These Artists Are Preaching Black Love in One of the Most Segregated Cities in the US
I’m a biracial woman who was raised on the West Side of Cincinnati by the white half of my family. The community I was bred in often claimed to be “color blind,” but underneath the smiles were unaddressed biases, avoidance, and ultimately, racism. In this environment, I grew to hate who I was. Everywhere I went, I was taught covertly that blackness was to never be addressed at best. At worst, it was something to be ashamed of. In salons, I learned that my hair was burden, a ridiculous and ugly animal that needed taming. In class, I learned that my history started in chains and peaked with Martin Luther King Jr. At home, I couldn’t find anyone who could quite relate to the otherness that always lingered in the pit of my stomach.
Later down the line, around age 18, I began the journey of unlearning racism and arrived at a major point in self love. I came to love my hair, my skin, and the identity I forged for myself. This was thanks, in part, to the enlightenment I got from the Blvck Seeds.
The group is a Cincinnati artist collective that formed last year. Their name is an acronym for Black Liberation Via Creativity and Knowledge and they are comprised of four members: Siri Imani, the poet; Aziza Love, the songstress, vocalist, and instrumentalist; Pxvce (pronounced Peace), the beat maker, producer, and lyricist; and Jessi Jumanji, a visual artist and lyricist.
I first came across Blvck Seeds during a talent show last winter at Ohio University. Siri and Aziza were featured guests. I can still vividly remember the control these two had over the crowd. Siri spit first. She did what poets do, making all the joys and despairs of life seem bearable, relatable, and beautiful. Then Aziza came out to support Siri in their “Love, Sex, and Late-night Texts” series, an arrangement of performance pieces revolving around relationships. They went back and forth with Aziza singing a sultry medley of the most “in your feelings” Drake covers while Siri talked about getting “wyd” texts and what comes after sex.
After that evening, I followed Siri and Aziza on all social media platforms. I spent hours going down the rabbit hole of each member’s creations and then the Blvck Seeds as a whole. I became inspired and impressed by the amount of work they were doing as young people in my hometown. Their unapologetically black art and activism gave me a sense of self and identity that I was sorely missing.
Currently, the Blvck Seeds host urban gardening classes, trap yoga classes, trash cleanups, poetry and anti-bullying workshops, and a captivating performance series called “Stay Woke.” They also collaborate on rallies and demonstrations with Black Lives Matter Cincinnati and Students for Survivors.
I caught up with the Blvck Seeds recently to discuss the ways in which they are changing the city of Cincinnati through their efforts.
VICE: What is the mission of Blvck Seeds?
Pxvce: Using our skills and talents to become better people, and to encourage others to become better as well. We are trying to lead by example for our peers and other generations to show that when people work, the greater happens.
Aziza: Adding on that, I think another part of our mission is to create spaces for people of all ages to express themselves and to learn whatever it is they want to learn, whether it’s from gardening, yoga and meditation, or whatever means of creative expression. It’s really a mission for us to expand ourselves, our personal development, and to help others heal.
Jessi: The essence of Blvck Seeds is to revamp black culture. So often you think of entertainment culture and we love that, but we are also trying to build the bridge between other aspects of culture and connect with the community.
The impression that I get from you all is that you are cultivating a community. Can you tell me about what Blvck Seeds has been up to?
Siri: So we are collaborating with Cincinnati Peace to do weekly urban gardening workshops and street cleanups. We love working with them because they modernize healthy living and do cooking classes like “Health in the Hood”.
Aziza: Something we’re all passionate about is working with and incorporating the youth of our city. We’ve been able to work in the Cincinnati Public School system doing anti-bullying and poetry workshops. There’s a certain type of introspection that self expression spawns from and writing really helps the students and ourselves just take that moment to be real with ourselves.
Pxvce: Once moment I’ll never forget is working with a student at Aiken high school. When we gave him the avenue to express his emotions through art and words. Looking at him, I saw a weight coming off of his shoulders. That really resonated with me.
Siri: We also love performing and contributing to the local scene. Ubahn fest or working with Bootsy Collins really exemplifies this. We’ve been lucky to experience what feels like a revival of hip-hop culture—all different kinds of artists coming together, building, growing, and creating spaces for expression and politics.
What is the intersection of art and activism for you?
Siri: You mean "artivism"? [Laughs] So artivism is basically the core of what Blvck Seeds is. We are artists who use our art to do what we’re passionate about, which is liberate and end oppression. We do this through our music, wrapping it up like candy, but really giving you medicine.
Aziza: There have always been freedom songs and poetry has always been a pulse of revolutions, and bringing that awareness into what we do is important. To quote Nina Simone, “How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?”
Jessi: Art and activism go hand and in hand. Art can really translate things that words simply can’t. We’ve also been really involved in political organizing and performing at different rallies and demonstrations in Cincinnati. We were very involved with organizing around the Sam Dubose case as well.
You all refer to yourselves as a "tribe," but the tribe also refers to other people who are involved in the greater community. Can you expand on that?
Aziza: So our tribe extends to a lot of different people in their communities being leaders and developing themselves. Tribe are people who are there to genuinely support you and want to see you thrive and aren’t fighting and competing with each other.
Pxvce: And when you look at the ancient meaning and interpretation of tribe, that’s what we’re trying to do—bring people together for a greater good, making a space where you may not have money but you have your skill and the product you can create with the help of other people. I think it's a mentality, too. If we work together and build together, we won’t need a big machine to provide anything for us.
Could you talk about what inspired you? What made you want to live your life through art and create these spaces?
Aziza: For me, my greatest passion is working with youth. I think society can really put us on a conveyor belt and try to mold us into things that aren’t ourselves, so my goal is to slow that process down or knock that off track entirely.
Pxvce: For me, I just want show that you can do this. You don’t have to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth and it's OK to be imperfect. People will put us on a pedestal, but this is a journey and we’re always growing.
Siri: I want to say that you can do this, too. If you don’t see your door or you’re closed out of them, build your own house, OK? Also I have a deep deep dedication to poetry, that's just the core of who I am. Poetry speaks to me in a way that it doesn’t to most people, so I know I gotta be one of the people to defend it.
Jessi: I’m inspired by the people who came before me that had the diligence and passion to build a network and community around them with the intention of betterment. So when you surround yourself with positive people, you all become more positive.
What's next for Blvck Seeds?
Pxvce: An EP from us for sure. And I’m really excited for the Bootsy Collins’s record which we were featured on and all the things that will unfold and blossom from that.
Jessi: Elevation and expansion. What we look forward to most is seeing the people we inspire. Hopefully the things we spark are bigger than we are.
Check out Blvck Seeds here .