RSVP HERE: BL Shirelle plays P.P.E. Into Prisons Zoom Benefit + MORE

Behind the screen, so much of the live show magic can be lost, but when I saw BL Shirelle during the Die Jim Crow Records P.P.E. Into Prisons Zoom benefit I couldn’t look away. Her energy was so palpable it felt like we were in the same room together. BL Shirelle is a Philadelphia-based hip-hop artist that blends genres of rock, blues, and R&B in her recent debut LP ASSATA TROI. The record title translates to “she who struggles is a warrior,” and the record holds true to the title with personal, hard-hitting lyrics that speak truth to her journey from ignorance to enlightenment. BL Shirelle is the deputy director of Die Jim Crow Records, the first non-profit record label for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated musicians in history. As a formerly incarcerated artist herself, she has fostered an incredibly supportive community dedicated to social change.

For the past few months BL and Fury Young have booked Zoom benefits that showcase the talents of a wide variety of musicians and writers and have raised more than 20K to get PPE into Prisons via this GoFundMe. BL Shirelle is headlining the next Die Jim Crow benefit this Sunday 8/23 8-9:30pm EST. All funds raised this week will be going to a TBD facility in Florida, where COVID cases are increasing statewide and in certain prisons and jails. We chatted with BL about the making of her record, what recording in prison looks like, and her favorite zoom moments.

AF: Tell us about the making of your debut record ASSATA TROI. What’s the working dynamic with your producer Trvp Lyne like?

BL: So the making of this album was very natural. It was me reflecting on past relationships and situations in my life. Some past, some present relationships, with everyone from God to society itself. At times I’m in a very vulnerable position and at times I’m deflecting and defensive. It’s definitely a range of human emotions. I wanted to include every part of hip-hop I embody. Lyricism (“SIGS,” “Generational Curse”), storytelling (“Conspiracy”), Philly flows (“Phantom Cookie”), melodic R&B (“Ex Bitch,” “Bestie”). Sonically I wanted to embody hip-hop at its core with a sophisticated sound that travels between worlds loosely… hints of R&B, rock, blues, even gospel. That’s where Trvp comes in. He’s a phenom who plays six instruments. He also understands the sound I’m attempting to go for and it’s a very collaborative effort.We work really quickly and efficiently together. Me and TRVP have a very cohesive collaborative relationship.

AF: What does the music video for “SIGS” mean to you and how was the filming of it?

BL: The filming of it with Brian Goodwin was very concise. We wanted a focus on the lyrics due to that song being filled with wordplay and hard hitting lyrics. We wanted to cut to images from past decades due to the song being so reflective and introspective of the past. So we really keyed in on the era of the crack epidemic which impacted my life in a very significant way. A lot of the images are for you, the viewer, to determine how they make you feel, so I’ll set the stage for you but I encourage you all to interpret it how you may.

AF: How do you discover the musicians on your label Die Jim Crow and what does the process of recording in a prison look like?

BL: One thing about prison is you can count on word spreading. A lot of our connections have been made really organically through word of mouth, or through someone referring us to this person one way or another. We have band directors in each prison we work in. Their position is to make sure everything is in order prior to us arriving. They coordinate practice times (which, in order to make work, participants have to sacrifice some other activities), they develop structure to songs and compositions with other collaborators, they funnel in new musicians and artists. All our band directors have great character and leadership qualities, a unique writing and musical prowess of their own. That’s most important when recording in a prison because when DJC is granted access we are on a VERY strict time limit. We are usually allotted about five days. We’re granted entry around 7am, leaving around 6pm. First thing first, we have to build a sturdy studio in whatever conditions they give us. Could be a group room or a janitorial closet. You never know. This is most important to gather the best possible vocals we can as our mission statement is to provide a high quality platform to incarcerated musicians. Our collaborators could be two or fifteen depending on the project. We spend that time maximizing vocal deliveries, arguing (lol), creating different sounds and frequencies depending on the mood, laughing, sharing life experiences and current events, sweating, writing… Musicians are coming together creating live compositions, usually in a separate room. We eat what they eat, drink what they drink. For that moment in time we are all musicians in a creative space. No one is free or in bondage. We’re all literally just doing what we live and love to do.

AF: How did you and Fury Young meet and when did you start collaborating to host the Sunday Zoom fundraisers for P.P.E. into Prisons?

BL: Me and Fury met in 2014. I was in prison. He seen a Ted X event I was a part of and reached out to my band member. My band member gave me the mail because I was the writer, composer, and arranger for the band. We started collaborating on the PPE benefits three and half months ago. It started from a donation I made to a transitional center here in Philadelphia of some PPE masks. Fury loved the idea and wanted to expound upon it so we created a campaign to raise money to send masks into prisons. We figured a good way to raise the funds would be to do a digital show where we invite other artists on and extend our platform to raise awareness. The first show went really well and the rest is history.

AF: What are some special moments from the Zoom live streams?

BL: The special moments are really trippy for me. Like one time this kid read a short story about being a piece of bread and having sex and getting baked and shit… I’ve never done acid but I imagine it similar to that lol… we have a lot of trippy instances like that and I look forward to that person whoever they may be every week.

AF: What are other actions people can take to help promote general health care inside of prisons?

BL: That’s a very loaded and naive question. Healthcare in prisons is third world country bad. I’ve seen peoples lose 100 pounds constantly complaining they’re dying and something’s wrong while being ignored until they’re diagnosed with terminal cancer. I’ve seen that numerous times. I’ve seen medical convince people to get hysterectomies for benign cysts, I’ve seen people die from appendicitis, backed up bowels… maybe I’m too trauma riddled to answer that. I guess the first step is educating yourself on the medical conditions in prisons and then applying your strengths to attempt to make it better. My strength is making music so I highlight these conditions whenever I can, but if I had those answers I wouldn’t have seen so much death due to deliberate indifference to incarcerated people’s health. There’s a reason state-funded prisons need our masks, right?

AF: What is your advice for everyone balancing fighting a pandemic as well as fighting for social justice?

BL: Stay safe, wear your masks, walk and chew bubble gum. Don’t have a one-track mind. We can’t afford to be reckless nor can we afford to be crippled with fear.

AF: What’s the first thing that you want to do once the quarantine is over and what are your plans for the rest of 2020?

BL: I’ll be going out of the country wherever they’ll have me pretty much!! My plans for the rest of 2020 is I’ll be Executive Producing our artist B. Alexis! She’s been incarcerated since she was 17. Serving 30 years. She’s undoubtedly talented and such a beautiful, smart, focused, and driven person and it is an honor to have such a gig!

RSVP HERE (Zoom) or HERE (Facebook) for BL Shirelle, Don Kody, Elliot Skinner, Ahomari, Shawn May, Yung Hitta, Zachary, Kindkeith, and J Dot Brwn from 8-9:30pm est. Donate to PPE Into Prisons Campaign HERE.

More great livestreams this week…

8/21 No Joy via 8pm EST, $5, RSVP HERE

8/21 Bright Eyes via NoonChorus. 12pm EST RSVP HERE

8/21 Albert Hammond Jr., Beto O’Rourke, Bob Guen, Bob Weir, Bruce Springsteen and more via YouTube for Joe Strummer’s Birthday. 3pm EST RSVP HERE

8/22 Black Lives Matter Virtual Comedy Show. 11pm est RSVP HERE

8/22 Sasami, Mandy Harris Williams via NoonChrous. 10pm EST, $15 RSVP HERE

8/26 Shamir via YouTube KEXP at Home. 6pm EST RSVP HERE

8/27 Widowspeak via YouTube. 9pm EST RSVP HERE

8/27 Feist, Lee Ranaldo, Nick Waterhouse reading Homer’s “The Odyssey” via YouTube. 8pm EST RSVP HERE

8/27 A Feminist’s Guide to Botany: Online Botanical Painting Session. 1:30pm EST RSVP HERE


ALBUM REVIEW: Widowspeak “All Yours”


After an abundance of changes, Widowspeak is now two. Molly Hamilton and Rob Earl Thomas did what all Brooklyn artists dream of doing, and rambled on to the Catskills where they live with a pup dog. They took their time in creating All Yours, an album appropriately about “moving on.” While they’ve moved on, they’ve kept what’s gold, working with tried and true Jarvis Taveniere, who produced their self-titled debut in 2011, and drummer Aaron Neveu.

The album opens with the title track that sounds exactly as my fantasy of fleeing the city for nature with a lover should. Their slow-paced blend of folk and shoegaze creates a sensation of nostalgia and rooted observation. On “Stoned” Molly exhales the drug that is love  “…and I felt stoned…” Things pick up and crawl a little deeper to your heart on “Borrowed World” when Rob laments, “I know that I should pay attention, but I never paid any mind.”  Rob rarely shares his voice; the addition of his vocals round up the listening experience. “Living in a borrowed world – with you.” On All Yours the two let us into their world via a cohesive and comforting album that’s as delightfully irreverent as it is insightful.

Listen to “All Yours” below.

SHOW REVIEW: Dum Dum Girls w/ Widowspeak

Last night, we AudioFemmes visited Music Hall of Williamsburg to see Dum Dum Girls perform a blistering set for a packed audience.  We missed openers Punks On Mars (not too intrigued by that band name, sorry) but caught most of Widowspeak’s set. Below, our innermost thoughts and feelings regarding the spectacle we witnessed. – Eds.

dressed all in white and practically glowing

L: Annie, what did you think of Widowspeak?

A: Well. Here’s the thing: I have a hard time getting on board with singers who sound painfully derivative of someone whom I happen to love, in this case, Mazzy Star. It doesn’t help that Hope Sandoval is still around and making music. In fact, I hear there’s a forthcoming album slated for release this summer. However, independent of the issue of Molly Hamilton’s striking similarities, both sonically and aesthetically, to Mazzy, I have to admit I’m a sucker for dreamy sounding girl-pop.


L:  Oooh, I had no idea Mazzy Star was putting out new material.  Yet another reason to look forward to summer.  But I digress – we were talking about Widowspeak, and I agree, it is hard not to hear Hope Sandoval when Molly Hamilton opens her mouth.  I’d actually seen them before at Glasslands when they opened for Dirty Beaches roughly a year ago.  They covered Chris Isaak.  I bought the Harsh Realm 7” (white vinyl!  I’m such a sucker for that kind of thing) and I think by now I’ve worn the grooves out.  I mean I’ve had nights where I put on that title track and just pull the needle back over when it’s done playing, and then repeat that about eighty times.  There’s something about the lines “I thought about how it was / I thought about you because / I always think about you” that just gets to me.  It’s definitely the kind of obsessive-minded song that makes playing the shit out of it feel totally appropriate…



… Seeing that live and knowing to expect it was a highlight for me, but I think that’s where the band excels – in the quieter, more contemplative moments.  I could have sworn they had far fewer members the last time I saw them, and so it was a bit off-putting to have three guys backing her up.  But I understand the need to amp up the performance as they are going out on tour with Dum Dum Girls.Speaking of which…..

A: Yeah, real quick: I would definitely give them another chance, and I often feel differently about a band’s sound in general when I hear the studio recording. You can lend me the 7” next time I come over. Anyway, moving on to the Dum Dum girls.

For me, a band’s first impression often sets the tone of the show, so to speak. And when the Dum Dum girls descended the stairs onto the stage of Music Hall of Williamsburg, decked out in white Grecian drapery and a myriad of fishnet-patterned stockings, I knew immediately, that we were in for a good time. Not to mention we were standing a stone’s throw from the hot new bass player, whose name thus far is unknown to us.

L: This bass player. Woah.  One of the most gorgeous women I think I’ve ever seen.  I was kind of disappointed when I heard their former bass player had been replaced; I thought she was a good representation of someone who isn’t super skinny and is totally sexy and kick ass, and I think it’s nice to see that, especially for people with similar body types.  Not that the new bass player was a twig; she did have some booty.  Whatever girl crushes I might have had on the band before were cemented when they emerged from backstage – every single one of them looked amazing.  I want to go shopping for tights and vintage jewelry with them.  Even if they had sucked, I would have been nearly content to watch them bop around on stage for 45 minutes.  But then they proceeded to totally melt faces.

A: Before I go on about how hard they rocked out, I must say, there’s something novel, in a heavy kind of way, about seeing a band comprised exclusively of women, play so competently and so beautifully. So many bands out there have one or two female members, who are often just eye-candy more than anything else; Or there are female-led groups who have the requisite enigmatic male bass player, or crazy drummer, etc. It’s really rare to see an all chick band like that who fully embrace their femininity and are completely unapologetic for their girliness, and who write songs about falling in and out of love that aren’t sappy and quaint sounding.

L: I agree. I wish it wasn’t such a novelty, but I don’t know if I’ve seen an all female band own a stage like that since Sleater-Kinney.  Maybe Warpaint. Honestly though, with all the bands trying to make it big in Brooklyn you don’t often see anyone, male OR female, playing their instruments as well as the Dums did.  I’d heard their shows were remarkable but I was floored by how good they sounded, how energetic they were, and how cohesively they jammed as a whole.  And I was also in love with their superfans who mouthed along with every word, including a middle-aged dude who was holding a library book the entire time!  I want to know what he was reading.

A: Hmmm. I’m gonna guess some sort of self-help book. Maybe something like, “How to change your life in 5 simple steps”

L: Step One – See the Dum Dum Girls. Life-changing for sure.Step Two – Get an e-reader so you don’t have to carry around heavy volumes to rock concerts.It looked pretty thick, though… I bet it was Game of Thrones or something like that.  He was adorably geeky.

A: Yeah, you’re probably right. That shit is insanely popular right now. I also liked that guy who was scribbling things down on his teeny tiny notepad like his life depended on it.

L: Maybe he was taking notes for his cool blog.

A: Not as cool as our blog.

L: Never!  Although it would be cooler if we could stay on topic.

A: Yeah, we really need to get it together here.

L: Admittedly, I’ve never quite understood the hype surrounding Dum Dum Girls.  Their albums are entertaining for a listen or two, but not usually ones I play over and over again.  That changed for me with the release of the first few singles from Only In Dreams.  Only In Dreams is, in part, a raw chronicle of the emotions lead singer Dee Dee experienced after the passing of her mother.  While their previous material was carefree and and even a bit frivolous, Only In Dreams has fathoms more depth, and that thoughtfulness and truth put it over the edge for me in terms of my admiration for the band.  I even went back to some of their old material, discovering “Take Care of My Baby” from the “He Gets Me High” single and falling absolutely in love with it.

A: Yeah, I never really got heavily into them. Aside from hearing their songs on random playlists here and there I never listened to much. And although I always liked what I did hear, seeing them live really changed my perception of what they are and what they do. Before I feel like my impression was that they’re kind of like a more pop-y iteration of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. And while Dee Dee does sound an awful lot like Karen O. in many ways, the songs themselves are decidedly more straightforward–but in a refreshing way–especially to hear live.

L:  I don’t know if I hear the Karen O. thing. In terms of performance and in-your-faceness, I’d say they are certainly of the same ilk. But the confessional nature of Dum Dum’s newer tunes is not a place even Karen would dare go. The live rendition of “Hold Your Hand” was particularly moving.  Knowing where Dee Dee’s coming from when she sings the words “I wish it wasn’t true but there’s nothing I can do except hold your hand” makes them that much more powerful, but its a sentiment that hits deep with anyone who has lost someone close to them.  After playing those last chords Dee Dee kind of looked down at her guitar and swallowed hard and I remember being amazed that she had the courage to write the song in the first place, let alone play it before a huge crowd.  It was very poignant. 
A: I think I actually started crying a little bit during that song, because you could tell she was working so hard to keep it together. My heart really goes out to her, and I’m stunningly impressed with her fortitude and self-composure in the face of such recent adversity. Seeing her perform it was one of the many highlights. The most memorable highlight, however, for me, was the encore, for which they played “Coming Down”.  It’s a quieter song, and more sophisticated then some of the upbeat pop-rock stuff they do that seems to be their signature style. I guess I like to be surprised sometimes, even if it comes at the very end of a set. And the added effect of the disco ball lent it a dream-like ambiance that made the encore actually feel like a send-off–which is to me, what encores are all about. In any case, I would definitely go see them live again.

L: I loved “Coming Down” as well.  It was perfect as a set closer lyrically and melodically; like watching the last embers of a fire die before it goes out.  And I love me some disco ball – it burst to life at the perfect moment, just after the bridge when Dee Dee was really belting it out .  My only disappointment of the evening was the realization that I left the records I bought at the show in a booth at Lovin’ Cup, where we stopped to grab a bite afterward. I called the place today but some jerk must have snapped them up. Can’t say I blame him or her, I’d probably do the same thing.

Dum Dum Girls are touring the Northeast through most of February and then head to Europe in March.  These ladies are not to be missed. For additional proof of such, check out the video Annie shot of them performing “Rest of Our Lives” from their 2010 debut LP I Will Be.