Sharing My Expression of Blackness

Philadelphia-born rapper Khemist shares the meaning behind his latest EP ‘Khemtrails.’ “I’ve received death threats for what I have said in my music.”
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I was born in North Philadelphia in September 1991 in a neighborhood called Logan. Drugs, violence, prostitutes, police brutality; you name it, I’ve seen it all. Like most people who come from where I come from, I was born into oppression. I was warned of the wrath of white supremacy since I was a toddler. My grandmother hummed negro spirituals about it, imams and pastors preached about it, my cousins sang about it, and I wrote about it. My name is Khemist. I am a poet, songwriter, guitarist, and musician. I recently released an EP titled Khemtrails in honor of Juneteenth. The EP is an expression of blackness.

There was a sense of adequacy and belonging that warmed me as I released Khemtrails into the world. I felt aligned and in sync with all-knowing assigned purposes. Telling a story and knowing that it is our story is liberating, especially coming from the streets and being aware of how many of us forgot as our minds and history continue to be tampered with. This piece of art granted me internal confirmation and fulfillment in connection to the necessary beyond me.

My grandmother was a waitress for the military in Sumter, South Carolina, in the 1940s. She told me stories of white supremacy, dominance, power, excruciating pain, and the routine wounds inflicted on Black people. These stories stuck with me as forceful as sweetgum spikes on our bare feet. I still can hear the rumbling in her vocals erupting from places of hurt and disappointment. The rumbling also came from a place of currentness. She informed me years ago that the war of Good versus Evil was not over. She warned me of the dangers of being outside after the sun went down. She spoke about police in the early 2000s as if they were the same racist white people in the 1940s. They were. They are.

Unarmed Black people continue to be murdered by white supremacist organized police forces across the United States of America. We are experiencing an uprising in the Black community—an uprising that is inevitable and well deserved; an uprising I envisioned while writing more than 150 songs. Five of those songs are on Khemtrails. The violence, bloodshed, and action required to overthrow tyrannical power are taking place now.

Artists’ works have always played a role in war. In ancient times, presented in strategy, flags and music (both done by artists) were sometimes the first things warriors saw and heard before battle. Khemtrails is just that: music for battle and thought on behalf of a tribe. That is an honor. All the struggling and overcoming of obstacles—both internal and external—to release this music was so the work could be with the world on Juneteenth. This day of celebration, triumph, and selflessness. On Juneteenth, I celebrated both freedom for me and, more importantly, the freedom of my people here in the USA. It was a celebratory moment and a time to reflect on several journeys.

I reflected on all the mental battles I’ve dealt with; battles I wasn’t sure I’d win. I reflected on my growth as a writer, musician, and being. I celebrate my strength to speak truth. I celebrate and honor the journey of my people who fought as they underwent the physical, psychological, and spiritual bondage of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. I celebrate the journey of my people who have been through the Middle Passage.

There’s still a lot of work to be done. Our freedom continues to be questionable. Slavery has transformed and operates under new cloaks such as the prison industry and judicial system. Black bodies are still captured, transported, and enslaved in America. The largest forced migration in the history of this planet is the forced migration of Black people. The largest group of people incarcerated are Black people. We are imprisoned at over five times the rate of whites. Black people continue to be oppressed and denied access to basic civil rights: education, housing, health care, and more. Racism continues to thrive in this country. To quote Andre M. Perry, author of Know Your Price: Valuing Black, “There’s nothing wrong with Black people that ending racism can’t solve.”

Artists must put these messages in the music and be intentional about it. Khemtrails is just a start. On “Khemist Bombaye,” with lines such as, “The blond-haired, blue-eyed man likes to bomb my village,” I’ve made people uncomfortable. But the truth can be uncomfortable. The song “Two Up Two Down” has lyrics that read: “And you got old assault rifles and militia outfits / and you got bats and clubs and tattooed swastikas / So the law enforcement refuse to respond to it / Let us see who are the savages and who are the nationalists.” These lyrics, about the white supremacy protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, can also be about anti-Black protests and movements throughout America.

To be an artist with the willingness and capability to reflect and document the current time is beautiful. It’s also dangerous. I’ve received death threats for what I have said in my music. I have to deal with loud and unseen enemies. That’s the consequence of speaking truth. There were many nights where I questioned if it was worth it. I wondered if there was even a lane for music that sounds the way I want it to sound with the message that I must include.

Artists need to learn and practice ways to deliver truth in systems that are designed to prevent us from doing so. I’ve spent years studying music to figure out exactly how I wanted to present these messages in my writings. Carrying on this sacred tradition is exhilarating. I knew my intentions were pure and that the people who were meant to hear it would hear it and connect with it. That’s the way of the universe.

I know what mission I am on. It’s difficult for me to respect Black artists who release music during this time without the intention of healing, enlightening, uplifting, and supporting the oppressed people of this uprising. A Black artist must not only create for our people but also align with businesses, activists, policymakers, and community leaders on the same mission.

The Khemtrails EP is about the Black experience. These stories, inspired by growing up in Philadelphia’s Logan neighborhood, echo the same stories of Black people across the globe. Trauma, oppression, spirituality, racism, and Pharma are all expressed in Khemtrails. This body of work is for the people and ancestors who celebrate Juneteenth.

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