The sustainability of Flint's golden age of music

FLINT, Michigan — In the last four years, Flint’s image has changed drastically. Previously, this transformation was predicated on crime, the water crisis, and politics. These days, the city has changed because of its people, and more importantly, its music.

Music has ushered in a creative renaissance, birthing everything from news media to artwork, concerts, and awards shows. In late 2020, Flintside writer Jameson Draper chronicled the past and then present of Flint music. He titled it, “Flint Hip-Hop is entering a new golden age,” and he was right.

Over time, Flint music has remained a substantial force. Artists from Flint, from MC Breed to The Dayton Family to Ready For The World to Jon Connor, have significantly impacted music. But a new generation of Flintstones is taking the baton and pushing the boundaries and perceptions of Flint music into the global arena. 

Flint’s music scene has been taken beyond the charts and into the digital world by artists such as Rio Da Yung OG, Louie Ray, YN Jay, RMC Mike, BFB Da Packman, YSR Gramz, and others. With the “Flint-type beat” becoming synonymous with the city’s music, these artists have brought Flint into the golden age of rap and Hip-Hop and created a cultural phenomenon with worldwide influence. 

R&B artist, Jerne, turning up the heat for The Antidote Fest 2 in downtown Flint on July 29, 2023 (Anthony Summers | Flintside)“I’ve had a chance to see the music scene from all sides, and I can honestly say we’re in a much better position than before,” expresses R&B artist Jerne, known for his slow and sultry music. “Flint artists are collaborating now. [Whereas] in the past, artists were more to themselves or rolling in cliques. So, I’m glad to say there’s been a shift in the atmosphere, especially for the R&B scene.”

In June, Flint saw Live At Carriage Town, a community-wide bbq event hosted by music and creative artist Jeff Skigh. The event drew a packed audience of community members, vendors, and Flint artists who performed a medley of hits.

In July, Jeff also spearheaded and headlined the fourth annual Porch Fest. Recently, the musician announced that he is planning a “series of events with some good people called Better Block Flint Concept/Fest” to “activate spaces around the city” starting in September.

Jeff Skigh, one of Flint's greatest creative artists, prepares himself a moment before his performances for 810 Day on August 10, 2023. (Anthony Summers | Flintside)“We’re introducing new artists to people, which is cool. Some people come and find their new favorite rapper, singer, or band,” Skigh shared with Flintside contributor Jari Nettles in July. “It’s always cool seeing people you haven’t seen in a while, and it feels good to see people come together that actually want to engage with the community.” 

The Local 432, a long-standing non-profit music venue that introduced Maiya LeGardye as its first African American woman general manager, massively celebrated Flint music by hosting an all-day event called Local Fest. The event represented the diverse array of Flint music.

Flint PRIDE has long supported local LGBTQ+ artists like Furillostar and HIMHIM, and in recent years, collaborations between the broader music scene and queer artists have fostered solidarity on and off stage. 

One of Flint's powerhouse vocalists, and one-half of the pop-R&B duo BFF, Brelia Renee, on stage for 810 Day on August 10, 2023. (Anthony Summers | Flintside)Brandon Corder’s Beats x BBQ events have brought mainstream artists and DJs to Flint in celebration. Comma Bookstore & Social Hub has provided space for creatives wishing to put on a more intimate musical selection.

Blackstones Smokehouse, too, has opened its doors to local Flint and Michigan musicians to perform. The downtown smokehouse recently held space for Feimstro & The Farts, a group known for its jazz, R&B, and soul sound. Its front-runner, Anthony Feimster, discussed the opportunity and his hopes for the future.

“I’m excited because I have an opportunity to perform in front of different fanbases and audiences that are [unfamiliar] with Feimstro,” the musician told Flintside back in June. “Eventually, I want to get into Churchill’s and Soggy Bottom.”

Music artist, business owner, and podcast creator Figga Da Kid performed live for a packed audience on 810 Day in downtown Flint on August 10, 2023. (Anthony Summers | Flintside)The biggest celebrations have come in the form of last year’s “Sound of Flint” at SXSW in Texas, hosted by Antidote Studio, in addition to Antidote Fest in Flint.

Glizzy Fest, created by Kerale Cayton, Antidote Fest, and 810 Day, a current concert series celebrating Flint’s 810 area code every August 10th, has given a platform to Flint musicians to perform in downtown Flint – a place previously inaccessible to local artists. 

“It was quite the experience to perform my music in front of so many different people,” expresses up-and-coming artist 7endo, who recently dropped his new album, Hollow. “I’m beyond thankful for the opportunity The Antidote has blessed me with. I’m glad it turned out the way it did.”

Up-and-coming artist, 7endo, is grateful for the opportunity to perform at The Antidote Fest 2 on July 29, 2023. (Courtesy photo)The Brush and Buckham Alley events have attracted residents citywide to enjoy a diverse schedule of rap, Hip-Hop, R&B, and pop music performances. These events have provided Flint artists with increased visibility and opportunities to perform.

The annual Fli City Awards, Flint’s version of mainstream award shows found on MTV and BET, has recently been added to celebrate Flint’s artists by recognizing their achievements and showcasing their performances.

However, despite recent developments and opportunities, whether there is a glass ceiling over the city and what the Flintdustry’s next steps should be are in debate.

Queer pop artist Furillostar and R&B vocalist Brelia Renee have joined forces to form the pop-R&B duo BFF. Individually and together, their star power has seen them perform nationwide, with a slew of viral TikToks, shoutouts, and follows by music heavyweights like Victoria Monet and Cardi B. However, they believe “there is a ceiling here in our hometown,” influencing their decision to relocate to Atlanta, wanting to “create in a new market.” 

Flint A-list artists King Ca$hes and Tay Boogie rock the crowd at The Antidote Fest 2 on July 29, 2023. (Anthony Summers | Flintside)Dee Steele, arguably one of Flint’s biggest behind-the-scenes players, also sees things differently. Steele has managed and overseen some of Flint’s best artists, like King Ca$hes, and brands like Kiara Tyler’s KALM. She celebrates Flint’s achievement and development, noting the diverse and numerous selection of Flint genres and artists. However, she believes there’s much more work needed.

“There’s a lot of diversity. It’s good — really good, to be honest. [However], there’s a lot of things that are lacking across the board. If people could come together and grab [the artists] who are willing to listen, who need structure and guidance, things would happen a lot differently,” Steele explains. “You would see them in bigger spaces a lot faster, but people are afraid to attach themselves to artists who are unsure.”

Newcomer jaeEL gives Flint a glimpse of the unseen artists making headway into the Flintdustry at 810 Day on August 10, 2023. (Anthony Summers | Flintside)Almost everyone agrees that as the music scene continues to grow, more attention must be paid to it, regardless of whether or not there is a glass ceiling. And many more believe that Flint could become a significant musical force like Atlanta, Houston, New York, and Los Angeles.

Anthony Paul, former C.O.O of Wav Village and now marketing manager for the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village, shares his concerns about the music scene’s future and its sustainability. He asserts that Flint’s key political players, news organizations, investment firms, and foundations must invest.

“I think Flint is in the same space it was before Antidote Fest. I see Flint [stagnating] until big players in the city put up some real money and invest in the [city’s future],” Paul details. “Until then, it’s [going] to be a lot of the same. I see people trying, but the ‘corporate’ Flint has to connect with the ‘urban’ Flint. It’s definitely an uphill battle.”

Conversational rapper, Baybro, brings style and story-telling lyrics to the 810 Day concert on August 10, 2023. (Anthony Summers | Flintside)
So, are we currently in Flint’s golden age of music? Yes, but there’s still work to be done, and it’s a journey we must all embark on.
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Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.