Black Men In Music: Interviews Pt. 2



Kenan Banks, 38

Kenan Banks, 38

Software Engineer by day and Techincal DJ by night, Kenan Banks tapped into the world of DJing at the start of college and has been involved with the craft for the past twenty years. Initially from Washington DC, Banks currently resides in BedStuy, Brooklyn and performs at a number of local black owned businesses for events and nightlife. 

At what point did you decide music was it for you?

KB: I was always into music. I was playing the piano when I was young, my mom bought me a toy piano when I was like five or six. Then, I got into Hip Hop and Rock by the time I was in high school. Then I got lucky, I lived in the suburban version of the hood. *chuckles* There was a yardsale and someone was selling Mint Condition Technics 1200 turntables for $100 (for the pair). I bargained them down to $80 and wrote them a check. I didn’t know what they were. I just picked them up, they were heavy, and thought I could get some money for them. Then, I looked them up and found out they were turntables that everybody uses. So, I just kept them and learned how to use them. 

What’s your favorite type of music to play?

KB: I like to play music that Black people will dance to. *laughs* So, the intersection of that and music that I like. I don’t play music I don’t like.

Care to elabore?

KB: I mean that’s core of being a DJ. I say I play music that I like because when I don’t, I feel dishonest. It pulls me out of the party, which ends up making for a worse overall performance. I try to be a part of it. If someone is dancing, I almost will always play for them...I feel like I’m there to serve other people as a DJ.

What’s your take on the full circle of inspiration from Black men in music decked out in designer monograms to high end designers picking up on the streetwear aesthetic?

KB: It’s such a complex question. I think one of the reasons that Black men and Black people feel compelled to wear monograms like Louie V bags or Gucci right across the chest because we had to struggle a little bit more just to be treated humanely. That’s really a signifier like you’re doing well enough to be treated well out in the world, I think. At least for me, if I’m out in most of America (like the airport), I’m going to present myself and dress well. It’s really just about getting a baseline of respect that, potentially, White folks don’t really have to do.

You don’t think it’s ironic that Black men have to do that? Especially considering high end fashion is making hoodies a part of their Capsule collections?

KB: No, it is ironic. It’s hard to explain but I think that Blackness, in general, it’s always taboo until one of these brands or a major artist selects some trend that Black folks have been doing for years. Then it elevates it; it legitimizes it to a whiter audience. Our culture has been consistently mine for ‘cool’ and it’s really just people who have been crowned ‘taste makers’ picking something. As far as I can tell. “They’re just picking something and making it ‘OK’ for White people to buy it now.”

Earnie Graint, 21

Earnie Graint, 21

Born and raised in New York City, Earnie Grant Jr. (artist name ERNE) has been influenced in the arts since a young age and has received opportunities to perform in various well established venues and arenas; from Carnigie Hall and Julliard, to Linclon Center and Madison Square Garden. 

His sound is currently R&B/Soul, he values very intimate beats with melodic elements that soothe yet get his listeners in the mood. Outside of singing, ERNE is also a model, stylist, and creative director. With both fashion and music as outlets for creative expression, ERNE feels it’s a way to keep his authenticity fresh and ‘dig when he feels he’s delved all the way.’

 If asked the question, would you say you’re a musician or vocalist first?

ERNE: I would say musician, as a whole, because I sing, rap and also play a little guitar. I’m honestly fluid with my body so I can hop on different instruments, if possible. My style, as a vocalist, is also pretty diverse; I wouldn’t put myself into one genre. I mean, I could but I think if you had to ask me, I’d say I’m a blend between Pop, R&B, Trap Soul, and Jazz.

Do you think the fluidity of your music is aligned with your personality?

ERNE: Yeah, I’m the type of guy where I’m cool with everybody. There’s no crowd I couldn’t intermingle myself with; I have an appreciation for all realms of music. I would like to incorporate sounds from all different realms or aspects, especially when I get everything off the ground. I would love to see some old Chinese man playing the guitar, record that shit, take it to the crib and ‘trap’ it. You know what I’m saying? That’s how music is. Music touches, no matter what kind, once you really look at it from a more technical perspective. When you look at how they’re playing and not just what you’re hearing, the elements, dynamics, the depth of music and the technicalities have such an effect.

How does the performance aspect look on stage with this same ideology in terms of music?

ERNE: I mean,  I’ll just sing. Usually, I’ll have something accompany me. I play the guitar but not enough to say I’m a guitarist. Yet, I have been on a track before playing guitar; I know the chords and the basics. I can hold it down. But, yeah, usually it’ll be me singing. I like to balance the singing and rapping aspects; I think that’s a popular aesthetic currently. Also, I think you should be able to manipulate your craft.

Would you say your personal style is the same?

ERNE: Keep in mind, as an artist, you want to try and give a different perspective. Yes, you want to try and show tribute to different artists who have produced amazing work. But you also want to throw your own little twist and flare; you want to raise discussion. I think that’s what art’s sole purpose is for. So, with my sound, I want it to sound somewhat like what everyone likes to hear which is the beat; I feel what the public feels. I am the public. I want to hear that beat but I also have my own little touch of rhythmic flow in terms of my vocal

What’s your opinion on how the Black man’s image has such an impact on fashion and popular culture?

ERNE: You know, this reminds me of this advertisement that Migos did for like a liquor company. They were talking and I think Quavo was like, ‘Oh yeah, we start talkin’ about this drink here? That’s it, We The Culture!’ And I’m thinking ‘We’re the Culture.’ I don’t know, we really do influence so many realms. We’re extremely influential, from brands to the way we dance to how we do our hair. As you can see, other cultures ‘admire’ it and they try to show their ‘appreciation.’ *laughs*

Honestly, I feel like we should just be more in it. It’s like they took it, they really tried to rob it. There are certain realms of fashion that are so whitewashed, and it could be so much more tasteful if there was more color.

Jus’B, 33

Jus’B, 33

With an artistic inclination through art films, dance and music, Brandyn Thomas (artist name Jus’B) was introduced to the world of performing arts at an early age. Born in Motown famed Detroit to guitarist Darryl Thomas Sr. and Barbara Thomas, Jus’B returned to New York City from LA to begin developing his career in music in 2013. Two years after his return, he developed an independent performance platform Alive Underground, alongside his manager Dominique Jenelle; a platform aimed to showcase independent talent from Detroit to New York City. Since 2015, Jus has completed three projects including H.I.G.H. (How I Got Here), In The Meantime, and his latest HOMMECOMMING. Jus likes to describe his music direction as ‘nostalgic hip hop within a jazz pocket.’ 

What feeling would you like your music to convey? Does it have a personality?

JB: My music definitely has a personality. It’s fun cadences and production with a very serious undertone about life, love and the consciousness of the Black Man in today’s society. It took me a while to find my softer side, though. When I first started rapping, I was very angry. It was around the time police brutality had resurfaced to the forefront (around 2015). I was in a very dark and depressed place. Hence, why my first EP In the Meantime has heavy political bars and aggressive lyrics. Now, I’ve opened up a bit more. My music definitely has an early ‘90s, Neo Soul vibe with heavy horns and bass lines. Detroit is my hometown and it’s a huge part of who I am. I grew up studying J Dilla and his whole movement with Slum Village. They taught me how to not take myself too seriously; you can definitely hear Detroit in my voice and flows. In my mind, musically, I’m the son of Erykah Badu and Common; Slum Village and Tribe called Quest are my cousins; Miles Davis and Nina Simone are my grandparents; and Robert Glasper is my big brother. The point is for my music to convey self-love and awareness in order to combat the effects of self-doubt. I want to spread calmness and light through frequencies and vibrations; make y’all feel like them old BET Planet Groove days *laughs* Deadass.

When it comes to performing, do you feel your fashion choices and style aesthetics are aligned with the genre of music you perform?

JB: I do! I’ve learned that it’s not what you have on, it’s your soul that shows. I used to wear so many chains and ahnks, beads and all the ‘Black, Peace and Love, Anti-White’ shit I could find on Fulton street in Brooklyn or 125th in Harlem. Then, I realized that I don’t have to prove who I am, just be that. Hence Jus’B. After that epiphany, I truly arrived at my highest self. Now, I’m very simple and clean. I’m all about the fit of clothing, the accessories, clear skin and a clear perspective. You can’t make somebody believe you. You just have to be authentic when it comes to Hip Hop and Jazz; no faking it. When I cut off my dreads last year, I felt reborn. I can see myself for the man I am. No matter what clothing choices I make, I’m happy with my reflection and body. That’s what my music is about, being secure with self no matter what. One day, eventually, I see myself rocking out on stage with no shirt, baggy leather pants and Jodeci boots like ole school D’angelo; ‘90s vibes. 

So, you don’t think what a musician or artist wears defines him or can be associated with his style of music?

JB: I think people need to stop telling us what we need to do and wear. Everything is about a brand. Fuck that. Like Charles Wright said, ‘Express Yourself!’  Do you, Beloved!  It doesn’t matter what I have on, size, color etcetera; does the music slap or nah?

How do you feel society views Black men in rap?

JB: I don’t think they take us as seriously as they used to. For me, the prime era of Black Thought, Common, Phonte, Mos Def, Qtip, Talib, and Guru was legit as fuck. We had no choice but to take them seriously. They flooded the market with amazing content to shift the culture in a positive way. Now the tables have turned. Overly saturated with mediocre content and half ass production. Perception is reality. The balance is off. Make it make sense.

What’s your opinion on how fashion brands and labels use rappers like Pharrell, Andre 300 and ASAP Rocky in their fashion campaigns?

JB: Well, these are three of my biggest influences musically and style wise, especially ASAP Rocky. His music is a breath of fresh air for me. It only makes sense to use men like them because they are open minded and steer away from hyper masculinity that pigeonholes fashion, art and innovation within the Black community. They are fearless and creative men; two things that work together. Even musically, they’re outside of the box and don’t just identify as rappers but as all around artists. They aren’t afraid of doing something new and we need that. We are constantly being sold repackaged oppression. Personally, I think fashion respects Black men in rap more than the media does.