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Lyric Breakdown & Background

Lyric Breakdown & Background provides insight into the meaning behind my songs and the reasoning behind them as well.

Detroit Ruin Porn

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This week (July 10 – 16, 2016) I’m joining a panel discussion with friends Phreddy Wischusen and Heidi Jugenitz on a panel Disuccion about Detroit’s Ruin Porn. Heidi and myself decided to share our takes on the concept for you all, as read below.

Ruin Porn Chinwag (noun\chin-wag\: a friendly conversation)
Thursday, July 14, 2016, 8pm
Admission: Free ($5 suggested donation)

Love it or hate it photography of Detroit’s modern ruins has shaped the public’s perception of the city. Is ruin porn a guilty pleasure, a form of exploitation, important historical documentation, clever marketing ploy, or sincere tribute to the ephemeral beauty of decay?

Join us for an evening of polite debate, drinks, snacks and chitchat inside Cafe 78 at MOCAD. Host Phreddy Wischusen, a comedian, musician and multi-time winner of Detroit’s Moth StorySLAM, and his gang of wits and scholars will help us exorcise our feelings about ruin porn during this fun, informative, and participatory conversation.


Ruin Porn maybe in Europe but not in the 313
By Khary Frazier

As a Black person, and life-long Detroit resident my understanding of the world is heavily influenced by race and process. This relates to the concept, term, and idea of ‘Ruin Porn.’

I first heard the term used in a discussion 4 years ago. I was sharing ideas about my soon to be released album ‘If Detroit were Heaven,’ and conceptually how I saw photography being coupled with the music to provide a better understanding of the album’s premise. As the art student from Center for Creative Studies I was talking with used the term he prefaced it with a negative connotation about Detroit. I listened. His opinion at the time, was that Detroit is becoming a trendy marketing vehicle because of it’s perceived abandonment. His argument was that a contingency of people use the barren image of Detroit as a way to market the city as an empty canvas to do, try, or build anything. The argument he provided was correct in presentation, but missed the context for understanding.

I think through conversation. Everyone who’s met me knows I can easily talk for hours (to gather a better understanding). The understanding I generally seek is context. As a child I gravitated to Hip-hop because it provided many young Black men (I identified with) a platform to offer insight and perspective. My interest and appreciation has led me to develop the skill and talent to create/ perform Hip-hop music too.

As Tupac Shakur stated in ‘Brenda’s Got a Baby’ … in reference to RUIN PORN, “let me tell you how is affects the whole community.”

I live and own the home I was raised in as a child. My neighborhood doesn’t have a name. The nameless neighborhoods throughout the 140 plus square miles of Detroit are full of transient renters, abandoned unkempt dilapidated properties, and low income families. This generalization is used often from people who live outside these neighborhoods to describe who lives inside these neighborhoods. Inside these neighborhoods are people. People who start, carry, or carry on the legacies of their families.

Across the street from my home are two houses that have not been occupied in over a decade. The structure of both homes remain intact as exterior components have been stripped or weathered away. Guests to my home see these houses, and often shake their head in disgust with comments like ‘this is what makes Detroit so sad,’ or ‘the city not developing these neighborhoods cause Black people live here.’ I look at the houses every day I collect mail, and think, that’s Ms. Teresa & Ms. McCaughey’s house.

Ms. Teresa and Ms. McCaughey were like many of the first non-Jewish families to move into my neighborhood shortly after the 1967 Rebellion (Uprising or Riot if you prefer). My neighborhood was anchored by elders like Ms. Brown (my maternal Grandmother Motherdear), Ms. Deemer, Grandma Cook, Mr. Male, Mrs. Craft and many others. Ms. Deemer was a retired plant worker and numbers lady. She provided loans to many of the families on my block as a child. She lived to be well into her 100’s. Williard Scott missed her dedication, but our block never did. At the height of community unrest in the early 90’s as gangs, drugs, drive-bys, and the prevalence of drug addiction rose. These elders were unthreatened, protected, honored, and respected. Courtesy newspapers, lawn service, snow removal, and meals were delivered home to home from one family to another. Christmas gifts between neighbors and neighboring families with children were often shared as well.

I apply my revisionist history, with what I see, to view standing structures in my neighborhood. It’s not only a space, it’s where people live/d.

I believe the value of Detroit is in it’s people. I grew up surrounded by families of people who came to Detroit seeking opportunity. Born in 1982 I had the privilege of living in a neighborhood full of elders who recently retired from decades of service. In retirement they finally were provided an opportunity to appreciate the homes they purchased in the 60’s. Lawns full of seasonal flowers, gardens filled with foods (before urban gardening was a trend), and porches modeled similar to the comforts they once attributed to their Southern homes.

As a child visiting the South with my elders was boring. These trips were cherished and dear for them. I now realize that’s because of their revisionist attachment to their childhood home/s. So with pride I understand that my home resides in a neighborhood that was filled with proud Black matriarchs and patriarchs. People who proudly completed mortgages and appreciated their community as a portion of their Southern roots. Also I understand that my home is ‘rustic,’ as my friend described to her Spellman sisters.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as value is found in the reverence for which one finds in a possession. I don’t see Detroit as a place for Ruin Porn because I understand the value of the spaces to the people who have lived here, do live here, and will live here.


Ruins Photography and the Diminution of Human Pain
By Heidi Jugenitz

“Ruin porn” – photography that takes the decline of the built environment as its subject – is booming in Detroit. Its representations of empty, windowless, decaying buildings juxtaposed with open fields are striking in their “otherness:” they show barrenness where we expect life, reversion to nature where we expect industry. I will focus my critique on the politicsof ruin porn: that is, what does ruin porn communicate about whose rights and interests matter – and to what extent – in today’s Detroit?

To explore this question, I will consider two essential preconditions for the existence of ruin porn. The first, an external condition, is the presence of a noticeable concentration of dilapidated physical structures, or ruins, within a defined space.Ruin porn mobilizes these structures as signifiers of decline – economic, social, political – that stand in stark contrast to the Euro-American ideal of human progress. But when we dig deeper into the history of Detroit and other American cities, it becomes clear that this form of progress – material wealth and mobility – has never been experienced in a monolithic way. The opportunity to “stake a claim” to land, to build or purchase a home in a neighborhood of one’s choosing, has always been mediated by race, whether overtly (as in the case of mortgage redlining, segregated public housing and white race riots) or covertly (through realtor “steering” of clients to like-race neighborhoods and predatory lending practices). These and other policies and practices, enacted over time and physical space, have created an indelible pattern of human pain (physical harm, eviction, displacement, marginalization) especially – though not exclusively – for people of color. Detroit ruin porn could not exist if not for this pattern of human pain.

A second condition for the existence of ruin porn is the diminution of human pain. A central feature of ruins photography, showcased in the coffee table book Ruins of Detroit by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, is the omission of human bodies from the camera frame. By focusing on non-human signifiers (dilapidated structures) and relegating humans to a position outside of the frame, ruin porn invites the viewer to dwell on a representation of decline that is alienated from the human experience. While humanity is implied (who built the structures? who used to inhabit them? who is responsible for their demise?), it is not engaged directly. This omission allows for – even encourages – the minimization of human pain and the obfuscation of the historical causes of that pain, including deeply entrenched patterns of racism and discrimination. It also feeds into one of the most prevalent – and fraudulent – narratives about Detroit: that the city is the sum of its buildings, and by investing in blight removal and physical developments we can “re[blank]” Detroit.

If a city is the sum of its people, Detroit never died. But by silencing human life and fixating on decaying physical structures, ruins photography serves to reinforce – rather than interrupt – the stereotype of Detroit as a “dead” city. It diminishes both the fact of human pain and the significance of that pain as a testament to our failure (past and present) to create spaces where every person has the right and the opportunity to thrive.

All Eyez on Me 20 Years Later

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February 13, 1996 Tupac Shakur released the double album ‘All Eyez on Me.’ It was his 1st release on Death Row records. After his release from prison in 1995 he recorded the album in 1 month. This is a look back at the music, time, and message of ‘All Eyez on Me.’ Featuring interviews from David Alexander Bullock, Khary WAE Frazier, Yuser Bunchy Shakur, Supa Emcee, and Sterling Toles.

Song Background: “It’s so Fresh” featuring Ashley Nicole

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Most of my songs are about family, Detroit, friends, and hip-hop (I often opened shows sharing this). “It’s so Fresh” captures all of these dynamics, and more. I share names and experiences that have shaped my perspective of family, women, and cool.

I wrote “It’s so Fresh” in 2003. It was originally on my unreleased album “Mama’s Kid.” “Mama’s Kid” sampled exclusively Motown music. Upon advice from everyone I knew (especially my Entertainment Attorney Stephanie L Hammonds, Thank You!) I never released that album. Withstanding the time was the content. I’ve always enjoyed the lyrics from the album, particularly the lyrics used for “It’s so Fresh.” I feel the writing was remarkable. I always remembered the lyrics. I believe if I write a good song, I should have the ability to remember it verbatim. If I can forget a lyric, I should not use it.

Originally the song was titled ‘Baby Boy.’ It was recorded on my Roland 1880 Digital Recorder at the Track Cave Studios. The Track Cave Studios was the recording studio in my basement. The Track Cave welcomed a host of talent from Detroit. Recognizable hip-hop artists such as Off-Rip, Early Mac, Mike Posner, Supa Emcee, Danny Brown, Tone Tone, Finale, Kaunn, and a host of other acts all recorded in my basement. It inspired me to write, record, and produce more of my own music.

Ian & his brothers: Casey, Khalid, & Robb; Ian; Ashley ; Ashley & her son Ray
Ian & his brothers: Casey, Khalid, & Robb; Ian; Ashley ; Ashley & her son Ray

Working on my soon to be released “If Detroit were Heaven,” album with producer Ian Sherman, I wanted to include a song that had an offering of a past styling in which I wrote lyrics. Listening through Ian Sherman’s music I landed on the music to “It’s so Fresh.” I feel the texture of the synths and drums used capture an optimism that’s reminiscent me of the joy of my childhood. Matching this music to a story about my childhood is sonically balanced. Ian challenges me to create with a purpose. Therefore “It’s so Fresh” is one of the greatest pieces I feel I’ve made.

The chorus for “It’s so Fresh” was originally written for a song I was making with Lola Damone. We drafted a series of songs in the summer of 2012 (Lola, if you’re reading this we still need to do a 5 song project ASAP). One of the best ideas to come from these drafted songs was the idea of playing with old hip-hop sayings hence: fresh; dope; flyy; phat; and def. These adjectives are dated, but match my childhood in which the story I’m telling takes place (though I still use flyy … I’m a fan of Ron O’neil). That foundation matched up to create the chorus for “It’s so Fresh.”

Soon after writing the chorus I invited General Population band vocalist Ashley Nicole to sing the chorus. She delivered an amazing performance which is what you’re hearing. One of the best things about the performance was Ashley brought her son Ray to the session as well. I always feel children are the best ears for music. Ray loved “It’s so Fresh.”

Lyrical Breakdown: Living Proof (Young Black Youth)

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Living Proof (Young Black Youth)

Written by K. Frazier // Vocals performed by Khary WAE Frazier // Produced & Composed by Joe Black // Mixed by John Brown Jr. // Recorded at Sights & Sounds Studios Southfield MI & John Brown Jr. Studios //From the ‘Broken English Ideologies’ EP 2015


Kids looking up to me I don’t know what to tell them
Ain’t no options out here cause Detroit done failed them
. . .So I try to just listen
And offer them some love if they make a bad decision
Though I wish things was different
Hard for me to justify still living where I’m living
Doing what I’m doing and getting what I’m getting
In Detroit skies I can clearly see a ceiling

Performing hip-hop it’s many assumptions made about the benefits of the art form. One of the biggest I’ve always received from friends and strangers is that there is a collection of groupies connected to rap music. For my artistry I have not found anything close to that. Often then women who approach me have sons, nephews, or mentees who are young males they’d like me to meet. These younger artists are seeking ways to use hip-hop as a platform of opportunity. I have no map for success in hip-hop. At a younger age I believed in the market of hip-hop and music. Today I think a career as a music artist is a testament of virtue. Financial sustainability in music is dwindling more by the day. So I often challenge all younger artists to study the music and be creative.

Antiquated thoughts and old ideas
Of assembly lines and unionized men
Everything that’s left for the past 40 years
What the politicians say they can bring back here

I was born in 1982. During, and before my infancy many of the manufacturing plants that established the culture of Detroit in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s were leaving the city limits. The impact of globalization of industrial jobs leaving America impacted Detroit first with surburnization (I’m coining a term Dr. Cornell West style). Most plants inside Detroit’s city limits closed and were relocated to places further from the city. This reality limited the access for work in Detroit. My whole life changes in public service residency laws, manufacturing plant closures, and retail outlet closures have consistently led to underemployment, unemployment, and lack of employment in Detroit for residents.

I’ve always found the idea of politicians ‘bringing jobs’ preposterous. It’s sad I think most politicians will say anything to be elected. I believe ‘jobs & careers’ are circumstantial variables based upon a business’ viability connected to that job/career. Michigan politicians have built political legacies upon the idea of ‘bringing back jobs.’ It’s tragic because Michigan’s prominence as the wealthiest state in the America throughout the 50’s and 60’s was built in the industrial age. The industrial age no longer exists.

Packard Plant, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, and Good Times cast
Packard Plant, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, and Good Times cast

And I wanna believe but its hard when you see
A college grads options just like a GED
And I wish things was different, . . .it ain’t up to me
I accept the worse, . .  it’s just what I think

Life ain’t fair and its worse if you Black
It’s the land of the free but the ghetto is a trap
it’s a state of mind not a place where we at
That don’t trust people but it will trust cash
we don’t understand how this philosophy is born
Evans family here what Plato was to Rome

I believe race is the most polarizing dynamic in America. The role of Black people in America initially being enslaved and discriminated against for centuries still impacts America. Many of the divisive policies, laws, and opportunities have equaled empowered and hurt America. I think race is a cultural reality that is embraced and rebuked dependent upon the situation. In Black America it’s impact of achieving the dream has always been to assimilate.

The Evans family is the family from the 70’s television show ‘Good Times.’ The premise of the TV show was to follow a family in Chicago’s Cabini Green Public Housing Project Unit. The Evans family struggles from episode to episode with earning enough money to sustain a viable lifestyle. The ‘Good Times’ theme song of makes reference to temporary lay-offs, credit rip-offs, and waiting in chow lines which ties to the idea of urban survival. Conceptually the idea of surviving related to money in America is prominent. Rappers, athletes, scholars, and politicians alike culturally have accepted this philosophy as the overwhelming oppressor of the Black community. This makes my analogy to Plato clever to me. Plato’s book ‘The Republic’ built the system Rome and now America has used as the blueprint for society.

So I brush it off with the books that I read
to shake off the laziness, jealousy and greed
with notes of Marcus Garvey thoughts of Fuad Muhammad
quotes of Dudley Randle and Assata’s sonnets

Here I acknowledge a series of my favorite writers and the father of the Nation of Islam. Marcus Garvey is the original leader of Black Nationalism. His ideas of Black empowerment in business, residency, and education are phenomenal. Considering the timing of his philosophies and actions are humbling. Garvey’s UNIA organization stands today as one of America’s largest. Tragically it also was infiltrated by J Edgar Hoover and the FBI.

Fuad Muhammad is the master teacher of the honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. Fuad’s teachings of eating, learning, business, and family have created one of the strongest groups in the Black community.

Assata Shakur is the writer, revolutionary, and leader who has the Black Panther Party and more. Assata’s writings are humbling. Her takes on transforming state of mind to community empowerment are fundamental for my progress.

Dudley Randall was the leader of Broadside Press. Broadside Press was the publisher of many Black poets throughout the Civil Rights movement till today.

Dudley Randall, Lil Wayne, and Assata Shakur
Dudley Randall, Lil Wayne, and Assata Shakur

cause without knowledge slavery’s not abolished
and I find myself even shackled to a dolla
//Hard places makes rocks get softer
Can’t find work? streets got job offers
Why young kids even robbing and shooting
And we blame parents, teachers, and music

I got a little homie who just graduated
Ex-dropout alternative education
As he thinking now that he can just make it
His alternative prison and basic training

Rap Technique:
Starting this verse I play on the harmony of the ending rhymes for the introductory stanza. This technique I’ve always found intriguing. My favorite rappers to use this are Slick Rick, Snoop Dogg, and Lil Wayne. I rarely use this technique but effectively done I feel it brings attention to the rest of the verse.

My favorite song using this technique is Lil Wayne’s “Hustler’s Musik” from his album Carter II. He subtly uses the harmony to mix his words with the music production.

It’s a harsh reality but a sad truth
When you can barely read college not you
You ain’t got no money college got you
You ain’t gotta plan life stops you
Things stack up as time moves on
thinking what’s next, not right or wrong
Why I make decisions that might risk it all
life is a hustle I can flip or I fall
On a high wire I’m Dominique Dawes
With my information that’s of value when I talk
Coming together everything’s in my palms
To catch all the snakes that fatten up the frogs

Song Background: Living Proof (Young Black Youth)

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In 2010 I got back to my hip-hop roots. Wrapping up my time as a partner of the historic ‘1440 Collective Studios’ I entered into an agreement with my longtime friend Mio Thomas, and Saba Grebrai to open ‘Sights and Sounds Studios’ in Southfield MI. ‘Sights and Sounds’ started at the Regal Apartments in Southfield MI.

The focus of ‘Sights and Sounds Studios’ was to provide a home for audio recording and professional photography. Mio’s work with 3M Photography has been nationally recognized. His work’s impression upon urban modeling is the premiere brand from Detroit MI. Saba Grebrai has been one of my strongest community partners for nearly a decade now. Her work with her Blue Babies group has helped Michigan’s foster youth find housing, employment, and other opportunities. ‘Sights and Sounds Studios’ was to be a place to show students interested in learning the process of running a studio.

3m Photography, The Regal Apartments, Saba and friends
3m Photography, The Regal Apartments, Saba and friends

The first partner of ‘Sights and Sounds Studios’ was producer Joe Black. Joe Black is a hip-hop artist, producer, recording engineer, and soul vocalist. We met initially through my friend and community leader Yusef Shakur. Joe Black’s work for the soundtrack of Yusef’s autobiography was phenomenal. Joe Black was also the host of ‘Detroit Rap TV’ directed & produced by the late Damani Robinson (RIP).

As the engineer of ‘Sights and Sounds Studios’ in the beginning there was little or no work. For hours I’d sit and talk with Joe Black about hip-hop. Our conversations led to me challenging him to sample some of my favorite hip-hop songs. These challenges reignited my love for hip-hop. Joe Black responded to every idea I had with amazing music. That music became the foundation for my “Broken English Ideologies” project. The “Broken English Ideologies” project is a collection of lessons I learned from some of my favorite hip-hop records overtime.

“Living Proof (Young Black Youth)” is a sample taken from Wu Tang Clan’s song C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me) from their first album ‘Enter the 36 Chambers.’ The sample is taken from the second verse of C.R.E.A.M. as performed by hip-hop artist Inspectah Deck. Inspectah Deck’s verse has always left an impact on my life. The stanza in which the foundation for the chorus of my song “Living Proof (Young Black Youth)” are words I recite often.

Joe Black & Detroit Rap TV Logo
Joe Black & Detroit Rap TV Logo

Inspectah Deck in C.R.E.A.M.

Leave it up to me while I be living proof
To kick the truth to the young black youth
But shorty’s running wild, smokin sess, drinkin beer
And ain’t trying to hear what I’m kickin in his ear
Neglected for now, but yo, it gots to be accepted
That what? That life is hectic

So when Joe Black completed the sample of Inspectah Deck’s stanza I immediately was drawn to complete the song. Within hours I wrote “Living Proof.” There after the development of ‘Broken English Ideologies’ sparked my love for writing hip-hop music again.

Interestingly enough the recording of “Living Proof (Young Black Youth)” I completed this past Monday September 8, 2014 before the Detroit Lions vs. New York Giants football game. My cousin Rae joined me to watch the game as I mixed my vocals. In my home I’ve recorded most of my songs myself. I’ve named my home studio after my maternal grandfather John Brown. It’s where I’ve done my best work thus far. “Living Proof (Young Black Youth)” adds to that legacy.

Motel Connection: Song Backgrounds

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Summer of 2010 I was an active member of the 1440 Collective Studios. The 1440 Collective was named after it’s address which was, 1440 Gratiot Detroit MI 48207. It was also located where some of Detroit’s techno music history took place. Techno Alley is the alley way where the entrance for the 1440 Collective was. Techno alley is also the home to many of the parties, events, and techno music production of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

“GO” – Song blueprint with Khary WAE Frazier Vocals

“GO” – Uscita Mix featured on Motel Connection’s “Vivace” album visit to hear, buy, and experience the music

The way many American baby boomers view Detroit as the home of the Motown sound, European Generation X’ers view Detroit as the home of Techno music. The white and blue home located on Detroit’s West Grand BLVD (Motown) is to soul music, what Techno Alley is to electronic dance music.

Juan Atkins, Mike Banks, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson birthed techno music in Detroit, in the 1980’s. Many of the parties that founded the music took place in Techno Alley where the 1440 Collective was. Derrick May ran a studio down the street from the 1440 Collective. We met in 2009. Since our introduction he’s been supportive, and an inspiration. Derrick’s advice, and the serenity prayer, are my foundation for life. Here is the advice Derrick gave to me that encourages me daily:

“When we began making Techno music many people didn’t understand it so they didn’t like it. We loved it, and continued making it. Overtime our audience grew. It was a mix of college kids, street kids, and artists that felt the music was a culture of their own. We all felt we were on our own. As we grew older the college kids, street kids, and artists became movie producers, gallery owners (shout out to my friend and mentor Kevin Hansen of the Johonsen Charles Art Gallery), and international business people. As we all gained access to popular culture we carried our music with us.” Derrick May

Derrick May, Kevin Hansen, 1440 Collective
Derrick May, Kevin Hansen, 1440 Collective

That advice encourages me to create my music with love and integrity. When I find myself lost seeking attention, popularity, or money for my music I remember to stay grounded. If Derrick, Juan, Mike, and Kevin could create a music genre, I can create my own sound.

I met Derrick because Kevin Hansen told me he ran a recording studio down the street from the 1440 Collective. In 2007, 08, and 09 I was interested in networking with anybody I thought who had access to resources. So the summer of 2009 when I saw Derrick driving down Techno Alley I flagged him down, and introduced myself. Derrick walked into the 1440 Collective after our introduction and purchased my ‘Preaching to the Choir’ album. The next day he came back to the 1440 Collective, and gave me a review of my album. He liked some songs, and didn’t like others. Overall he was impressed with my skills as an emcee. He told me “with what you’re doing you need to get your music to Japan.” I told him I have no idea how to get a Japanese audience. He suggested using the internet, and building my network. We exchanged phone numbers, and he insisted I explore the world music market.

A year after our introduction Derrick May called me, and told me he had an opportunity. He introduced me to Motel Connection. “Wae, it’s an Italian Techno/ Rock band looking to work with a Detroit emcee. I’m suggesting you. I’m going to text you an email address, and you should make this happen,” Derrick May. After Derrick sent me this message I responded two months later. Derrick called me again to tell me I was bullshitting, and wasting time. I was musically depressed. It was many expectations I set for myself that were not reached. I found it difficult to move forward as an artist. After Derrick’s voice mail I emailed Gigi (manager) of Motel Connection.

Motel Connection is an Italian band made up of Samuel, DJ Pisti, and Pierfunk. All three are member of other Italian bands. All three are also based in Turin, Italy (interestingly enough Turin is the Italian Detroit. Turin is a city that came to prominence during the industrial age of the twentieth century now seeking a new identity). Motel Connection’s music is a mix of styles. This mix blends a sound of manipulated vocals, instruments, sound efx, and tempos to create a signature style. Motel Connection’s audience is a core following of underground Italy, Australia, and Great Britain that tirelessly stay abreast to their music. The rhythms and melodies found in Motel Connection’s sound is unlike most dance music.

“GO” – Song blueprint with Khary WAE Frazier Vocals

“GO” – Uscita Mix featured on Motel Connection’s “Vivace” album visit to hear, buy, and experience the music

After I emailed DJ Pisti of Motel Connection he sent me the music to two songs in a week’s time. When I originally heard the music it was a challenge to match it’s style with my own. In a month’s time I sent back both records. DJ Pisti loved the songs. Motel Connection agreed to use the songs on their next album. After touring, contracts, mixing and mastering Valentine’s Day 2013 the “Vivace” album was released. I’m featured on the songs ‘Go,’ and ‘Know.’ I love both. As an artist I found it exciting to hear how Motel Connection interpreted my recordings.

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Use to Be: Lyrical Breakdown

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Recording ‘Use to be was experiential. I hear a presence of enjoyment and creativity oozing throughout the recording. I believe my spirit and attitude (of joy) carry over the music.

Here is my analysis of the words behind the feeling I created when recording ‘Use to Be.’

Yea yea check it

I’m sick of hearing things ain’t how they use to be
I’m sick of hearing things ain’t how they use to be
I’m sick of hearing things ain’t how they use to be
Values alive in my people still alive in me

My lifetime I’ve heard the adage ‘things ain’t what they use to be.’ As a nostalgia junkie (term I’ve created, and now own) I understand how. It’s easy to romanticize the past (or future) in hopes of a better reality. I seek to gather a better understanding of that over time.

I’m culturally sensitive, and insecure. As a Black male (sometimes) I take on the romanticism of legendary Black men as a knock towards the character of myself, and my peers. This belief led me to express ‘I’m sick’ of hearing it. The duality of my artistry still honors my history by sharing “Values alive in my people still alive in me.”

Verse One
I grew up man a whole lot different than most
Father lived for his family brother just lived to smoke
Before that, yo, he lived his life for the Panthers

My Father has been my lead example in life as a man, entrepreneur, and decision maker. As a child he grew up with a strained, and distant relationship with his Father. My Uncle Wali fulfilled (some of) my Father’s male role model needs. My Uncle Wali was the son of my paternal Grandmother’s (Granny) friend.

Wali is one of the most intelligent, and enlightened people I’ve met. When he was younger he was active in many Black movements throughout Cincinnati OH (my Dad’s hometown). The Cincinnati Black Panthers, Cincinnati Nation of Islam, and ‘Highlight Magazine’ all had Uncle Wali’s touch. My Father worked with Uncle Wali developing ‘Highlight Magazine’ which featured pictures and articles of Cincinnati’s Black entertainment culture in the 1960’s and 70’s (till this day my Dad has some pictures of Roy Ayers from a Cincy concert that are classic).

Uncle Wali presented and offered my Father a spark into knowledge of self, and the legacies of African people. African centered thinking is a platform that can empower a young Black mind to see life has endless possibilities. I feel much of my Father’s faith in being a CPA, computer programmer, and (Grand)Father are all interconnected to seeing past American limits.

The tragedy of Uncle Wali, and many Panthers (and people) is he’s struggled with addiction throughout life. The strength of his mind always makes letting go of the addiction tougher (I believe).

Black Panther Party, Big, Me & Granny
Black Panther Party, Big, Me & Granny

Mama was my teacher (and) Granny fought off cancer
Just being a kid seeing how real life is
My hero full head of hair all came from a wig
Growing up wasn’t like BIG
Tom Hanks had a genie I saw people live

My paternal Grandmother is one of the toughest people I know. She worked in a Juvenile Detention Center keeping order between delinquents, and administration. Granny is a very proud, wise, and beautiful woman. She also has affected the way I saw Cancer as a child. When I was a child she battled Cancer, and survived. Moving forward I saw the possibility of living past Cancer, because of her. Sadly, after her the next 10 people I knew with Cancer passed on.

Granny was one of the first people with a VCR in our family. She owned Karate Kid I & II, Cocoon, Bill Cosby Live, and Big. ‘Big’ was a movie starring Tom Hanks. Hank’s is a kid that goes to a carnival and wishes he was an adult to a genie. Throughout the movie Hank’s addresses all his conflicts by making wishes. This parallel is made to my life because my course of action in life has always been living.

My Grandfathers … both was hustlers
One who stole cars … other one ran numbers

My paternal Grandfather was incarcerated when my Father was born for charges related to grand theft auto. This situation I believe always led to a strain between the relationship between my paternal Grandmother and Grandfather. This left my Father seeking attention. My paternal Grandfather always shared with me that the lure of crime is only active when you’re weak in mind.

My maternal Grandfather was a decorated Korean War veteran. His belief in America was subdued upon losing a leg in the War. My Grandfather made the most of his money earned in the service by buying a home and business. He owned an all purpose shop where he sold candy, repaired upholstery, and ran numbers (illegal street lottery).

His shop, and home, place me in my neighborhood now. I live next door to the home he bought. My parents purchased my home in the early 1980’s. They wanted to live next to my maternal Grandmother. Both properties have remained in our family. Today, following the birth of my nephew Solomon (2012), my families lived in Detroit’s 48238 zip code for four generations. My maternal Grandfather’s shop was located on Woodrow Wilson walking distance from my home.

My Great Uncle knew Kwame Nkumrah
Same blood in my veins Ivory Coast first tutor

One of my (maternal) Great Uncles is Judge Joe Rouhlac (RIP 2008). He was one of Ohio’s first Black judges. In Akron OH there are streets, community centers, and apartments named in his honor. While attending conferences as an attorney, Uncle Joe met Kwame Nkumrah. Kwame Nkumrah was Ghana’s first president after colonization (colonization was the process in which European nations would forcibly occupy African, Asian, and South American nations for natural resources & labor). Uncle Joe shared Black American cultural dialects, and meanings with Nkumrah in the time they spent.

My Great Grandfather was a preacher
One of Selma Alabama’s first Black teachers
So I’m failing on my people if I’m not a leader

Kwame Nkumrah, Uncle Joe and Aunt Francis Rouhlac, Bone Thugs and Harmony
Kwame Nkumrah, Uncle Joe and Aunt Francis Rouhlac, Bone Thugs and Harmony

Uncle Joe’s father was Papa Rouhlac. He was a preacher. He also was one of the few educated men in Tuscaloosa AL at the turn of the 1900’s. As a preacher he fulfilled many roles in the community. The lack of access to information, knowledge, and schooling was a dilemma throughout the American South post the Civil War – WWI era (this conflict, with a burgeoning industrial age, required an educated workforce. This established a need for public schools. Andrew Carneige and Booker t Washington are instrumental in these developments). Papa Rouhlac acted as a liaison between the discriminatory Alabama Police Department and many Black men, composed and read letters for families, reviewed mortgages and loans, and helped find employment for Black people throughout Tuscaloosa AL. The tragedy is my Great Grandfather was fulfilling these roles for church members and Black people in Selma AL starting the 1900’s. My friend Pastor David Bullock fulfills many of these roles for families as a pastor today.

My Grandmother wrote Mary McCleod Bethune speeches
So I strive for achievement
Despite what they said keep on leading
Keep on leading
Keep on teaching

Verse Two
I got the spirit
I got the soul
I got the heart of a rebel
And I’m fighting off the devil
Anybody come to me ain’t getting on my level
It’s like … it’s like
I got the heart, the mind, the spirit and the soul
And I’m losing control
Just like
uh Yea

I believe rappers should manipulate words, and spacing of words to create melody. In this stanza I deliver a pace in rhythm to feed Joey Spina’s guitar as if my words were a drum. This technique is prevalent in reggae music as well. The rappers who I feel deliver this best are Bone Thugs and Harmony, Outkast, and Eightball and MJG.

I got the blood in my veins of a soldier and a king
Can’t step to me talking them things
Blood of a King in my veins

Song Performed by Khary WAE Frazier
Music Played, Composed, Arranged and Produced by Joey Spina
Lyrics by Khary WAE Frazier
Song featured on the Notes of an Artist/ Activist I Album 2008


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Use to Be: Song Background

in Lyric Breakdown & Background by


In 2009 I was a business partner in the ‘1440 Collective Studios.’ The ‘1440 Collective Studios’ was a creative space located at 1440 Gratiot Detroit MI 48207 in Downtown Detroit. Conceptually the ‘1440’ could be compared to the maker space initiatives launched throughout Detroit today. The ‘1440’ mixed the creativity of public relations, music recording, music production, DJing, live band (music) rehearsals, and video production. It was innovative. The collective was founded by Nadir Omowale, Habiba Adams, Eric Campbell, DJ Major, DJ Man Power, and myself, in 2008. By 2009, Joey Spina and Davey G partnered. A host of artists, people, and tastemakers visited, supported, and conducted business at the ‘1440.’ In 2011 the ‘1440 Collective’ closed. Today it’s remembered for the parties, (musician) jam sessions, and music recordings.

the 1440 Collective, Joey Spina
the 1440 Collective, Joey Spina

In the Spring of 2009 ‘1440 Collective’ business partner, Joey Spina, purchased a Pro Tools recording module (Pro Tools is a music recording computer software and hardware brand). The day he bought the recording module he brought it to the ‘1440.’ Spina told me how excited he was about the purchase (I’ve always called Joey Spina ‘Spina’). I told him emphatically, “I’m going to be the first person to record on it!” We laughed about it. He agreed in one week we do a recording session.

Before that conversation with Spina, I had yet to record (music) in months. I spent the close of 2008, and start of 2009 performing, and promoting my first album ‘Preaching to the Choir.’ In that process I lost the drive to write, and record music. In a week of preparation I gathered my notebooks, and began writing.

Generally I write rap songs in three styles: premise, story, or slick. Premise is a style in which I brainstorm ideas to write the song. The brainstorming process is as important as the content.

In example: If I were to brainstorm the topic of Detroit Pistons, Isiah Thomas immediately comes to mind. Bringing more color to a reference, I would recall Terry Duerod. ‘In Detroit we on guard/ like the one that came town that kicked out Terry Duerod’ – example lyric unused. So for Piston fans (especially at my barbershop, Hawk’s off Schoolcraft and Southfield, what up Mike D!) it’s special. Isiah Thomas took Terry Duerod’s place on the Pistons. That fact makes the lyric clever. Duerod is one of the best U of D Titan basketball players ever. Mentioning him is symbolic to Detroit.

The story style engages the listener in a conversation as though we know one another. Finally the slick style is a culmination of lines that I wind together in rhyme schemes, patterns, consonant placement, and alliteration to give a rap character.

‘Use to Be,’ blends the style of premise and story. The recording session also featured two vocalists; Fee Graffiti, and Polka Dot. Fee Graffiti is a singer I knew for years. We met through her boyfriend Doug Greenwood who produced music for me. She graduated from MSU with a degree in communications. She was looking for vocal and studio experience. Polka Dot is a business partner to my friend Kaunn. We met upon Kaunn insisting that we should record together. When the opportunity opened up to record music, I called.

Fee Graffiti, Kaunn, Polka Dot
Fee Graffiti, Kaunn, Polka Dot

Recording was fun. Spina had the studio set up with three open microphones. The only headphones for the sessions were used by Joey Spina. I rapped short segments of songs. Spina played along finding chords to match. When we agreed upon matching chords, I’d arrange a hook with Fee Graffiti, or Polka Dot. In two hours we recorded seven songs. The most notable songs of the seven were ‘Teddy Bears Tied Up to Trees,” and “Use to Be.”

After the session was wrapped up we shared shots of Bourbon (Spina always drank Bourbon). Two weeks later Spina gave me the sessions. I placed the ‘Use to Be’ on my ‘Notes of an Artist and Activist I’ album.

The recording is very special to me. ‘Use to Be,’ has a blues feel and I LOVE BLUES. The characters, personal relationships, and essence of Keb Mo, John Lee Hooker, and a host of others capture my imagination. I’ve always felt the hip-hop experience is as interpersonal to me as Blues. I also appreciate the manner and style it changes dependent upon the mood of the artist. “I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession, let alone two years or ten years. If you can, then it ain’t music, it’s close-order drill or exercise or yodeling or something, not music,” Billie Holiday. That’s one of my favorite quotes from one of the most powerful voices to be recorded. RIP Lady Day.

Song Performed by Khary WAE Frazier
Music Played, Composed, Arranged and Produced by Joey Spina
Lyrics by Khary WAE Frazier
Song featured on the Notes of an Artist/ Activist I Album 2008


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