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Following a powerful march with survivors and descendants of the Tulsa Race Massacre in commemoration of the 100-year centennial, the Black Wall Street Legacy Fest Summit hosted a panel featuring artists from the hip-hop collective “Fire in Little Africa” at 12:30 p.m. inside Tulsa’s Greenwood Cultural Center on Friday.
Moderator and former Tulsa mayoral candidate Greg Robinson II led the panelists through a discussion titled, “Fire in Little Africa: Community, Hip-hop and Activism”.
Robinson led the panel with questions that sparked colorful conversation, with a goal of helping the world learn “about the project, about what went into it, and how this project intersects with the important social justice issues of our time.”
Producer Dr. View
Stevie Dr. View Johnson is a producer, community organizer and educator from Longview, TX who received his Ph.D in Higher Education Administration from the University of Oklahoma in May 2019. He’s also the executive producer of Fire in Little Africa (FILA), a multimedia hip-hop project commemorating the massacre of Greenwood, according to the FILA website.
“It’s evolved into a movement. It’s a situation where 60 artists, creators, graphic designers, poets, musicians, rappers, and stage hands all just came together,” Dr. View said. “Hip-hop is one of the most grimy types of genres of music we have. Lots of egos. So the fact that we have individuals like ‘yo, let’s put our ego aside and come together’” was something Dr. View said he didn’t expect.
“60 unsigned artists from Oklahoma were signed to Motown records, the Blackest music company in history. We made something out of nothing,” Dr. View said explaining how the dozens of artists crowded into the Greenwood Cultural Center last year to record.
Rapper St. Dominick
St. Dominick, another panelist and lead rapper, said it was a “wonderful feeling” to be part of the project. After learning just last week that he’s a descendant of Tulsa Race Massacre survivors, St. Dominick said the project’s release hits him on a different level.
Speaking about his song “Reparations,” St. Dominick explained how for him, the idea of paying what you owe shouldn’t be complicated.
“I just recently found out I’m a descendant,” St. Dominick told moderator Greg Robinson II. “I figured that out last week. So now the song hits a little harder. I don’t have any more time for the games. To put it clearly, I wanna be paid what I’m owed.”
An artist and mother
Ayilla, a singer, rapper—and now, mother—was another panelist who spoke on the significance of this once-in-a-century project.
“We planted a seed, and now it’s grown into something. So, it’s nice to see the progression of it, the outcome and its completion,” Ayilla told Robinson.
Seeking to learn each artists’ motivation for joining the project, Robinson asked what undergirded their efforts.
Tulsa’s Steph Simon
Steph Simon, perhaps the most well-known rapper and music producer in Tulsa, responded.
“I think because people died and was killed and was slaughtered and generational wealth was lost,” Simon said. “Because that was in the back of our minds, it was easy for everybody to buy in and let their ego at the door.” He said no one argued about getting the most credit for a track. “To make people give a damn about Tulsa hip-hop people had to die.” Recognizing that fact, Steph said they had to come together for respect.
Beyond the album, producers also created a documentary of their legendary efforts to create the project during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. That documentary comes out at the end of May. Moreover, the artists have worked with local groups to craft a curriculum for students to begin utilizing the lessons each song on the album teaches. Not to mention, the group has released two podcasts centered around the album.
“Solution for Black America”
Moderator Greg Robinson II then asked the panelists to explain the underlying message of FILA. Dialtone, a fellow panelist, Tulsan and lead artist on the album, didn’t beat around the bush.
“It’s the solution for Black America. The tone of the album is like a manual for Black America.” Dialtone said that’s not something he feels has ever been done in hip-hop before FILA.
“The concept of ‘everything is us’ definitely plays into that,” Alliya said, agreeing with Dialtone. “We don’t have success in Black America until we start pouring into ourselves. And every single person on the project is some sort of entrepreneur outside of the project. That’s the movement the Black community needs to take.”
Women lead in “Shining”
Talking about the single “Shining,” which leads with male rappers before female rappers take over the song, Robinson asked what it was like for Ayilla to be part of the project.
“I think that women are the most powerful beings on this planet. So a week prior to the recording of this four-day project, I decided to pop out a child,” Ayilla said. “Women give life. We are also the first teachers. The first thing you learn everything from is a woman. I think education is the most powerful piece because to walk differently because you know where you come from is, like, game changing.”
Poking fun at the panelists, Robinson responded by hyping up the female artists on the track, “I’m not trying to say they out-rapped y’all but.”
Collaboration over confrontation
“Her first time rapping she out-rapped me,” Steph Simon said.
“She kicked me out the studio, too,” Dr. View said.
“We were all waiting in the hallway. It was a rap song at first. We came back and it was a song. She just tied a pretty bow. Like when a man cleans his house versus when a woman cleans the house. It’s a different level of energy,” Simon said.
“Like, y’all missed a spot,” Ayilla inserted, drawing laughs from the audience.
What the future will bring
Shifting to a more serious tone, the panelists ended the discussion with hopes for the future.
“This is gonna spread to every Black Wall Street we lost during the Red Summer,” Steph Simon said, referring to the early 1910s when White mobs attacked Black communities in cities across the country.
“We represent for Birmingham. We represent for Chicago, East St. Louis, Ferguson, Durham, North Carolina, Boley, Oklahoma, Rosewood, Syracuse, and Little Rock. This was an agenda pushed to get rid of all Black wealth in a span of years. We were just the big one ‘cuz we had the oil. Musically, what we’re gonna do, is be an example for all these cities to stand up,” Simon said.
While efforts to achieve reparations amidst a backdrop of gentrification, aggressive hatred and passive indifference continue, the artists want the world to know that Greenwood isn’t going anywhere and that Black Wall Street will be built back completely.
“Greenwood is here; we ain’t dead,” Dr. View said. “We’re like the rose in the concrete. Legacy Fest is about commemorating Greenwood and the beauty of it. And the beauty that we have here, today. One hundred years later, we’re gonna be the ancestors of the descendants saying, ‘look, they did this.’”
Artists released the full FILA album, today. To listen to the passionately powerful digitized performances, check out the album on Apple Music or Spotify. The music video, “Elevator”, was also recently released on Youtube.