Stallitix Launches New Cincinnati Music Exploration Series “Warmth”

Prymtime / Photo Credit: Noir Media

Queen City-based producer and artist Alex Stallings, who goes by Stallitix as one-half of the Patterns of Chaos rap duo, launched his new Cincinnati music exploration and DJ showcase series last month in hopes of creating a safe space for local artists and music lovers. He’s calling it Warmth, for the feeling he hopes to foster with each event.

“Warmth has always been a feeling I’ve wanted [to promote], to make people to feel welcomed, and for people to feel that with other creatives,” he tells Audiofemme. An Instagram recap of the event put it succinctly with an Anna Sewell quote: “It’s good people that make good places.”

The inaugural boogie went down successfully at Walnut Hills’ Sideways 8 Studios in late December, with DJs Prymtime, Rah D. and Mr. Fantastic at the decks. The music spanned across R&B, house and hip hop genres, giving DJs the space to fine-tune the vibe and giving fans the chance to dance and socialize in a setting unique to the typical club or bar experience.

“There’s a void for people who want to dance, for music lovers, and for DJs who want to share music,” Stallings says. “[Warmth] is a music exploration series of Black music: house music, hip hop, rhythm & blues and soul music. We want to explore all of that. Like with house music especially, lots of people think it’s made by Europeans. But actually, it was started by Black DJs in Detroit and Chicago. So, we want to get into the significance and the history of that and more.”

This approach puts DJs in a more curatorial role, rather than relegating them to spinning records solely to fill dancefloors. “We want to allow DJs to flip and play the songs that they want to play, [umlike] being in a club or bar and being annoyed by people who request [songs],” Stallings explains. “There’s a line between artists and entertainers – this is definitely for artists.”

And Warmth has another important mission as well. “I wanted to create a safe place for people to come and dance and enjoy themselves,” Stallings adds. “The vision is to make a safe space for BIPOC, women and artists in general, because Cincinnati sometimes has an exploitative culture when it comes to artists.”

After the first successful installment, Stallings says he plans to hold the events either bi-monthly or quarterly and showcase talent from Cincinnati and beyond. “Cincinnati is a very big music town. There’s a lot of people who love music and a lot of them are transplants,” he says. “Prymtime is from Louisville; Rah D. is from Detroit. So, they bring their own little flair to the city.”

“Everyone who came out said they loved it. Everyone and said it was needed in Cincinnati,” he continues. “You’re not just going [to Warmth] for a drink [or to party]; the main reason you’re going there is for the music, which I think is needed… I went to this big function in Indianapolis that was a party catered to artists and DJs. It was a gathering of artists and influencers, mostly Black people, and that’s when I thought, we need to do something like that here.” 

On his own artistic front, Patterns of Chaos’ latest full-length project, Chaotic Good, just hit streaming platforms last week. The nine-track album, which was over two years in the making, features Cincinnati artists like Aziza Love, GrandAce, JayBee Lamahj, Roberto and more.

Follow Warmth on Instagram for ongoing updates.

GrandAce Reflects on Midwest Living with “No Beaches in Ohio” Video

Photo Credit: Annie Noelker

GrandAce takes the good with the bad while soaking up some sun for his new video, “No Beaches in Ohio.” With co-director Ciara Cruder, the Cincinnati MC traveled to the beaches at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park in Michigan for the visual, which also features shots of the song’s Australia-based producer, Inigo Magno.

“He sent the beat to me and I did what I always do: I added my own touches,” GrandAce tells Audiofemme. “It really was an active collaboration because we were talking about different ideas, switching out baselines, and doing stuff like that.”

“No Beaches in Ohio” was GrandAce’s first time working with Magno, and since the single was such a collaborative effort, it was important for him to include the producer in the song’s visual. 

“It’s not something I could have made on my own because one, I don’t play guitar, and two, that type of sound isn’t where my head is at,” he adds. “I love working with people who bring their own complete sound like that, and then I was able to come in and add some sparkle. It’s literally our song, because I would’ve approached it completely differently on my own and it wouldn’t have happened without him on there.”

The sing-song-y track, underscored by synths and guitar, finds GrandAce reflecting on his Ohio dwellings, fighting against the comforts of nostalgia, and holding onto his passions. 

“There was a lot of reflection on what it’s like living in the Midwest, and Ohio specifically. Depending on how you’re doing in life, Ohio can be a very bleak place,” he explains. “The winters are hard, the skies are grey. It’s a very melancholy state, which is why everybody likes to rag on it. But because everybody likes to rag on it, it’s actually becoming one of the more popular states to mention.”

GrandAce is quick to point out that there are “certain beauties” to living in Ohio, too. “Things are not as expensive as they could be, which means you can stretch your dollar to more experiences. Partially growing up in Ohio, I have a lot of really fond memories here – hanging out with friends, throwing art shows, going to malls, typical stuff,” he says. But with the simple pleasures comes a caveat: “Nostalgia is the enemy,” GrandAce sings on the track.

“There are beautiful things in the midst of such a bland place, but it’s very easy to get stuck here. It’s very easy to be complacent when you’re in a place like Ohio,” he elaborates. “I’ve met a lot of very cool, talented people who, when I met them, had very big dreams. But life can kind of beat you down, and years later they haven’t thought about what they love or their passions. Some people forget. That’s kind of what I’m trying to avoid because it’s so easy to slip into that mode, and that’s really what the song is about.”

Living by example, GrandAce has had a productive year, releasing a collaborative two-pack with Gladwell, Pad Thai. He also put out his French Vanilla EP and loosies “Granite Countertops” and “Sufficiency,” and has another single, video, and two full projects coming out early next year. “The projects are finished now, but I keep adding to them and tweaking them,” he says. “What they are now might not be what they are later.”

For now, “No Beaches in Ohio” is a great reminder to keep at it, no matter where you are in life. “The song is appreciating the good with the bad and reflecting,” GrandAce says, “but also being aware that reflecting too much can be a bad thing.”

Follow GrandAce on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Cincy R&B Singer Tori Helene Chronicles Dating Downfalls on Moonchild EP

Tori Helene
Tori Helene
Photo Credit: Lunsford Photography

Tori Helene combines earworm pop production and glimmering vocals on her first project of the year, Moonchild. Teaming up with frequent collaborator and producer Natown, the Cincinnati-based songstress breezes through feelings of longing, lust and dissatisfaction in relationships on the seven-song EP.

Helene asserts her expectations on songs like “Figure it Out” and “Passion,” where she laments lackluster romance. However, she also shows self-awareness on songs like “Moody,” where she acknowledges her own shortcomings in relationships. Besides her direct and vulnerable lyrics, Helene’s music stands out for her glossy vocal range, which is complimented especially on Moonchild by Natown and others’ production.

So far, Helene has released visuals for Moonchild cuts “Little Black Dress” and “Sleepwalking,” the former of which ended with a teaser for “Moody.” The singer-songwriter is now working on filming live video performances for “Passion” and “Sleepwalking.”

Below, Helene answers questions about Moonchild, getting vulnerable in her songwriting, upcoming videos and what else she’s working on, including a new EP slated for release in 2022. Read her Q&A with Audiofemme below.

AF: Congratulations on releasing Moonchild! When did you start working on this project?

TH: Thank you so much! I started working on Moonchild in August of 2020. I was DoorDashing one day and listening to beats in the car, and I started writing some songs and felt it was time to start working on the EP. Those car rides really helped my inspiration for writing the project. 

AF: What producers did you work with for Moonchild?

TH: I worked with Natown – like always, and I also started working with a producer named VSHY from the Netherlands. He’s really dope. I found him online and started reaching out to him and getting beats. 

AF: The video for “Sleepwalking” was super fun and cute. What was filming that like?

TH: The “Sleepwalking” video shoot was a good time! I asked two girls that I know from the music scene here – a very talented artist name Sahara and dope engineer Ihlana [Niayla] from Timeless Recording Studio, where I record my music – to be a part of the video. I wanted it to have a mini girls night/kickback vibe and they did amazing and had great energy. The overall energy on-set was so fun, which is what I wanted since the song is so upbeat and light-hearted. 

AF: If you had to pick one, what is your favorite Moonchild song and why?

TH: I love all the songs on Moonchild with all of my heart, but, if I had to choose, my favorite one would be “Moody.” That one is produced by VSHY, and I fell in love with the beat instantly. It actually made me cry, it moved me that much. Some records are just so effortless for me to make, and “Moody” was one of them. The song is about me getting into my moods, where I can be clingy or have an attitude when I don’t get my way, and it was very freeing to write. I’m basically admitting a flaw that I have, which I felt was growth. I love that song so much! I’ll never ever get tired of it. 

AF: “Passion” has to be one of my favorites off the project. What was your inspiration behind that song? 

TH: I love “Passion” so much. What inspired me to write “Passion” was my dating life! I get very unsatisfied and bored with men and relationships. I’m sick of the boring conversations and the lack of depth. When I wrote “Passion,” I was visualizing having a romantic dinner, going on trips, being wined-and-dined. It was literally me asking, ‘Where is the passion?’ I need that in my life!

AF: Do most of your songwriting ideas come from personal experiences, or from other people in your life?

TH: All of my writing comes from personal experiences and my feelings. That’s why I love making music so much. It’s like my diary – it’s therapy for me. 

AF: What’s up next for you?

TH: I’m planning on pushing Moonchild for several months, and I’m trying to get out and perform at more shows out of town. Also, I am writing and working on my next EP for 2022! The grind doesn’t stop.

Follow Tori Helene on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Khari opens for Freddie Gibbs at The Thompson House

Khari / Photo Credit: Phil Dowdy

Live music in Cincinnati is back and Khari is taking full advantage. The Queen City-bred rapper opened for Grammy-nominated artist Freddie Gibbs last week at Newport, Kentucky’s Thompson House

“It meant a lot to open up for him,” Khari told Audiofemme after the show. “He’s someone who I respect as an artist and someone I’ve been listening to for a while now, and to be representing Cincinnati on the bill, I definitely took pride in the fact that I was able to open up for a Grammy-nominated artist.”

Khari performed several cuts from the latest installment of his This Is How We Feel EP series: Act 2 (Institutionalized), including “Hood Millennials” and crowd-pleaser, “Stupid.” The local talent also performed his verse from the 2019 Cincy posse cut, “Da Art of Ignorance (Remix),” before winding down to some conscious records. 

“Going into the show, I knew I wanted to show my versatility with my set, so that meant displaying my more upbeat tracks and then transitioning into some more soulful records,” Khari said. “Me and my team literally found out about four days before the show that Freddie’s management team liked the music and that we were in to do the show. So, I got with my DJ, and we rehearsed Sunday for about five hours, then Wednesday morning before the show for a couple hours.”

Besides performing a well-balanced set, Khari also proved his ability to engage the crowd. The rapper led audience members through a handful of T.I. classics to mark the beginning of Libra season and bolstered a powerfully unifying moment while rapping “Eve.” During the emotional track, which serves as his tribute to Black women, Khari called on the crowd to hold up their lighters and cellphone flashlights. 

“By far the biggest moment of the show for me was performing ‘Eve’ and seeing the entire venue [hold] their cell phone lights up as we put on for Black women,” he reflected. 

The crowd’s energy carried over into Gibbs’ headlining set, who performed a medley of cuts from his Grammy-nominated collab with The Alchemist, Alfredo. The Gary, Indiana native opened with “God Is Perfect” and continued through the night with tracks like “Thuggin’” from his and Madlib’s 2014 album Piñata, ESGN‘s “Eastside Moonwalker,” 2019’s Bandana cut “Palmolive,” and his most his recent collaboration with ScHoolboy Q, “Gang Signs.”

Gibbs’ stage presence was felt all the way in the balcony and his performance was repeatedly interrupted with fan-led “Freddie! Freddie!” chants. After waiting over an hour to see him perform, it would’ve been understandable for the audience to be a tad bit subdued by the beginning of his 11:15 pm set, but the crowd was clearly excited just to be at a live show again. Freddie also kept the energy up by jokingly ripping into his tour DJ Ralph, or DJ CaliNdaMix, by leading the crowd in “Fu*k you, Ralph!” chants. 

Freddie Gibbs / Photo Credit: Sha Rogers

All in all, the energy of Cincinnati fans, and performers, was a great reintroduction to live shows after a year of radio silence. Aside from Khari and Gibbs, Nashville’s Tim Gent and A.B. Eastwood also performed at the concert, which was put on by DJ Dabble’s Full Circle Presents.

“As far as feelings after the show – I felt great,” Khari reflected. “I knew I killed it and the response has been great. I gained so many new fans that have been hitting me in the DMs, listening to my music and made some valuable connections that will start to play out for me and my team here soon. So, I’m excited.”

Follow Khari on Instagram for ongoing updates. 

Devin Burgess Showcases Versatility with That’s Unfortunate LP

Devin Burgess
Devin Burgess
Photo Credit: Curtis Turner

Devin Burgess is flying high after the release of what he knows is his most well-rounded project yet. That’s Unfortunate, Devin’s latest full-length album, arrived last week complete with 20 songs, a handful of features, and a multi-faceted display of the Cincinnati rapper/producer’s far-reaching skills.

After losing his job last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Burgess says, “I had all this free time, and I could finally sit down and work on music. That’s Unfortunate is a product of that.”

With the newfound time to dedicate toward his craft, Burgess has been firing on all cylinders. So far this year, he’s shared Swooty Mac collab Sunday Morning, his solo EP 2018 and his alter-ego beat tape Kei$ha, not to mention co-producing Brandon Isaac’s latest album, The Sketches of Healing 2020. However, That’s Unfortunate stands apart from Burgess’s latest projects for its versatility. The LP balances vibe-y cuts, party tracks, love songs and bangers, and hears the MC switch up his flow between melodic anthems and hard-hitting raps.  

“I always feel like people want to put me in a box or think that I’m one dimensional – that I can’t tap into different things,” he tells Audiofemme. “So, I wanted this to be the fullest representation of me. Like, if no one ever heard me before, this project is the best way to introduce everyone to me and what I have to offer.”

That’s Unfortunate opens with a powerful spoken word by B.A.D. (Be A Difference) and snippets of poetry are woven throughout the effort. 

“I’ve always gravitated toward B.A.D.’s poems,” Burgess says of the Cincy-based poet and songwriter. “I thought it was important for a Black woman to be the first voice people heard on my album. I wanted it to be something unexpected. And Black women are the reason I am the way I am today. I was raised pretty much by my mom and my aunties and my grannies, so I wanted to show some love.”

Other highlights include a well-placed sample from The Lox and Dipset’s August Verzuz battle on the outro of “Peace,” as well as a feature from Pink Siifu. 

“That’s the homie,” Burgess says of the Cincinnati-bred Siifu. “We were listening to different beats, and he’s always eager to make music. We got the beat from demahjiae, he’s an Oakland-based producer, and I think Siifu wrote his verse in like ten minutes!”

“I had never gotten a verse like that from him,” he continues. “The tracks we’ve done in the past have been more vibe-y, more personal, but on this one he was just going off. So, I knew that I needed to show up, because I’m not trying to get washed on my own record. I wanna make sure that if he’s up here, I’ve gotta match it or be above it. I think it’s healthy competition – it keeps everyone on their toes.”

Burgess has already released clips for That’s Unfortunate cuts “Everlasting” and “Baritone,” and says he has a third video on the way. “I’ve already reached a personal best for videos since I’ve [filmed] three, and I’m definitely trying to put out as many visuals as possible,” he says. 

“The energy around this project has been so different, but in a good way,” he adds. “I’ve never felt this way about a body of work before and I feel like I really applied myself in every way, shape and form. I feel like this is the most cohesive, most consistent body of work I’ve ever done.”

Follow Devin Burgess on Instagram for ongoing updates.

“Push Up (Freestyle)” Unites NaQuia Chante and PwiththeDrip as Cincy’s Latest Rap Duo

NaQuia Chante
NaQuia Chante
NaQuia Chante / Photo Credit: PwiththeDrip

NaQuia Chante and PwiththeDrip are on the precipice of becoming Cincinnati’s most prolific female rap duo with the release of “Push Up (Freestyle).” The pair dropped their inaugural offering along with a self-directed music video on Friday, after performing together in Detroit on the Streets Most Wanted Tour. The nine-stop trek, led by Big Heff, wraps up in Wichita, Kansas on Sept. 14.

For those who haven’t caught them on stage yet, NaQuia and P’s “Push Up (Freestyle)” makes a fierce first impression. The Buddy Ball-produced track is laced with clever, self-assured lines from the two MCs and scathing rebukes aimed at anyone who dares stand in their way. 

“We’ve been doing kind of a boot camp almost – meeting every week, getting together, getting the beats and making fresh hooks,” NaQuia tells Audiofemme. “Then we meet up the next week, get the verse done and record everything at the house. So, we’ve built up a lot of music for our catalog just over the last two months.”

Besides new freestyles and official singles, which NaQuia says fans can expect to hear in the coming weeks, the pair is also working on their debut full-length project: The Bag Lady. The duo’s rapid-fire recording sessions seem to be a testament to their artistic chemistry. NaQuia, a bridging force behind Cincinnati hip hop, has had a self-taught hand in nearly every aspect of the Queen City’s music scene – from artist management and video directing, to marketing and visual art. When her longtime friend P returned to Cincinnati from Atlanta, the scene was finally set for the pair to join forces, ironically becoming the equally ambitious partner that the other one needed. Both say they are “obsessed” with one another.

“When I went to Atlanta, I was building and doing my thing, but I was watching what [NaQuia] was doing in the city, since like 2014, all the way to 2020,” PwiththeDrip explains. “So, I have been watching her and I was like, I need to get back to the city. I believe in her and her vision, and I knew that she needed somebody who was gonna have her back and help her do what she’s doing.”

“It’s the amount of energy, the talent and working hard – and I have all that, too. I work hard and I can match her energy,” she adds. 

“We’ve always thought about doing things together,” NaQuia agreed. “I be doing so much, and she’s doing it with me!”

PwiththeDrip / Photo Credit: NaQuia Chante

On the solo front, NaQuia will soon begin the rollout for her long-awaited debut compilation album, Church Girls Love Trap Music. The gospel-influenced rap record, which features an array of local voices – NaQuia’s included – was recorded last year. 

“The manager I was working with went back in the studio and added a few songs to [the album] with just me singing, and we recorded some new songs with [producer] MamaNamedMeEvan and a DJ from Cleveland, DJ Ryan Wolf,” she says. “That added a little time before it could be released, but it’s in the mixing process now. [Cincinnati producer] Natown is mixing the record. I should have a [release] date by the end of this tour.”

“It’s my baby, so I’m mad it’s taking so long, but I’m also okay with it because I want it done right,” she adds. 

Catch the Streets Most Wanted Tour at one of the remaining dates below and follow NaQuia Chante and PwiththeDrip on Instagram for ongoing updates.


Dream Pop Duo Sungaze Honor Human Connection on Sophomore LP This Dream

Photo Credit: Dana Lentz

Sungaze makes a powerful return with their sophomore album, This Dream. The Cincinnati duo – comprised of husband and wife Ian Hilvert and Ivory Snow – combine cinematic swirls of shoegaze, psychedelic rock and dream pop on their new 8-song offering, released on Friday. Although it was created during 2020 – a year marked by feelings of isolation for many – This Dream is powered by hopefulness, unity in the human experience and the ways that togetherness prevails. 

“I had watched a few videos showing the people of Italy singing to each other from their balconies and found it really moving and beautiful,” Snow tells Audiofemme. “It got me thinking – even more than usual – about what it means to be a human being alive on this planet and what makes it worthwhile to be here. I think the answer is connection—to ourselves, the planet and each other.”

“I don’t know what the world will look like moving forward, but my hope is that it’s less divided, kinder and more loving,” she adds. “That’s always going to be my dream.”

Sungaze began as a four-piece band started by Hilvert, whose years of experience in a metal band shine through ever so slightly on This Dream. Snow joined Hilvert, drummer Tyler Mechlem and bassist Jimmy Rice as a temporary keyboardist, but soon grew into a fixture of the band in her own right. In 2019, the quartet released their debut album, Light in All of It

Now, as a solely husband-and-wife duo, Hilvert and Snow share vocal duties and benefit from their genre-blending influences. Here, Snow talked with Audiofemme about This Dream, the benefits and challenges of being a married couple as well as bandmates, what’s next for Sungaze and more. Read the full interview and stream This Dream below.

AF: Congratulations on releasing This Dream! What was your writing and recording process during quarantine like?

IS: Thank you! As far as recording goes, it actually wasn’t much different from our usual way of doing things—if anything, it was easier. We have a studio space about 10 minutes from our apartment where we do most of our tracking. A lot of other people use rooms in the building for various things and for most of 2020, it was a bit of a ghost town. Ian and I were really the only people there. It was nice to be able to record whenever the inspiration struck and to not have any distractions or other schedules to work around.

Writing was decently different—on the first album, it was mostly collaborative from start to finish, and this time, the collaboration really began in the recording stage. Ian was still working for the first half of 2020, so I had a lot of time to myself at home, and that’s where the bulk of the album was written—from our sunroom couch [laughing].

AF: Now that the album has been released in a post-quarantine world, have the meanings behind any of the songs inspired by or written at the peak of the pandemic changed to you in any way?

IS: I don’t think so! Most of the lyrical content is stuff we think and talk about all the time anyway. There’s really only one specific part that was directly influenced by the pandemic and it’s the section of “This Dream” that goes: “So uncertain/I stay open/To the changes of us/To the will to discover new/Ways of being and relating we/Are not bound by the tides of this time.”

AF: This is also your first album as a duo, as Sungaze was previously a four-person band. How has that changed your process?

IS: It’s definitely opened doors for us to explore new sonic territory. Some of the first album was written in a similar fashion to this one, but a good chunk of those songs came about through jamming out ideas with our previous drummer, Tyler Mechlem. We feel a little less genre-bound this way and were able to work a little quicker, since we can pretty much head into the studio at any time and start recording without needing to make sure other members are on board with whatever we’re working on. I do miss having a full band, but it’s also been enjoyable to work in this stripped-down, more intimate way. It feels kind of sad and kind of freeing at the same time.

AF: What made you choose the title This Dream, and what role did dreams play in the making of this album?

IS: We chose the title shortly after the song “This Dream” was written, sort of on a whim. Some people have assumed we’re talking about sleep dreams, but the dream we’re talking about really has nothing to do with being asleep and everything to do with being awake. It’s the dream of people coming together, having what they need, being cared for and finding a stronger path forward that is more in sync with the planet we live on. It’s also a nod to our personal dreams and goals for this project: “Every dime I have in me/I’ll gamble on this dream.” Maybe someday we’ll share just how true that line ended up being. 

AF: What are some of the challenges and some of the benefits of being a husband-and-wife duo?

IS: The biggest challenge is it’s sometimes hard to compartmentalize the different sides of our relationship. When we’re working together, we do our best to be professional and objective, but sometimes feelings can get hurt and that can leak over a bit into our romantic life together. We’ve done a lot of work, over the last year especially, to separate the two. Also, lots of practice at being straight up and honest with each other, which is something I’ve tended to really struggle with in general because my least favorite thing in the world is disappointing people. 

Benefits – we’re very comfortable around one another and trust each other’s judgment. We know how to motivate and inspire each other, and we usually have a lot of fun while working on things together! 

Another big one is since we spend so much time together, we understand each other’s communication style very well and often just sort of know what the other is wanting. If I tell Ian that I’m hearing a specific guitar line, but I don’t have the vocabulary to describe it exactly, I can just give him a few words or a general feeling for direction and nine times out of 10, what he plays is exactly the thing I was hearing in my head. 

AF: Which instruments did you both play for this album, and were there any unique sounds/instruments featured on this album that you hadn’t used before? 

IS: Ian sang and played guitar, percussion, keys and bass, and I sang and played guitar and keys. Prior to this album I hadn’t written anything using guitar, so that was new for me. Besides that, there’s a squeaky sound towards the end of “Look Away” that almost sounds like a synth, but is actually the sound of my microphone rubbing against the pair of leggings I was wearing when I recorded my vocals for that track; it was initially an accident but we liked the way it sounded so we ended up adding in a few more.

AF: Are you planning to release any more videos in support of the album?

IS: We are working on a lyric video for “This Dream,” which will probably be out in a couple of weeks. 

AF: Do you have any shows coming up?

IS: We’ll be at the Hi-Fi in Indianapolis on October 29 to support our friends Fern Murphy for their album release, very excited for that! We may have a few local shows between now and then and are looking forward to eventually returning to touring.

AF: You recently signed with BMI to license your music for commercial and film use – are there any specific shows you’d love to see your music featured in? 

IS: It’s not a show, but I saw that there is a Legally Blonde 3 in the works and I would love to have “Body in the Mirror” on the soundtrack for that. Our favorite sorts of shows are usually in the coming-of-age, drama, fantasy or mystery categories, so pretty much anything that falls under any of those would be really neat—if it were fitting, having a song in Stranger Things would probably be at the top of the list. And if we could time travel, being a part of the Twin Peaks soundtrack would be a dream come true. 

Follow Sungaze on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Khari Unleashes Institutionalized Sequel to This Is How We Feel EP Series

Photo Credit: Noir Media

Khari continues his hard-hitting three-part EP series This Is How We Feel with Act 2 (Institutionalized). Picking up where Act 1 (Trapped) left off, the Cincinnati native continues to balance harrowing lyricism with thoughtful ruminations about racism, the criminal justice system, mental health and more. Production is handled by Courtney Kemper, G1, AvAtor Hughes, Nick Burke and Maaster Matt, with features from Kamiylah Faatin and Paris.

This year, Khari also launched his own record label, Be The Best (BTB) Records, through which Act 2 (Institutionalized) was released. 

“I really wanted to… take back control over my art instead of just giving it out to streaming right away,” he tells Audiofemme

Here, Khari talks about his new project, when Act 3 will be released, upcoming visuals and more. Listen to This Is How We Feel: Act 2 (Institutionalized) and read his full interview below. 

AF: What does that phrase institutionalized mean to you as it relates to this project? 

This whole EP series has been a process of me taking the listener through what it means to be mentally in a prison, or even physically in a prison, because I’ve got a lot of family and friends locked up. So, looking at the similarities between those two, even in your day-to-day life, we can be institutionalized. We can be programmed. We can be conditioned to think a certain way. Whether it’s school – I’ve been institutionalized by that – there’s a number of things that line means, but that’s really like the main thing I was trying to get across to people.

AF: “Numb” is a super powerful song to start the EP with. That song, and a lot of these records, is very personal; what headspace were you in when you were writing and recording it?

I really wanted to be vulnerable and honest this time around, just give people more of me. And “Numb,” I wrote around the time when George Floyd had just got murdered. Everything was happening in the country, just a whole bunch of turmoil, and I was just feeling like super numb to it all because, mind you, this stuff been happening forever. I was at a point where I was like, I don’t even know how to feel about anything anymore. I’ve been through so much stuff in my personal life, and then also the plight of my people, it’s all weighed down on me. So, I tried my best to convey that on that record. 

AF: “Eve” is another important song. How did you and Kamiylah Faatin get linked up?

She’s actually the first R&B singer [to be signed] to my record label, BTB Records. She’s super talented.

AF: Having her on the track took it to another level, for sure. 

Oh yeah. That song was for Black women, so I really wanted her voice on there. She just really gave it that energy, so I was just extremely, extremely blessed to have her on the track. 

AF: On Act 2, you talk about taking back ownership of your craft, and you’re releasing the project on Bandcamp and through your record label for one week before streaming services. What made you want to do it that way?

That was a big thing for me this time around. I really wanted to, like you said, take back control over my art instead of just giving it out to streaming right away. Because we only get half a penny for every stream. It’s like all this work just to build up a certain number of streams and hope people listen to it on these platforms, when there’s people that are willing to support what we’re doing out here. I just wanted to take it back to when I was a young kid, 15 years old, selling my mixtapes at my school. Just put it out there and allow people to support it this way and see what we can bring in. Especially now with the label, trying to build that up. 

AF: It’s super dope that you launched your own label here because you’re keeping the talent and revenue in Cincinnati. Like, you can keep building it up and become a pioneer in the city.

It’s funny you say that, because that’s always been a big goal on my list. To really be a staple in Cincinnati. I think what we’re missing is the revenue and the attention. We can bring that in. We can make it so these talented artists here can start really living off this music. 

AF: I also saw your “Sha’Carri (Amari Freestyle)” on Instagram where you rap about Sha’Carri Richardson being suspended from competing in the Tokyo Olympics. What made you want to write a song about that?

It’s funny how that came about, because I told myself I was not gonna rap until the album came out. Like, no one’s gonna hear me rap until the album. But I just had to put that out, because that really is some bullshit. You know I’m saying? And that there are people locked up for [marijuana] right now. Why? When these big white corporations are eating off marijuana? I already was touching on some of these topics in the project, and then I just felt like I had to drop something because it’s a stupid situation.

AF: Absolutely. “Tin Man” is another song that stood out on the project. What was making that track like?

That was a fun song to record because that was my first time using auto-tune. With this project, I was trying to step outside my comfort zone and not be so locked into being this guy that’s only doing one type of sound. So, I wanted to do the auto-tune, I wanted to have more trap sounds, more modern sounds, but still give the substance and the content.

AF: You’re gearing up to drop a video for that song next; any release date in mind for Act 3 yet?

Well, I said Act 2 was gonna come out in January [laughs], but I do want to get Act 3 out soon, maybe at the top of next year, because I’m already working on some newer things that’ll be, like, the next phase of my career past This Is How We Feel. I’m excited about that. 

AF: Who have you been listening to/inspired by lately?

I really like the new J. Cole album, that’s really inspired me a lot. Tyler, the Creator’s album is probably my favorite right now. And H.E.R., I’ve been really tapped in with R&B lately and her new project, too. But, I like what these more lyrical guys are doing right now, you know, stepping outside their comfort zone. I’m trying to do the same thing right now, so that’s given me a confirmation about what I’m doing.

AF: What else have you got planned coming up?

Visuals, visuals, visuals. I want to do a visual for every song on the project. And I want to do a tour, since we can do shows now. I’m definitely trying to tour in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky – do like a little tri-state tour. So, that’s getting set up for probably the fall.

Follow Khari on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Darity Emphasizes the Importance of Relationship Boundaries with Pop Anthem “Out of It”

Darity Out of It
Darity Out of It
Photo Credit: Corynne Staresinic

With her haunting new single “Out of It,” Darity teaches a masterclass on asserting boundaries. The dance-y track combines what the Cincinnati singer-songwriter is best known for – thoughtful lyrics and hypnotic vocals – while delivering a personal message about independence and family. 

“The chorus of ‘Out of It’ was originally written about a rough patch that my dad and I went through while I was in college. I went away to school, and it was really easy to just not engage with the conflict and our differences,” she tells Audiofemme. “After re-writing, it became more about a pattern I had noticed in myself. The verses are reflecting on other situations where I had left people out of things in my life to spare myself the trouble.”

“It’s just easier to leave people out of things. Relationships are complicated. When they get tough, or I feel like they are in my way or not constructive – I tend to just withdraw,” she adds. “It’s just a self-preservation coping thing.”

The accompanying video, aesthetically shot at Cincinnati’s Taft’s Ale House, marks a full-circle moment for Darity, as it stars actual members of her family.

“I am one of eight kids. So, my real parents, boyfriend and a few siblings were in the video,” she explained. “It truly meant a lot. I’m the only one who is pursuing music as a career, so it is kind of foreign to them and to have them a part of it was special.”

“Filming with them was great,” she added. “They were all in good spirits, except my youngest brother, but he is 11 and just wanted to play his Nintendo Switch, which I totally get! There was a lot of laughter and [director] Nick Starensnic was really efficient, which just made it fun.”

Several of the shots feature Darity by herself – sometimes appearing lonely; other times looking empowered. The song works in the same dichotomy, with Darity sometimes reveling in her independence, and other times feeling the weight of her isolation. 

“Autonomy and individuality are very important to me. I want to be free and fully myself,” she says. “I really wanted to figure out my own values and become more of myself, and that definitely resulted in me putting myself out of familiar spaces.” 

“Meanwhile, growing up, and the relational growing pains that came with it, felt really lonely. I think growing up puts you on an island for a while until people know what to do with the adult version of yourself,” she continues. “Because of that, ‘Out of It’ really feels like a bittersweet coming-of-age film for me, personally.”

Darity has dropped a handful of singles this year, releasing “Six Feet” back in March and the uplifting “Everything” this January. “Out of It” continues her momentum, as she gears up to release a new EP. 

“The EP has been less collaborative and more something I’ve been crafting alongside my producer, Jeremy Steckel. It doesn’t have a release date yet, but I’m excited and just taking my time,” she says. She’ll test out some of her recent material during a live show with Leland Blue supporting Michigander this August at Fountain Square.

“The other thing I’ve been working on is launching a Patreon. It’s going to be more personal to me as a songwriter. It’ll feel like a songwriting journal, which will be a look into me as a person – something I haven’t explicitly given people access to,” she adds. “My hope is to form relationships with the people that enjoy my writing.”

Follow Darity on Instagram for ongoing updates. 

Cincy Indie Pop Duo Blossom Hall Release Their First (and Maybe Last?) Album, Pyre

Blossom Hall Pyre
Blossom Hall Pyre
Photo Credit: Eden Estes

Indie pop-rockers Blossom Hall have been household names in the Cincinnati alt-rock scene for the better part of half a decade, and now they’ve released their studio album, Pyre. Notably, it’s both the band’s debut record and their last project before going on a hiatus. It’s also a great summation of the raw songwriting, swelling instrumentals and orchestral flair that the duo – comprised of vocalist/bassist Nancy Paraskevopoulos and vocalist/guitarist Phil Cotter – is known for.   

Pyre also features several other Cincinnati acts, including Strobobean’s Katrina Eresman, MADQUEEN’s Jaki Howser, Molly Brown, Elsa Kennedy and Brooklynn Rae; drummers Zach Larabee, Tim Weigand, Matt McAllister and CJ Eliasen; violinists Sarah Gorak and Jacob Duber; and saw player Andrew Higley. 

Blossom Hall fans were first introduced to Pyre with “God Girl” – the album’s lead single and a fuzzy rock mixture of anthemic drums and haunting vocals about loneliness and the divine feminine. Other highlights on the record including the mantra-esque “Peace to Everything That I Have Hurt and That Has Hurt Me,” and sunshine-pop “Parasols.”

Over the years, Blossom Hall has shared stages with the likes of Broken Social Scene, performed as the Pixies for a Cincinnati tribute show and created a well-defined sound and fanbase. Thankfully, though Pyre is the band’s last album for a while, fans can look ahead to upcoming solo music from both Nancy and Phil and, hopefully, a reunion in the near future.

Audiofemme caught up with Nancy and Phil over email about Pyre, the evolution of their sound, what’s next for the band and more. Read on, and stream Pyre, below.

AF: Pyre is both your debut studio album and your last project before going on hiatus. Do you think this will be Blossom Hall’s official last album, or are you just planning on taking a break?

NP: Probably more of a hiatus. I expect we’ll shift gears to be a recording project.

AF: What prompted the band to take a hiatus?

NP: A lot of things. With the pandemic, my life turned upside down. Before 2020 started, I had planned on leaving my full-time job to go to massage school, which I did in 2020. The idea was it would be easier to tour. But partway through, I realized the middle of a pandemic was maybe the worst time to learn how to be a massage therapist. I left school. I applied to and was hired for my dream job. Life just happens.

AF: Pyre feels like a good summation of the band’s years together — what was the timeline of putting this project together? For example, “God Girl” was originally written 10 years ago, right?

PC: It is a great summation. Nan wrote “God Girl” a long time ago, but the arrangement is new. That song especially, but also the album as a whole, distills the ultimate Blossom Hall sound to me. Darkness with a sense of humor. Big landscapes with minute details.

The timeline of the album is long. We originally went into a studio, which we love, back in 2017. And although the sessions went well, we realized the arrangements just weren’t ready. We wrote new tracks and rewrote some others and began to record the album in my home studio. The acoustics of my space and the gear I use is always evolving, so that created an interesting contrast between lo-fi and hi-fi audio elements. We were originally planning to release it a year ago, but when COVID happened it didn’t feel right. Anyone who mixes audio, especially their own songs, will tell you they could tweak them forever if there wasn’t a deadline. So I spent a huge chunk of quarantine mixing and re-mixing the album. 

AF: What went into the shaping of “God Girl” — adding or changing elements — to make it the song that it is today?

PC: It started as a haunting ukulele tune, entirely written by Nan. When I first heard it, I immediately heard the dynamic shifts possible, as well as the range of strange things we could do around what I hear as a psychedelic vocal. The first thing I contributed was building a rough garage rock demo with the dynamic shifts I heard and more of a chugging, constant pushing rhythm. 

Nan then added a vocal to help me hear the song take shape. Most of the original takes of my drums, guitar and her voice actually remain in the final version. Once her vocal was in there, I knew I wanted background vocals on the loud parts, so I did a few passes improvising them through the whole song and came up with the “sshhhh…hah…hah…” part, which I love so much.

NP: My favorite element that we added to that song are the drums in the bridge. I wanted to encapsulate the deep well of loneliness and self-pity that I had fallen into when writing that song. I asked one of our drummers Zach Larabee to just play something chaotic, which was a feeling I couldn’t have orchestrated alone. 

PC: I knew we needed something ethereal and spooky and started reaching out to friends to see if anyone knew a trained theremin player. I’ve always wanted an excuse to hire a theremin player. Instead, we found Andrew Higley, an incredible saw player. I actually prefer the saw because it sounds more organic, and if you listen close you can hear the dissonant overtones of the bow on the saw. 

After that, we had four non-male singers to come in and replace the placeholder background tracks that Nan and I sang. Then I just had to mix all of these elements sonically so that you could hear everything, but the emotions also come across the way they’re meant to. It’s a dense arrangement, and probably the most challenging to mix. 

AF: In 2018, you played a tribute concert to the Pixies in Cincinnati. What bands influenced the making of Pyre?

PC: For my songs and arrangements: Ohmme, St. Vincent, Roomful of Teeth, Pixies, Dirty Projectors, Fleet Foxes, late era Beatles and early solo McCartney, White Stripes and early Todd Rundgren.

NP: I don’t know if these projects influenced the album, but I was into them the five years we made this particular music. We both love the music of the Dirty Projectors (especially the Amber Coffman era). Dixie Cups, Thelonius Monk, the Pixies, Beams, specifically Billy Joel’s “Vienna Waits for You,” Louis Prima, Mount Eerie, Billie Holiday, Erykah Badu, the song “Joyful Joyful” from the Sister Act 2 soundtrack, Thank U, Next by Ariana Grande, Jeffrey Lewis, Lizzo, the Books, Friendship and not a music project but Dharma talks from the Portland Insight Meditation Center.

Photo Credit: Bobby Tewksbury

AF: Where did the inspiration for the album’s title come from?

NP: The song “Pyre” is about a relationship I had in which I was yelled at daily, called names, there was financial abuse, he was always threatening to break my stuff, he trapped me in the apartment. It was terrifying. When we go through trial by fire, we often come out a different person. The person we were is no longer. Our bodies have new memories, and it is a kind of rebirth – for better or worse.

AF: Will you be celebrating the album’s release with any livestream performances, or playing any in-person shows when things open back up?

NP: Will things open back up? My job has me going to the hospital and going to court regularly. With the new strains, it might be dangerous for my clients and for audiences for me to play bigger shows.

PC: No plans at the moment – we need a break.

AF: Are you working on any solo material/projects at the moment?

NP: I am playing with friends but nothing I want to announce just yet!

PC: Lots of other projects, some would say too many. Solo (folk), Golden Theory (live band hip hop), Party Blimp (soul music) and many freelance music projects for clients. I have a Patreon where I release a song a month, and I follow my whim on what kind of music to make in a particular month. 

AF: What is each of your favorite songs on the album and why?

I love the song “St. Louis.” It’s sweet and relatively simple. It’s focused on longing, which I try not to live in, but it happens – and can be fun! And Phil and I had fun writing it.

Gotta be “God Girl” for me. It’s just so damn epic. I’m so proud of that arrangement and I adore Nancy’s lyrics and melodies. “Peace to Everything That I Have Hurt and That Has Hurt Me” is a close second. The first half is so soothingly groovy and pensive, while the second half feels so nourishing and epic.

Follow Blossom Hall on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Papa Gora Talks Latest Album The Feel, New Videos And More

Papa Gora
Papa Gora
Photo Credit: Noir Media

For Papa Gora, everything comes down to timing. The Cincinnati native has been working hard the past few years to emerge as a rising star in the city’s hip hop scene and released his latest album, The Feel (An Album by Papa Gora), earlier this year. The project was initially meant to drop in 2020 – a year that seemed bleak for many local artists. However, Papa Gora decided to delay the album, which ended up bringing on a host of new opportunities, remote performances and organic collaborations. 

“Everything with this album was based on a feeling; I wanted to make sure that I expressed myself so people could feel something from the music,” he tells Audiofemme. “This one started with production – the beats. The intro song [‘The Best’] was the first beat that I got, and from there, more producers were sending me different sounds.”

“Nothing was forced, it came about really naturally,” he adds. The feelings he wanted to capture shine through on every track on the album – from the spiritual highs of “Testify” to the raw emotion on “Violence,” which features Cincinnati rapper Jay Hill

“I had ‘Violence’ sitting there and was like, who can bring that emotion in? Jay Hill,” he says. “Shalom, same experience. He’s more of a poet and he was transitioning into songwriting at that time, and we ended up making ‘Divine Timing’ maybe in 20, 25 minutes. And also Harmony [Haze], her vocals are just amazing. I needed that texture to add an extra layer to that song, [‘Truth Will Set You Free’], and she did amazing.”

Papa Gora’s visceral vocals also stand out on “Too Wild,” which, like “Violence,” speaks vulnerably about police brutality, systemic racism and loss. 

“I can’t say there was a particular thing that triggered those songs, but they came from a soulful place; a place of this keeps happening,” Papa Gora says. “Even before 2020, stuff like police brutality, violence, people getting murdered… I actually had a coworker whose son got killed, and I’m not saying she was the reason I wrote the song, but it is something that constantly happens and myself, as an artist, I feel like I have a responsibility to speak out about it.” 

Papa Gora also recently wrapped up a remote performance series called “Live-N-Direct,” for which he was able to virtually perform several of the album’s solo tracks as well as collaborations.  

“It was awesome. I honestly did it because I miss performing,” he said about the series. “I miss that, and it’s not the same as performing in front of people, but performing in general is just my favorite thing to do. And I was able to include Shalom and Jay Hill on the performances, and we did the season finale at a clothing store in Cincinnati. It was a great experience and it came about naturally.”

Later this month, Papa Gora will head to Texas for a string of live shows. He’s also performing at the Thompson House in Newport, Kentucky on May 28. Currently, he is putting the finishing touches on a new music video for album cut “Open Your Heart,” which is slated for release at the end of this month.

“I always say the album is done, but it’s not finished,” he reflects. “I’m really big on visuals and I feel like I need to take my time and push out visuals for almost every song on this album. That’s one thing I’m really focusing on right now, but my studio is also in my house, so I’m always creating.”

Follow Papa Gora on Instagram for ongoing updates. 

TellemJoness and Shalom share ‘Modern Nostalgia’ three-pack

Modern Nostalgia
Modern Nostalgia
Artwork by Noah Catalan

When TellemJoness and Shalom first linked up to record “Fade Away,” they never knew it would lead to a project. The two Cincinnati natives – Joness, a local hip hop staple, and Shalom, a budding star – had been fans of each other’s for a while, and the chemistry in their intertwined voices was just too good to pass up. 

“’Fade Away’ was just gonna be a collaboration. I would do a verse or whatever, maybe be on the hook. So, we did that and Shalom was like, ‘Joness, do you think you could hop on this other song too?’ And ‘Divine Council’ happened,” Joness says. “So, we were like, ‘We should release this as a project.’”

A few recording sessions later in Joness’ home studio, and the pair had created Modern Nostalgia – an atmospheric three-pack including “Fade Away,” “God Like,” and “Divine Council.”

It’s also Shalom’s debut project. “It’s been a long time coming,” Shalom reflects. The duo first joined forces officially in 2019 on Papa Gora’s single, “Mayday.” Working on building his own catalogue, Shalom approached Joness about featuring her on a song while at Cincinnati’s Elementz

“I’ve always been a fan of Joness,” he tells Audiofemme. “I met her at a poetry slam called Speak… and being exposed to those creatives in the city motivated me to do something of my own.”

TellemJoness added, “I’ve known him for years as a poet and an activist in the community – so, a very kindred spirit, but he’s nice with some flows, too.”

“I think we both resonate with the sonic vibe of the project because we’re both poets,” she continued. “I know my power is in my words; my relationship with words and how I use them and string them together. And that’s important to him as well. So, the content, the things that we talk about in the three songs – it’s heavy.”

The emcees discuss religion, spirituality, and provide commentary on society as a whole, though you’ll have to listen to the project a few times through to truly get the deeper meanings; it’s easy to be swept up in the dreaminess of Joness’ and Shalom’s vocals. 

“The things we talk about in ‘Fade Away,’ ‘God Like,’ and ‘Divine Council,’ they’re all – for lack of a better word – trendy things,” says Joness. “Like, people talk about their spiritual journeys, exalting women – as we should be, because we do so much but get credit for so little – and getting rid of negativity, keeping positive auras. But where we’re coming from on these tracks are not necessarily trendy places – they come from a place of healing for us. We kind of flipped these trends on their head and presented them in a different way.”

Photo by: The Content Girl 

“All of the messages that we have intertwined in the songs, it was important for us to shine a light on those things and speak honestly,” Shalom adds. “And we wanted to make sure our sound was fluid, which I think came pretty natural.”

The artists’ conscientious bars are underscored by celestial production, courtesy of Pxvce. The effort was also engineered by Joness and mixed and mastered by GrandAce. With their first collaborative project out, Joness and Shalom are now working on their solo endeavors – though they’re open to working together again in the future. 

“I think we kind of set a standard with this,” Shalom says. “We could create a Modern Nostalgia Part 2. So, we’ll see what happens.” 

Joness is currently readying her debut studio album P.O.L.R., which was delayed last year due to the pandemic. “Now that [Modern Nostalgia] is out, I’m even more inspired,” she says. “I’m so grateful for Shalom. He’s an example of if he wants to do something, he’s gonna go do it.”

Follow TellemJoness on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Jay Madera Discusses Standout Tracks From Debut Solo LP Anxious Armada

Jay Madera / Anxious Armada
Jay Madera / Anxious Armada
Photo courtesy of Jay Madera

Jay Madera has unleashed his debut solo album, Anxious Armada. The 12-track LP was fronted by the Cincinnati singer-songwriter’s singles “Curb Appeal,” “OH-126” and his political anthem, “A House Divided.” 

“The whole point of the record is to not be so autobiographical, but more try to understand myself through my music and share some of that with the world,” he tells Audiofemme. “The hardest thing to do is put it out there, so anybody taking the time out of their hectic lives to listen to my music is a treat.” 

The record ranges in sonic inspiration, from the soul and funk-infused “A House Divided” to the psychedelic “Screensaver.” Most of the instrumentation – guitar, piano, organ and more – was also produced by Jay himself.

“I’ve been writing music for a while and I’ve been involved with various projects, but this full-length solo album is about trying to understand the world and deal with its contrasts and not really look for my own place in it, but put music out there,” he explains. 

We spoke with Jay about the inspiration and meaning behind a few of the album’s standout tracks.

“A House Divided”

“To me, it’s definitely an album opener,” says Jay.

The rousing track was released ahead of Election Day and tackles subjects like voting, racial injustice, corporatism, American history and more, many of which were at the forefront of our minds last November. 

“That’s kind of one of the concepts that I gathered from a lot of this music; that we are living in a time where we can’t separate ourselves from politics and we ourselves have kind of inhabited a political space,” Jay says. “Even though that song that is overtly political, it’s still… brought really close to home, and even the more intimate songs [on the album] have commentary on society in general, so I guess I’m trying to blur the lines.”

“The Next Great American Novel”

In the bitingly ironic “The Next Great American Novel,” Jay describes the contrast between the lofty ideals we set for ourselves and our reality. Over a slow-tempo guitar, he sings, “I got high, to sit down and write my first novel/And I couldn’t even name my protagonist.”

“That’s me kind of taking a step back – it’s after three very charged, dense songs that start the record,” he explains. “This is the first slower song; it’s a little sparser, and it was me trying to write a song that’s a little less serious and show my lighter side.”

“It’s about a specific scenario, but it’s more about the ability for me to laugh at myself,” Jay continues. “We’ve all had different failures in our lives and learning to kind of laugh at the concept of, and coming to terms with, the things we said we were gonna do. It’s supposed to be a little bit cheeky, a little bit off-the-cuff, but then also hit you with some realness.”

“Half Staff”

The piano-laced “Half Staff” is another song with an anthemic feel to it. The track addresses mass shootings in the U.S. and Jay’s hesitancy to bring a child into the world.

“I was in college when I wrote that song and it was the day after the mass shooting in Orlando in 2016 at the nightclub,” he explains. “I had a lot of LGBTQ friends who were hit hard by it and I just went to a piano the next day and started writing this song.”

Though the song was written five years ago, it’s still, tragically, extremely relevant today.

“I have played that song in probably almost every gig that I’ve done, and I feel the need to keep playing it,” he says. “Each time I play it, I have to remind the audience that it’s about a specific event, because there’s been another several shootings since then. So, it can be easily misunderstood to be about another mass shooting, but that’s also kind of the point.” 

“It’s also about kind of how we handle these things that are pretty hard to handle, and we’re expected to go about our day when we shouldn’t be,” he adds. 

“A Faithful Foil” / “Janus-Faced”

The album climaxes at the cinematic “A Faithful Foil” and “Janus-Faced.” The two songs seamlessly blend into one another and validate needing others when we have trouble loving ourselves.

“It’s kind of a settling back in to some of the more serious tracks on the record,” Jay says. “Those songs were written as an ode to needing others even when we think we don’t need others. Needing others to show us the best part of ourselves and being okay with that.”

He continues, “There’s this idea that we’re supposed to love ourselves and not need other people for that love. The self-love movement is a very big thing right now; there’s a lot of reclaiming of the self. I personally struggle with that, and so this song is about seeing yourself through the eyes of other people and letting that go.”


Anxious Armada ends with a 58-second outro called “Sertraline.” Named after the anti-depressant, the track pieces together different recordings from Jay’s daily life, audio from the album’s recording sessions and more. 

“It’s a combination of a few different things, but it’s meant to be a perception of how I hear the world sometimes,” Jay explains. “There’s some recording sessions talk-back, there’s also some embedded audio from my day job and just some of the mundane sounds of life.”

After 39 minutes of analyzing the world through Jay’s eyes, the singer uses “Sertraline” to snap the listeners back into their own reality.

“It’s meant to summate the whole album in a way that makes you almost question the narrator a little bit,” he says. “You get little snippets from each song, and they’re not complete, but at the end you’re hearing little snippets of these songs and you’re reminded that this all just how one person sees the world.” 

Follow Jay Madera on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Tori Helene Teams Up with Natown on Latest Single “Detached”

Cincinnati-based singer/ songwriter Tori Helene has joined forces with frequent collaborator and producer Natown for her first single of the year, “Detached.” Helene says it’s one of her “most empowering” songs yet. “At the time when I was writing this song, I was feeling emotional and dealing with this specific situation that felt pretty one-sided,” she tells Audiofemme. “So, [‘Detached’] was me speaking my truth and my feelings to that person and the situation.”

Helene, who’s made atmospheric vocals and relationship drama her melodic bread and butter, shines on Natown’s minimalistic production. “It’s clear that you just come around only when you get bored/I go along with it though I don’t know what I’m staying for,” she sings, about feeling overlooked by a lover and refusing to settle for less. “You won’t put no time in it/So I won’t put no hope in it.”

Helene finds the courage to walk away from the relationship on the track’s earworm chorus. “Don’t stop me when I leave, ‘cause I ain’t doin’ nothing wrong/And baby I just wanna do me, so I ain’t doin’ nothing wrong,” she croons. 

“Detached” is an accurate sampling of what Helene does best. She consistently serves up the self-assuredness and unapologetic confidence we all want to have, while never losing a relatable sense of vulnerability. “I was really feeling [this song] when I was recording it,” she says of the track.

Helene says that “Detached” was actually written and recorded during sessions for a project that was supposed to come out in 2020 called Chainless. “I decided to start a new project instead,” she explains simply. “[‘Detached’] was one of my favorite songs on there, so I had to release it as a single.” Although she ended up scrapping Chainless, Helene says she may release one other song made during the recording sessions as a future single, and is planning to release her next EP this summer. 

“[It] has a whole different sound and vibe that I’m pretty excited about,” she says of the project. “I’m releasing it in early summer and there are two features on it. That’s all I can say for right now.”

The currently untitled effort will mark Helene’s first project since her 2019 EP, Delusional, which featured Cincinnati rapper D-Eight. Helene followed up the effort with three singles last year, “Get It Right,” “If You’re Lucky” and “Sitting Pretty,” the latter two of which arrived with videos that did not disappoint. Helene says fans can be on the lookout for a “Detached” visual soon.

Turning the conversation over to Women’s History Month and female representation in Cincinnati’s music scene, Helene says the city could be doing better. While Cincy has enjoyed vibrant blooms in hip hop, pop and R&B music the past few years, it’s remained, unfortunately, a bit one-sided. 

“I feel like [women] should be represented more,” Helene says, recommending Elle and LXXS. “I feel like the female artists are overlooked a lot of the time, especially female singers.” With her commanding presence, Tori Helene is certain to be among the Cincinnati artists who will change that.

Follow Tori Helene on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Roberto and Risky Patterns Reunite for ‘Invierno’ EP

Photo Credit: Carter Hawks

Cincinnati rapper Roberto and South Texas-based producer Risky Patterns returned last week with their latest joint offering, Invierno, which Roberto will celebrate with a livestream release party via Zoom on Saturday, March 6. The six-song EP marks the second installment in the duo’s seasonal-themed series, after 2020’s Verano (Spanish for “summer;” with Invierno, which means winter, out now, the pair will next release Primavera in spring and Otoño in fall). They first teamed up on last year’s Many Truths EP, when Risky Patterns was still using the moniker Matador. 

For Invierno, Roberto and Risky Patterns continue to build on to the chemistry that they initiated with Many Truths and serve up a new Southern hip hop sound. The pair started writing songs for the project and testing them out for live audiences while touring in Texas with Devin Burgess at the beginning of 2020, before the pandemic. 

“[Risky Patterns] sent me the first beat I ever rapped on when I was 16. So, it kind of built itself into a relationship to the point where I was grabbing beats off his Soundcloud and then we ended up touring together,” Roberto tells Audiofemme. “When we were touring, which is the only time we’ve ever been together in person, we were working on this project.”

Invierno has the audible ease of a project written pre-Coronavirus and the wild stories that can only be captured while on the road. Each track is named after a significant destination in the duo’s Texas travels, such as the desolate “Exit 51,” where Roberto, Risky Patterns and Devin got stranded after running out of gas.

Roberto, who hails from Texas but is based in Cincinnati, said he also felt a special kind of grounding from creating the EP in his home state. “When I was in Texas, shit just kept coming to me,” he recalls. “I don’t know if it was my ancestors or what… but I was really just doing what I felt like I was being told.”

The project still feels a heavy Queen City presence, though, as the rapper calls on several of his “best friends” for features. Invierno sees welcomed assists from local artists Jay Hill, Ladi Tajo and GrandAce, as well as out-of-towners Na$ty and Miles Powers. 

“This project is new to me in that way,” says Roberto. “There’s artists on there that I really admire. This project is reflective of my mission statement as an artist, which is to connect my roots to my upbringing between Texas and Ohio. Everybody here that I know has [a] Risky Patterns [beat] in their head somewhere, and a lot of people of over here I knew would sound good on his beats.”

The collaborative chemistry is especially felt on “sharpstown usa” – the electrifying result of Roberto’s years-long friendship with Jay Hill and Ladi Tajo. “That song makes me so happy,” he says. “Back in the early days, we would all pull up to any show in Cincinnati together. If I did a show, it would be Ladi Tajo and [Jay Hill’s group] Patterns of Chaos with me. Their song ‘Sleep Paralysis’ that they did together; I mixed that song. I’m really glad that chemistry got to be heard.”

2020 was an extremely prolific year for Roberto; in addition to two EPs and some singles with Risky Patterns, he also released purpan collab Happy Birthday, his “face/off” single with Khari (which includes b-side “escape”) and some stand-alone singles as well. “Last year, I dropped like six times,” Roberto says. “This year I’m focusing on making my drops mean more, rather than doing them more often. I didn’t take a lot of time out for burnout and things like that. I think if I take some time for rest, it’ll make more sense on my end.”

Roberto plans to head back to Texas to self-quarantine with Risky Patterns to “knock out” Primavera and Otoño, which he thinks will be finished “in like two weeks.” When asked if he and Risky Patterns will ever swap rapper and producer roles for a project, he responded, “Yes, I’m definitely looking forward to that.” This summer, Roberto will actually release his first-ever self-produced project.

“All the music that you hear from the two of us, he’s produced [and] I’ve written, mixed and mastered, but people don’t know that I can also produce and he can rap,” he explains. “We both do both things, but when we first met, we were very far into one way. Now, we’ve been getting into both crafts, so it’s a growing relationship in a musical sense.” 

Follow Roberto on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Cincy Rapper Swooty Mac Releases Sunday Morning LP in Collab with Devin Burgess

Swooty Mac
Swooty Mac
Photo Credit: Guy Nee Whang

Swooty Mac and Devin Burgess have gifted fans their first joint project: Sunday Morning. The eight-song offering houses some of Swooty’s most honest and direct lyricism ever, not to mention some truly excellent beats by Burgess. The project also includes an ample amount of vibe-y bangers (opener “Function” and “Twenty” are my favorites) and the boo’d up “Bath Water – Extended.”

Cincinnati rapper Swooty and rapper/producer Burgess first linked up on Swooty’s 2018 debut EP, Jolie: The Swooty McDurman Project. Since then, Swooty says he and Burgess have teamed up together on roughly 20 songs – some released, some still in the vault.

“It was different [making Sunday Morning] mostly because [Devin] didn’t rap on the project. Usually we’re trading bars, but he didn’t rap on this at all or even do a background vocal. That was the biggest difference,” Swooty explains. “We have a pretty good chemistry, though, so it’s kind of hard for us not to come up with something.”

The beat Burgess made for “Bath Water – Extended” is what kicked off Sunday Morning. After hearing the instrumental, Swooty co-wrote the sensual cut with JayBee Lamahj and set out to make a full project with Burgess.

Swooty explains that initially, Sunday Morning was set to be a four-song EP. But, it was Burgess – who also mixed, mastered and engineered the project – who wanted to turn it into an album. Swooty agreed to record four more songs, but then he learned he was going to become a father for the second time.

“I’ve got a 7-year-old and [now] a 1-year-old and, you know, I had to handle my responsibilities before I dive too much into being a rapper,” he says, taking some time off to focus on his family before returning to finish Sunday Morning. “But, it worked out,” he continues, “because two years later we came out with a dope ass project.”

Learning he was going to have another child also made finishing Sunday Morning “even more special,” Swooty said. The album tackles several vulnerable topics that the rapper had previously steered clear of, for the most part.

“The stuff I was going through, the stuff that I was talking about on the project, it [took] time for me to express that stuff,” he confessed. “A lot of my music is personal, but it’s like surface-level stuff. This was, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and see what’s going on. Like, I feel this way, and now I’m telling you why.”

Swooty dabbles in love on the pleading “Teach Me” and insecurity on the self-reckoning “blue af,” but he pushes his boundaries the most on “Neo.” On the stripped-down cut, the rapper examines co-parenting and juggles anxiety with ambition in an intensely personal, yet sharply relatable way, making it a standout track. Amazingly, though, it was almost cut entirely from the project.

“[‘Neo’] was just me being open and it’s one of the most vulnerable tracks on there,” Swooty says. “I wasn’t really rapping; I was kind of just talking and saying how I feel. Me and my daughter’s mom were going through some stuff at the time – arguing, breakups, and that’s pretty much what I was talking about on that record. And the reason everybody likes it is the reason I almost didn’t put it on there – I was thinking, don’t nobody wanna hear me be all sad and shit.”

Because of the song’s success, Swooty said he’s become more comfortable being vulnerable in his music. “I can do more stuff where I’m being sensitive,” he says. “I don’t gotta stick my chest out and be the big bad guy all the time.”

“I’m extremely proud of Swoot for delivering and executing such vulnerability and emotion,” Burgess adds. “I know how much that can take out of a person.”

Looking ahead, fans can expect some visuals from the project – possibly merging with companion clips for Swooty’s 2020 offering, Do4Luv. Devin Burgess, on the other hand, is set to release his live EP, 2018, on Valentine’s Day, followed by his rap album, That’s Unfortunate, next month.

“I really put thought and effort into other people’s music as if it was my own,” Burgess says of Sunday Morning. “I try to make everything as special as possible and this felt special to me.”

Follow Swooty Mac and Devin Burgess via Instagram for ongoing updates.

Darity Restores Hope for 2021 with “Everything”

Darity Everything
Darity Everything
Photo Credit: China Martin

Cincinnati singer/songwriter Linsley Hartenstein, who performs under the moniker Darity, started 2021 on a hopeful note with the release of a new single, “Everything.” The dreampop ballad seems to speak directly to the anxieties of 2020 while offering a soothing optimism as we look onward to the new year. Though it was written during a challenging period in Hartenstein’s life, she reveals that “Everything” has been brewing for a much longer time.

“While the end result is beautiful and encouraging, the writing process of this song was really long,” she tells Audiofemme. “I started writing it while on tour in 2017. Touring is one of my favorite things to do of all time, but this tour specifically revealed how poor my mental health was.”

Struggling with the uphill process of growing an independent band, Hartenstein says she spent the entire tour journaling reasons why she doubted her abilities and her worth. “All the while, I had the chorus to ‘Everything’ stuck in my head,” she says. “It was incredibly frustrating because it felt like a song I couldn’t honestly write because I didn’t believe that I have everything I need. So, I didn’t write it. It just sat in the back of my mind. I would sing it in my room and sing the verses about whatever I was currently feeling down about. It was like the never-ending song.”

After seeking therapy, Darity began playing “Everything” for live audiences. Her friend Alex Alex Hirlinger heard the song and wanted to help her finally record it. “I decided to finish the lyrics and have Alex produce the track because he liked the song and is crazy talented,” she says. “I figured that I’m also probably not the only person that needs space to acknowledge that life gives us so much evidence to not pursue health and what we love, but someday when the fog clears, we will be able to see that everything we have is enough.” 

The single is more pop-leaning than most of Darity’s debut album Bitterroot, which compiled singles five previously released singles with four newer songs. She says it also stands out from her previous releases because of its vulnerable lyrics. “I felt like I was fighting myself a little bit [while recording it,] like, ‘Can you say you have everything you need when you haven’t arrived yet?’” she reflects. “After it’s all said and done, though, I believe I don’t have to have everything figured out to believe in myself.”

The song bears the reminder that even when we’re faced with feelings of self-doubt, the tools for happiness and health are still within reach – sometimes we just need a little patience. “Real healing always takes longer than we would prefer,” Hartenstein says.

“While ‘Everything’ isn’t specifically a song about COVID and all that’s going on in the world, it’s where we are all at,” she says. “The song coincidentally has a lot of relevant imagery, so I wanted to be intentional with the release. I feel like it’s important to acknowledge that this next year and the years to come will probably still be hard, but we can still have hope.”

Darity’s next single will arrive February 19. Until then, Hartenstein hopes that no matter what emotions it awakens, “Everything” will provoke mindfulness. “If this song pisses you off; cool, why? If this song brings you joy; amazing, sit in that. If this song does nothing for you, notice that. I hope [this song] finds people exactly where they are,” she says. “No one is alone in working through believing that we have everything we need.”

Follow Darity on Instagram for ongoing updates. 

Stallitix, THRIVE Cincy and Elementz Produce Cincinnati’s First-Ever Hip Hop Orchestra

hip hop orchestra
hip hop orchestra
Photo Credit: Oussmane Falls

Though hip hop has a habit of sampling strings for an added dose of cinematic sound, it’s not every day that audiences get to see a full orchestra playing Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West. Alex Stallings – a.k.a Stallitix of Patterns of Chaos – is looking to change that. In partnership with Cincinnati youth outreach program Elementz, Stallings co-composed and executive produced the first-ever live-streamed production of THRIVE’s Hip Hop Orchestra, and he hopes the project will live on as a series. 

“We wanted to do something cool that brings people who don’t go see hip hop to a show, and people who don’t come see classical music to a show,” Stallings tells Audiofemme. “We’re trying to mesh those different worlds.”

Meshing the likes of Ye’s “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” (which samples Shirley Bassey’s “Diamonds Are Forever”) and Kendrick’s “LUST” (from 2017 LP DAMN.) into classical music is about breaking down each individual sound, says Stallings. “Hip hop itself sounds simple, but there’s a lot of things you can add,” he explains. “It’s the process of finding what sounds like the [hip hop] sound. If the song has an ambient sound, let’s see if violins can recreate that. Or, if you have a very low bass sound, let’s get a synth player to replace that. It adds flavor to it. It’s a very experimental process, finding that right sound and the right range for what sounds cool.” The performance took place December 17 at Cincinnati’s Music Hall and is still streaming via THRIVE Cincy’s Facebook.

The performance was also co-composed by Preston Charles III and featured musicians from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and beyond – several of whom played steadily in the city before the pandemic. “It’s a beautiful thing, bringing different people together to create something we’re all equally passionate about,” says Stallings. “We have a lot of diverse musicians: white, Black, women, men, people who identify as nonbinary. We have a palette of different people with different stories about why they like hip hop. They all come from different backgrounds. One person, their whole family plays classical music, and they just love hip hop. Another, their father was a rock musician in China, and they like hip hop… I think it’s a beautiful thing; we’re creating a conversation.”

Stallings, who leads Elementz’s THRIVE Cincy, first approached the hip hop-centric arts center with the idea not only to bridge fans between the two genres, but also to put the city’s musicians back in the spotlight. “It was very hard at the beginning of the pandemic, but we took the initiative,” says Stallings. Elementz, which offers music and other classes and serves as a home-away-from-home for many Cincinnati kids, has taken their courses and outreach mostly online amidst COVID-19. “I think this [performance] is one of the biggest buzzes we’ve had, especially for Elementz online. I think everyone should be impressed; this will definitely lead to something bigger – maybe a program or a series that goes on for months at a time.”

Hip Hop Orchestra / Elementz

On Instagram, Stallings has used THRIVE Cincy to support hip hop artists in the city while performances have been scarce. “Since summer, we’ve been putting out videos from different artists, playing their music and interviews with artists,” he says. “Next year, we’re moving into a different direction, where we’ll do one music video per artist and spotlight that. During the pandemic, there’s been no places to perform, so this helps them out.”

As for his own musical ventures, Stallings says fans can expect a new album from Patterns of Chaos – fronted by himself and Jay Hill – next year.

“It’s gonna be different than Freedom,” their 2018 EP, he says. “It’s gonna be fun and it’s gonna address some deeper issues like race, self and gender. It’s gonna be very experimental; you couldn’t really put us in a category, and that’s what we want.”

Follow Alex Stallings on Instagram and THRIVE Cincy on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Stay ‘Up All Night’ with Cincinnati Husband & Wife Pop Duo Moonbeau

Photo Credit: Devyn Glista

As Cincinnati heads into a cold, COVID winter, Moonbeau offers up a much-needed dose of warm, fun-loving pop music with their sophomore album, Up All Night. The duo, made up of husband and wife Christian and Claire Gough, combines dreamy synths and starry-eyed love songs that transport the listener to a time of carefree, pre-pandemic bliss. 

“It was all recorded before COVID hit and when we were about to get it finally mastered and mixed, everything shut down,” Christian tells Audiofemme. “I feel like it’s kind of escapist pop music, and right now, people want to escape more than anything.”

“COVID and everything made it a little bit difficult for us to finish in the timeline that we imagined we would, but we’re happy to be able to put it out now,” Claire adds. 

The 12-track effort was fronted by two easygoing singles, “All Summer” and “Radio,” the latter of which arrived with an equally fun music video that sees the pair sneaking into Central Ohio’s CD102.5 (recently relocated on the dial to 92.9) to get their single on the airwaves.

“I thought it would be kind of a funny thing to do,” Claire says of the clip. “The thing that I thought of first was us showing up on the security camera; we wanted to look like we were trying to not get caught. And when [director] Jack [Campise] reached out to us he had the idea to bring in the janitor – who was really the star of the whole video, just because he was such a great dancer.”

“I wish he would’ve been in the video more,” Christian laughs. 

The couple first met in 2014, while Christian was playing in a band called The Yugos with his brother. “Christian got the opportunity to play in Arizona, and he wanted me to go,” says Claire. “We had already toyed around with the idea of playing music together – we were dating at the time. So, we got to go to Arizona for our first trip to play this festival. And then from there I was like, ‘Ok, I think I’ll do this from now on!’”

Moonbeau released their debut singles, “Are We In Love Yet?” and “In Your Lifetime,” in 2017. Their self-titled debut followed the next year. “Christian wrote our first album, Moonbeau, and most of the ideas were his,” Claire says. “But with this album, it was super collaborative, which I’m really excited about.” 

Although they aren’t able to celebrate Up All Night with an in-person performance, Moonbeau will play a live-streamed set on December 4 from the Woodward Theater. Not only is it one of their favorite venues, it’s where they got married.

“It will be very different from any other live-stream that we’ve done, just because we’re gonna go all out with the lights and the background,” says Claire.

Looking ahead, Moonbeau fans can keep an eye out for remixes and acoustic versions from the album, as well.

Photo Credit: Devyn Glista 

The couple jokes that they’re often asked how being a married duo affects their band chemistry, especially one that capitalizes on lyrical sweet nothings. Besides some laugh-filled banter about the foreseeable challenges, like having to massage the truth rather than bluntly reject ideas (“He’s never told me he doesn’t like my idea – I guess he’s afraid!”), or deciphering whose love song is about who (“Sometimes she’ll be like, ‘That’s not about me!’”), the band operates pretty much like any other. 

“You hope for a certain level of respect and genuine care from anyone that you’re in a band with, so it really helps me feel like I can be open about certain ideas that I have and know that he won’t shut them down,” says Claire. “There’s a lot of confidence that comes with making music with someone you really care about.”

Follow Moonbeau on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Dayo Gold Channels Great-Grandfather on Timeless Eddie Kane EP

Dayo Gold / Eddie Kane
Dayo Gold / Eddie Kane
Photo Credit: Mookie Love

Dayo Gold makes his return with his latest offering, The Eddie Kane Chronicles, Vol. 1. The six-track EP finds the Cincinnati rapper trying out a smooth flow with classic, old school beats – a stylistic choice that he says is a testament to his great-grandfather. 

“My great-grandad’s real name is Ed Bendross,” Dayo told Audiofemme. “His nickname – one of my aunts always used to call him – was Eddie Kane, because he always stayed with a cane as he got older. The other reason she called him that was because he was just so smooth. You never saw him sweat, never saw him pressed, never saw him yelling, none of that. It was just a little trove in the family, and they’ve always said that I remind them of him.”

“So, once I got to sit down – with all of this quarantine stuff going on – I really just got to sit down with myself and I felt like a lot of those comparisons were similar,” he continued. “[This project] is almost like a reincarnation of him, but it’s still me… It’s almost like you’re getting a piece of both of us.”

While listeners can usually depend on Dayo’s music to set the roll-a-blunt-and-sip-some-wine vibe, the MC sounds especially at-ease over the EP’s nostalgic-sounding instrumentals.

“I feel like it was just my most natural sound at the end of the day; like the beats brought that out in me,” he said. “With this quarantine time, I’ve been experimenting to find out what my fans like, and I’m seeing that people are digging this vibe. So, I can be my real, natural self, and it still works.”

Most of the beats on the EP were provided by Dayo’s “right-hand man,” local beatsmith Trey Young, while “Old School” was produced by Eb & Flow.  

“As far as anything that I drop, he’s always there giving me some input or advice,” Dayo said of Trey. “He’s always hands-on with my projects, and this one he definitely showed up big. He made a majority of the beats, and we just sat there and kind of went for a certain type of sound this time – and built upon that sound.”

Next up for Dayo will be The Eddie Kane Chronicles, Vol. 2, which he says he’s already gotten started on. The “Twang” rapper also plans to drop a video for “Old School” next month, following visuals for EP cuts “Caprice” and “A Wise Man Once Said,” the latter of which features Sax B. 

“I think videos are the best way to get to the people right now,” he said. “I felt like I didn’t have enough visuals already – for my best songs. My problem was that I usually have samples and stuff, but that’s another reason I’m really proud of this tape; there’s no samples. We really did it from the ground-up.” 

Although the current pause on live shows means he probably won’t be able to play The Eddie Kane Chronicles, Vol. 1 for an in-person audience anytime soon, Dayo says one silver lining of the pandemic has been the extra time to write and record new music. 

“I feel like as artists, or really just anybody who’s a creative, this year has been a blessing in disguise,” he explained. “You can get more creative, and it’s a chance to see what works inside your home.”

“Being a creative, you just gotta stay flexible,” he added. “So, I’m not trying to rush anything. And being sensitive to the world as well, since there’s been a lot going on.”

Earlier this year, Dayo did get to participate in one of Mind The Method’s live-streamed performances. He’ll also be featured in Donuts N’ Akahol’s upcoming virtual cypher.

But for now, he’s celebrating his new EP. 

“I feel like what made this project special is that I truly believe in it and I believe in the process as well,” he said. “I believe that this is a great foundation for what I’m doing and the direction – brand-wise and sound-wise. And I appreciate everybody that helped, whether it was visually, sonically and in any way. I just wanna keep going off of this and hopefully people like what’s going on.” 

Follow Dayo Gold on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Jay Madera Gets Out The Vote With Charged New Video “A House Divided”

A House Divided
A House Divided
Photo Courtesy of Jay Madera

Jay Madera’s rousing new single “A House Divided” will inspire you to get out and vote – if you haven’t already. The Cincinnati singer/songwriter offers a hopeful urgency as he sings about greed, corporatism, freedom and equality and begs the question, “What do we need?” as Americans head to the polls. Released late last month, Madera now follows up the single with a video.

“The day that we finished up editing the video, I went out and voted,” Madera said by phone. “It’s a kinetic song. It literally got my butt off the couch and off to the polls. So, that made it an emotional moment.”

For the clip, Madera pieced together archived, royalty-free footage and donated the money he would’ve spent on a music video to nonprofits When We All Vote and Rock The Vote. Madera also ran donation campaigns for the track, raising over $300 for both organizations. 

“The goal is to help get them donations,” he said. “They’ve been doing a lot of cool stuff – especially right here in Hamilton County – for Election Day, and that’s been crucial.”

The video itself combines vintage clips, ranging from everyday scenes to the historic moments that championed voting and racial equality. Video from famous protests – like the Selma to Montgomery Marches – and the title’s nod to Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided Speech” further remembers the courageous movements that fought – and continue to fight – against voter suppression and racial injustice. After a summer full of similar demonstrations and persisting inequality, Madera connects past struggles to today’s, making his question of “What do we stand for?” ring even louder. 

“The song is all about acknowledging our history and confronting our history, and using it to inform our current actions,” says Madera. “I wanted to connect that with our current-day struggle. Obviously, race is not our only issue, but it is a fundamental issue that is just as important today as it was back then.”

Another loud layer is Madera’s anti-corporate stance, as he belts verses about putting power in the hands of the people. Notably, the track was recorded in Cincinnati’s Gwynne Sound – housed in the historic headquarters of Proctor & Gamble. 

“The very first lyric is, ‘We don’t need another strip mall/We don’t need another iPhone’…   and here I was recording it in the headquarters of one of the largest corporations in the history of our modern society,” says Madera. 

A House Divided
Photo Courtesy of Jay Madera

The clip and Madera’s style drive home a feeling of energetic nostalgia, heavily complimented with backing vocals from Cincinnati songstress Lauren Eylise and producer Mia Carruthers. For the instrumentals, Madera also stayed home-grown with University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music students.

“My song is rooted in the funk and soul tradition, and I was stylizing the song as more of a pop version of like a James Brown mixed with Elvis Costello. I was definitely taking inspiration from a Black art form, so I thought it was important to get Lauren’s voice on there,” he said. “She’s phenomenal – she has some of the best music coming out of the city. And my other backup singer was Mia, and their interplay on the song was incredible. The horns section was CCM students and one was a professor. So, it was very rooted in Cincinnati and the culture here.”

The song’s Cincinnati representation was also intentional, Madera says, as the city not only marks where he’s from and lives, but is also an important battleground area come Election Day. 

“It’s a political song in a swing state,” he said. “People that hear my song and come to my shows are all, politically, across the spectrum. This is where the politicians come right before the election. So, that’s something that was really cool that I got to record it here – and also being from here.” 

Follow Jay Madera on Instagram for ongoing updates; find your polling place here to make your voice heard in 2020.

JayBee Lamahj Brings The PHONK to Bittersweet LP Nostalgie Supreme

JayBee Lamahj serves up the bittersweet taste of nostalgia on his third studio album, Nostalgie Supreme. Using dreamlike and jazz-tinged production – courtesy of his PHONK bandmates Amari Emàn, Roberto, and others – the rapper thoughtfully and effectively captures his past, while offering a hopeful, triumphant gaze into his future.

“From this project, I want people to take away just an appreciation of their life,” Lamahj says over the phone. “Also, in regard to what’s been going on in the world right now, just an accountability and respect for life and our relationships.”

From the album’s invigorating opener, “WAKE UP,” to the reflective anchor track, “All Growed Up,” Lamahj explores themes of self-growth, love, and childhood. After listening, he says he hopes fans will be inspired to reconnect with their “inner child” and rediscover “the things that brought them happiness when they were small.”

“I want people to be proud of how far they’ve come and be proud of how far they’re willing to go [to get to] where they wanna be,” he adds. “I want people to hopefully feel happy about where they’re heading, because I do. That’s kind of what this album is celebrating; it’s just the growth that comes with life, the loss that comes with life, and the love that comes with life.”

Lamahj’s self-growth, childhood, and future were clearly on his mind two years ago, when he and Emàn began recording Nostalgie Supreme. However, the album’s themes mean even more to him today, as next month the rapper and his partner will welcome their first child together.

“In the midst of [making] this album, me and my lady lost a child, so there’s a little bit of talk about that [on the record],” he says. “There’s also lines like, ‘Nostalgia got me missing things I probably won’t feel ’til I have a mini-me.’ That’s the opening line of the outro [song], and I recorded that last summer. And here we are now; my album’s dropping like a month before my first-born. So, it’s cool to see my words catch up to me.”

JayBee Lamahj
Photo by Mandy Di Salvo

Besides Emàn and Roberto, Nostalgie Supreme also features several other local talents, including Joness and NTRL WNDRS on the breezy “Braids In Da Summa,” Perez on “Deep End,” F.A.M.E. and Phonz on “Angels,” The PHONK on the “BluuMile Interlude,” and Paris and F.A.M.E. on “3Ls.”

“There’s a lot of special people on the album,” Lamahj noted. 

Earlier this month, Lamahj also released his music video for album cut “Can’t Tell.” Directed by Cincinnati-based NTNK Productions, the clip finds the rapper starring as a funky substitute teacher. 

Nostalgie Supreme follows Lamahj’s 2017 debut, Yllwbrkrd, and his sophomore effort, 2018’s Phonk Phoever. In the meantime, Lamahj kept fans fed this year with his Nostalgie Prelude Deluxe Edition – an offering of loosies that he made during the Nostalgie Supreme recording sessions. 

“It’s a taste of what was being made in the process,” he explains. “You know, we created a lot of music, besides just the album.”

Now that Nostalgie Supreme is here, Lamahj can’t wait to perform it. The rapper and his band, The PHONK, were able to play the album all the way through at Nostalgia Wine over the weekend, marking the group’s first in-person performance since February.

“I’ve been dying to get back out there!” he exclaims. “I’ve been missing performing. As soon as we’re able to perform again, we’re gonna be out there like six days a week.” 

Follow JayBee Lamahj and The PHONK on Instagram for ongoing updates.

PLAYING CINCY: K. Savage On Making The Most Out Of Quarantine As An Independent Artist

IN2ITIV3 / K. Savage
IN2ITIV3 / K. Savage
Photo Credit: Anna Silvius

2020 has been a tough year for independent artists. With no touring in sight – save for a few one-off virtual performances – underground bands and solo acts have had to be creative in finding new sources of revenue and staying relevant to their fans. For Cincinnati rapper/producer Kelby Savage, this has meant focusing instead on the business side of his artistry, like designing a brand new website, writing press releases and creating an electronic press kit (EPK). 

“Since we didn’t have any, like, traditional live shows lined up, it allowed me to take more time to do all the other back-end stuff,” Savage tells me on a quiet afternoon at Dive Bar. “I guess my goal at the end of the day is to kind of formulate a team, but until I can get that team, I’ve got to do everything myself.”

Since independent artists often have to juggle many of the music industry roles supporting their art – publicist included – Savage’s strides in bolstering his digital footprint (as well as that of his band, IN2ITIV3) is an effective way to push his career forward without touring. It’s also important, Savage says, in keeping his business self-sufficient.

Although the independent path is challenging, Savage says, “I’m not worried about somebody who’s got my masters.” Self-ownership was a big talking point of Nipsey Hussle’s and recently came back into the mainstream discussion during Kanye West’s latest tweet-storm

“I was surprised to hear about these bigger artists, that are legendary, that are mad about their masters,” Savage reflects on ‘Ye. “That kind of makes me glad that I ain’t blown up yet, ’cause a lot of these artists that are huge – like Trippie Redd and stuff – they all signed to labels that got their masters. I’m trying to figure out how I can get my shit going viral like them, but I ain’t signing to no labels.” 

“Russ is a prime example,” he continues. “I’ve been studying people like him on how to do that. I always wanted to be that artist to take the long road. I’ve taken this time to learn how to do all the other stuff, like the videos, designing my own album covers and being self-sufficient.”

Along with building an impressive press portfolio and getting serious about self-ownership, K. Savage is also using quarantine to strengthen his and IN2ITIV3’s video catalogue. The artist just recently unveiled his “Danny DeVITO” video and plans to continue releasing his vault of self-produced singles with accompanying visuals.  

“I have enough music to release [a project], but I don’t really wanna do that right now, with the way things are looking,” he explains. “Since I can’t perform these projects live, I think it’s just a singles climate for now.”

As for IN2ITIV3, Savage revealed that the genre-fluid band is gearing up to release their live EP, which will feature live recordings of new material and one track from their self-titled debut project. The EP, due this fall, was recorded at Urban Artifact. The “punkadelic” rock band recently premiered their music video for “Moon,” a loosie they dropped this summer.

Besides one live-streamed performance earlier this year, the band also performed at a Black Lives Matter rally in Milford, Ohio.

“I kinda grew up there and spent a lot of time in Milford, so I’ve experienced – just from being a minority out there – a lot of racial tension,” Savage says of the experience. “So, coming back and doing a whole rally and speaking my side of things out there, that made things come full circle for me.”

Savage also attended another protest organized by Patterns of Chaos alum Jay Hill in Cincinnati this June. 

“I shot a lot of video at that one, masked up. It was my first protest experience and I didn’t know what to expect,” he remembers. “I was already hearing about people getting pepper-sprayed and stuff.” 

“And I didn’t even have like a traditional mask; I had a t-shirt, Taliban-looking thing on,” he adds with a laugh.

Unfortunately, between the emotional weight of continued racial injustices and not being able to perform music with his friends, Savage says the past few months have taken a toll on his mental health – a sobering reality for many people this year. 

“Being locked-down, this shit has had a really big impact on everybody’s morale right now,” he confesses. “I went through like a depression episode. I was still making music, despite how bad I felt. It became a positive way to channel those feelings.”

Although Savage, and other independent artists like him, continue to grapple with the uncertain future of touring, he’s making the most out of this time by working on his web presence, expanding his already multi-faceted skillset and recording live sessions.

Keep up with Savage on his Instagram and follow IN2ITIV3 for more about their upcoming EP here.

PLAYING CINCY: Audley Talks ‘ROY,’ Poetry And His Colorful World


Photo Credit: Annie Noelker

Audley’s world is colorful, honest and full of possibilities. The 27-year-old singer/rapper just released his new album ROY—a glittery yet deeply personal offering that shifts between pop, R&B and hip hop sounds and combines introspective tales of love, pain and moving on.

Since Audley released Pink – his debut effort and ROY’s predecessor – in 2018, a lot has changed. The artist swapped an unhealthy environment in Cincinnati with a move to Dayton; left a high-intensity job in digital media after suffering burnout; and has spent the past few months flourishing in sobriety.

“It was such an organic movement, getting this album done, and I think it happened so fast because I’ve been holding in this expression for so long,” he told me over coffee in our socially-distanced interview. “These last three years, I was not confident enough in my art to finish it, and once I moved, slowed down and found my true colors, I became so confident in who I was, that no matter what I created – I wanted to share it.”

Color is everything to Audley. It began with Pink – a rosy love album that sent him on the path to streaming personal-bests, media attention and two Cincinnati Entertainment Award nominations.

“With Pink, we created this beautiful explosion,” he reflected fondly.

The artist admits he set out to create a kind of Pink 2.0 for his sophomore effort, but felt that colors – which were once a door to his emotional expression – were now boxing him in. He scrapped two potential albums rooted in other hues: Chrome, which was going to be an electronic album, and john. – a self-produced indie-rock album that made him think of the color brown.

Poetry became a new creative outlet for Audley, where he could put pen to paper without the limiting self-doubt that encumbered songwriting. After jotting down dozens of free-flowing poems, he decided to try them out against beats.

“I had hundreds of beats, all from people I really admire,” he said. “I decided one day that it’s a cop-out for me to think that I can’t write music right now. I would put a pack of about 40 beats from [producer] Luna (aka internetboy) on shuffle and just sing in the shower – every day.”

When verses turned into songs, Audley started recording three new projects inspired by the colors green, black and mustard yellow.

“They were all sonically so sporadic that none of those songs made it on to ROY,” he explained. “But, I think it’s really interesting that I wanted to do three colors, and then now ROYRed Orange Yellow – is three colors. The vision was there, but it didn’t let me tap into it because it knew I need to do some more work before I was ready to receive that blessing.”

ROY first took form with “Right Now,” which is track No. 3 on the album and the first song he recorded.

“I was at the point where I was writing half-songs and thinking, ‘This is trash. This is trash,’” he said. “So, with track No. 3, I was like, ‘Just finish it and then sit on it.’ And it was like, the moment I finished that song, I recorded myself performing it and I sent it to Luna and I was like, ‘We’re gonna make an album.’”

“Right Now” opened the floodgates. As he began writing and recording his way through ROY, Audley also launched a campaign on Instagram, where he posted a new verse and video every day for two months.

“I’ve been creating so much and now it’s even bigger than that. I’m making clothes, I have my own LLC – it’s so much bigger than music,” he gushed. “It’s one medium of me, vomiting my truth into the universe.”

Photo Credit: Alexa Gallo

That truth found a home in ROY. Sonically, the album sees Audley deviating from his past hard-hitting raps and swimming to warmer pop and R&B shores – although he knows he won’t stay away from hip hop for long. A competitive yet tender voice in Cincinnati’s rap scene, he forewarns other emcees of his return with: “Let me flex on you by spreading love.”

“Utilizing hip hop sonics with the message being finding yourself and loving everyone around you is powerful,” he said. Laughing, he described his rap style as “so pristine that a 70-year-old woman is gonna listen to a good trap beat about spreading love” and say, “This is fire.”

ROY helped Audley find his way back to his world of color, too. Hues became a way for the artist to visualize his emotions and – when he allowed himself the freedom – he realized he could push the boundaries of that expression by showcasing more than one feeling; more than one side; and more than one shade.

“I realized that Pink was a piece of me, and all the colors of the spectrum are me,” he said. “If you look on the album’s cover art, you’ll see a pink gemstone. It is a visual representation that I proudly wear Pink as a magical gem right on my head; right in front of my mind. Pink is a part of me, but it’s not all of me. It’s just a beautiful tip of the hat to say, ‘We’re not disowning 2018 Audley,’ because you’re gonna hear that on the album, but it’s just so much bigger.”

Even after our hour-long chat, Audley is still buzzing with ideas. ROY is just one universe in his mind; he’s currently working on an experimental synth record, a rap album and two other projects, all of which he aims to release next year. As for their thematic hues – that remains to be decided.

“The next album, obviously, is gonna be rooted in color, but I don’t think it’s gonna be named a color because we’ve established the game we’re playing at this point,” he said. “Now it’s just, ok cool, what’s the next level?”

Follow Audley on Facebook for ongoing updates.