By Cameron Lee
July 28, 2020
When we look back on history, we’re often able to connect events with music that captures the emotions of a year, place, or moment in time. For Miriam Tolbert, a radio personality for K97.5 FM in Raleigh and founder of the touring hip-hop brand Carolina Waves, this thought sparked the creation of a powerful cypher and music video that firmly encapsulates the emotions felt by many in our country today.
“There are many tools for activism in addition to protest, including music. Nina Simone once said, ‘It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times.’ I am not an artist, but I am a curator, and my network is full of them, so I wanted to put together a group of talented emcees to lend their voices to the here and now,” Tolbert said.
Tolbert’s weekly radio show Carolina Waves– a North Carolina-only hip-hop program airing on Sundays nights– has created not only a platform for artists on the local air waves, but through her showcases, reaching a wide range of hip-hop enthusiasts in the southeast. Hosting concerts and day parties at festivals like A3C, Hopscotch, and Art of Cool, Tolbert is a stalwart for hip-hop in North Carolina. Having worked with North Carolina artists like G. Yamazawa, Deniro Farrar, and Mez in the past, she tapped Raleigh’s Jooselord, Lena Jackson, and TAGEM, along with Henderson’s 2FLY KNG, for the protest cypher and song, “Black AF.”
Produced by North Carolina’s Imani “Yaya Beatz” Pressley and recorded at Raleighwood Studios, the eerie carols in the beginning of “Black AF” build anticipation as the words “It is an artist’s duty to reflect the times,” appears as the beat knocks, preparing for the cypher.
Shot in a grainy black and white with all of the artists donning matching colors, 2FLY KNG flips the haunting premise from hardships to hope with lyrics like: “Black lives, baptized in a pool a fire, with no new desires / Change is coming, your truth expired, look at what you inspired.” He continues with “My theory, spread the knowledge and wealth and build our community / Economic empowerment showered with continuity.”
Accompanying the dynamic bars are the visual lyrics and animations that bring a sense of chaotic but orderly anger expressed through quick cuts and multiple camera angles. The video, directed by Patrick Lincoln (Torch House Media) and Brandon McCarrell (Raven House Media), has an aged texture that symbolizes the years of oppression experienced by Black Americans, fusing into a BET Hip Hop Awards rap cypher setting.
Raleigh’s Jooselord, whose eccentrically abrasive lyrics often touch on social observations, closes the performance with an unapologetic testimony on being Black and very proud. He lifts his ski mask as a demonic laugh echoes and delivers some firm words in the acapella, “I’m Black as Bernie Mac jokes / That mean I’m Black and loud, Black and proud / Big drip, get em’ wet I’m the blackest cloud / I’m Black as slave soul / Black as the bodies of them Panthers under gravestones.” He continues: “Black as Martin getting beat in the streets / Black as getting murdered by the hands of police.”
Released on major platforms on July 31, all proceeds from the song “Black AF” will be donated to North Carolina anti-racism and discrimination non-profits including Democracy Green, Black Out Collective, Raleigh Pact, Raleigh Demands Justice, Emancipate NC, and Advance Carolina.
Watch the full “Black AF” video featuring Jooselord, Lena Jackson, 2FLY KNG, and TAGEM presented by Carolina Waves. Directed by Patrick Lincoln (Torch House Media) and Brandon McCarrell (Raven House Media), produced by Imani Pressley and recorded at Raleighwood Studios.