On a cold Sunday evening, a crew of artists gathered on couches in a downtown Duluth apartment. Everyone passed a baby around, aunties and uncles, not by blood, but by bond.
The words “Love never fails” were stenciled in gray on black paint on one wall.
On another wall, Daniel Oyinloye projected the music video.
Local black artists Royalty (Natasha Lancour), Young Casper (Corey Haynes), UrkelX (Jordon Moses), Di Jay (Diona Johnson), JayGee (Jeremy Gardner) and Seyi (Oyinloye) were cast on-screen by the Aerial Lift Bridge, by train tracks.
They rapped about depression, self-harm, trauma, love, faith, amends.
This is “Own Mine.”
The artists wanted this to reflect their personal experiences, with the intention of vulnerability and accountability.
The musical release is a production by Daniel and Sandra Oyinloye of DanSan Creatives.
Along with Men as Peacemakers, they’re hosting a track release and discussion from 6-8:30 p.m. Saturday at Teatro Zuccone.
DanSan Creatives is behind youth poetry group ARE and artistic storytelling event A Goody Night. Part of their mission is to organize community around healing, connection and creativity.
“Own Mine” is the fifth installment of an ongoing MixTape Project Initiative, which began with Daniel Oyinloye’s work with incarcerated youths at Woodland Hills.
A mixtape brings several artists together to tell a new narrative with a pre-existing beat, he said.
He designed a seven-week program covering the study of lyrics, sharing personal stories, collaboration, writing and expression. He received an Arrowhead Regional Arts Council grant for this work. And with several youths, DanSan Creatives produced four albums that are a mix of poetry and hip-hop.
MixTape Project 2.0 opens with a singular voice of a young man:
“I fear the day I lose the one closest or the day I go homeless. I know I can do this.
I fear being let down, being tossed around, never to be found. I fear failure the most cause when I’m a ghost, no one will know what I once wrote.”
I fear losing family like dominoes, never knowing they mean the most.
The MixTape Project Initiative "encompasses a lot of work around healing for communities,” said Sandra Oyinloye. Her voice can be heard on the Mixtapes, singing the hook to “Be alright.”
A lot of juveniles in places like Woodland Hills may not have access to ways they’re motivated to express themselves, she said.
Diona Johnson (Di Jay) noted the Oyinloyes’ involvement with the community and youths. They try to ensure accessibility for black and indigenous people of color, Johnson said.
She has been involved in music most of her life, and her performances picked up in Duluth about four years ago. Being on “Own Mine” was an opportunity to express her thoughts, feelings and coping mechanisms.
“I have my own stuff to own," she said. "I wanted to be intentional about processing that out loud and in an art form which is my chosen language.”
Watch the video for "Own Mine" at youtu.be/Cqb2Oc2quPw
On the track, she raps:
“Time to show my community some damn pride.
Time for me to show up for black lives.
Lives starting with the one I live every day.
Only created when I stop trying to run away.”
Johnson hopes “Own Mine” may be a call to support accessibility to performance spaces and equal compensation.
“There’s a lack of visibility of people of color in the Duluth music scene, and I’m hoping this event opens eyes to why there’s more of a barrier for black, indigenous people of color to take space on stages and do the work that we do.”
“When we can be transparent and take ownership of the truths that we carry, we can make some really profound changes within ourselves and within our community,” Johnson said.
We need more spaces for cultural diversity, more spaces for people to be themselves and not feel like they have to be part of the status quo of the music scene, Daniel Oyinloye added.
‘MUSIC SAVED ME’
Back at the apartment, after snapping their fingers and singing out lyrics, the group of artists settled in to talk.
“I feel like I’ve always struggled with my personal identity, the narrative of who I was supposed to be,” said Natahsha Lancour of Superior.
She didn’t know how to process racism and microaggressions, but she turned to poetry and open mic nights. She changed her performance name to Royalty when she moved into hip-hop.
“Music saved me in a depressive time,” she said.
Jeremy Gardner of Cloquet (JayGee) talked about gratitude and intention he wants to bring to his music and the genre. “B's and H's, throwing it up, getting money … that’s not what I’m about," he said. "I’m at a place where I feel like I want to be more accountable for what I’m talking about.”
Daniel Oyinloye noted a lack of representation in school leadership.
Corey Haynes (Young Casper) who moved to the Northland from Canada talked of struggling: “You don’t see many minorities doing well, and that’s really bothersome to me.”
After the discussion, Sandra Oyinloye made dinner. The apartment filled with a rich, buttery smell. Some chatted in the kitchen. Another added guitar riffs to a beat playing over the speakers.
“Own Mine” ended up being a project about the power of personal story, created as an effort to spark a conversation in the Twin Ports, Daniel Oyinloye said.
“The song is, ‘We’re not perfect, we make mistakes.’ … It’s “owning every piece of who we are," he said. “I have hope that there’s a way for us to be ourselves, and there’s an audience and community that would want us to be ourselves."
If you go
- What: "Own Mine" cypher and talk-back
- When: 6-8:30 p.m. Saturday
- Where: Teatro Zuccone
- More info: facebook.com/DanSanCreatives
DanSan Creatives produced several Mixtape Projects ahead of "Own Mine," collaborating with incarcerated youths at Woodland Hills, with some help from an Arrowhead Regional Arts Council grant. Here they are.
Listen to a KUMD interview of Daniel Oyinloye on the Mixtape Projects.
Name: Di Jay (Diona Johnson)
Favorite artist(s) right now: QUIN, Cleo Sol, Sampa the Great
What drives my music: Love, life, culture, lesson cycles, water
Where can we see more of your work? I will be performing March 8 at the CJMM event as the lead soloist in “And They Lynched Him from a Tree.” I will be performing March 28 at Blush with my group Me-N-Her.
Name: UrkelX (Jordon Moses)
Favorite artist right now: Two artists I can't stop listening to are Michael Kiwanuka and Tanerelle.
What drives your music/your work as a whole: I've written some lyrics over the years simply as an outlet and a hobby. A way to express frustrations, concerns, stories and ideas. The words I've written are sort of like a journal. My writings are simply for me. Working with Seyi (Daniel Oyinloye) and the team is a chance to explore sharing just some of those writings.
Where can we see more of your work: The next time Seyi/DanSan Creatives produce another project, I may be fortunate enough to be involved.
Name: Young Casper (Corey Haynes)
Location: I am from Canada, living in Duluth
Favorite artist right now: I would have to say because I wrote poetry for many years, my favorite and most inspirational rapper would have to be Tupac Shakur.
What drives your music/your work as a whole: The experiences I and other people go through in life. The struggle, the hardships, the pain. I have been through a lot of different things to become a better person, and it drives me to progress and teach progression, success and failure. To be positive and optimistic yet aware of the realities of the world we live in.
Where can we see more of your work? Facebook
Name: Seyi Oyinloye
Favorite artist right now: Falz
What drives your music / your work as a whole: A Quest for Just Mercy.
Where can we see more of your work? Seyistories (at Instagram, Facebook, YouTube)