Black Liquid was having a weird day. When I met the hip hop artist at Crossroads Coffee Shop just south of the James River, he confessed to an unusual occurrence from his studio session earlier that afternoon. While working on his twentieth release scheduled to drop in May, he unceremoniously ran out of beats. “When I run out of beats, it’s a fucking crisis,” he said, emphasizing the word “crisis” by bobbing his head forward conspiratorially. Even his go-to method of overcoming writer’s block, that tried-and-true source of positive visualization and mental relaxation—playing video games—did little to help. “Thought makes bad music,” he shrugged, leaning across the table. “When it comes to a creative endeavor, it’s about what’s driving you at that moment.” Black knew he just had to wait for inspiration to return and soldier on with tasks of the day, one of which included meeting with me to talk about Face Melt Friday, his long-running indie hip hop showcase to be held at Strange Matter this month.
Black Liquid is a tall, solid dude who somehow manages to emanate both manic energy and a laid back vibe simultaneously. He talks quickly and pointedly, his sentences constantly coming full circle to make larger observations about his personal philosophy. To put it succinctly, he’s all about keeping your nose to the grindstone and using personal success to lift your peers along with you. “Ultimately,” he explained, “my whole platform is based upon empowering others on their path of expression.” Growing up in Richmond, Black found that hip hop allowed him to discover his own sense of identity, one that continues to shape who he is today. He expresses his gratitude by giving back to his community in his roles as a performer, a radio DJ, a promoter, and an educator.
The Face Melt Friday showcase is a perfect example of his community work. The series provides a venue for up-and-coming hip hop artists to express themselves, hone their craft, and find an audience. “I was doing push-ups when I came up with Face Melt Friday,” Black recounted wryly. “I was like, this is what I can give to people. I can take the success that I’ve had and I can create a platform for other artists at the very place where I first started performing.”
In the early days of Black’s career, he didn’t find the support he needed. “I started out as this dude who was weird as fuck who would freestyle at Nanci Raygun’s,” he recalled, referring to the storied punk and indie venue at 929 W. Grace Street that has since reopened as Strange Matter. The fact that he can now fill that niche for younger performers motivates him. “Anytime I can see somebody get on that stage and I see that this is a step towards a major part of their dream, that is a source of empowerment for me as well. That’s a moment I try to give to people.”
Similarly, as a radio DJ with weekly shows on both WRIR 97.3 FM and the University of Richmond’s WDCE 90.1 FM, Black uses the airwaves to promote hip hop music and culture as an expressive outlet. He also teaches Creative Hip Hop Writing workshops through Sabot at Stony Point, at the youth art center Art180, and in the juvenile justice system. “I can’t let anyone ever tell me, ‘Oh, you’re not working hard enough,’” he explained in an excited patter that underscored his enthusiasm. “These things help complete me and they help me see that there’s more, there’s always more.” Finishing his thought, he grinned, “I don’t have to do this shit, but I have to do this shit.”
It’s clear that Black is always looking to make new connections within the community. “I want people to know that I am accessible,” he enthused. “I am all about people hitting me up so I can play their music on my radio shows, so I can put them on an event.” For Black Liquid, hoarding personal successes without giving others the opportunity to share in your triumphs misses the point of the collective human experience. “There are so many people who have inspired me, taken time to talk to me, empowered me, and enabled me to help myself.” That history of mentorship forms the basis of his life philosophy, the music he makes, and the events he promotes. “That is what I love to do for other people, that is the most important thing. If I don’t do that, what’s the fucking point?”
Photography by Brian Brown