Ashton Vaughn Charles had to speak up after police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck. He took part in peaceful protests, but that wasn’t enough.
The Avondale resident then reached out to 19 local rappers and artists to collaborate on a 22-minute song titled “SKU: Stop Killing Us.”
The three-part track features Charles (The Dapper Rapper), KNova, Eddie Wellz, Sahar The Star, Pk Tha POET, Lauriel, Fransisco Phoenics, Kye Russoul, Lewis Santana, Leewater, Ronnie Dijon, Qosmic Qadence, Jay Tatum, Chari’ Joy, Dom Root, Theresa Lovely, Stone on Sax, Cofey and Stefani Monet.
“This is 19 people giving you 19 individual lifetimes’ worth of pain on one track,” Charles says.
Filmed my Martez Cornelius and Iryna Glavnyk and produced by Tru Barz, the videos for each part have been posted to Charles’ personal YouTube page.
The song is fueled by a somber but melodic undertone that complements the hasty lyrics and light lyricism. The song not only focuses on current events but details the United States’ history of oppression, a goal Charles wanted to achieve.
Although it was recorded by Black rappers, the song is meant for anyone.
“If you were raised and you’re part of any obviously and overtly minority group, then you grew up knowing that what’s happening out there, that’s being publicized now, was always a possibility,” Charles says.
“Anybody who even appears anything that’s not cis-hetero, you’re discriminated against, if you appear that way.”
Charles first reached out to artist K-Nova and, after recording their lyrics in Charles’ home studio, they spread the word about the project. Eddie Wellz, a member of the trap-metal group Dropout Kings, was the first to respond to the open invitation.
With Wellz on board, Charles forwarded the beat to Wellz so he could work his lyrical magic.
“I know, obviously recently, there’s been a lot of tension about systematic oppression, racist people and police brutality,” Wellz says.
“To me, as an indigenous person and an African American, I feel like I’ve been aware of this for a long time.”
The 22-minute project was split into three parts because, Charles says, it’s a large chunk of music to digest.
“I chose to make it into three parts because, when I was in band in middle and high school, oftentimes there’s a march, a ballad and then a third part,” Charles says.
“Split into three parts, it makes it digestible. It makes it to where you’re not just looking at a cypher of 19 people; even if it’s passionate and real, it makes it very easy to get bored.”
Wellz is hopeful the song will bring about societal changes.
“Just being a member of the community, I want to see those things change,” Charles says.
“I think art, especially music, is a great way to initiate and spread that information and knowledge to get people who are concerned and want to help to listen to it.”
The song has two underlying messages.
“If you’re really someone who believes all lives matter, then you shouldn’t have to have Black lives matter explained to you,” Wellz says. “The song is really about classism. People who run businesses and corporations control a lot of the different social spectrums we engage in here.”
Charles stresses, however, that Black lives do matter no less than anybody else.
“That is the statement that is the most important takeaway when it comes to those who compare us or label us with that,” Charles says. “If you’re going to label us, make sure you label us by what we have told you. Our lives do matter, we are here as well and we’re not trying fight to convince anyone that we matter any more.”
Ashton Vaughn Charles: “SKU: Stop Killing Us,” https://bit.ly/2XL1brU.