Klevah and T.R.U.T.H debuted their first collaboration EP, Mother Nature at the 2015 Pygmalion Festival last Saturday. I’m certain hip hop’s last 40 years evolved just so this black girl genius hip hop duo could happen. Everything was hardcore and they got the barz right ‘cause they wanted us to live, y’all.
I could say they are both black women, and while that’s true, you gotta unlearn the heteropatriarchy so you don’t take that to mean “less than.” They are so unapologetically taking up all the hip hop space as black women emcees with mean flows and luxocractic lyrics. They are rapping for those of us who cannot take for granted an un-accosted walk down Main Street or an unpoliced ride through the C-U. Freedom is always within reach but we have not felt it that divine in a hip hop space until 9:45 p.m. at the Highdive outdoor stage two. When the blue and red lights lit the sound that awakened love in the name of hip hop by two black women emcees for our benefit, the rap game forever shifted.
The barz began and the music affirmed everything your biggest hip-hop hoop earrings-wearing self been waiting for your whole life. They opened with several songs off the Mother Nature EP, tracks most of us have not yet heard. I’m so excited to be a part of the crowd who can boast we was rocking with them from jump. Those unafraid to “step in,” “raise a fist,” “#Say Her Name,” ready to “take it further” were grooving revolution.
The first released track from the EP, “Afro,” with its flirty fun booming bass line amplified by DJ Legtwo, served as a come hither tune seductively preparing us for the sexiest political education we did not know we needed until Klev and T.R.U.T.H rhymed us better. The title track, “Mother Nature” bumped ridiculously hard and embodied the spirit of the project: hardcore, take no prisoners, heartbreaking, calling all the shots, freeing the fakers and murdering the conditions killing black people. It was a high-energy show for sure, slaying the spectacular violence that produces (insert name) hashtags while also slaughtering slow death, the kind that often and specifically haunts black women and girls.
Because Champaign-Urbana already knows them individually, they gave us two songs from their other concurrent projects. Klevah performed “The Process” from Golden, and T.R.U.T.H performed “Pilot” from E.V.E. They followed up with a two-word hook song: "Michael Jackson." This song gave those of us fans already in the know more of their solo style, but together as the vibrations boast love for their respective muses: Klev’s dad and T.R.U.T.H’s MJ. At this point in the show, the audience was also in love and more than amused, collectively waving our hands, whipping our hair, and bouncing shoulder to shoulder all on different beats because the crowd was that diverse and that unified.
The music was stellar, the vibe was stupid cracked, the love overflowed and the aesthetic was the Panthers meets "Set It Off" black. All of this came together to introduce us to a sound that is yet to come. On stage they told us the festival’s invitation prompted them to collaborate, making new music that did those often overlooked justice. This town is resource-rich when it comes to hip hop and while I wished Klevah and T.R.U.T.H headlined, I’m grateful for the opportunity Pygmalion extended their way. I also fantasized about all the music I would have wanted to experience before their set with such a grand set up the festival afforded, like Cii La’Cole, The Gr8thinkaz, Paradigm Shift, Lazarus, We Levitate (of which I am a part), and so on. In midst of an international audience, alongside talented acts from all over the world, two of the baddest hip hop artists joined forces so we who are black and underground, local yet unknown can remain alive and have a great time at the same time. And for sure, we did.
For those of us who live here, the shade thrown on the cornfields, the assumed backwardness of being ironically centrally located, the presumed (but wrong) lack of a vibrant hip hop cultural scene, the racist and patriarchal excess troubling public space, the nothing to do-ness — all exposed, doused, and transformed. Out of all the major supposed flyest area codes, wasn’t nowhere we would rather be but outside in the 217, rocking the night away with Klevah and T.R.U.T.H The Mother Nature EP deserves global and local attention that I am certain is yet to come, but right now the brilliance is so close it feels like a good, juicy secret.
From the get go they were true to their words; it was all about the women. They tight-sealed the space in perfect barz and perfected lyricism, and the women responded right back with full consent. T.R.U.T.H with the shades and the fresh high-top fade and Klev’s asymmetric curly fro and Gr8thinkaz t-shirt we all wanted to cop, were clearly on some brand new-new we ain’t never before experienced. So while comparisons to previous hip hop duos and groups are expected, they just won’t do and can’t do justice to what we felt. Klevah and T.R.U.T.H stuck us up for all our baggage and jacked us for our excuses about why we can’t participate in the movement to get us moving in the direction of liberation. We did not look back and we did not mind. We rocked out and ain’t stopped. They came out outta nowhere from the future to give what they learned back to us, raw and generous, on that seasonably warm night. Daring us to move closer toward freedom, growing us all uncontrollably stronger, it was all the hip hop and galactic elements, the anguish, the pain, the mercy and the call. Be sure to get the EP, when it drops. After all and in the middle, it happened, a show that made revolution irresistible and my matte red lipstick completely worth it.
Top photo: T.R.U.T.H (right) and Klevah at The Pygmalion Festival. Photos by Tom Chandler.