Dominique Stevenson is a very visible Twin City activist who uses his music to spread a message of unity and encouragement. He was on the front lines of social justice marches last summer and even founded the youth-based advocacy group Next Gen Initiative.
But the hip-hop artist known as V8 Vast Change says this time, his new album "Life" is as much a pick-me-up for himself as it is encouragement to others. You can hear he’s at a crossroads, but doesn’t quite know how to move forward.
The album opens with the song “Passion.”
Sick of sleeping on my mama’s couch and ready to move out
Notice a couple ways to leave but I don’t know the route
Cause I’m young and got a baby now and gotta be smart
Cause what I think she won’t remember she’ll hold deep in her heart
“But one thing I do know is I can do what I’m passionate about,” said Stevenson. “And believe if I’m doing what I’m passionate about, other things are going to work themselves out.”
Passion is what you do
It’s more than talking about it, it’s the way that you move
So how many dreams are you gonna let through
And how many dreams are you gonna let snooze
Stevenson says that passion comes from his parents, who he said would ask he and his brother deep questions, and even at 5 or 6 years old instilling them with ideas of leadership. He says that passion also comes from his church background.
“If you study Jesus in the Bible, he was consistently helping people. Giving wisdom … teaching … picking people up and just constantly trying to be a positive force in the world. I admire qualities like that,” explained Stevenson.
He references his morning devotion in “Passion.”
Beat the sun up early in the morning, do a quick devotion
And approach it, that’s the potion
But his instinct for unity also hints at Jesus’s command to love your enemies.
Love to the enemy is potent
So I spread it eagerly so enemies are free from me
“At lot of time in life, we respond to hate with hate, thinking that’s what that person deserves," said Stevenson. “And that’s a natural human response. But unfortunately, you have to counteract certain emotions and actions and the only way to counteract something is to put the opposite in front of it. Otherwise it just continues to build.”
Stevenson says he’s always felt enemies over his shoulder due to his outgoing nature and for fearlessly calling out wrongdoing.
“As I made it to this stage in my life, it’s a little more in my face and in certain ways more threatening. But I don’t feel that pressure and it doesn’t affect me like it would have if I wouldn’t have learned those lessons throughout my childhood,” said Stevenson.
As he implores his listeners in “Passion” to follow their passion in life, he ends with encouragement that turns into an admonishment.
C’mon. You can do it.
Wake up … Wake Up!
“If we can get people to acknowledge what they are passionate about and not be afraid to go out and get and work for it and try it … instead of being afraid of failing and being uncomfortable … I think this world would dramatically change,” said Stevenson.
He said the album was designed to connect one song to another, so the admonishment that ends “Passion” is followed by a weary sigh that opens the title track. Stevenson says it comes from ignored advice, which he offers in spades.
“Maybe it goes undervalued when you try to uplift people or wisdom to help them out,” said Stevenson.
Life, what do you know about life?
What do you know about all of the power that’s really held deep in your mind?
Why do you constantly lie about all the success you had in your life?
What do you know about all of the power that Jesus put in your mind?
Jesus is a recurring theme in the music of V8 Vast Change and informs the values Stevenson assimilates as he tries to bridge the divide between contentious constituencies. Be it Black Lives Matter vs. law enforcement or wayward young people he reaches out to, Stevenson has taken a leadership role in Bloomington-Normal through his activism and music, the two becoming increasingly intertwined. He’s become a sort of combination of minister, counselor, mentor, and back-slapper. It might seem that politics is a logical next step.
“It’s funny you bring that up right now, because a lot of talk came about it in my circle when all the marches were going on (last summer.) Some people were posting on Facebook that they wanted me to run. As of right now, it does not fit that track I have myself on right now,” said Stevenson, though he admits he’s joked with his wife about running for mayor.
“But I feel I’d be most effective challenging other people to vote and to run through the platform I’m building with music and social justice,” said Stevenson.
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