CrossRhodes’ Soulful Set Suited To These Tumultuous Times

Does art imitate life or vice versa?  Like contemplating the origins of chickens and eggs, it is impossible to know whether one phenomenon predates the other.  However, in the here and now, none of those things matter.  What matters? This is the land of great scientific accomplishments, but also where the heroes of resistance rot in cells and graves, forever demonized for wanting more for their people. 

Today, as waves of pain and hatred ripple throw society at an increased rate, recognizing the beauty within is indeed a saving grace.  As institutional racism, domestic terrorism and political demagoguery spoil the land, art and children are the only noticeable indicators as to the beauty man and womankind are capable of.  

Recently, The Shadow League had the opportunity to talk with Raheem DeVaughn and Wes Felton, the duo comprising soul/hip-hop duo CrossRhodes.  

 The process is always the same when I make music regardless, said DeVaughn. The goal is to make something iconic, something that I feel like reflects the message that Im trying to get across. For me and Wes, its not a new situation when it comes to the studio or performing on stage. For those outside of the DC area, for those pockets where we have a real loyal cult following of fans, L.A., Atlanta or what have you. Like, this may be new to a lot of people but its not new to the core followers of what it is that I do.

To be clear, me and Wes album is a fusion of soul, hip-hop, conscious thoughts, politics, you know what I mean, DeVaughn said in describing the project. Like, breaking down the walls of vanity, sexism, racism and all the different evil isms that exist.

Not Tryin’ To Fight

Provided to YouTube by Warner Music Group Not Tryin’ To Fight The CrossRhodes Footprints On The Moon 2017 DeVaughn Enterprises under exclusive license to BMG Rights Management (US) LLC Producer: Miles Franklin Auto-generated by YouTube.

Footprints on the Moon was actually released independently several months ago, but its getting a push just when needed.  With the heavy, angst-ridden nature of the current news cycle, this project is just that sort of acoustically-funky, interstellar trip your soul needs.

With Footprints on the Moon, this records concept is the sky is not the limit.  Its only the beginning, said Felton. So often, as black men in this industry, were limited to being predators or prey. Were never really shown, or very rarely shown, as human beings who feel, who cry, who laugh, who get angry, who forgive. 

So, Raheem and I, since we first started working with each other in 2001, weve made it a point that our CrossRhodes project is always going to be about collective building instead of division.  So often in this industry, when you take two talents, especially from the same area, often theyll put them together. Almost like crews, almost like gangs, but Raheem and I made a conscious decision to take control of our narrative, take control of our careers some years ago. We feel like everything weve done solo, and as a group, up to this point has just been practice for this moment now.  

I Can’t Breathe (feat. Chaz French)

Provided to YouTube by Warner Music Group I Can’t Breathe (feat. Chaz French) The CrossRhodes Chaz French Footprints On The Moon 2017 DeVaughn Enterprises under exclusive license to BMG Rights Management (US) LLC Producer: Russell Steedle Producer: The Colleagues Auto-generated by YouTube.

The record that weve brought to the world, the timing of it, we couldnt have written it better.  Who would have thought that wed have the crazy man that we have in the White House would be one of the things that helped get our project out there?  We actually need music for the resistance movement.

The Shadow League: Wes, please tell me how CrossRhodes came about?

Wes Felton:  For Raheem and I, we did two mixtapes called The Great Debate before. One was pre-election, one that was post-election.  We purposely did that because we saw where it was going.  We live in Washington DC. So, theyre really blunt and obvious with their gentrification and the political nature of our town.

We actually had the honor and privilege of going to Wake Forest campus on election night. It was supposed to be bipartisan and I just remember us riding down to North Carolina.  I saw on the overpass, Klan members and Confederate fans on Election Day.  When I saw that, thats when I was like He gon win. I told everyone in the van, but people didnt believe me.  They were like No, hes marginalized himself and disrespected every group of people. What it reminded me was people want to be led and if youre not careful the wrong person can take the reins. What Raheem and I are attempting to do is be a counter to that, voice for the voiceless.

Not just the voice of the people, but for the voiceless artists who are being cowards.  They look like us and are from our community who refuse to use their platform to speak out against it.  Raheem and I are like if Gil Scot Heron and Marvin Gaye got together and did a record, and got The Roots and 9th Wonder to produce it.

Black Gold (feat. Scarface, Talib Kweli & Raquel Ra Brown)

Provided to YouTube by Warner Music Group Black Gold (feat. Scarface, Talib Kweli & Raquel Ra Brown) The CrossRhodes Raquel Ra Brown Scarface Talib Kweli Footprints On The Moon 2017 DeVaughn Enterprises under exclusive license to BMG Rights Management (US) LLC Producer: One Up Entertainment Auto-generated by YouTube.

TSL: What do you believe is the purpose of this project?

WF:  Its a process of not just saving our people or trying to come up with solutions, its also to show people the history of resistance music and the rich legacy that soul music has.  Thats why we call ourselves CrossRhodes.  Were identifying ourselves as exceptional. Were not your average singers or emcees, were like Rhodes Scholars.  Were exceptional. Also, were paying homage to our ancestors that came before us. Also paying respects to how a lot of music of substance was performed on the Rhodes Piano.

Raheem DeVaughn: Listen, at the end of the day, whether youre talking about the Trump administration, whether youre talking about the Barack administration, whether were talking about the Reagan administration, at the end of the day its all under the same regime. So, Im not surprised by anything. What Im doing is making music thats going to be combative to the situation, putting my talent, my mouth, my heart, my finance into my art to make a difference.  Thats what Im on.

The reality is that Ive never been to the White House, period. This is somebody who has the key to the city (Washington, DC), a day in his name and a bunch of community work, I never been invited to the White House even when our president elect wasnt Trump. I dont have nothing against anybody who has, but I know some of my peers and colleagues that make death music who have been invited to the White House. I recognize when theres a line drawn in the sand. The main thing that I can do to express how I feel about it is to do what I do best, put it in the culture, put it in the art and speak out. This is a time for a call to action and we just didnt get here 12 months ago.  We been here.

Now our enemies are bold enough to where they march without masks.  They get a little fire stick and reveal who they are and were finding out who these people are daily.  Theyre still identifying people from Charlottesville who made it very clear what they represent. They represent hate. This is what hate looks like.  Minister Farrakhan told me personally, all white folks aint bad and all black folks aint good.   Whats really going to affect some pockets and grab attention is when players start walking off the field refusing to play.

Footprints on the Moon is beautifully composed, filled with negritude for negritudes sake, rebuking the status quo with each note.  Keep an eye for part two of this in-depth interview with Raheem DeVaughn and Wes Felton, musicians that seem perfectly crafted to narrate these troubled times.

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