Studio Visit: Shasta 'Klevah' Knox

Studio Visit: Shasta 'Klevah' Knox

Studio Visit is a Q&A with a local artist. Shasta “Klevah” Knox, the MC, designer, "black girl genius" and bar manager at the Canopy Club, where she performs and organizes "The Culture," recently chatted with The News-Gazette's Melissa Merli. 

Tell us about the show you organized for next Sunday at the Canopy Club.

It's called The Culture. It started as an open mic that really allows hip-hop to breathe. I decided to come up with my own show because I know all the rappers in Champaign-Urbana and because I think C-U lacks platforms for hip-hop culture.

I started doing "The Culture" shows the first and 15th of every other month. For the most part, we get 40 to 50 people and around half of them get on the mic and perform. It's a really fun time.

When February came around, I wanted to do something special. I wanted to do something historic with C-U, the Canopy Club and Black Lives Matter. We'll have live music, live art — the artist this time will be Jameel Bridgewater. Comedian Chris Hightower might host. One goal is to bring together a lot of like minds.

Aren't you showing a film too?

Yes, "Hidden Colors 2: The Triumph of Melanin," starting at 8 p.m. It's the second in a three-part documentary series, and I'm showing it because it's the most moving to me. It really digs deep into black history. I feel it will give people the push to connect more with themselves and with people who look like them. It's going to be a long night. If people come for the film, they get into the whole open mic for free. After 10 p.m., it will be a $3 cover.

You went to Urbana High and the UI, right?

Yes, I graduated from Urbana High in 2008. I majored in rhetoric and sociology at the UI.

Did you live in New York at one time?

When I was at the UI, I was in a "Spring in New York at NYU" program that allowed me to take whatever classes I wanted. So I took a lot of music courses and others that would transfer. I stayed in Greenwich Village and Brooklyn and I interned at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in Manhattan, which is renowned. It really gave me a model to use if I ever had my own venue or open mic event.

You've put out two albums. (The Daily Illini put the second on its list of the five best local albums of 2014.)

The first was "W8," and the second, "Golden." I'm part of TheGr8Thinkaz, a hip-hop media collective. Everything on the album is completely in-house with TheGr8Thinkaz. I wrote the lyrics. It's very hip-hop, very reflective of early '90s hip-hop. I would also say it's very raw, emotional and unapologetic — and universal.

Who do you think are the best rappers in C-U?

T.R.U.T.H. — she's definitely one of my influences. Of course, TheGr8Thinkaz. It seems like we're all doing it together.

What well-known musicians do you feel are an influence on you?

Lupe Fiasco, Erykah Badu, J. Cole, A Tribe Called Quest is a big one.

How would you describe the hip-hop scene in C-U?

It would say it's not platformed. I think it's supported by a lot of musicians and a lot of local venues. But I think it leaves it up to the artist to leave town or go viral.

It's really difficult to get people to come out. It's just really hard to build a lot of hype around it.

I've performed in Chicago and a lot of people come out just to see you or to say, "I was there.' You don't get that in C-U.

I feel Pygmalion — I was lucky to perform at the 2013 Pygmalion — and other festivals should have hip-hop sets, something that platforms hip-hop musicians the same way the other artists are. I would like "The Culture" to be one of the things you go to create that space.

I do see support from unexpected places. When I started performing in downtown Champaign, I saw we were drawing a white hip-hop audience. It was great, but I think there needs to be a blending of cultures so we can all learn from each other.

You're also a designer?

I design graphics. I design clothes. I design my life. I have a very creative approach to everything. That's why I say "designer." When I have an event, I design the space so it's different than any other open mic space. I like to make people feel a certain way.

Topics (2):Music, People