Transcript Episode 637: BLKBOK

On 2022’s self-titled debut, BLKBOK enlisted poet (and English teacher) Lauren Delaphena to record spoken work tracks, which served to break up instrumental tracks. For the follow up, Charles Wilson III gave the job to his therapist, Dr. Felicia Thomas. Plenty of albums can be described as “deeply personal,” but in that respect, 9 is on another level. The neo-classical piano tracks also serve as a homage to high school civil rights, the Little Rock Nine. Wilson joins us to discuss the story behind the album and keeping classical music fresh for another century.

BLKBOK  0:13  
Rihanna had a whole a whole era of time where she was just showing up late for shows she was just going on late, just because she felt like it. You know, and I just remember during that time just being like, you know what I wish? I know the fans are still there. But you know, it's just a courtesy thing. You know? So even I've learned from them doing the wrong thing.

Brian Heater  0:34  
Justin, pretty punctual guy

BLKBOK  0:37  
always on top. Yep. Yeah.

Brian Heater  0:39  
How did? How did that part of your career come about?

BLKBOK  0:44  
Oh, it's a very interesting story. So I was in Orlando, living in Orlando at the time, and was doing rehearsal with a local band at the Epcot Center. And the band next door was the band for in sync. So me just being me, I went next door, you know, knock on the door. Hey, guys, what's up? I'm Charles, blah, blah. And we talked and I got to know the musical director, his name is Kevin Anton's really well. And that's how it all started, like I kept with Kevin throughout the years. And it just came to be that one day, he was like, Hey, do you want to come by the house and just hang out? And he asked me did I want to go on tour with Justin Timberlake? And, you know, a week and a half later, I was on Jay Leno.

Brian Heater  1:32  
You were onboard as the musical director at that point, or you kind of worked your way

BLKBOK  1:35  
up? No, no, I worked my way up. Definitely I wasn't. I didn't have my first musical director posts until well, actually, it was with Sierra it was maybe a year and a half later. But then with with other artists, it didn't happen so much later on. But I was just there as a pianist and keyboardist since we,

Brian Heater  1:54  
we said something negative about Rihanna earlier that another story that you know, another story that you you relate, I think in that conversation is that she actually called you on the phone, which is nice. That's like another thing that you don't really expect to get for people at that level. They've got assistants and managers and all these people.

BLKBOK  2:12  
Yeah, the cool thing was that at the time, I was working for Timberland, and we were in the studio working on the Good Girl Gone Bad album. And me and another producer, and she and her best friend, Melissa, we just all hung out for days and days at a time making music. So we we kind of got a relationship through our time in the studio. And at that point, I hadn't toured with her yet, but we were just friends. And she called and was like, Hey, you want to go on tour? I was like, Yeah, of course. Are you kidding me? So it was just a privilege to have that sort of Connection at that time to where an artist can just call you personally and say, Hey, do you want to go out and wrote,

Brian Heater  2:51  
you know, obviously, there are a lot of ways in which it's kind of like a technical job. But it strikes me as something that insofar as you know, they're willing to make themselves available to you that it's really important to have a personal Connection to actually be able to, I guess, figure out what seats see their vision in into action.

BLKBOK  3:11  
I mean, the thing is, you know, especially with musical directing, it's all about their vision, you know, how can I help you bring your vision to life? And how can I best lead this group of musicians to make that vision come to fruition? So it's always like that when I work with artists like to me, it's all about how can I be the best conduit for what you think that the show should be? Or should say, or to convey to an audience in very much so now working for myself? Now I am that person in charge of that job?

Brian Heater  3:45  
Is it a creative job? Yeah,

BLKBOK  3:47  
absolutely. Yes. Yes, very much. So. There is a certain amount of creativity, I think creativity exists in everything. I think there's art in everything, you know, so I'm the guy that looks at the, you know, the landscaper and says, Wow, look at the art that he's doing, or the guy who makes chairs or the guy that, you know, design street lamps, you know, so, the or the stockbroker, you know, I look at, there's art in everything. So yeah, definitely being a musical director is a creative job.

Brian Heater  4:13  
Is it still a big part of your life or now that this solo thing is happening? Is it gone by the wayside? Actually, no,

BLKBOK  4:19  
it's not a big part of my life. Now. I do miss it at times. There's nothing like working with a band with a group of musicians. But this new venture is very exciting. By itself, as you know, being a solo artist, being a pianist with no, you know, backing band and everything is is a different journey, but definitely not a boring journey. Very interesting.

Brian Heater  4:48  
Obviously, there's a big difference in carrying out someone else's vision and carrying out your own. Yeah.

BLKBOK  4:55  
Yeah. I mean, it's a massive difference for me. You know, care. Now my vision is just just a thing where I have to ask myself the questions that I would normally ask the artists and to me those questions of what are you saying? What is the arc of this show? What is the storyline? What are you trying to convey? How do you want people to feel when they leave? How do you want them to feel when they come in? I mean, like, it's a whole process that I've used to doing with others. Now I have to do for myself, the scale

Brian Heater  5:29  
is obviously different, you know, between between you and Rihanna or Justin Timberlake right now, like, I know that, you know, when you are out here in the city play Joe's Pub, which is, you know, it's a very nice venue, but it's not, it's not a huge one. But are there still, are there still learnings that you can apply to a smaller show? Oh, absolutely.

BLKBOK  5:51  
The same, I approach smaller shows with the same mentality, the same attitude, the same energy, you know, whether it's Madison Square Garden, or Joe's Pub, like it's this, to me, it's the same, it has to have the same effect. And you know, to reach the person in the back of the room, whoever's the last person in the very back of the room, I want them to be able to get the message just as much as a person that's in the front row. So the, the approach is very similar. Now, the scale is different, but the approach is the same.

Brian Heater  6:22  
I have to assume that like a big part of your musical journey, I know it sounds corny to say that, but your musical life and your career is this act of having to win people over because, you know, obviously, there's a sense in which classical music is like a ubiquitous like, almost commodity at this point. But it's not something I mean, especially younger generations really tend to engage with, I

BLKBOK  6:48  
think that this is a beautiful time for classical music or new classical music. Because there are, there is this massive demographic of people who would love to be into this music. The thing that has, I think that's held us up is that it does not necessarily feel, or historically, it has not felt like a emotional, emotionally comfortable place. Especially for I will say this, and I'll be honest with this, especially for people of color. So I've recently went to the symphony, and there was like me and one other black purse. Oh, when you say place, you mean like physiology, like physicality coming to the symphony, like it has not been any emotionally safe place. So my job now is to create those spaces. And now that I'm creating those spaces, we'd see like this massive influx, I mean, one of the things that I love is when I play a show, and then some guy that looks like he's like me from the Westside show, he's like, Yo, bro, that was crazy like that. Yo, that made me feel like I never felt before. I love those moments. And then right after that, there's, you know, 80 year old grandma from, you know, from New York, that's like, you know, what, that I've played classical music when I was young. And I've always been a fan, and I go to the symphony, but this was an amazing experience. So, you know, just to see the difference in the demographic, and that's one thing I can say about myself in my shows is that, you know, the demographic is everybody. It's so it's so like, it's everyone, all in one hodgepodge kind of getting an emotional experience,

Brian Heater  8:30  
I think last week was talking to a jazz pianist was having this conversation around, almost like two schools of thought when it comes to jazz. And obviously, they're not, obviously there's a lot of overlap. And, you know, he's certainly somebody who does a little bit of both, but there's the the traditionalist, there's the people, you know, we think of like the Wynton Marsalis is of the world, and playing at Lincoln Center, like, and trying to preserve his great heritage. And then there's the side of things that, you know, is like, jazz is an experimental art form. And it should always be an experimental art form, it should always be pushing forward. And it seems like, you know, I do listen to a fair bit of 20th 21st century classical, but it's classical music suffers that a lot more as far as this academic pedestal that it tends to get put on, and it's hard. It's hard for people to reach that.

BLKBOK  9:21  
Yeah. I mean, the genre itself is kind of built in. I know. Classical people may look at me a little crazy for saying this, but it's built on composer worshipping. Like, we're worshipping composers that have been dead for many, many, many years. Yes, they are the greats. Yes, they laid the foundation. Yes, they are absolutely incredible. But they were telling stories from their time. And I think it's important that we start to create and tell stories from our time. I just think that this new wave or this new generation of classical musicians, is we're not so much based in the the, you know, quote wouldn't call education of it all, it's more about expressing yourself and expressing yourself honestly. And I think that's a very strong place for us to be especially moving forward, as composers and musicians is to be able to express these things that are happening around us. I think that's very, very, very important.

Brian Heater  10:19  
I talked about this a lot when I'm talking to people who perform classical music, but I'm one of those people who it took, it took me a long time, a lot of banging my head to really actually, for it to break through. And I was in Santa Cruz, which is, which is where I went to school, I was speaking to a professor on the show, and he does like computer programs, you know, like really early computer program or creating like Bach algorithms, basically on the computer, like super interesting stuff. But I said, Hey, you know, I've been spending much of my adult life attempting to figure this thing out. And his suggestion was, he said, Get get the to Glenn Gould recordings of the Goldberg Variations when performed when he was in his 20s. And when performed toward the end of his life. And they're dramatically different. I don't know if you've ever done like the one to one. But in his 20s, it's like, as you expect, it's, you know, super fast, super energetic, and of his life like it, it's it's somber, he's not even that old. But it was somber, the very obvious realization dawned on me how much of classical music is in interpretation, more than in any other genre, because there's this remove. And in the case of somebody like Bach, there is no recorded Bach, people don't even know how fast those things were intended to be played.

BLKBOK  11:39  
I mean, classical music is 99.9% interpretation, especially if we're playing pieces that have you know, were written so long ago, and so many people have performed these works. I think that, like I say, new works, the new stuff, the new interpretations, I think, where we are in 2023, going into 2024 yields that we have this different way of viewing and playing and expressing this music, even like you said, even if you look at one person in their lifetime, in their interpretation, the differences in where you are in your life. So for me, being a young composer, and musician, I think this is a prime time to be expressing myself in how I see the world and giving people kind of a glimpse into how the world looks through my eyes.

Brian Heater  12:32  
So when you talk about telling stories in the modern context, you include interpretation and that as well.

BLKBOK  12:39  
Absolutely, absolutely. You know, it's all it's all inclusive. I mean, the story, what's the story if it's not told in a certain way, you know, so I think it's very important that the stories even have their own interpret. And it's so funny, because I've seen other musicians playing my pieces. And I love to hear other interpretations like, Oh, I didn't think of that there. I didn't think of that in that that way. So each one of our personal tastes is very important to express. I

Brian Heater  13:12  
partially mean, from the standpoint of, you know, and there's always there's an abstraction to music to instrumental music, I'm a writer is my job. So I'm used to words, right. And there's something very tangible about lyrics. And it is a big abstraction to deal with questions or subjects through instrumental music, something you're obviously very interested in, and is like, you could tell by the song titles on both of your records, but I'm wondering, you know, is there a way to tell? The, you know, I just would use like George Floyd as an example, because he tackled that on the last record. To tell that story through a piece of music that was written hundreds of years ago,

BLKBOK  13:58  
I don't think so. I would say, you know, in my best guess I would say no, because you haven't experienced it. You know, how can you tell a story about something you've never experienced?

Brian Heater  14:10  
Telling a modern story through an old piece of music by reinterpreting it?

BLKBOK  14:15  
Yeah, telling a modern story through an old piece of me, I think the only way to tell a modern story is when a modern piece of music. So I think, you know, this is very much to your point that this is the newer generation of what classical music we need to write music for our time. You know, like Beethoven wrote music for Beethoven's time he Chopin wrote music for his times, but this is, you know, this is our our moment. So I think for composers and pianists and musicians and instrumentalists, I think this is a whole new wave of a whole new generation of music that's going to be coming out it's gonna be very interesting

Brian Heater  14:53  
in the George Floyd example, or in the example of, you know, the Little Rock Nine or we can we can start We can talk a bit about what that cognate track is about, because I very much like to get get into that. But what does it mean to deal with a very tangible real thing I think that people have written and talked a lot about with a piece of instrumental music, like how do you how do you process these ideas and these thoughts and these feelings through music,

BLKBOK  15:24  
the way I process it, is to try and tell the best story I can without using words, which means that this has to be a natural expression of the emotion that I'm feeling in this moment. For instance, we're talking about the George Floyd piece, the beginning of the piece. It's so funny, because that piece was written after it was the last piece written for black book. And the event happened, the day I finished, I had originally planned on having 10 songs, the 11 song was George Floyd. And it happened on the next day after I finished number 10, the day thought you're finished with the day I thought I was finished, I had to, you know, run back and turn on the keyboard again, and press record and just record how I felt. And as you hear at the beginning of that piece, I'm banging on the piano. It's literally anger and aggression, getting out in its best form. I was mad, just like so many other people. And then you hear all these expressions of sorrow, and this reflection of, of our history. At the end of the piece, you know, it's the most important part, which is hope, there's this rising sort of feeling and hope. And at the very, very end of the piece, there's the motif of We Shall Overcome. So to answer that question, is, the emotions in their raw sense, then become notes in harmonies and melodies. And I think that's the truest part of classical music is being able to express yourself without saying words, when you

Brian Heater  17:03  
say motif, you mean you're taking a piece of that song and integrating it into your song,

BLKBOK  17:09  
you hear the melody we shall over right at the end, in

Brian Heater  17:13  
a sense, that example of taking an older piece of music and applying it to the current moment. And you know, I know that you're well versed in, in hip hop, hip hop is all about sampling. So there's a sense in which hip hop is all about applying older pieces of music to newer thoughts.

BLKBOK  17:30  
Yes, and no, I mean, hip hop is very much sample based, but there are pieces that aren't they have no samples that are actually new melodies, New Harmony. So I mean, it's kind of a toss up, I think that we can take inspirations from, from older pieces, but to say that it can directly like to take a piece directly to speak about something that's happening right now. I don't think that's I don't think that's real, they really apply in that way.

Brian Heater  17:56  
What was it about George Floyd, specifically, obviously, like, in a lot of ways, not an isolated event? And, you know, people often forget that things were things were real shitty before the pandemic started. It's been a, it's been a rough, you know, several years. Why was that the one that made you really sit down and have instantly channel into music.

BLKBOK  18:24  
I mean, it was happening in real time. There was I had no other choice, you know, my, my manager called me, and he said, don't go outside. He said, Go sit behind your piano and speak. People are waiting to hear your voice on the subject, so to speak. And that's pretty much the basis of like, all of my compositions are, let me just speak when it feels, you know, let me be as vulnerable and open as possible, even when I'm on stage, like my whole objective when I go on stages, how, how much can I open my chest and let people see what's inside? How can they see my love and my pain and my vulnerabilities? And my sorrows and my happiness and my joy? How can I see all of those emotions? So that carries me from writing and carries, you know, on the stage is how can I show as much of myself as possible

Brian Heater  19:23  
and what role do the does the poetry or do the spoken word pieces play in that? Because they exist on both records?

BLKBOK  19:31  
Yeah. So on the first record, was my good friend Lauren dela Pena. We had this conversation, and the whole conversation was how do we create a twin sister for black book? So the black book album had already been written. We just needed to kind of, you know, create this. This version of black book that was actually in words, and she's such a wonderful wordsmith, and we had so are many interesting conversations, and just hours and hours of talking and exchanging ideas, and then she would kind of go away for a week and come back with this poem. And it would just be spot on, it will be exactly what we intended as well. She, she took creative chances, like I took creative chances. One of the pieces that really stands out is the king's new drip. For me, the king's new drip means this is the piece that I wrote, that was all new things that were foreign to my hands, foreign to my imagination, just all new. So she went and did a contrapuntal, which is, you know, essentially, the king's new drip poem is three poems that can be read either separately or as one. So she took, you know, creative risk that she had never taken the same way I had to creative risk, and in the same places, and the same pieces and same points. It's very important, the whole spoken word side of it. And then for Dr. Thomas, I mean, she's been my therapist and life coach for so many years now. My question to her was, if you could speak to everyone, and give them a piece of what you've given me throughout the years, what would you say? So those became the four spoken word pieces on the new album, nine, which are just, I mean, these really, really, really raw nuggets of knowledge that she shared that she has shared with me throughout our time and just decided to, you know, put it on, record them, and I played something that just complimented everything that she said, and it worked out pretty well. You know,

Brian Heater  21:47  
it's looking her up and I think I found the right person and she's She also is or was a professor at U of M, is that right? Different Felicia,

BLKBOK  21:55  
maybe differently? Tom's okay. And maybe differently? Yeah,

Brian Heater  21:58  
there are a lot of Felicia Thomas's the world and that was when I was like, Okay, this could be, you know, this, this makes sense. And I guess the reason why I couldn't find her is because, you know, she's a therapist, so she's not really out there in the same way. Yeah. Obviously very unusual to collaborate with your therapist. Was that? I don't know is that it was that was that a strange? Was it ever uncomfortable?

BLKBOK  22:24  
Not ever, not once. It was magic. From the moment I asked to the moment, she said yes, to the moment we had conversations. And even for the moment, I turned them into her and said, This is what we got. It was it was a magical collaboration, it was just the same as working with Lauren. To me, the message was so important. And it was the glue that ties the album together to me to have these really strong messages like about awareness, you know, a new reality for all of us is it when you become come into a state of awareness, your life can change, you can affect your life in different ways. She always says, you create your reality with your words. And now that I'm so very aware of the things that I say, my reality has changed. There are certain words that I don't use anymore, I've totally taken them out of my vocabulary, and other words that I use very, very often. So when I was able to shift the things that I say I was able to shift the way that I appeared in the way that I presented myself in the world. And just myself, Mike, my awareness, I know, you know, those moments of, of feeling and deep feeling and being able to take that awareness and put it into compositions. So this is kind of like a thing that affects not only the music, but affects my life as well.

Brian Heater  23:46  
It's your first therapist.

BLKBOK  23:49  
No, not my first, but definitely the best one.

Brian Heater  23:51  
Yeah, well, obviously the only one of your records. Yeah, she's amazing.

BLKBOK  23:55  

Brian Heater  23:56  
When did you start seeing somebody?

BLKBOK  23:58  
Probably the end of 2019. Yeah, yeah. Went through a bad breakup in 2019, and needed some answers. And that led to the creation of black box. So when black box was being created, this new, you know, these new knowledge that I had been given through therapy, kind of, you know, they kind of acted at the same time then. And for me, I had never composed classical music before. 2020. So this was like a brand new, this was all brand new, uncharted territory I was in. But I think I did pretty good.

Brian Heater  24:34  
I had a lot of mostly subconscious aversions to it, but the they're just the things that you kind of live with, right? And you kind of take it for granted. Was it? Was it hard for you to make that step?

BLKBOK  24:46  
Not at all. I knew that I needed answers and I knew I couldn't figure it out on my own. So now when I'm even doing my concerts, and I talk about Dr. Thomas, I say to all the specifically to black men, Like, dude, this world is complex. Why not get a second opinion, why not get another mind that can help you navigate these these crazy turbulent waters. And I think that's what therapy really is, is just being able to have someone else to give you just a slight shift in perspective. And it can change the way you view the whole world. And it can, you know, for your to make your life better. So why not make your life better go ahead and get therapy. It's easy. And then there's people like Dr. Thomas, who, who offer therapy for underserved communities. And like there are people out there who are really fighting for the people who really need the help the most.

Brian Heater  25:43  
You said that when you took that first step, or I guess when you started seeing somebody was around the time that blackbuck was created. And it's interesting to hear that because like, you refer to yourself by that name. So what is it? What does it mean that, that it was created?

BLKBOK  26:00  
Oh, I had never, I had never done this before. I had never written classical music or anything flavored like classical music before. I mean, my history is, as you know, is touring with pop artist. I play classical music and studied when I was a very young child from about age four to about 16. But I had never tried anything like this. I was enrolled in a program called to create a workshop, which was hosted by Seth Godin. And it was 100 Day commitment to do whatever you do creatively with accountability. So after you do it, you have to upload it to the website so people can see it. And for the first time, and I know for you as a writer, it in for me as a music as a songwriter. You know, we don't write in public. But this was writing in public. Every day people be able to hear the music, whatever it is, if it's 15 seconds, or four minutes, or whatever it was that I post it for that day, people will be able to hear it comment on it gives me real time feedback. So blackbuck was created in the process of this 100 days, well actually ended up being 121 consecutive days. I had never written music like this. I had never tried this before. I had never written in public before. And at the end of it, I had this album called black book. And I had learned this great skill, one, how to be accountable to an audience, and to how to write in public. So even now, I have a secret Patreon, where there's not a lot of people there. But I continue when I write pieces to say, Hey, guys, this is day one. Hey, guys, this is what I got on day two. Hey, guys, day three was trash. I cut, you know, your poop emojis. 20 of them, you know. So it's just this great creation. That happened in 2020, during the lockdown was the creation of

Brian Heater  28:11  
blackbox. Obviously, that prepared you for lockdown. And it prepared you for having a presence on like Instagram, and being very social. But that was you did that throughout the writing of both records. You did them in public. Yep. Both records were written in public. You mentioned accountability. That's a big part of it, you know, in the same way that like, deadlines are important, right? And, you know, much like therapy like that. It's that, that extra nudge you need but I also understand the impulse or the desire to just, you know, kind of step away with your thing for a while and come back with this new product you're serving up to people. What are the other benefits are what are the other effects to to composing in that way?

BLKBOK  29:00  
Oh, I think one of the benefits is that people are able to be with you on the journey. Traveling, you know, it's traveling with a group of people. And I think that that's always better than traveling alone. It definitely has become a superpower for me, being able to bring people along especially for the creative process. We're so used to, you know, writing in the dark shed of the in the deep dark of night and doing our work and then presenting it when it's all kind of done and polished and read 300 times and proof read and everything like that. This is a different way of composing for me. I've never done it in this way. But I really really, it gives me like I usually do consecutive days. And that really, really is one The thing that's been a benefit to me, especially learning that, and this is very controversial. It was controversial for me when I heard it, is that writer's block is a myth? And Seth Godin, yeah, exactly your expression. You

Brian Heater  30:15  
know, I'm a writer by entire professional career has been writing, I love writing, I still like writing every day. But I talked to a lot of readers, a lot of writers who hate writing, and it baffles me that it's a painful process for them.

BLKBOK  30:29  
Yeah, it's not a painful process. For me. I don't know what that is. I've never,

Brian Heater  30:34  
there are other things you could do that would make a lot more money than doing this. Why do you keep doing this thing? If you hate it so much? It's strange. Yeah, but you know, it's like writer's block.

BLKBOK  30:45  
You know, one of the things I learned was that writer's block is simply the, the feeling that you may create something insignificant. So the idea is that writers, right. So for me, consecutive days work for me, if I'm writing a piece, I want to be consecutive, you know, get it done in, you know, nine or 10 days, or seven days, or 20 days, however long it takes. But the same thing is posting to the public and letting them know, you know, actually, what's happening as this piece progresses, as it grows.

Brian Heater  31:18  
I know a lot of artists generally, certainly live musicians I talked to have a very love hate relationship with social media, a lot of them feel obligated to do it. And a lot of them are worried about the influence that that kind of real time feedback gives them in that I've got this, you know, specific artistic vision, and am I just doing this to, you know, to cater to people on my just giving the people what they want? Is there? Is there a little bit of that push and pull with your process?

BLKBOK  31:59  
I wouldn't. I think the push and pull with the with the writing and creative stuff, it does, I don't have that. But social media, to me is something completely separate from what I do. As far as writing and being a composer. I think social media is a is a whole other, it's another genre. Honestly, being able to serve the social audience in that way is different than being able to, you know, then writing new compositions. I don't feel like the push and pull happens on the creative side on the composer side. On the social media side, it's just think that push and pull happens with, you know, what will be something that resonates with people, you know, so it's, you know, you always ask the question, what do you think will resonate with with this audience? And then usually, in the end, I end up doing whatever I feel anyway, so I'm kind of like a vigilante in that way, like, and if it resonates with you, great. If it doesn't, that's fine, too. You know, I don't expect to get, you know, 400 million likes on a particular post. It's never a goal. You know, for me, it's not that desperate. I'm not thinking about those goals, like how many likes am I going to get or how many followers I'm going to get? It's more about let me just put out something that I think is fun, and I think that people will relate to

Brian Heater  33:22  
on the compositional side. It's not about soliciting real time feedback from people.

BLKBOK  33:27  
No, not really. No, it's more about just expressing myself in you know, letting people kind of see the journey as it unfolds. Were

Brian Heater  33:38  
your parents musical, or are your parents musical?

BLKBOK  33:42  
My mother's side of the family is very musical. So I have my grandfather's name is honeymoon Garner. He has a

Brian Heater  33:50  
great name. Yes, such a great name.

BLKBOK  33:52  
He's has a note on the Walk of Fame in Memphis on the Memphis Beale Street Walk of Fame. I have another uncle who was a tap dancer with Gregory Hines, and Sammy Davis Jr, another uncle who was a saxophonist with the Count Basie band. My mother was a flutist every my sister is a pianist as well. So all the music comes from my mom's side. My dad's side. We're very organized. He's a computer person. So that comes in handy as well. flutist

Brian Heater  34:18  
keep popping up my radar recently. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's a Lizzo effect or something. But it just seems to be like in the arrogant. Yeah, it's

BLKBOK  34:25  
the Lizzo Andre 3000 effect. You know,

Brian Heater  34:28  
that was an interesting one for me. You know, I love the outcasts like every other human being on Earth, but yeah, I don't know. That's, we don't need to go too far down this because it's not super relevant this conversation but I'm curious to get your take on it because it like, to me it felt like somebody obviously he's, you know, kind of trying this stuff out and he's not, you know, he's not an expert who's been, you know, playing classical music his entire life. And it seems like a lot of the heavy lifting was done in the production.

BLKBOK  35:00  
I just think this is a great way to express yourself in another way. I think, you know, we all have it, you know, we're not going to stay the same. And I believe that this is a new iteration of who he is. And either again, you can love it, or you can not love it and it's fine. If you love it, then this is for you. If it's not for you, then you know, go listen to the outcasts albums, which are still available. You know,

Brian Heater  35:24  
it's, you know, people talk about like, living your best life like that, that whole thing. And you got one guy playing a flute, the other guy's raising owls, like, she would have just bunch of magical creatures they both came after.

BLKBOK  35:36  
Exactly, yeah. I love that, though, to see just like, you know how people evolve. I love that.

Brian Heater  35:41  
On a related note, it sounds like classical music was something that you were invested in from, from a very early age, and that you kind of moved away from for a while.

BLKBOK  35:51  
Yeah, very true. I sat around age 16 Or so it was just like, you know,

let me see what jazz is all about. So I started studying jazz with some of the I mean, legends in Detroit, some of the jazz masters, like the Marcus Belgrave, and Teddy Harris's and Harold McKinney's. And these, I mean, he's absolute jazz monsters. And I just really went down that rabbit hole for a very long time. And, you know, it just was something that it just was kind of this natural thing, I then start playing with blues bands, and then I started making beats and producing. So I've kind of been this, this fish that's kind of flowed through every part of the ocean. And like, in LA, I played with a rock and roll band, you know, went on tour with all these people. So it's just been a little bit of everything, and what I think now the music that I create is the result of all of these experiences. A lot of times I look at the classical forms, and I look at, you know, the forms and my pieces, and I'm like, Oh, this is exactly like this pop song. You know, it's like a verse pre chorus, chorus, you know, like it's pop form. But with this different take on, I guess what we would call quote, unquote, classical music. So and I hear this every once in a while I'll play something that's really jazzy now be like, oh, there it is, you know, like, I'll hear myself kind of trigger something or something bluesy, or something that it relates to hip hop. So it's just this music is kind of like the, you know, with a departure at a at a young age. And in the return at this age, I returned with a lot more stuff with a lot more like information from other places. So I think that definitely helps in the creation of what I'm doing. Now.

Brian Heater  37:39  
That's very foundational, especially in the case of blues, you know, you're learning this, like, What's the word for like this foundation that you built a house on top of right? Like with blues, it's like 12, bar blues. And then, you know, every flu song, and every rock and roll song that came after was built on it. So it sounds like part of the process is really learning these foundational things, and then determining what to build on top of them.

BLKBOK  38:03  
Very much. So like, and that's been, my experience is, you know, classical foundations, jazz foundations, blues, foundations, raft foundations, pop music, and foundations of pop performance in its foundations, you know, like, all these things that go into making these specific genres. Great. And now, it's just kind of like a whole gumbo of all that stuff. Now, for

Brian Heater  38:27  
two, I think he said, 16, it sounds like eight was really kind of when he really started to hit your stride, which is the same pianists that I was talking to last week, like started at a very young age. And I talked to I talked to a lot of like rock bands. And I'd be like, Yeah, isn't it strange that you've been doing the same thing that you know, you were doing since you were 19? Like most people can't say that. But like, you're essentially doing the same thing that you've been doing since you were four years old? It's wild. Yeah,

BLKBOK  38:54  
it's absolutely Wow. I think about that, too. Like, you know, I've had other little jobs, but I've never not done music. You know, it's been with me, it's been, you know, my companion in life right now. So, you know, and it's the best companion. It's so cool.

Brian Heater  39:09  
So you were doing like recitals? Or what were you doing around those ages? Yeah,

BLKBOK  39:13  
I was doing recitals and competitions and getting scholarships, and, you know, you name what it takes, you know, as a young, classical musician, all all of all of the above, ie, all of the above. So it was pretty exciting. You know, as a kid, I didn't realize what was actually happening, because it's just life. Yeah. Yeah. You know, you're a kid. And you know, you have your piano lesson on Saturday, and you practice throughout the week. And, you know, you have a competition that comes on in a couple months, and you pick your pieces and you start working on them and it is what it is, you know, so for that period of time, I never realized exactly what was going on around me. It's just kind of going through the motions.

Brian Heater  39:54  
Did you get shit from other kids? Oh, of course.

BLKBOK  39:58  
I mean, I grew up on the west side of Detroit like, oh my god, that so the piano room in my house was in the very back was the very back room that was facing the alley. So the kids will come up the alley and they would knock on my window and be like, Yo, you coming outside? I'm like, Nah, I gotta practice. You know, whatever, and they would go play basketball or whatever. So it was one of those things where, yeah, in school? I did. You know, it's not it's not popular. I'm a black kid going to black school playing classical music. Yeah,

Brian Heater  40:30  
if you were inside learning to DJ or to like MC or something like that would be a different story. It's, you're playing this old stodgy like white person who's sick. Yeah,

BLKBOK  40:39  
exactly. And I give a lot, a lot of respect, and a lot of props to my high school, my middle school band director, who's now like a family member to me, Miss Knox, who would have me play these pieces for the class. So very early on, the stage fright thing had to go away, because I was forced by my middle school band director to play and perform in front of these terrible terrifying never

Brian Heater  41:06  
gonna get a worse audience than Yeah,

BLKBOK  41:08  
exactly. You're never gonna get worse audience than middle school kids. And you're playing classical music. So very early on, I learned like, Okay, I just have to go and do what I do. And then, you know, whatever, however they receive, it is how they receive it.

Brian Heater  41:23  
I mean, there must have been some respect coming your way, it just in the sense that you've mastered, like, no, people don't master things at that early age, like, the kids must have been impressed at least. Yeah,

BLKBOK  41:35  
there were some that were impressed. They were, you know, others that weren't, you know, could give less, you know, but it was definitely, like I say, eye opening to see the amount of people that were impressed, you know, because I didn't think anyone would be, you know, I'm like, all these kids are gonna, you're gonna put me through the grinder. And there were some that were very, you know, became I became friends with some because of that. And then some of them were like, the worst of the worst kids to like, some of the worst kids would be like, Man, you really good, we got to make sure we look out for you, you know, and that was one thing I will say is that I grew up the hood kind of protected me, they knew that I had a potential for something great. And it kind of like, like, my friends in middle school wouldn't let me get in trouble with them. They will be like, Nah, you go over there, you know, we're gonna go do this. So I definitely, there was a respect that was gained from some people. And I really, really appreciate that. What

Brian Heater  42:32  
is it specifically that brought you back to classical music?

BLKBOK  42:35  
I had never. Okay, so my, he was my publisher at the time. It's Billy, his name is Billy man, Billy man suggested the end of 2019 that I write a solo piano album. And I literally tell him on the phone, I said, I have no idea what that means. So I had never thought about doing a solo piano album.

Brian Heater  42:57  
I mean, you've listened to a lot of solo piano albums, jazz and classical. And yeah,

BLKBOK  43:01  
but never, you know, never saw myself doing it. I had been touring with, you know, John Mayer and Rihanna. And then I was playing, you know, making hip hop beats on the side. So it was it was never this thing where I was alone. So he pitched the idea to me. And then I started working, I, you know, decided, okay, I don't know what my voice is, I have never discovered my voice. Like, what does you know, my government name? What does Charles Wilson sound like? And my first album, black book was the discovery of that sound. So he

Brian Heater  43:40  
suggests solo piano, and it could have been jazz could have been classical. could have been anything. And just the process through the process of composing and playing. This is where he landed. This is where I landed exactly where you were talking about big boy and an Andre 3000. But there are other hip hop careers that have not turned out as well. In terms of, I don't know, emotional state and stability. You it's it's funny and funny is not the right word. But you know, again, written back in the interviews, you were talking about Rihanna, and one of them and you both mentioned, or you mentioned that you were listening to 808 heartbreaks at the time and like, what a next level of genius Kanye is, obviously, what's your relationship to his music now?

BLKBOK  44:37  
Now, I have no relation to his music, no relationship to his music. And that's because of, I mean, the obvious reasons the downward progression of some of his views and opinions. Talking, for example, yeah, yeah. I just you know, what? Who I am and where I am and where I'm going can't support those type of things. So it's just, you know, that was a moment in time. And I love that those moments like I listened back to, like, I think about I don't listen to anymore, but I think about this times listen to NATO aids and heartbreaks, or any of his albums, and just like, you know, it makes me sad. But it's, I have to be who I am now. And who I am now doesn't support exactly the artists or the human that he's become or becoming.

Brian Heater  45:30  
It's a funny thing, because, like, for me not listening to his last couple of records hasn't been difficult, because I'm just not super interested. But I'm a big Thai dollar side fan, there's that records coming out. And that's gonna be a hard one to not listen to. I

BLKBOK  45:44  
don't know, like, you know, it's, I just can't support it. I know that the humanitarian me says, Oh, my God, this, this doesn't feel right. You know, and I think that's the most important thing is to honor myself and how I feel about a certain situation, or a particular artist, and you know, it's no diss to him. And I hope that you know, this all in the wash, I hope that this makes him a better person, honestly, to be great. People, that would be great, you know, and, you know, this kind of Phoenix Rising situation, I would love that from where

Brian Heater  46:19  
I sit, and this is unfair, but from where he said, he seems like somebody who's off his meds and that's causing a lot of havoc in his life.

BLKBOK  46:27  
I mean, to me, from where I sit, that the yes, you're off your meds, but you need to address the real problem. Like people meds are just there to, to kind of, you know, help, but as well as you're getting the help, you have to address the root. And I feel like there's no no, there's no attention being paid to any of the roots. And in his case, there's no no roots, no trees, no limbs and leaves. No, nothing has been paid attention to he's just kind of off and blowing in the wind. So, you know, like I said, I hope that this is like this happy story story has a happy ending. Because, you know, I was a fan. I definitely was a fan and, you know, the peace on my album, the disillusion of Kanye West speaks to that it's a dirge which is basically my expression of how sad I am that I can no longer be a fan. So, you know, people ask me all the time, like, Oh, is that controversial? I'm like, No, it's not a controversial piece. It's simply an expression of how I feel. Having been a fan and knowing that now I can't support continuing forward

Brian Heater  47:34  
I think there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between him and Elon Musk right now where if if enough people in your life tell you you're a genius, you start to believe it and and that can be a problem. Yeah.

BLKBOK  47:45  
I just for both of them I just you know, more than anything, I hope they get better. I hope that you know, help. I hope they get the help that they need. Hope they get talked to it. Get them a Doctor Thomas, get them a Doctor

Brian Heater  47:57  
Thomas Yeah, she's up for it. She's up for a long time, but she can

BLKBOK  48:01  
definitely fix them up. No problem.