The crowd at this year’s Pygmalion Festival was dancing in awe as it laid witness to an explosive hip-hop duo on a Saturday night this past September, and I’m not talking about Run The Jewels. Klevah and T.R.U.T.H, two local rappers who together form Mother Nature put on a performance that was years in the making.
T.R.U.T.H met Klevah when they were both students at the University of Illinois. Klevah introduced herself at a student group meeting for W.O.R.D. (Writers Organizing Realistic Dialect):
“I’m Klevah, and I spit.”
Kindred spirits, as T.R.U.T.H put it: “I knew she gotta be dope.”
Not only was it the beginning of a friendship, but one of musical inspiration and partnership.
“I know struggle very well,” Klevah said. “That goes into my music a lot, and then being able to express that with another woman who shares some of those experiences, but we both do it in a very poetic and beautiful way... it’s very rare and very god given.”
Klevah is from Champaign-Urbana and a U of I alum. T.R.U.T.H is a Chicago native who lives here now is also an alum, and while they were students, both rappers attended classes with Gender and Women’s Studies professor Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown. Brown wrote a review of Mother Nature’s Pygmalion performance, emphasizing the “black girl genius” it flaunted.
Klevah (left) and T.R.U.T.H (right) performing at The Pygmalion Festival 2015.
T.R.U.T.H explained the concept of “black girl genius”: “The bottom line... is just seeing the genius in black girls because for the most part, on the major circuit, when you see a black girl in the media, on TV and stuff like that it’s not portrayed in the best light. It’s looked at negatively, but it’s like, we take ownership of what we do, and we know that it’s genius, regardless of what anybody else has to say about it.”
Klevah said she makes music for herself, and thus her music is made to speak to black girls. It’s a space for that kind of dialogue necessary to sustain this kind of hip-hop music, but both Klevah and T.R.U.T.H have both experienced venues that are not supportive. C-U venues’ relationship with hip-hop has be fraught, but if a space will not support a performance, Mother Nature simply won’t do it. “Hip-hop is gonna piss you off sometimes, hip-hop is going to disrupt,” Klevah said.
With racial tension brewing nationally, both members of Mother Nature have become a part of the Black Lives Matter movement on campus, and rap about social justice in their songs. They keep the vibe upbeat and fun, but according to T.R.U.T.H, when you sit down and listen to the lyrics, you get something more out of it than just a beat.
“I think that that’s the time we’re in right now, people are having revolutionary thought no matter what color you are,” said Klevah. “People are changing the way that they think and changing their perspectives on the world, and so I think that this is kind of like the soundtrack to that.”
Hip hop in C-U is more than just a flash of genius at the town’s biggest music festival. It’s not a novelty addition to a cross-over show at Cowboy Monkey, like tonight’s bill with Bookmobile! and The Fights. It’s a big, diverse group of talent.
“It is a lot of MCs down here but nobody sounds like each other. Nobody like Jarrel Young, Chase Baby, TheGr8Thinkaz, everybody that I really rock with, they so different. Everybody has their own lane. So collaboration is something that you can look forward to,” T.R.U.T.H said. “This, to me, is very foundational. If you can put all your pieces together [in C-U]. When you move on, you will have a solid base.”
With room to grow, an audience that will listen, and space for them to create, C-U is a good home for Mother Nature. The Mother Nature EP will be released sometime next year, possibly in the early spring, with a local release show and other goodies leading up to that. The songs have already been with recorded with engineering and production help from other local artists Larry Gates of Curb Service and Rokmore of TheGr8Thinkaz.
“It’s very hip-hop I feel. We’re very involved in the community,” Klevah said. “We do music here, we go to shows, we create.”
Top photo by Kelsey Greene. Pygmalion Festival photos of Mother Nature by Tom Chandler.