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Blackstarkids started small when they were searching for a label partner to release their upcoming album Whatever, Man. But all of labels based locally in the trio’s Kansas City hometown, for whatever reason, were ghosting them. “It got to the point where I emailed maybe 30-40 people,” Ty recalls over a Zoom call sitting next to his bandmates Deiondre and The Babe Gabe. “It’s not even like people were rejecting us, they just didn’t care.” Finally, Ty decided to throw a Hail Mary and send a cold note to the general email address on listed Dirty Hit’s website, label home to The 1975 and Beabadoobee.
Within a day, the group was on the phone with a representative from the label’s A&R department. “We have a cool conversation, but I’m still thinking I’m never gonna hear from them again,” Ty remembers. “[The rep is] like, ‘we’ll be in touch.’ An hour later, the owner DMs us and was like, ‘Yo, I want to sign you guys.’ Dirty Hit were the first people to give us a chance, and no matter what, I really appreciate them for giving us a chance when there was nobody else giving us a chance.” In a modern record label economy that often puts aside gut instinct about a new artist in favor of analytics and trends, the group’s signing sight-unseen to a major indie label is a story more or less of the past. It’s a testament to the instant power that you can feel emanating from the speakers when you click play on “Acting Normal,” the opening track on Whatever, Man, the trio’s first release with Dirty Hit.
The group presents a unique blend of sounds informed by the influences brought to the table by each of its members. When asked about who they were listening to while writing Whatever, Man, they bounce back and forth between genre, era, and aesthetic, name dropping artists like Tame Impala, The Smashing Pumpkins, Clairo, Mac DeMarco, and many more. But, as with many young artists who are making music in the late 2010s, no group was more impactful in the formation of Blackstarkids than Odd Future. “Seeing Black kids make that kind of music, it was like, wow. You can really do whatever you want and create whatever sound you want,” recalls The Babe Gabe. Ty adds, “I just liked the creativity and their expression. And of course, the aesthetic that they had and how much music they put out.” Needless to say, it won’t be long before there is a Blackstarkids sketch show á la Loiter Squad. “It’ll most likely happen,” Deiondre explains with a laugh. “We come up with so many skits as jokes and reenact skits.”
Although they are fresh out of high school, the trio has been making music together for the better part of three years, their collective output prolific and consistent. Ty was first drawn to the aesthetic appearance of his future bandmates: Deiondre’s Instagram presence struck him as impressive, while it was one of the outfits that The Babe Gabe wore to school that caught his attention. Initially, Ty was making music with both Deiondre and The Babe Gabe separately, before they collectively realized that they could combine all their strengths into one project to capture all of their individual talents in one place. Thus, Blackstarkids was born. “There’s a picture of all three of us from before we started the group, too,” Ty remember. “We had no idea we were gonna be a group when the picture was taken.”
The new album Whatever, Man, the trio’s third release in the span of year, feels like a culmination that incorporates all of their influences into one coherent and focused piece of work. The LP is impressive in its scope, and executed with the grace of a veteran group as the members seamlessly flip between melodic vocals and spitting rhymes, with most songs built upon a foundation of hip-hop beats and accented with reverb-soaked guitars and modulated vocals. While the single “Britney Bitch” shows the group’s knack for catchy hooks and more pop-centric song structures, tracks like “Beatrix Kiddo” reveals a more debaucherous undercurrent that will surely come through in the group’s live show when they are able to finally tour behind the record.
All told, Whatever, Man is an album about throwing caution to the wind and having fun with your friends. It was written during what Deiondre calls “a really good time in our lives,” a reflection of the moment when you look around and realize that the people you’ve surrounded yourself with can all be parts of a bigger equation to create something beautiful together. It’s an album best understood and experienced in an active setting, ideally when you are (safely) spending time with friends. In fact, the group has a specific request for listening parameters. It’s important “not to take it too seriously,” Ty instructs. “Don’t just sit all stiff and try to form your opinion.” “Go take a walk and listen to it!” The Babe Gabe adds.
For Blackstarkids, the most important aspect of Whatever, Man — and all of their music — is the listener’s ability to find comfort in the music and lyrics, and relate to the stories being told. Collectively, the group hopes that their growing profile can have the same effect on others that Odd Future had on them, to inspire creativity and serve as inspiration for other young people. “Even if it’s not relatable to me, if I just feel like it’s relatable to somebody because you’re just being real, I respect that,” Ty explains. “You’re necessary to somebody. I think that’s cool. That’s what grabs me.”
The music industry is full of gatekeepers that have held their job for decades, making decisions based on what’s worked in the past. But the definition of success in the music industry is beginning to evolve in a way that it hasn’t before, increasingly defined and dictated by the internet, and young people who take the music and run with it in new and original ways. Things are changing, and the kids are ready to take control. Inspired and invigorated, Blackstarkids will be right there to lead the charge.
Whatever, Man is out October 23 on Dirty Hit. Get it here.