Conversations with Flint: A Music Reflection

The following is an opinion piece by Flintside assistant editor Xzavier Simon. Have an idea for an essay or opinion piece you'd like to write for Flintside about life in Flint? Email [email protected]

FLINT, Michigan -- It’s easy to turn on the TV, watch the local news, or follow any one of several news publications in Flint and consider the constant feed of politics, crime, schools, and sports as the lifeline or beat of this city. As Flint residents, we pride ourselves on being resilient and hard-working, not understanding that this resiliency comes from a cycle of trauma, dehumanization, and manufactured scarcity—all of which creates a thin veil that focuses our attention solely upon lack.

Although, what isn’t said or often talked about, is the city’s backbone and what gives its residents hope. It is the entrepreneurs and their small businesses generating community income. It is the activists marching for Black Lives and clean water. It is the creative artists, not just painting murals downtown but also putting on cartoon cabarets, designing custom skateboards, filming music videos, writing books, cooking, and getting fit. But at the head of this new generation of Flintstones—who are taking Flint culture global—are the music artists.

Let’s be clear, Flint music and the artists, producers, and engineers who create it didn’t just start to become famous. Its legacy extends back to the recently passed Bernard Terry, “a pillar of Flint’s music community,” who worked on albums for Ready For The World. It continued with The Dayton Family and MC Breed, who sold millions of records. Flint music landed at Aftermath Entertainment with legendary producer Dr. Dre, courtesy of Jon Connor. Last year, as COVID took full swing, the golden age of Flint music continued, allowing worldwide audiences to tap into “Flint rap,” a distinct style of rapping, birthed by Rio Da Yung OG and those around him like RMC Mike, Louie Ray, King Ca$hes, and most notably YN Jay. However, this is one aspect of Flint music building community and highlighting the city’s diverse culture together in unheard ways.

The landscape of Flintstone music is wide and varied. As well, it extends itself across race, gender, and sexuality. The group PhZD, consisting of Benjamin Aurand and Phillip Walker II genre-bends Hip Hop, soul, and jazz to create their space funk sound. Jamaican culture and reggae influence the music from Cameron Tyler. Flint’s most prominent Hip Hop and R&B artists Jada Ali and Brelia Renee, continue to break barriers and represent what’s possible for women in a primarily male-dominated industry. The city is also host to prominent pop star Furillostar who aims to be the “biggest gay pop star ever,” in addition to Shemy—one of a handful of white music artists—and the colorful and unique artist Cam Howe

And yet, as the Flintdustry continues to grow and evolve, the opportunities to celebrate and embrace Flint's growing national identity in Hip Hop by offering performance opportunities are scarce. Downtown Flint has world-class venues large and small, but with the exception of Flint Local 432, it is rare to see any of the city's biggest Hip Hop or R&B acts booked downtown. In a majorly African American city, it is my opinion, and I’ve witnessed after interviewing countless people across Flint, that we can and have made a way out of nothing. Even with General Motors leaving, dilapidated schools, poisoned water, and little support, the new generation of Flint is effecting change on a massive scale. Whether through entrepreneurship or creative pursuits, the heart of this city resides in what we create.

Because as Dr. Kaba Kemene says in one of his many YouTube lectures, “when Europe attacked Africa post-1492 and began to steal Africans, they were stealing the ascendants of the pyramid builders. The pyramid builder DNA is in those who were enslaved and brought to America. The DNA came to America and went into the plantation dweller is in [the] people who live in the projects.” 

And housed within the community of Flint is that very same DNA.

Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.