene, what would you change?

ADAM: If I could change simply one thing about OKC's music scene I would reopen Urban Roots! No brainer. It is the most significant of several missing puzzle pieces. It serves the artists by giving them space and it serves the people by making it easy to find where the art is taking place. There has never been more cooperation, camaraderie, diversity and ambition in this music scene in my lifetime than when Urban Roots was open. Worth noting, that Urban Roots developed over time as well. It was serving a need that many people in OKC didn't immediately know existed once they caught on though, it was magic. Beyond that I would convince the fans how important they are. I'd make them believers.

"I would convince the fans how important they are. I'd make them believers." 

STANLEY: Wow - that's profound: "...I would convince the fans how important they are" You've put a good bit of emphasis the role of fans in the creation, and success, of the music scene in Oklahoma City, as opposed saying there's a "talent gap" on the end of the artists.

Often times, it seems like we (fans) put a lot of emphasis on making the ARTIST feel like they're important, but you're saying the opposite, which I think is a valid point. But from my time in Oklahoma I learned a lot about the so called "hidden", and in some sense, undervalued talent in Oklahoma City. OKC has a lot to offer musically!

ADAM: No question bro! OKC has a ton to offer musically. What we don't have that a lot of the healthier scenes I visit have is a sense of ownership among the fans. In OKC they're taking all of their cues from the artists which doesn't work. There has to be give and take but here the artists give and receive nothing in return. If you look at every major musical movement in America's history you'll find a lot of drugs. I believe the reason for this is because the artists, by pushing boundaries end up requiring more from fans than they are willing to give and in order to continue to give without receiving self-medication becomes necessary. This is just one angle to the issue, but I believe this pattern exists! In OKC, among the artists I've mentioned, drugs aren't a part of the culture which is another thing I believe that makes it special. That said, the fans here don't understand that they can place any value on their local music scene that they want. They can demand excellence, and get it. They can demand individuality, and get it. Sadly OKC suffers from an inferiority complex (always trying to compete with Texas) and there's a deep insecurity that prevents fans from recognizing and championing the things that do make Oklahoma special. When I go to Richmond the venues are full of gatekeepers. Same thing in Austin, Chicago, Asheville, Atlanta etc. Those people make it their business to enjoy their local music in a serious way. Here everyone just laments that we don't have what those other places do, but if the fans showed up and became gatekeepers the venues that keep closing wouldn't and if those venues didn't close, the artists wouldn't move, and if the artists didn't move the standard would go higher and higher, and then people would move here.

All photos come courtesy Tori Beechum. You can find more of her work on her website beech-photography.com or on Instagram (@tbeech32)

Stuck On An Island Series: Tyra (@TheTyraTales)

Tyra (@TheTyraTales)

Funny enough, I have vivid memories of taking my mother’s hard copy of this album to show my 5th grade friends. Before the very messy and very public demise of his marriage to Paula Patton, Robin Thicke possessed a crazy amount of talent (and most likely still does but that’s neither here nor there). This appeal of this album, in my opinion, is how smooth it is. From “Got 2 Be Down” featuring Faith Evans to “Angels,” Thicke has an extremely soulful voice and tons of range that carries over just about any tempo. As I am not in fifth grade any more, I truly appreciate this album for the variety of emotions conveed in each song. “Cocaine” is literally about what you think it is, “Teach U A Lesson is about a sexy classroom fantasy, “Would That Make U Love” pleads about what makes love possible, and “Superman” details love’s heights. The Evolution is just that; it chronicles highs and lows and in-betweens in a really catchy, funky way.

This is another album that immediately takes me back to my childhood. I recall my parents playing it over and over during car trips and even more so through the house. I even took my parents’ copy to play over and over on the handheld CD player (remember those?) that my Dad gave me. Of course everyone knows “Revolution” (woop! woop!) but I also love “You Are” and “Hold Me Now” even more as I’ve grown in my relationship with God. What makes this album unique to me are the little skits about stereotypical church people that are painfully accurate, like “Interlude: The Verdict” and “Interlude: The Car (Stomp).” The older I get, I realize how many songs Kirk Franklin has taken and made appropriate for gospel, or even just revamped with a twist. “Gonna Be a Lovely Day,” a revamp of the Bill Withers song “Lovely Day,” uses some of the same lyrics but gives it an extra twang.

 

One of one of Stevie’s more underrated albums, Journey is the soundtrack to a 1979 documentary that used time-lapse photography to share how plants come to be. Stevie Wonder is my #1 favorite artist ever, and this album is extremely calming and serene. “Come Back as a Flower” is my favorite and features the melodious voice of Syreeta Wright, Stevie’s former wife. “Send One Your Love” and “Same Old Story” are really soulful classics that are really characteristic of Stevie’s style and are perfectly appropriate for the documentary. This is another album that’s really amazing to play full out and really relaxes my spirit.

 

 

Stuck On An Island Series: Kevin (@Cliche_Kev)

Kevin (@Cliche_Kev)

From the moment I fell asleep on the Megabus and Overly Dedicated seeped into my subconscious I knew I came across something great and profound. A friend years ago played me F*** your ethnicity (Section .80 lead track) before I've ever heard of Kendrick Lamar but later when I heard his songs within the context of an album, that really made me a (super)fan. But seriously how can I pick just one Kendrick project. All of his projects are meticulously handcrafted and it would be criminal for me to choose just one.. right? Or am I'm just copping out by not picking one and shading the other projects. Probably a mix of both. I chose all his albums as number 1 because chronologically his albums show growth in confidence, style, bars (won't get you high as this), risk taking and creativity so it is difficult for me to separate his music. Just like the songs on his albums, his discography trajectory needs to be taken within context as well. The more popular he has gotten the more risk, musically, he has taken. In a sentimental way and I'm probably now just rambling now, he gives me hope that ppl don't have to blend in to be beloved and at the top of their respective game.... His music transcends. This is all hyperbole at this point and in my mind it's all justified. BUT if I had to pick one project to listen to on a loop to listen to forever (Extreme hypothetical to force me to choose) I would go with TPAB. Strictly because it is more than your standard prototypical hip-hop album. All genres of music are tapped to produce this jawn. It's ambition and scope is second to none and despite my love for his previous work, so TPAB would be my pick if I had to choose. 

I felt like the bol that got his ear cut off by Peter and Jesus gave him a new one. The day I heard this, I heard things differently, I was plugged into a different frequency. Music didn't have to have words to be incredible. And music by white people can be legitimately great as well and not feel like cheap imitation (Stan take this line out if you want lol). From the day I heard this album I knew I stumbled upon an unicorn. This album stands the test of time and I still go back to listen to the greatness that is Snarky Puppy every single week. Six tracks of heat . Listen to them and Jesus will give you new ears. 

Take Car....Nahhhhh I hate Drake (had to take my shot real quick). My real number 3 is Feel Good by The Internet.  My number 3 spot is honestly fickle but today I'm riding with The Internet. Yes I know it's not as good as Ego Death, spare me the lecture Stan, but I don't care Feel Good is a favorite of mine. They will be big very soon so I'm hitching my wagon to these bols, but honestly they are already close to stardom. Grammy nominated and they have the ears and eyes of ALOT of big name artists. Feel Good is all vibes all the time. This album played on one of my greatest personality traits...chill. Feel Good is chill and laid back but the musicality and scope of the music will have your ears tuned in to every subtlety. I understand Ego Death is their crown jewel so far commercially but Feel Good is when they took their biggest leap and became a group to watch. 

The Most Honorable of Mentions:

Bilal - Airtight's Revenge 

Mick Jenkins - The Waters

The Roots - Undun

Miguel - Kaleidoscope Dream

Hiatus Kaiyote - Choose Your Weapon

Lupe Fiasco - The Cool 

Stuck On An Island Series: Melanie (@_MelLy_MEls)

 

Melanie (@_Melly_Mels)

This was the first album I ever bought and what would ultimate make me a lyrical rap fan for years to come. From grammar school until my first year of college, you couldn’t tell me shit about Wayne. Mixtape Weezy was popping around this time too. As far as I was concerned he had a hold on everything, radio and underground. In my eyes he was the greatest rapper alive at the moment. Don’t judge me I was young and just now taken my love for music seriously. I remember being in 6th or 7th grade and becoming friend’s with a girl because she heard reciting the Fireman lyrics. “Fresh on campus it's the Birdman Jr. Money too long teachers put away ya rulers” was the reason I was the reason I wanted to go to college. Wayne getting an education and still doing what he loved really inspired me. Then to watch him get his own record label later, was amazing too watch. Because of that album I didn’t fuck with any rappers that didn’t have “bars” for a very long time. 

The Black Album.jpg

This may be my favorite album of all time. I’m finally at the point where lyrics or actual talent is not needed for me to love a song. My only requirement is that the song be heartfelt and on a great ass beat. This whole album embodied that plus Hov that dude on the lyric tip. Jay Z and the producers really out did their selves with project. This album is what solidified him as my favorite rapper. Mind you I didn’t realize how great it was until like 2012. I slept on Hov pretty much until The Watch The Throne album. I didn’t think he was weak I just didn’t care for the way he talked about women. That all went out the window when I realized Wayne was no longer the “greatest rapper alive”. I spent majority of my sophomore year in college trying to figure out who did I love more Ye or Hov. Jay-Z’s larger catalogue would eventually win over Ye being and a hometown native. When I was in school I would listen to this album at least once a week. I don’t know why but it just truly lifts my mood. I would literally be walking to class walking around campus reciting pretending I’m Hov. I become a different person when 99 Problem, PSA, or What More Can I Say Song comes on. Dirt of the Shoulder is one of the most nostalgic songs to me, and yes I still rap it like it came out last week. I could write a whole essay about this album and why I love it but I’m going to keep it short and sweet.

 It’s Michael Jackson’s best album, enough said… R.I.P. to the King

I’m technically cheating by mentioning a mixtape, but let’s be real this is might as well have been an album. I’m from the South side of Chicago so I’ve been messing with Chance since 10 Day. I miss when he did free but I’m extremely proud to see how far he’s come as artist and a young man, and where he’s headed. This is another album that will put you in a good ass mood. I don’t even know where to start. This project came out during my sophomore year of college, around finals at that, and boy was it needed. Anytime I would get homesick I would listen to this album because it just screamed to Chicago, the good and the bad, which is very evident in Pusha Man. I really appreciated him and the producers for incorporating the juke beats throughout the project. I immediately would start thinking about my weekends and juke jams and parties back in high school and elementary school. Songs like Everybody’s Something and Everything’s Good, just make you appreciate the small things life. As far as topics this mixtape was all over the place yet still very cohesive and homely for me. This is another project I could probably do a whole paper about.

My new fave. I know this project has only been out a few weeks but I still have it in heavy rotation. Every song is great in my eyes. I even fell in love with Forward. I can tell how excited I was to hear his presence on this project. He’s another favorite artist of mine. Now I’ve been a Beyoncé fan since 6th grade and yes I’m in the Beyhive, so yeah I’m biased but this project is still pretty amazing. As a black woman watching this filming really made me feel so empowered. I honestly think this album is more of a soundtrack to the visual. Just listening to the album, one would miss so much. As far as the infidelity goes, whether she was talking about her life or using a creative license, I’m just grateful we got a dope project out of it. Lyrically this is her best album, kudos to all the songwriters. I absolutely love array of genres on this album. She had me bopping to a country song and I don’t really care for country. I love when artist go outside the box and experiment with new sounds. It shows they’re pushing themselves and thus pushing the art forward. I’m starting to think I should have went until journalism because this is another project I could easily give you 8 pages on. Hell I notice something new every time I watch it.