As Black History Month 2021 drew to a close, one Black-owned visual arts studio in New Brunswick, New Jersey helped independent music artists flex cultural pride and honor their ancestry. Feb. 26, Above Art Studios was the scene of Billion Barz Club 5: For My Ancestors, part of a monthly open mic showcase and vendor fair.
This edition of Billion Barz Club was something different. Sometimes revered figures and those recognizing them are not able to share the same space. However, show organizer LBezzle and Above Art Studios co-owner Wilford Charles shifted that.
At Above Art Studios, abstract art depicting Black faces, obscure and celebrity, lined the walls. Music from DJ Timoy and 21 artists, like rappers Mel the Prophet, RememberSB and LBezzle, singer Webb the Artist and recording artists Ahua and Face Cadet, filled the space in between. Other performers at Billion Barz Club 5 included Young Benny, Outliiiers, Ahua, Ron Solemn, Waz T, King Cracka, Daniree and more. Flanking the stage, there were mixed media prints and acrylic paintings of singer Erykah Badu and late rappers Tupac Shakur and Nipsey Hussle.
Some of the night’s music symbolized determination. Artist Ahua performed her “I Can Do Anything.” And singer Waz T skillfully handled a Yamaha keyboard, singing “Chase Your Dreams.” Later, treating the crowd to an encore performance, singer Webb the Artist joined Waz T in a duet.
Singer Webb performs at Billion Barz Club 5 at Above Art Studios in New Brunswick, New Jersey pic.twitter.com/D0NcLCqbur
— Thomas Benjamin (@ItsThomasBe) February 27, 2021
On the showcase’s theme, Charles said, “If you look at the people who are here tonight–just the event–it’s almost like a perfect setting. We have the visual that’s showing you all your ancestors on a wall. And half the art is like this … or looking like your ancestors.” Performers blended in the audience before and after their sets. And it was as if the traditionally observed became the observers, where the gallery’s art subjects were part of the audience, too. “There are so many different art pieces, if you look around, looking toward the stage or looking toward the people and they are looking at you … saying, ‘Go. Cultivate, grow and be the best that you can be.’ And, just with that backdrop, now we have the sound to go along with the visual,” Charles said.
Some Barz Club acts shared their thoughts on lineage and legacy. South New Jersey rapper 2Wavy, said, referring to his ancestors, “I know they’re protecting me. They’re with me every step of the way. They’re here with me in spirit.” Later, 2Wavy performed his electric single “DaWave Johnson,” an ostensible homage to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. That’s per the single cover art. Plainfield, New Jersey rapper King Bluez said he wants to build a legacy. “When I go, it’ll be something to look back on, and people can follow the same footsteps,” he said.
Above all, Billion Barz Club 5 was not just an art expo acknowledging Black history. According to Charles, it was history. “We’re creating a movie. We’re creating history at this moment,” he said.
For more on Billion Barz Club 5 check out interviews with RememberSB and 2Wavy with Rappurview and event highlights below (the background music is Young Benny’s “Same Energy“). More on Billion Barz Club here. And follow Rappurview on Instagram and Twitter.