"Stop Killing Us" Arizona Artists Unite for the Culture

Updated: Aug 10


Photo by Melissa Zieske


The black plight in America isn't new, but it has been making the news in response to public outcry and disgust with systematic racism, police brutality, prejudice, white supremacy, and other things that foster hate in our communities.


Unless you've been in a pineapple under the sea, you've seen that the world has been in a very unique place. Communities are vulnerable, economies are being compromised, people are freaking out. Covid-19 has greatly impacted places all over the globe. 2020 has been the equivalent of an endless drop on a roller coaster.

Quarantine has people frustrated, cooped up and on edge. The death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis Police custody made things really hot in our cities. Across the globe, different countries, organizations, and people are finding ways to stand with people of color during these times. The voices may not be all saying the exact same thing, but at the core they want America to live up to it's name. And many others want to see the arrests of Brett Hankison, Jon Mattingly, and Myles Cosgrove for the death of Breonna Taylor.


Deeper conversations are being had to include equality for all people of color, minorities, and members of protected classes, because at the end of the day, people should be treated fairly and with love and respect.


Oddly enough, there are groups taking a stand against POC's desires for equality and to see justice play out in real time. We are seeing people show out all over social media, in front of their homes, at rallies, and the list goes on. But some of that chaos can be attributed to the way the media presents the movement. Depending on what station you tune in to, your perception of what's going on outside could be skewed. Some outlets will have people believing that Black Lives Matter wants to eradicate all police, take all the guns, and take over the world town by town. But, when we say Black Lives Matter, we are not saying that other lives don't. There is a lot of binary and political terminology being placed on issues that don't require a party, just a conscience.

Photo by Melissa Zieske - The Rebel Lounge - Phoenix Arizona


One man decided that he'd use his resources and buzz in the city to help members of the community heal and connect creatively. Filled with emotion from seeing city streets across the U.S and overseas filled with people in support of justice, he started thinking of what he could do.


Ashton Vaughn Charles, originally hailing from San Bernardino, CA, comes from a background of Classical music, Neo-Soul, and West Coast Hip Hop. He is an amazing Musician, Human and member of a local band that has the hearts of the Downtown Phoenix Community. The Color 8 Band, is a collective of artists that use their platform to spread love and unity. If you've ever been to a show, you may have heard one of them say "Color represents diversity and the 8 is for infinity, we make music for all different types of people." -- http://ashtonvaughncharles.com/


As a black man in America, specifically in Arizona, we know that Ashton has a perspective that many people in our community share. We were eager to learn what really inspired him to create this project. We asked him a few questions about unifying this crazy cast of creatives, for a project that is so necessary and timely.


RM: Rooted Minds

AVC: Ashton Vaughn Charles


RM:What moved you to create this project as opposed to doing something yourself or with a smaller group?

AVC: When all of the recent murders (by law enforcement AND by common racist citizens) were beginning to surface, I attended a peaceful protest with my sisters. It was a Sunday.

I remember feeling so HEAVY with the weight of emotional, spiritual, and mental anguish, because the pain you feel when you watch someone die as a result of a senseless murder is incomparable.


But at the protest, the weight was heavier, yet somehow lighter, because there were more there to carry it with us. 


The next day, the ideas just began to flow, and, by Tuesday morning, I had the concept, instrumental, structure, and hook all ready to be recorded.

I called KNova over that same day (because his voice was what was needed to make such a powerful piece happen.


He came over, we tweaked the hook to work for his voice, laid it down (pushing one another to perfect it), and we were both in tears by the end of the session.

In that moment, I knew it wasn't just going to be a simple 3 minute song. 

I started calling everyone whom I knew could bring life to the project, and the rest is history.

RM: What would you like non-people of color to take away from the project?

AVC: Let go of the part of yourself that refuses to acknowledge the truth about systematic prejudices. They exist, and YOU benefit from it. 


You were not the one who laid the foundation, however, the very system that your ancestors created is one that still keeps your foot in our neck.


But, most importantly to note, we are no longer arguing to convince you that our lives matter.

RM: What's next? (for the project and/or the movement)

AVC: The project is only one form of expression, and I hope that it invokes something within the listener, something that will spark the next one. 


This project is merely a conduit for transcendental progress.


In regards to what's next for the movement, to me, the main focus is to keep going. 

We tend to get upset, make a bit of noise, then we quiet down, and are subsequently (passive-aggressively) silenced by the facade of progression.


What once was a roaring flame is now reduced to a mere whimper.

Keep the fire ignited, there's plenty of fuel.


Take action, strategically so.


Do your research, and DO NOT STOP.


Why would one stop right on the frontier of the next steps?

RM: What was the best part about bringing this to life?

AVC: The best part to me was to see every single artist bring so much of themselves to create this masterpiece, yet each and every one of them understanding that this is bigger than any one of us.


The beauty in that is knowing that self-love IS taking care of one another, because (regardless of what one believes) we are all connected.


Every artist on this body of work brought their EVERYTHING, from the musicians to those in charge of photography/cinematography.


This piece is so powerful because the artists bared their souls, and there is power in vulnerability.

On to the Music

(front cover)

SKU is a powerful song that is rich in emotion and intention. From the instrumental to each artists' perspective, we can feel the energy behind this project. From the ominous sounds at the start to the different cadences and approaches the artists came with; these stories hit home!


SKU, is an acronym for Stop Killing Us --- a creative take on a culmination of perspectives from community members and their experience with systematic oppression and police brutality -- a SKU is more widely known as a 'stock-keeping unit' or the scannable barcode on items we purchase.


Connecting the title to the cover art draws the parallel between black bodies being treated as property or products to be sold. From the art work alone we see the artists lined up similar to a barcode. With the numeric code to connect to historic dates in our country. The first is 1619 which symbolizes, how in 1619, a ship carrying enslaved Africans arrived in the English colony of Virginia. The next is 1865, when slavery was abolished in America. And lastly, 2020, where we are today.


SKU addresses the questions of "What is the value of a black life and who gets to decide that? " This comes in response to almost a decade worth of watching cell-phone footage of black and brown bodies being killed by police. Which was originally preceded by 400 years of mistreatment and oppression of people of color. Now the grand-children and great-grand children of slaves are at a point where they've reached the threshold of what they are willing to tolerate. Our ancestors fought, worked, and endured so much hate so that we can be where we are today. And for us to be here in this moment, says a lot.

LISTEN:

Part 1 of 3

Ashton Vaughn Charles - SKU, Pt. 1 (feat. Knova, Eddie Wellz, Sahar the Star, PK Tha Poet & Lauriel)

1,000+ views Premiered Jul 23, 2020

The first movement in a 3-part piece.


Link to Part 1 Lyrics: https://genius.com/Ashton-vaughn-charles-sku-pt-1-feat-knova-eddie-wellz-sahar-the-star-pk-tha-poet-and-lauriel-lyrics


Ashton Vaughn Charles SKU, Pt 1 feat Knova, Eddie Wellz, Sahar the Star, REACTION

150+ views Jul 24, 2020


Part 2 of 3

Ashton Vaughn Charles - SKU, Pt. 2 (Fransisco Phoenics, Lewis Santana, Leewater, Qosmic Qadence, Stone on Sax)

171 views


Reacting to “Ashton Vaughn Charles “ SKU Part ll

Whats up DiVoyeINC Gang So today I'm reacting to my good friend Ashton Vaughn Charles Sku Part II This was such a creative project that I was very excited to share with you all so we could all experience this BLACK EXCELLENCE together let me know what you all think in the comments and dont forget to like this up and SUBSCRIBE!! XOXOXOX -DiVoy'e

What Next!?


Research

Our communities look different and for many of us the experiences are different. So it is important to look at where you are, what's going on near you, and how your action or inaction impacts others. If you feel you don't know enough, it's best to read, research, and have conversations with people that can help you gain perspective.


Dialogue

Healthy conversations can lead to understanding. Our country is in a vulnerable place and thanks to our education system, everyone doesn't have access to the same information about American History or they have a skewed view of what the experience has been for people of color. Continue to harbor healthy dialogue within and outside of your circle. But do so with empathy and understanding.


Action

The simplest way to get involved is by sharing valuable information and amplifying the voices leading the charge. Another way to get involved is to view sites like change.org that offer petitions and more information for folks looking to get involved and make a difference from a distance. In addition to that, you will be linked with options to donate and fundraise for the causes. We recommend that you look deeper and do extensive research about the organization that you are donating to, to be sure that your support is going to the right places.


Community

Engaging with your community is always a healthy way to make a change. Be present, volunteer, host events, continue to find ways to build community. The better relationship the community has with each other the stronger the trust and respect in that area.

Here are the people involved in bringing this to life!

(back cover)

With so many skilled artists connected to this project, it is important that we carve out a section to shine a light on all of them and provide you with some links to their pages. Most of these artist we know or have a relationship with, so we will drop some notes and info about them as well. We were lucky enough to grab a few quotes from the project participants, check it out below.


🎤 Vocalists/lyricists:

@AshtonVaughnCharles (@TheColor8Band)

Photo by Melissa Zieske

Ashton Vaughn Charles (The Dapper Rapper) of the collective The Color 8 uses the platform to spread love, unity, and acceptance across the masses.


With almost 300 views checkout our full Take Root & Grow feature on Ashton: https://www.iamrootco.com/post/take-root-and-grow-ashton-vaughn-charles-pt-1




@The_Real_KNova

Photo by Melissa Zieske

A vocalist with a unique voice. He brought so much energy and passion to the song SKU. We've gotten to witness him perform a once or twice over the years at Poetic Soul Events. In addition we peeped his feature with Futuristic and the Color 8 Band - Watch here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0Hl-BtLKPg





@EddieWellz (@dropoutkingsaz)

Photo by Melissa Zieske

We have yet to have the pleasure to meet Eddie Wellz, but have been following his music since 2016 with his involvement in Truminati and from there we've continued to watch the growth. We are looking forward to more from his band, Dropout Kings.

📸 @chuckygrr + 📸: @jesscadenaphotography + 📸: @lionlens_




@SaharTheStar

Photo by Melissa Zieske

Sahar The Star is an emerging voice in the city and her part in SKU was so powerful. We first met her at a 1st Friday Event with The Color 8 Band. She is someone that we see often in the community showing support and being her natural self. Be sure to follow her!


@PKThaPoet

PK is definitely a force in the community. His first show with I Am Root was back in 2013 and since then we've been growing and watching him grow as well. From rap, poetry, music to entrepreneurship and more, he's been continuing to find ways to elevate.



@Oh_ThatsLauriel

Lauriel has one of the smoothest voices in the city, packed with runs, creatives cadences, and versatility. She can rap, sing, write, and do it all. She has a few notable features floating around here, so be sure to check them out.




@TheFransiscoPhx (@iamrootco)

Photo by Melissa Zieske

Brand member Fransisco Phoenics is a host, podcast/radio personality, recording artists, and entrepreneur. He's been a large part of the I Am Root Brand for several years and made a name for himself well before joining our family and events team.

Check out his podcast Rolling With the Rolling Stoner -- www.iamrootco.com/rwrs

I was honored to be a voice on such an important and relevant message. - Fransisco Phoenics

@Kye_Russoul

Kye Russoul is an amazing R&B singer and recording artist who has been making waves in the city every-time he drops. He was on a break from music, but came back better than ever. We've been blessed to be able to work with him several times over the years. Visit https://www.iamrootco.com/post/2020/01/03/spotlight-feature-kye-russoul for our Full Interview with Kye.

In respects to my thought process when I was writing for SKU, some things that helped inspire my verse was just thinking about how far we as BLACK people have come. I thought about how hard we as BLACK people have fought. I had thoughts about how we as BLACK people are STILL fighting. But I also had thoughts about how one day we as BLACK people will have to fight no more. - Kye Russoul


@LewisSantana (@Vibelane)

Photo by Parker Snyder

Vibe Lane's very own Lewis Santana has been on a hot streak with the music and his features. His cadence and flow is mature and he has been doing his thing for some time. He's shared the stage with us at the Rebel Lounge and he always brings good energy. We have a featured interview coming soon with Lewis Santana.




@_________water

Photo by Melissa Zieske

Leewater is probably our favorite artist in the Valley. He's a creative artist with a love and skill for music. He's performed at a number of our events and each time made our shows 2x's better. Checkout our full spotlight feature: https://www.iamrootco.com/post/2019/02/14/rm-spotlight-feature-with-leewater-as-he-releases-the-video-for-flaws

I was literally thinking about a few things: The cause and effect of being desensitized to the loss of black life. And....in terms of race relations....what is the “harvest” look like from the seeds of prior generations. Those thoughts and tangent thoughts of that were on repeat while writing the verse. After talking with Ashton Vaughn Charles - Leewater


@RonnieDijon (@TheMahogany4)

Photo by Melissa Zieske

Ronnie Dijon has been on a consistent upward trajectory since 2015 when he released Mama's House. If you've been paying attention you've seen the growth in the music and confidence. He's also someone who has hit the I Am Root Event Stages a few times. Shout out to him and his group Mahogany 4, stream their music.


@Qosmic_Qadence

Photo by Melissa Zieske

A legend in the game out here in Phoenix, Arizona -- the creator of the household name "Poetic Soul" an arts and cultural experience in the heart of Downtown Phoenix. We were blessed to have him hit our stages over the years.

TravTheWhite interviews Qosmic Qadence at The Grand Central Coffee Company: https://www.iamrootco.com/post/2018/08/01/travthewhitetv-interview-series-qosmic-qadence


@TheJayTatum

Photo by Melissa Zieske

One of the best poets in the city, has an incredible verse and visual for this SKU. She has worked with the I Am Root Events since 2013. She's also done work with Poetic Soul, ASU, and many other places while traveling and doing Spoken Word Poetry. Check out our Take Root & Grow interview with Jay, it almost has over 600 views.



@ChariJoyArtist

She has one of the most unique voices in the Valley. By her demeanor you'd have no idea how amazing her music is. She has thousands of streams of her music and is working to bring more great music and content to the people with her podcast.

I was excited to be apart of a song that is going to make an impact in our community. - Chari' Joy



@DomRootMusic (@iamrootco)

Photo by Melissa Zieske

In an interview with @iris.gl and @stoneonsax, "Dom described receiving the call to be apart of this project a blessing, because of his experience with the subject and to be apart of something big for the culture."

I've had run ins with the police that went well, but I've also had instances where they told me straight up "I wish you would've ran, I was hoping to put a hole in someone" -- This song was my therapy.


@_TheresaLovely

Photo by @lilnoodlehead

A poet and vocalist who has done a lot of work with the I Am Root Brand and many other organizations in the Valley. She has been hitting the stage all over the Valley sharpening her skills and networking with other creatives.

How can I channel what I feel in a way that people will understand. I am a mother and a nurturer who would naturally put myself in their shoes. - Theresa Lovely


@StoneOnSax

Photo by Melissa Zieske - The Rebel Lounge - PHX, AZ

An amazing musician, vocalist, and entrepreneur here in the Valley, doing great work to bring about change in our communities. He also works with DJ Sands to bring Friday Night Live at Culture Corner during Phoenix First Fridays. Stone has worked with our brand in a number of ways and continues to be a blessing to our endeavors.

"As I reflect back on that day, I had reached out to Ashton, at which time he expressed that my call was a confirmation that I was supposed to be on the project. As he has done with it sounds everyone, he said that he'd send me the track, and I need to let him know right away if I want to be on it. As soon as I heard Knova's part, I knew I wanted to be on it, and then Sahar's track firmed that up even more. At the time, these were the only two on the recording.
When I understood the several meanings of SKU, I was impressed with the metaphor considering the times we are in because SKU references a barcode and in many ways, black people in America are often dealt with as if they are subhuman, which can be translated as property. I immediately put some ideas together in my home studio, as I was moved by the melody and the message. 
Because I felt that I'd probably be one of the oldest if not the oldest on the track, I wanted to represent the many years that have been spent in the struggle to achieve social justice. I wanted to convey the many years of fighting that seemed like it had been going nowhere fast. Although there has been some advances, the underlying mechanisms are still at play to keep racism alive and well. and so I wanted to convey that pain of being tired of crying and fighting. Knowing that younger people are taking on the carrying of the torch is an inspiration, and I look forward to us pushing forward in this fight towards social and economic justice with both young and old, black and white and all the colors in between. I genuinely feel honored and privileged to be asked to be on this historic project. This is something special...really special that will resonate throughout history and will always have a special place in each artist's life.
Yes, we have a responsibility to our own community to work towards excellence by supporting one another through the supreme vehicle of love as governed by God, our Creator. But, we also stand strongly as a united creative force through all of the expressions, melodies, and lyrics to send a message within this song, this masterpiece, to say with conviction, STOP KILLING US!" - Stone


@LoveCofey

Cofey in a educator, healer, lover, vocalist, among many other things in our community. She is a part of Drinking Gourd Farms and has been putting in OT during the quarantine. She has worked with the I Am Root Brand in a number of ways and for a long time was our longest supporting Patreon Member. Her studio space recently caught fire, so let's keep her lifted up in prayer during this time.




@StefaniMonet (@iamrootco)

Photo by Melissa Zieske

Everyone's favorite brand Member Stefani Monet is a vocalist and recording artist. She's been on her journey of loving herself and pursuing happiness. She has an amazing voice and we knew she'd be a force when we heard "Feel Me' a few years back.

When Ashton reached out and asked me to be apart of SKU I knew immediately that my answer was YES. This is big for me since I haven’t made any music of my own or even seriously sang a song in a minute. It seems I would naturally be quite hesitant, but no, I KNEW I had to be apart of this one. Originally he sent the idea with only KNova’s part. Whoa, I was blown away. It’s filled with so much pain, passion and raw talent that it almost brings you to tears. It drew me in IMMEDIATELY and remains one of my favorites even now. Overall, SKU displays the raw emotion of many black people at this time and the message is so urgently need. My involvement was never a real question in my mind. - Stefani Monet

🎷Sax:

@AshtonVaughnCharles

@StoneOnSax



🎧 Produced by: @OfficialTruBarz


🎶 Arranged and Composed by:

@AshtonVaughnCharles




🎥 Filmed by: @DirectorTezz

Photo by Melissa Zieske

Martez is a filmaker that is from Detroit and has been going hard in Phoenix, working with many notable artists, designers, and more. Tap in with Director Tezz.


Assisted by:

Anneke Marie - https://www.instagram.com/12.16photography/

Photo by Melissa Zieske


Interviews by:

Iryna Glavnyk - https://www.instagram.com/iris.gl/

Photo by Melissa Zieske



📸 Photographed by: @MelissaZiesk

Melissa is an amazing visual artist and creative director. She is behind a lot of the behind the scenes photos you'll see online from the video shoot and also here in our posts. Be sure to follow her as well and tap in with the work she has done in Phoenix.


Thank you for checking out our article, be sure to stream SKU and leave us a comment letting us know what you think. The song and video should be available soon. If you are not familiar with our community and new to this post, we love and welcome you. Thank you again for your time and engaging with our content. We welcome any questions.


If you'd like more information on how to get involved, we recommend starting in your community. Here is a link for petitions and information available to everyone https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/


Part 1 -

Part 2

Part 3



Here are links to articles that may have been referenced in this article, but also may be helpful for you to check out.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52905408

https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-police-deaths-20160707-snap-htmlstory.html

https://newsone.com/playlist/black-men-boy-who-were-killed-by-police/

http://inthesetimes.com/article/22617/the-long-list-of-names-that-came-before-breonna-taylor-and-george-floyd

https://abc7ny.com/george-floyd-protest-say-her-name-his/6236298/

In honor the lives lost:

Oscar Grant

Philando Castile

Ezell Ford

Stephon Clark

Sandra Bland

Eric Garner

Freddie Gray

Latasha Harlins

Terence Crutcher

Amaudou Diallo

Bettie Jones

Tyisha Miller

Botham Jean

Atatiana Jefferson

Breonna Taylor

George Floyd

Dion Johnson

Trayvon Martin

Laquan McDonald

Tamir Rice

Michael Brown

Dreasjon Reed

Ahmaud Arbery


and so many more


https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/


#blacklivesmatter #stopkillingus #iamrootlifestyle #ashtonvaughncharles #phoenix #arizona #sku #stopkillingus #justiceforall



Related SKU Articles:

https://hiphopsince1987.com/2020/music/sku-arizonas-largest-blm-production-by-ashton-vaughn-charles-from-the-color-8-band/ - by MARIAMYRAINE


https://www.azcentral.com/story/entertainment/arts/2020/07/24/how-phoenix-musician-ashton-vaughn-charles-supports-black-lives-matter-movement-george-flyod/5481968002/ - Elizabeth Montgomery - Arizona Republic

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