Dominique Stevenson has been a very public figure in Bloomington-Normal this year. He founded the youth-based Next Gen Initiative. The social-justice group initiated several marches and education forums in the Twin Cities this summer.
In the album's fourth song, which is titled “Closer," Stevenson addresses the impact of him of being very public as an activist.
Man I’m getting close I feel the opposition
Funny how they thought the hate could stop the mission.
Yeah right, this time we’re fighting for freedom
I see the light never thought I’d be in this position.
I got my whole city looking at my disposition.
- “Closer” by V8 Vast Change
Stevenson feels the public scrutiny of his activism has been portrayed accurately in the media or social media.
“Yeah, I think everybody that has come out has done a good job of using proper quotes in the right spots and you know, getting good, good pictures and things that depict the positive angle that we're trying to take in all this,” said Stevenson.
So, what does the opening line reference?
“People have their agenda that they want to follow. I've gotten a couple messages from people that are like, ‘Hey, you should have been at this event,’ like cussing me out and stuff like, ‘There's more you should be doing … you guys are slacking … you should step down, let somebody else pick up.’”
Stevenson apologizes for nothing and suggests critics, even allies, should start their own group.
“One person is like, ‘We need billboards up in Bloomington about racist cops.’ That's not in my heart to do. I don't want to put up billboards about racist cops. If you got the money to do it, go ahead and do it. But I don't want my name to be attached to that, because it's not on my heart to do,” challenged Stevenson.
Somewhat surprisingly, he hasn’t been targeted with racist messages for his summer activism. But he has heard from plenty of people with the same social justice goals that aren’t into his approach.
“People want me to either be more aggressive, or they want me to be out more,” explained Stevenson. “And they don't understand that I have a wife. I have a daughter. I have a full time job. I have another career that I'm working on. I still train for football (he has played for Bloomington’s professional indoor football team). I can't be at every single event. But what I want to do is take a step back and make sure that everything that we go to is impactful.”
“Believe in Yourself and “Black Anthem” lead off “Civil Disobedience” and have a similar theme: self-affirmation. Stevenson said the message is directed both internally and externally.
“Yeah, I feel like we all need that speaker from a Black perspective. Growing up in a predominantly white society … it’s easy for you to forget your worth, or to downplay the beautiful creation that God created - which is you. I guess it's more angled towards kids. But adults can really feel that message as well.
Woke up this morning I’m tired but I’m still thanking God
Yeah I’m young and I’m Black and I’m really beating odds
By staying evenly balanced mind, body, and soul
I’m positive the negative will never take my soul
Unless I give the devil power with the words I say
- “Believe in Yourself” by V8 Vast Change
“I saw a video on Facebook of a little Black girl crying because somebody was doing her hair and they called her beautiful,” said Stevenson. “And she was like, ‘No, I'm not.’ She's like, ‘You are beautiful,' Don't say that.’ And the little girl started crying. Like … what does a little girl know about not being beautiful? That really hit me in my core, because my daughter is three. So, I'm like, ‘OK, gotta write this on believing in yourself’ when I found the beat. I'm like, ‘This is perfect for what I'm feeling right now.’”
He said the motivation behind “Black Anthem” was to write something to lift up the Black community.
“In the second verse, I give a little shoutout to like … I guess people are calling them allies now that are standing with the Black and brown community … but I just really wanted to write something that can make people bounce around … the drum in it are crazy … and just really lift people up and give them that inspiration,” said Stevenson.
The opening line to “Black Anthem” is: “Pro-Black isn't anti-white.” It’s a song where Stevenson continues to pound his mantra that everyone needs to understand each other.
“Because right now people feel like if you support Black people, then you're racist against white people. And if you don't support Black Lives Matter the movement, then you're racist against Black people. But it's not really like that, but people feel like they have to choose between those two narratives. So, I just felt the need to on the second track of the album to go ahead and say, ‘pro-Black isn’t anti-white,’ but I got to lift my people up,” said Stevenson.
He agreed that “Civil Disobedience” is a step-up from his previous albums in quality, production, and focus. That production includes vocals where he had contributions from many people, including what sounds like full choirs at the end of the closing tracks “Persevere” and “Overcomer.”
“I've always writing singing parts because I hear it in my head, but I can't sing … I can't do it,” laughed Stevenson, who quickly credited Sophia Bill, Emily Johnson, Monica Zoss, and Laura Borth for filling out the choir.
What is the importance of a heavier emphasis on singing compared to previous releases?
“Singing hits the soul differently,” explained Stevenson. You can rap and get your point across, but when you add singing, it plays the strings of a heart. So, ‘Persevere’ and Overcomer’ have choirs at the end, and you don't expect the choir to come in when it comes in. So, I'm like, ‘I just got to add this part in … I can't take this out. It'll really touch somebody's heart.”
It’s not going to happen overnight
But if we just don’t give up
We’re going to see that day
- “Persevere” by V8 Vast Change
The songs on “Civil Disobedience” mostly focus on social justice, but Stevenson hasn’t forgotten to give a nod to his wife. He said “Kompa” is a Haitian dance style, as well as a music genre.
“The reason this song was important for the album is because Black people … and other cultures as well … but I'm speaking from a Black perspective today … when we go through struggles and hard times, we tend to party. You see jokes about it all the time on social media, how ‘this is America, that music video, they're dancing through the whole music video while people are walking around them with guns and things like that.’ Because that's what we do in our community. We make dances to laugh and relieve stress. He said that’s what “Kompa” represents on this album.
“It's supposed to be a breakaway from all of the social injustice and then it goes into … my wife is Haitian … I always want to show love to my family on the east coast and I actually sent the song to them before it came out just to get their approval on it,” said Stevenson.
The album closer “Overcomer” gets at a recurring theme in Stevenson’s music and public comments. He acknowledges and details the damage systemic racism has done in America, yes, but also hints that anyone can overcome that. He acknowledges that can be a conflicting message.
“I spoke with a young man after our first big march (with the Next Gen Initiative). He had a lot of anger and hurt in his heart. And he's like, ‘Why are you taking this approach? Do you honestly believe that we can overcome years of being oppressed? And every time one of our leaders starts to do something, and we start to follow it, they end up dead.’ We just had to have a heart to heart moment. And I wouldn't say that we saw each other's perspective at the end of it, but we both just had to agree like, ‘OK, that's how you feel about this, how I feel about it.’ And we respected that about each other, and we shook hands and we went home,” said Stevenson of the encounter.
He questions the point of living long if all one is doing is blending in, as he believes it important to make waves in life when injustice is encountered.
“It's important for you to stand up and say, I'm willing to take on whatever this brings, because it's the right thing to do,” said Stevenson. “And I'm ready for good or bad results. So, in ‘Overcomer,’ I just want people to really soak that message in and know there are multiple ways you can go about life, and that you can go about change. But it's important that we keep our integrity, and that we don't give in to what the enemy is trying to do in our life. Just about everything I do has a spiritual undertone to it. All of this is on a spiritual level. It's a heart thing. So we need people to examine their hearts in order for us to overcome all of these things … In order for us to move forward, it has to start on a heart level,” he finished.
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