(Photo Credit: Alec Wallis)
In August of 2014, the city of St. Louis erupted into flames. Following the racially motivated shooting of Mike Brown and the non-indictment of his murderer, Police Officer Darren Wilson, the historically divided city had reached its boiling point. For nearly a year, residents of Brown’s hometown engaged in acts of angst against the accepted nature of their city. Because of this, St. Louis/Ferguson, Missouri became the fuse that helped to spark the 21st Century’s first organized act of racial rebellion, The Black Lives Matter Movement.
While these bright flames of revolution helped to cast light on Missouri’s oppressive nature, they also aided in purifying St. Louis’s artistic landscape leaving behind fertile soil for emerging artists to use the city’s pain to help grow their beautiful creations. However, the Rap that was produced after riots, was strikingly different than the Hip-Hop that characterized the city in the past. Many artists like, Smino and MVSTERMIND, chose to take a more melodically, conscious approach to their music rather than the braggadocio style of their predecessors.
In an interview with RESPECT.’s Country Grammar Series, emerging St. Louis artist, MVSTERMIND, spoke about the people and music of his native city, as well as, his plans on furthering his career while also advancing the city of St. Louis.
RESPECT.: “Can you tell us a little about who you are and describe your life in Missouri prior to music?”
MVSTERMIND: “It’s kind of funny, I started making beats at 12 years old, but nonetheless St. Louis is very interesting. I grew up in the Fairground Park area of the city, but there was this program, The St. Louis Voluntary Desegregation Program, that bused me out to Clayton (for school). That was weird because now I’m in this different environment. Before, I never interacted with White people. I didn’t have to. With them being racists, plus my family is from The Nation (of Islam), we really did things without them. So, of course, there were some awkward moments, but it was also good. I was afforded different experiences and opportunities that might not have been available.”
RESPECT.: “So you said you started making beats at 12, at what age did you decide to make music your main focus?”
MVSTERMIND: “It probably was 12. Ever since I was young I had been around music, my pops use to manage artists. I remember going backstage during some of their performances and things like that. So I’ve always been stuck around the music industry basically.”
RESPECT.: “Around the early to mid-2000’s St. Louis was really popping as far as Hip-Hop goes. How did that influence you and your goals in music?”
MVSTERMIND: “It was fresh, but around that time, I was more influenced by the people who were more underground and more local. It was more like ‘sh-t, they’re from the crib and they’re doing it.’ And for some reason, the underground scene drove me more.”
RESPECT.: “Do you look at your situation now as a buzzing artist as a platform where you can take your underground influences and shine a light on them? Like for the world to see?”
MVSTERMIND: “That’s always been my game plan. No matter what I’m doing, if someone is digesting it than I can show them something new.”
RESPECT.: “Growing up in two communities vastly different racial and economic communities as well as St. Louis being an epicenter for the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, I am wondering your take on the movement and how the culture of Missouri played into it?”
MVSTERMIND.: “There is some weird contrast here. The majority of the city itself was abandoned simply because White people didn’t want to be around Black people. So, then when they moved to the county and we moved to the country, they went out even further. Now they’re all the way in Wentzville and sh-t. There also a huge contrast within the state between not only Blacks and Whites but also rich and poor. You can see that with the ‘Delmar Divide’ where half of Delmar Boulevard, a street that runs through the majority of St. Louis, is straight hood and the other side is full of millionaires. And that’s on the same street. So there’s a lot of contrast that stems from the racism that creates overwhelming tension. That’s why it all popped off here.”
RESPECT.: “Do you think it will ever get better?”
MVSTERMIND: “It’s getting better right now. Because of the program I was in, a lot of Black kids are getting sent to the county for school and things. They are making it so we have to interact. But, still, I mean go to a Cardinals game, and you’ll see White people who have never seen a Black person in their life. It’s getting better, but there’s still a lot of people who won’t and don’t interact with Black people at all.”
RESPECT.: “It seems as though for many years the popular artists in St. Louis found it hard to coexists creativity. That seems to be changing. Would you agree?”
MVSTERMIND: “Definitely. St. Louis and its artists are at a more collaborative space than in the past. There’s a lot of dope artists in the city and those who left but are still from St. Louis. I think a lot of people used to get mad that artists would leave for like Atlanta or Chicago, but they don’t realize that there’s not much for us in St. Louis. Now, I think people get it. At least I do.”
RESPECT.: “So I see that; 1-you’re now verified on Twitter, congrats to that. And 2-you’re performing at Lou Fest, which is dope. Other than that, what’s next for you as an artist and/or person?”
MVSTERMIND: “As far as the music we have Lou Fest like you said that’s definitely going to be a big thing for me. Then, I’m going to keep polishing up these tracks. The next step you see MVSTERMIND take will no longer be the cusps. I felt like everything prior to this was the cusps. You are about to see the official steps of MVSTERMIND as an artist, as a brand.”
(Photo Credit: Alec Wallis)
RESPECT.: “Are there things you want to do outside of music? Maybe not right now, but in the future?”
MVSTERMIND: “I’ve started a program where I teach kids how to create music, called Study Breaks and Beats. The school system is weird here, and my family worked with schools, so I want to have a program where schools can foster their talented youth. Like I said, there’s a lot of creative people to come out of St. Louis recently like Smino and ChaseTheMoney, but some had to leave to get their footing. I don’t get mad at them for leaving that’s the old way of thinking. They had to get it somehow. But I want to create something in St. Louis that fosters these kid’s talents… The people of St. Louis do a lot of cool sh-t, even outside of music.”
It seems as though the burning of Ferguson’s fateful QuikTrip, was synonymous with the improvement of St. Louis that MVSTERMIND describes. Although The Black Lives Matter movement allowed for overt hatred to rear an ugly head, the combustion of this convenience store was the exact opposite. Whereas a burning cross brings with it a divisive nature intent on separation, the flames that licked this QuikTrip symbolized Missouri’s divided starting to deplete their divisions.
MVSTERMIND’s understanding of this, as well as possessing a talent that has caught the praise of many (including Run The Jewels DJ, DJ Trackstar), has placed him in a position where he can further the advancement of his city. If he takes advantage of this opportunity, MVSTERMIND can affect the city in ways that are rarely seen. MVSTERMIND can help change the trajectory of St. Louis’s youth, while propelling himself into a rare sphere of cultural influence, finding a suitable seat in-between Nelly and Jack Dorsey.