In late January, I spent the day at Sister Curls hair salon in Champaign photographing the filming of local female hip-hop duo Mother Nature’s music video for their single "Afro" featuring CiCi "Cii La’Cole" Stewart.
Mother Nature is a combination of the talents of local artists Tierney (T.R.U.T.H) Reed and Shasta (Klevah) Knox. Local artist Chris "TwoBrainz" Smith filmed the video and family members, friends and local supporters (such as former Champaign Mayor Don Gerard) packed the salon to show their support and make appearances in the video.
The passion and love for the music and for each other was obvious from the moment I walked in, and the entire day turned into a celebration of self-confidence, individuality, and community. A week later, I got the chance to sit down with the ladies of Mother Nature to reflect on that experience and talk about their inspiration, struggles and successes.
Smile Politely: As far as your process goes, where do you start? When it comes to a song, do you always start in one place?
Tierney Reed: I’d say it definitely starts with the beat, like an instrumental or whatever we use and really it’s just like you feel it. We don’t have too much thought with prewriting. It’s just like let’s listen to the track, “What you feel? What you thinkin’?” and pretty much for the both of us we let the beat speak for itself and let it tell us what we need to speak about, pretty much and it just flows naturally. We don’t do too much criticalness with it, we just let it be.
Tierney Reed, aka T.R.U.T.H
Shasta Knox: With "Afro" it was just like something about the old school vintage feel and the soulfulness it just made me think about hair, I don’t know why. It could have been the environment we were in, she had some products on her shelf and stuff like that. We were just, you know, vibin’ but that was just something I couldn’t get out of my head and then it developed into a hook or a couple words and then that developed into the chorus of the song. I think we did the chorus and the bridge first and then we did the verses.
Shasta Knox, aka Klevah
Reed: Yeah, I think that with all them songs really. Always, the bridge or the chorus, we start with that and then go from there. Because whatever we feel from the beat initially is like “OK we’ll probably talk about this” and then we like “A catchy hook would be like this” and then she’ll say something or I’ll say something and we just start from there and then the verses just write themselves for the most part.
SP: For the process, do you guys do it all together all the time or will you, once you have your hook, do your own thing for one verse and you do yours for another?
Knox: It works both ways.
Reed: For the majority of the EP we did it together. There was certain songs like we came up with the hook or the bridge or something and I’d record something and send it to her, “Hey what do you think about this?” but it’s always collaborative whether we’re together, or in one space together, it’s always collaborative. But verse-wise it’s like she do her thing, I do my thing. I trust her, I know she ain’t gonna me no whack shit and I ain’t gonna give her none.
Knox: I think both have different results too, still great results but like when we’re together, I think it makes things more exciting. It transforms and becomes something within that space but when we’re apart it’s still cool because it’s like we come with two different perspectives. We’re on two totally different sounds but they still sound good together.
Reed: It’s a blessing, because it could definitely go left real fast.
Knox: It works both ways.
SP: At what point did CiCi (Cii La’Cole) come into this?
Knox: I mean CiCi was always the person we have in mind.
Reed: Yeah, when we need some melodic singing type of stuff, let’s go holler at CiCi.
Knox: We both have worked with her before and I’ve known CiCi for some years now and she blessed my last project. Did she do something on your last project?
CiCi "Cii La’Cole" Stewart
Reed: She was on my first project, Luxocracy, so I’ve been rocking with CiCi for a minute. She didn’t do nothing on Eve but she’s doing something on this latest project I’ve got, Millennium Protest Music.
Knox: She’s like the go to in terms of adding some herbs and spices as we say, or writing, her writing is really really incredible. She's like minded and even though she’s kind of shy about it sometimes she executes every time beyond our expectations.
Reed: Effortlessly. We was just in the studio listening to her, looking at each other mouth open like “What is happening right now?”. (CiCi) “Do you want me to keep going?” (T.R.U.T.H) “Yes, just do all of it!”. We just asked her to do her thing, not really too much direction. Just tell her what verse we want her to hop on or the chorus and she just did her thing.
Knox: Usually very in the moment, improv kind of thing.
SP: Your verses are both pretty different. They’re personal but there’s a lot going on, there’s a lot of symbolism and deeper meaning. Individually for your own verse, where did you draw inspiration specifically for your verse?
Knox: With the whole topic of hair and afros and being your most natural or going outside of yo natural self and sill being able to adapt to different styles and stuff like that. I mean it made me think a lot about identity and just, you know, how you see yourself. And that’s pretty much what I talked about was my identity. It’s kind of flirtatious in a way, you know its like talking to, it could be a girl or a boy, but just talking to someone and making them feel comfortable about themselves and who they are and just alluding to different ideas about identity. I’m trying to remember my words.
Reed: I’m trying to pull up mine now. What exactly did we say? With me it was like what we came up with is just two verses to a song but what people got from it is like “Oh you took that?”. It’s different. I’m just rapping about stuff on my dresser to be honest.
Knox: With this verse that I had wrote, I did a Drake voice on it. I don’t normally sound like that on most records, so that was something that was different. That’s the sound I chose for that record because it fit, it seemed it worked well. It was playful in a way, playful and flirtatious. I wouldn’t even say, yeah I went in to it with a lot of thought but it definitely is about identity.
SP: If you think you could say the biggest theme of this song, would you say identity?
Reed: Yeah, black women identity to be more specific but it’d be identity in general.
SP: When did you actually start writing this song?
Knox: You got the date on there?
Reed: December 6th, 2015.
Knox: That wouldn’t have been right. December 6th, 20…
Reed: Nah nah nah, that’s when it modified. It was before Pygmalion.
Knox: Before Pygmalion so it would’ve been like October.
Reed: Early October, late September.
SP: So it was a pretty quick turnaround?
Knox: Very quick, yeah, the whole project…
Reed: Like a week, like a week or two.
Knox: The whole project.
SP: When did you say “This needs a video!” and what made this want to be you guys’ first video?
Knox: This was actually, was this the first single that we dropped?
Knox: This was, yeah, so this was the first single that we dropped. It was a song that we just felt..
Reed: ...grabbed the most people.
Knox: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Reed: It identified us as a group, it was just like OK…
Knox: This is what we can make together, like “Whoa!”. So I think it was just one of the strongest songs that we had. Even in the moment of us writing and coming up with it we was like…
Reed: Like, “this one!”, like “Yeah!”…
Knox: “This is the one!” and there was still other stuff that followed after that but that really elevated us in spirit I would say, so it was just the perfect song to make a video to.
Reed: It was a real song too. That was another thing, I don’t think either one of us actually have written like that if at all. It was just like man it’s got a bridge, got a hook, got a this, got a that and I know it’s long, it’s like six minutes! And people really like listening to all of this, with people voting to put it on the radio.
Knox: Yeah, we got some radio play on 105.
Reed: We like yeah we gotta go ahead and make a visual for this. Just cap it off all together.
Knox: That was another big thing with it being on the radio random people would be hitting me up like “Yeah I heard you on the radio” and that a really cool feelin’ because it was playing in the middle of other stuff that you hear all the time…
Reed: Established stuff…
Knox: Yeah, established stuff. It was a strategic move but also it’s what felt right and with my cousin, we originally wanted to do the video in a beauty supply store because the setting was there, it’d have been real nice. But then I got to thinking about my cousin’s shop (Sister Curls) and I’m like “That would be the perfect set.” and I hit her up and she was totally game for it. Just everything, as in Mother Nature does, it just comes together very nicely.
Reed: God works wonders man.
SP: When did Chris "TwoBrainz" become involved? Have you worked with him before?
Knox: Yeah, yeah, I’ve been working with Chris, I would say he is my videographer. I’ve worked with another guy from my group, FlyShotzFresh, does some of my stuff, but Chris has done most of my stuff since The W8 which was my first project that I released. We’ve bonded pretty tight, I’m excited to see how this is gonna come out because every video that chips and i do together ends up being so much better than i imagine because he puts his own creativity into it so I’m excited to see it. This was her (T.R.U.T.H’s) first video, so big difference and I think it’s gonna be the best of the best.
Chris "TwoBrainz" Smith
SP: Do you remember the first time you heard yourself on the radio?
Knox: Yes I do, yes I do. Yeah you (T.R.U.T.H) hadn’t heard it on the radio had you? Yeah, it was crazy, I was riding with Sky (cousin) I think and I was on the phone and then I heard it, like the radio was turned down low but I heard the bass guitar, the doo doo doo, and I’m like “Wait a minute!” And I just jammed out, I jammed out for six minutes, they played the whole song, it was great. And I mean I heard it a couple times after that but that first moment was definitely awesome. I hung up the phone, wasn’t having any conversation or nothin’, I just enjoyed the moment.
SP: Are you surprised at how much community support you’ve gotten? I’ve seen so many different people, in the small time I’ve spent with you, from all walks of life, and I think that that says a lot about your music in general, but were you surprised by that at all?
Knox: I wouldn’t say I’m surprised, it’s kind of what has been happenin’, it’s what I’ve been working for. And then bringing Mother Nature, you know me having my fans already and then T.R.U.T.H having her fans and a lot of those are mutual but for us to bring these forces together it just creates even more of a network for us. So I wouldn’t say I’m surprised but I’m very grateful, very grateful.
Reed: I was very surprised, very surprised. I don’t know, it’s like the realist in me slash the pessimist in me where its just like, is people really gonna show up like they say they gonna do? Cuz there’s been so many instances where people fall through and it’s just like, you know, just put it on the table and see what happens. I was surprised but definitely very grateful and it’s like it doesn’t happen just by chance, it ain’t like ain’t been at it doin’ our solo stuff, collectively in our own groups and stuff like that as well so it’s like it’s only natural that it would come together even more with us being the forefront of the scene and now coming together. But it was definitely a surprise and definitely by the grace of God that it happened.
Knox: Yeah, I guess I didn’t really expect so many people to come through and be as prompt as they were and to be so active and engaged. It was a really good feel, I like when people come together and just have a good time, be in the moment, don’t complain about stuff. It was good, just to have everybody on the scene, energy.
Former Champaign Mayor Don Gerard
Reed: And then we can’t forget about Brittany (Darling) because she’s the one that handled all the majority of getting people there and making sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, clothing, all that different type of stuff. So it was really more laid back, and I’m sure for all of your (Klevah’s) videos in the past it prolly wasn’t this easy going, you know.
Knox: Right, right. Yeah because now we starting to work more collectively too. In the past it’s mostly been, do your own shit, like I’m planning everything. Chris may be planning some stuff but for the most part it’s all on me and I’m sure it’s the same experience for you (T.R.U.T.H). Even with our individual groups, the great thing, because in PS you still carry your own weight for the most part but now that we’ve come together and we know who our supportive base is here in Champaign-Urbana and with those people anything can be accomplished.
Reed: Everybody’s always willing to lend a hand or give us space or come out, all of that type of stuff and that’s definitely something we’re grateful for as well.
SP: On the flip side of that then, you’re making a name for yourselves, you’re getting known, you hear yourself on the radio which is really cool but you’ve obviously gone through some tough times to get here. What got you through those times to here?
Reed: The music, the music man. That’s one thing, for me even going all the way back to my first project and stuff, that wasn’t supposed to happen because everybody that was supposed to help me during that time fell through. People tell me, “Oh you come here record this, I’ll do this, I’ll do that,” fell through, “I’ll give you beats,” fell through. So for me, I don’t really care about gettin’ known or nothin’ like that, I just want to make music and put it out there for whoever want to indulge in it, they can indulge in it, but it is what it is. But it’s like the music is what always kept me going, since I was a shorty and I’m going through stuff, I write. I wrote freestyle, I do this, I do that, so its like at the end of the day, music, that’s the baseline. So all the bull and the BS and the politics and stuff that come along with it, you can move that all away to the side because when I first started doing this it was all for the love. So if I keep that foundation, that base, that’s it. That’s always what pushed me, just the music, just keeping going through the bull.
Knox: What she said.
Tyler is a graphic designer and photographer who specializes in sports, music, and event photography. Contact him directly or follow him on Twitter.