For a music fan living far away from its environs, the Brooklyn landscape from which R&B/neo-soul singer and CREEM issue one star KeiyaA emerged appears to be a potpourri of sensory delights. A post-genre of sounds blending free jazz skronk, blueish soul, quirky electronics and hissy underground rap, all unfolding amidst a network of warehouses, gastropubs, hole-in-the-wall nightclubs, and the occasional local theater? It seems like a wonderful tapestry.
The reality, of course, is much more quotidian. “It’s very expensive to make art when you are just trying to live day-to-day,” says Maassai, a rapper and friend of KeiyaA’s. But despite obstacles ranging from lack of affordable housing to strenuous day jobs that leave little room for creativity, innumerable musicians of color in the borough are producing bracing, unconventional work. Case in point: The Shifts, Maassai’s widely praised project where she showcases her unconventional flow and knotty, offbeat rhythms. “Art isn’t cutting it as of yet,” she says, adding that she works several hours a week at a local music school to pay the bills.“But I think that hunger and that passion, still loving to do it without reaping any financial profits or benefits, shows who really loves it.”
Another Brooklyn musician in KeiyaA’s orbit is Mike Bonema, who contributed production to her 2020 album Forever, Ya Girl. Releasing projects under his first name and the alias DJ Blackpower, including 2020’s weight of the world (which features beats by KeiyaA) and last year’s Disco!, MIKE creates a sprawl of pungent, introspective raps nestled underneath lo-fi loops seemingly captured from a crumbling tape deck. Then there’s Melanie Charles, a flutist whose set of sprightly, topical and soulful jazz for Verve Recordings, Y’all Don’t Really Care About Black Women, features spoken word from KeiyaA on the track, “Pay Black Women Interlude.”