There is no greater time to be a hip hop head in Champaign-Urbana. While the towns have always boasted superb talent―there is deep hip hop history here―that two emcees joined forces to create something new is newsworthy.
Shasta Knox a.k.a KLEVAH, born and raised in Urbana, is goddess of the hip hop crossroads. She is a trickster warrior on the mic, unafraid and for good reason; her skill is second to no one. Tierney Reed a.k.a T.R.U.T.H looks up to KLEV as a big sister and rhymes like a mac truck going over the speed limit cuz the stories she tells are just that urgent. The highly anticipated drop date for their first joint project Mother Nature EP is Spring 2016, with several singles from the project already available via https://mothernaturebarz.bandcamp.com. You will not want to miss their headlining performance on December 10th at Cowboy Monkey because with Mother Nature, KLEVAH and T.R.U.T.H elevate their already superior independent sound. As artists who produce so much in so little time and collaborate with so many different people, they know something about a quality whole and how to cooperate as a matter of survival. The conditions have been met for their coming together, therefore the Mother Nature EP deserves our full public attention. To do otherwise would only cost us more lives and unheard Black girl truths, neither of which we can afford.
“Or maybe it’s just different when you modest and you gifted and you give it,” KLEVAH rhymes on Golden, and the words are not lost on me. That’s a difference I want to live in and the kind of difference that makes a difference for those of us interested in social justice. Difference is the change she masterfully embraces to confront the darker sides of life in her music, making her an exceptional rapper whose rhyme play with life’s light is naturally effortless. Holding both/and simultaneously with hella audacity, in every verse spit, is definitive KLEVAH.
More than KLEVAH’s honesty, it seems to be her generosity imploring her to take to studio and stage for collective benefit. She started The Culture, an open mic set for people to express themselves creatively. For as dope of an emcee as she is, she can also run the bar, work the door, host, organize, design the space and manage it all to create the opportunity for someone else to express their vision in a spotlight that shows their art is cared for and appreciated. KLEVAH knows in-town hip hop talent deserve the very best platforms from which to showcase their art just as much as anyone else. Therefore, if access to the best stages continued to be ignored and/or denied by premier performance arts complexes and downtown establishments, KLEVAH creates the space needed for a necessary people, herself. It’s that hip hop can’t stop won’t stop ambition for the sake of belonging that those hostile to hip hop need to hear and heed through her music. So whether you riding out to KLEVAH’s music or fangirling a live performance, she is going to look back at you to make sure you got it, because that is love. But also recognize she’s looking back at you already so far gone, legions ahead of the rest. Don’t ever get it twisted.
To rewind back to T.R.U.T.H’s first project, Luxocracy, there is no realer moment than when she raps “wats real/how you really feel/cuz I don’t like what I see.” Her rhymes are to the point, intensely personal, and encourage you to look in the mirror to become a better person right along with her. Born and raised in Chicago, T.R.U.T.H is a part of the crew that decided to stay in Champaign-Urbana intentionally post-collegiate graduation. Like many who stay and give back to the town, she ought to be heard with the excitement reserved for national treasures and heralded as our very own hometown superhero.
Political and social issues are at the heart of her music, though it never comes across as preachy because you can always count on T.R.U.T.H. to also come through running strong game. Before, after, or during the rally, strategic meeting, protest, and one-on-one T.R.U.T.H fearlessly reminds us there is good love to be had. Her follow up project, E.V.E., proves she is a tried and tested champion emcee whose music boasts progressive metaphors, politics, and danceable beats at the same time. Behind the signature shades there is a complex mastermind vulnerably bearing her soul for collective witness and individual wholeness. She rhymes us to wellness, destination liberation. Her notebooks are freedom maps. T.R.U.T.H’s code is readiness, her mantra preparedness. Where T.R.U.T.H goes, you want to follow, and not turn back.
That these creative individuals came together to form a mighty duo giving us Mother Nature means, Black girl genius not only survives but wins with an uncompromising sound! In the tradition of unstoppable Black womanhood, both artists are also a part of other groups. KLEVAH is a member of The Gr8Thinkaz, and T.R.U.T.H represents Paradigm Shift. While working on their joint project, Mother Nature, they also recently released solo projects, including Golden and E.V.E., respectively.
In a system oriented toward competition, rather then collaboration, their resistance is a really big deal. Their commitment to interdependence and insistence on each other is evident on stage when they rhyme side by side, arms wrapped around the other’s back, supported by a lived out loud sister-soulhood. That they respect the long arc of each other’s triumphs as their very own is obvious by the way they interact after the lights go down, the crowd dissipates, and the show is over. Steady in the reach of their gifts, Mother Nature is a come up and a come back for all the people who desire forward movement. With the most gangsta all Black lives mattering barz, this EP means more than hope, but reveals Black girls done it again.
On the title track, Mother Nature, KLEVAH and T.R.U.T.H chant:
“I’m the one that u need
Meet me in the sky
217 i’m queen
But my reign is worldwide”
And they ain’t never lied. This is music for the public because it mobilizes and organizes us here while pointing toward new universals. We need KLEVAH and T.R.U.T.H because they are rhyming for our lives by showing us how possible we are. They’re right here, right now in the CU, soundtracking our politics and our private leisure activities, fully deserving of the kinds of opportunities Viola Davis recently called for in her 2015 Emmy Awards speech after winning for best leading actress. KLEVAH and T.R.U.T.H should be presented with so many opportunities here, the privilege of figuring out what to actually turn down would feel like a burden because it’s only 24 hours in the day. KLEVAH and T.R.U.T.H run the bizness and never not the other way around.
Regardless, before a big move, it all goes viral, and the producers have to construct a “where it all started Urbana-Champaign narrative,” it would be good to have to say, we heard them when they showed us the power of hip hop, while they were here. Whether they are organizing to stop local jail expansion, remembering Sandra Bland, kicking it with friends on the low and late night, or making music at somebody’s studio together and separately, KLEVAH and T.R.U.T.H punctuate the revolution impeccably, with dope beats, sublime poetic lyricism, and hopefully more Chris “Two Brainz” Smith visuals. Before it ever becomes mainstream, it is local. When the “Mother Nature EP” drops in the spring, support the artists who “rayze” us higher. The elements of hip hop personified by this duo sound like a balance between our community and the whole unknown universe.