Friday the 13th started as many November days do in Charleston–a sun infused warmth filling the daylight hours, quickly dissolving into a pervasive chill that causes many locals to don peacoats and down-filled jackets. It was on the cusp of this change that I met with Khari Lucas on the corner of King and Calhoun, a young man of immense and varied talent. We made the usual introductions and wandered into Marion Square to find a bench on which we could sit and chat about the great things this young man has been up to.
I first heard about Khari through a mutual friend of ours, an aspiring rapper himself, who described Khari as “so much more than a rapper.” Intrigued, I sought his contact details and started listening to some of his music. While I am not an aficionado on rap, hip-hop, or electronic styles of music, I could tell he had something special, so I was put into contact with him, and planned our meeting.
Khari, Charleston born and bred, was always surrounded by art and culture. Raised by his mother, a fashion designer, and his grandmother, a singer, he grew up going to the plethora of art events housed in the city. When asked what he does outside of music, he immediately answered “If there’s an art gallery I can go to, or if there is a speaker somewhere. I really like academic things…in the sense of going to lectures.”
Khari has not always been a musician–he began his foray into the arts as an actor. From second grade through his penultimate high school year, he was trained for the stage, including vocal training for choral music. It was these daily sessions that lead him to music. Initially, he tried the band route, but got into production work and rapping by his senior year of high school.
Contour, Khari’s production based music project, is what he is most well known for. Instrumental hip-hop and experimental electronic music are the bulk of Contour, which he says is inspired by Madlib and Flying Lotus, but he mostly tries to experiment as much as possible with different sounds.
One way he accomplishes this is through sampling, or taking sound clips from other songs or media sources and integrating them into a new piece. He spends hours of his time listening to jazz, classical music, records, etc. to find potential samples, then stores them in a folder for safekeeping. When it comes time to make his music, he returns to the folder for inspiration. This organized method of music-making allows for him to be prepared when creativity strikes.
His favorite song from Contour is “Girl Sitting Next to Me at the Bus Stop,” from Street Chasers, which at first is seems to be a relaxed electronic song, but is measured out by what sounds like an erratic heartbeat, injecting an energy and nervousness to the song that feels just right paired with its title.
Khari’s rap music displays a different range of talents. Lyrically, his music is sophisticated and cool. His voice holds no concern or uncertainty as he spits out observations beyond his 20 years. Then again, his air is much the same–confident, gracious, and a touch other-worldly in his wisdom and delivery.
One of the reasons Khari is such a good voice for the Charleston rap and hip hop scene is because of his year long stint in Houston. “One of the really important experiences I had in Houston was that they have a really supportive and thriving free jazz community…I went to see some free jazz artists play. It was a life changing experience. I could see that they weren’t just playing instruments. They were trying to communicate something.” His exposure to jazz in clear in his electronic music–things wander, and repeat back, communicating within his own pieces.
There was one experience in Houston that opened his eyes to what Charleston is missing: inclusivity: “They would have workshops…and I just happened to go, and I was just planning on sitting down and watching all the other musicians play. He found out that I played piano, and he asked me I would join the workshop, and I told him I wasn’t a technically accomplished pianist, and so he simplified his original plan for the workshop to include me in it.”
There are so many talented musicians and other artists in the Holy City–you can’t throw a rock without hitting one. So why don’t we have this kind of supportive community that enables fellow artists, even if they are coming from different backgrounds? King Dusko and the John Rivers Communication Museum were the only two places he could book shows. Like many other artists in the city, Khari mourns the loss of King Dusko, one of the few places in the city that had become a safe place for local artists to try new things in a prominent and accessible location. With Dusko gone, many bands are without a place to get their foot in the door.
Another question I have for Charleston is where is the support for black musicians and urban music? It’s not that we’re lacking in musicians: according to Khari, there are more than enough quality musicians that the scene should be much bigger.
Hip-hop is a major pop culture phenomenon–the genre is one of the newest in the music game, and in a matter of decades, has infused into every nook and cranny of our society. With a smile, Khari points out how even country music has embraced the sound. With americana and alt-country being some of Charleston most well known and respected musical exports, why hasn’t hip-hop followed suit?
Secret to no one are the racially motivated crimes that have befallen our city in the past year. While these crimes were horrendous, Charleston and her citizens responded with love: we closed down the Ravenel bridge with a march to support unity amongst all people, all beautiful gesture that created ripples across the nation. And it was. Even so, it’s impossible not to notice that most of the hands clasped were white.
“We [Charlestonians] make a very comfortable attempt to address problems of race and problems of race inclusion,” Khari said, who was still living in Houston at the time of the Emanuel AME Church shooting. He admits his perspective may be a bit different than those who were living in the city at the time, I think that distance allowed him to see perhaps what others couldn’t do to the proximity of the horrific event. He says the city’s intentions were good, but that no one really wants to face the reality that real change can only happen if we get out of our comfort zones.
This theory extends to music as well. Come out of your comfort zone, listen to some good music, and contribute to real change simply by supporting local musicians. Black Dave, a local hip-hop artist who is bolstering the music scene, is launching a monthly hip-hop series. The first show is December 5th, upstairs at Joe Pasta on King Street, and features Benny Starr and Khari himself.
Jessica Edwards will be doing a series on Charleston hip-hop and local talent. Look for new profiles stories in future publications.