BLACKSTARKIDS Photo by Jake Kelly, courtesy of Press Here Publicity
If you want to see who’s shaking up music these days, head to White Oak Music Hall on Monday, November 15. The downstairs show that evening will feature BLACKSTARKIDS, a Gen-Z trio with a healthy respect for music made before they were born and the keen sensibility to use an array of at-their-fingertips resources to create something fresh and moving. Their music starts from a hip hop epicenter but reverberates with waves of indie rock, punk and pop. Its themes run from the aftershocks of nostalgic days gone by to massive rumblings calling for social change. It’s not easily categorized, which is part of the fun and why it’s measuring loudly on music seismographs.

The show will also feature headliner beabadoobee, a 21-year old sensation with nearly 2 billion streams and late night TV appearances with both Jimmies (Fallon and Kimmel) and 21 year-old Christian Leave, a Texas artist who rose to popularity via the Vine app.  Youth will be served that night, perhaps best by BLACKSTARKIDS. We met by Zoom with the band’s members, The Babe Gabe, Deiondre and TyFaizon, and suggested their vibe recalls acts like De La Soul and Digable Planets. It feels very L.A. or NYC. We were a bit surprised to learn they hail from KCMO and asked how Kansas City influenced their intriguing blend of sounds.

“There is a scene here but it’s not like a uniform scene. Everybody is kind of taking their own influence. It’s not a sound that’s like, ‘Oh, that’s some Kansas City music!’ Everybody is kind of dropping different things,’” TyFaizon said. “There definitely is a cool scene here, there’s a lot of cool people from here.”

But, for the moment, maybe none cooler than BLACKSTARKIDS. The band’s drawn attention from MTV, Billboard and others with their prolific output and song titles like “Frankie Muniz” and “Britney Bitch”, affirming their devotion to all things ‘90s. Their most recent album, Puppies Forever, dropped in mid-October and further unveiled BLACKSTARKIDS’ wide musical influences, artists like Toro Y Moi, Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins and Outkast.

We ask about the nostalgia. Nearly every article posted about the band focuses on this aspect of what they do. TyFaizon said there’s a simple reason they look back to those days with fondness.

“People were just more animated and colorful. That’s just what we kind of miss and what we’re nostalgic about. The fun. Because people aren’t as fun anymore,” TyFaizon said. “It’s like Donald Trump got in office and he was just like, ‘Bro, I will never have fun again.’”

We laughed at the notion of Trump signing an executive order against fun, like in those memes. Speaking of the Internet, we ask whether a band like BLACKSTARKIDS might exist without the access it has to music of all sorts by way of the Web. Are they Napster or LimeWire kids, we wondered?

“I was probably a little bit after Napster. I was doing like Pirate Bay and Kickass Torrents. I’m snitching on myself right now,” TyFaizon said with a laugh. “I remember I heard an MF Doom song so I got on Kickass Torrents and it was like every MF Doom song in just one fucking download. So, I downloaded that and I had like 800 MF Doom songs on my computer.”

They found what they liked via torrents and YouTube and, “It was like SoundCloud for some years,” Deiondre chimed in, with The Babe Gabe adding, “SoundCloud days. Those were good days. Those were great days.”

“It just made everything easier, for kids especially, to get their hands on stuff,” Deiondre said of the Internet’s role in creating BLACKSTARKIDS’ sound. “Not a lot of kids over time wanted to keep buying CDs. When they found out you could just listen to it from home on a computer, they just started doing it that way.

“Even then, there’s been a lot more places to hear music from, like MTV is one of the main places I would hear a lot of old ‘80s songs and ‘90s songs, especially like Nirvana stuff,” Deiondre continued. “And then VH1 and also just watching cartoons, they’d have crazy intro music. Like ‘What’s New, Scooby-Doo?’ That’s legendary.”

At that point, Deiondre was no longer answering our question, but was riffing on music and the unexpected places we hear it and are captivated by it. TyFaizon and The Babe Gabe then mentioned the animated series “Total Drama Island” and “6teen” and TyFaizon sang the hook to the pop punk theme song from the early 2000s cartoon. In an instant, we were privy to a BLACKSTARKIDS band session, an organic and learned give and take about music. It was kind of thrilling hearing these exciting young artists bounce ideas between them.

“I definitely think it would have existed,” TyFaizon returns to the question of whether their music could have formed without online access. “Growing up I never had Internet in my house until I was 15 or something. I loved music and I was genuinely going to CD stores and finding new shit and learning about music. I had hundreds of CDs as a kid. If you really loved it, like we all really loved it, we would have been putting in the work to listen to it.”

TyFaizon said two albums released on the same day - Nirvana’s Nevermind and The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest - are key to the band.

“Those two albums, you blend those together and that’s really at its core the blueprint for BLACKSTARKIDS.”

“I would have to say my dad and my sister. I remember my sister had an iPod Nano before me and I would listen to her music all the time. She had Kanye on there, she had Soldier Boy on there, just all these iconic people,” The Babe Gabe said of building a music literacy. “My dad, he never let me listen to cussing if they were rapping so I listened to a lot of Tribe Called Quest growing up and that definitely influenced me when it comes to rapping just because they were never too crazy with how they did rap, but it was just catchy and chill.”

There’s a punk edge to the band, too. One of the tracks from Puppies Forever is “Piss Drunk Kids,” which conjures images of 90s skateboard bad boys Dustin Dollin and Ali Boulala. The latest single from the album is “All Cops Are Bastards*” and addresses police brutality and abuse of power. The band directed the video.

“There’s so much stuff I’m sure we’ll want to talk about just as time passes,” TyFaizon said. “The message has always been important. We want the group to be fun, we like having fun and shit, but we definitely don’t want it to be a thing like nobody takes it seriously. We definitely talk about a lot of real shit that means a lot to us.”

In that way too BLACKSTARKIDS are further shaping the future of music, hitting on topics their generation finds important with the creative freedom to express without reservation. Puppies Forever is their record to someday look back with their own personal nostalgia on a time when they were young and creating something earthshaking. The band said it’s maintaining even with all the promise and accolades heaped upon them.

“I think we handle it pretty well. It’s a lot easier when you kind of have your best friends in the same situation with you, you can lean on each other in those moments,” The Babe Gabe noted.

And, it helps to remember where you’re from. Not L.A. Not NYC. But, KCMO, where something tectonic is happening with BLACKSTARKIDS.

“We have a downtown, we have a city life. I think people would just assume it’s like cornfields and shit but it’s not. I would say the city has impacted who we are as people because that’s where we’re from and so in that way it has. There is a diversity in the city," TyFaizon said. "The people and the things that we’ve seen here have probably influenced the stuff that we write about and our perspectives.”

BLACKSTARKIDS perform in support of beabadoobee, Monday, November 15 at White Oak Music Hall, 2915 N. Main. With Christian Leave. Doors at 7 p.m. for this all-ages show. $18-$20.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.