Meet The Blacks
Meet The Blacks
If you reside in the New York Tri-State area of the U.S. and you haven’t heard of them before, chances are, you definitely will soon. If you reside anywhere else on the planet, it’s only a matter of time. The Illustrious Blacks represent an enigmatic force to be reckoned with. Based and fortified in Brooklyn, New York, Derek Gemtry a.k.a. Manchild Black and Reginald Ellis Crump a.k.a Monstah Black are here to change the world, and have been separately and collectively changing the cultural paradigm in New York, and ultimately, helped to push the new Brooklyn renaissance and artistic social pace. Fortunately, it appears that the rest of us mere mortals will finally be able to catch up.
The Illustrious Blacks aren’t just a power couple, they are a power brand. Reminiscent of Carmen De lavallade and Geoffrey Holder, Manchildblack & Monstah Black create intergalactic journeys in sound and performance in a world in which they thrive as Afro-Futuristic pilots, steering crowds through pandemonium, side-splitting mishaps and heroic victories.
The Illustrious Blacks are the exception. Not because of their sexuality. But rather because of their universality. They exclusively promote inclusion, diversity, and unity. They are the torch bearers of truth and dwell in the body of love, peace, and understanding of global anthropology. All in the name of the boogie. These are the two fellas who would’ve most likely threw that big fantabulous party with Quincy Jones in Emerald City for the Wiz in 1978.
The unmistakable pair met and became friends in Washington, DC and later reconnected in New York in the early 2000’s. According to Monstah Black, their cohesion formed while discovering a way to help each other to achieve their artistic visions and goals.
Monstah Black is a multidisciplined artist born in colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Monstah Black has choreographed for nightclubs, art galleries, black box theaters, and warehouses throughout Washington D.C., New York City, and Europe. He’s toured internationally with The Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Maida Withers Dance Construction, Court Dance Theater of Philadelphia, Muse Dance Theater of New York City and Grisha Coleman‘s Echo::System.
His work has been seen and heard at The National Theater, New York Live Arts Spring Gala, Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center, Blackout Arts Collective, Muse Dance Theater, Rowan University Dancers, Edgeworks Dance Theater, Jane Franklin and Dancers, Topaz Arts, Dixon Place, Movement Research, Nicholas Leichter Dance. He was a choreographic consultant for The Battle of Yestermore created by Iona Diamond and is currently an Artist In Residence at Dance New Amsterdam where he is collaboratively building an electro-funk operetta entitled Black Moon (La Lune Noire). Monstah is the front man for his band The Sonic Leroy, as well as vocalist for the electro pop duo The Blakz and he is often guest vocalist for the electro dance band Girls Like Bass.
Manchild Black is a native New Yorker, raised in Manhattan and the Bronx. Manchild is musician, recording artist, DJ and event promoter. He founded Hype Life Music 2013, a digital music label and lifestyle brand and co-founder Libations, of one of the longest running dance parties in New York. In April 2016, Libation celebrated their 10th consecutive year of the global soul party making it one of the longest running dance parties in NYC.
TAoN (to Manchild)
How did you begin this New Black Socialite Movement?
Libation was founded by Ian Friday and I. The way it started, Ian and I were in the studio together working on music and I told him that he needed a DJ residency somewhere. I heard him DJ a guest spot somewhere and I thought he was that phenomenal. I thought, if this man had a residency somewhere, I would go every time. Sincerely, it only took one time for me to hear him, and he was that phenomenal. I was blown away.
I was starting to get into party promotions at that time, and I wanted to do something that I could really put my stamp on. so we talked about what type of night we wanted to create. We both come from a theater background, so we wanted to incorporate the arts, including live art, body painting, exhibits and all of that stuff. After a little convincing, we decided to go for it.
Where did you get your inspiration and desire to galvanize African culture with the movement of people? Who is Manchild Black before Ian Friday?
Manchild Black always loved music. Whether it was house music, or soulful, funky, Afrobeat, I loved music and I wanted to be a part of it music in some way. I was singing, songwriting, I had a band, I was DJing on the side, I was doing anything that involved music pretty much. What happened was, I found it a little more empowering to organize events and galvanize people and not wait for anyone else to create what I wanted to see in the world. That’s kind of how I approach things now. If I could think of it, then I feel it needs to happen. I feel I gotta do my part to make it happen. That’s how Libation formed, that’s how everything I’ve done has formed. It comes from that mentality. Not waiting for someone else to give you something and as black people, that’s what we’ve had to do our entire lives. That’s where it comes from.
Who is Monstah Black? Who were you before you met Manchild?
My main thing is performance. I’ve been creating performances all of my life. So, before I met Manchild, I feel like I was that person, like he said, how black people making something out of nothing. I was taking that same idea but putting it onto the stage, putting into spaces, bringing it to parties, putting it out on the street. Basically, the idea of just taking something mundane and turning into something more that people would recognize, and I feel that’s been my strength throughout my career. Its movement based. And I feel that movement base definitely came first from a love of music.
Well, music is what bonded us. We met in a club in DC at a party that was similar to Libation. We met on the dance floor. We met dancing together. That’s kind of been the thread throughout our relationship and through our life’s work.
TAoN (to Monstah)
How do you feel being a transplant? Do you feel that New York changed you in any way? Are you are a different person than you were leaving Williamsburg, VA?
New York changed me before I left Williamsburg. Because I was following what was happening in New York, so in a sense, that made me stick out like a sore thumb in Williamsburg. So, by the time I got to New York, I was already a New Yorker because I was always working towards that.
There seems to be a lane carved for you and this particular movement. Or, do you feel that you carved the lane?
I think we carved the lane.
We carved the lane because we didn’t have any role models in terms of two black men being together and wanting to create something together and be so open about it.
We were just ourselves. It wasn’t really thought about. We didn’t have a road map. We kind of just felt our way through, and we’re true to ourselves. Everything we’ve done, nothing was forced. It’s been organic.
As the intergalactic dynamic duo, how did the art of “The Illustrious Blacks” get started?
Well, we’ve been together now for so long. It’s been almost 14 or 15 years. It’s been a long time. We’ve each always worked separately, working on our own individual projects. People would always ask us do we work together and we would say “no, we wanted to keep our relationship in tact.” Laughs Manchild. So we finally thought the relationship could handle it, so we decided let’s give it a try. So we worked on some tracks together and I wanted to DJ more. So, we put together an event called Astro Disco where I would spin, he would host and sometimes perform, and we’ve been doing that more, taking it outside of New York. These events are not only dance parties but they are also performance art, and incorporate everything we love.
Being aware of your enigmatic presence, was there a conscious level or acknowledgment of obstacles or regrets in any way?
Well, there aren’t any regrets. Was there resistance? …is there still resistance? I guess there was and is. But that’s not what we focus on. The focus is on bringing our visions and our dreams into reality. That’s the focus. There have been challenges. Sure. Hmmmm. How deep do we go here?
The changing landscape of the music industry maybe…
Yes, that. It’s definitely challenging to be an independent artist and not have the financial backing and press to really get out there. I feel that personally, people put you in boxes. When they know you for one thing, it’s hard to get to know you as something else. I was DJing a long time before we started doing Libation. Then, when I stopped and started up again, people were like, “he’s DJing now?” And I was like yeah, and…Why not? I think They were used to me being the man behind the events, not behind the decks. I don’t see a separation. When I look back at a certain age, I wanna look back and say I did everything that I wanted to do. Whether or not it was hugely or widely successful or not. We only have one life, so we have to go for it. Why not? I think that’s what connects us.
I like that. You guys represent “Go For It”. Or “Why Not?” or “What’s The Problem?” Essentially, it’s greatness. I think of life as a series of ambassadors and gatekeepers. And, I think we’re drawn to them because they open the gates. Without much prerequisite or a special pass… It’s like “All Come”. “All Are Welcome”. That takes tremendous courage. Such a sense of pride and ownership. You are not sideline junkies.
MANCHILD & MONSTAH
You don’t know how timely that is. What you just said was beautiful, I thank you for that. Describing us, and what we represent… A lot of people say similar things. For so long, we were like…what are they talking about? We are just being ourselves. It didn’t make sense to us. I couldn’t wrap my brain around what that was. But I think it seems like a lot of things have come up lately about black people and us being special, for lack of a better word.
Azealia Banks made that quote, which I thought was so important, and I don’t know if people really heard her. She said on twitter that black people were naturally born seers, wizards and witches. And people get caught up in the wizards and witches thing, but the truth of it is that there is a magic that we all possess, and we have to be able to see it, believe in it and tap into it. I think that is what brings people into you. I really do. I may not have always been conscious of that, but I do feel there’s something special here, and here, and there, with there with you and there’s something special we all possess and even the people we’re around. Monstah won’t say this, but he is a big advocate of other people realizing their full potential. And so am I. We are believers in other people’s magic. So we’ll give credit where credit is due. We’ll post everyday on Tumblr about other artists. We have to lift each other up. And I think we are very conscious about doing that.
For more info, visit The Illustrious Blacks at theillustriousblacks.tumblr.com