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A man with a guitar speaks into a microphone in front of a brightly-colored mural
Christylez Bacon. Photo courtesy of Christylez Bacon.

Homegrown Plus: Christylez Bacon’s Progressive Hip Hop

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In the Homegrown Plus series, we present Homegrown concerts that also had accompanying oral history interviews, placing both together in an easy-to-find blog post. (Find the whole series here) We’re continuing the series with a concert and oral history with Christylez Bacon)

Back in June, we hosted a special Homegrown concert here at the Library of Congress featuring Washington, D.C.’s own progressive hip-hop and roots music star Christylez Bacon. Christylez Bacon is a Grammy nominated progressive hip-hop artist and multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar and hand drums but excels particularly at the human beatbox (oral percussion). He also continues the oral tradition of storytelling through his lyrics and song introductions. As a special treat, Christylez brought along his friend Uasuf Gueye. Also a D.C. native, Uasuf descends from a family of West African oral historians and musicians known as Nguewel, Diali, or Jeli. We presented Christylez and Uasuf as part of Live! at the Library, the series featuring extended visiting hours and special programming every Thursday night. It was also part of the Juneteenth celebrations at the Library of Congress and was presented in cooperation with the Folklore Society of Greater Washington. Like other blogs in the Homegrown Plus series, this one includes a concert video and a video interview with the featured performer (in this case Christylez Bacon), plus links and connections to Library of Congress collections.

Christylez was very gracious to step in at short notice when another musician was unable to come to Washington. The concert was our first show back in the Coolidge Auditorium after some needed repairs to the storied concert hall. As I pointed out to the audience that evening, the Coolidge Auditorium stage has been a place where Black music history has been made for decades. Eighty-five years ago, Jelly Roll Morton recorded nine hours of song and speech for Alan Lomax in the Coolidge, in what we believe to be the first extended oral history with a musician recorded in audio form. Those interviews, which are foundational to our understanding of jazz history, wrapped up in the week of Juneteenth, 1938. On December 20, 1940, Josh White and the Golden Gate Quartet performed in the Coolidge in what we now consider to be the Library’s first Folklife concert. We have since used the Coolidge to present such groundbreaking roots artists as Corey Harris and Phil Wiggins, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Ranky Tanky.

A an holds a musical instrument and speaks into a microphone.
Uasuf Gueye shows the audience the underside of his bala, an instrument he built himself. The spherical objects lining the bottom are gourds, which serve as resonators for the vibrations of the keys, which are the wooden bars on the top of the instrument. Photo by Stephen Winick.

For Juneteenth 2023, we were particularly happy to present a concert showing the connections between hip-hop and African traditional music. During the concert, Bacon explained the background of human beatbox and its place in hip-hop, while Gueye explained his own instrument, the bala or balafon, a tuned percussion instrument related to xylophones and vibraphones. Together and separately, the two master musicians entertained and educated our audience in a manner most appropriate for a Library of Congress concert. Watch the concert in the player below!

During the interview, Christylez told me a little about his life growing up in Washington, D.C., and how his path led him to the stage of the Coolidge Auditorium. We talked about the musical soundtrack of his life, his discovery of human beatbox as an art form, and his musical development as a vocalist and guitarist. We talked about his mentors, who include Tim Jones, Bomani Armah, and Cathy Fink, and about his participation in the Strathmore Artist in Residence program. We discussed his collaborations with many folk musicians, and how hip-hop fits into the larger categories of pop and especially folk music. We even talked about how his sense of style informs his clothes as well as his music. Watch our wide-ranging discussion in the player below!

 

Collection Connections and Links

A man writes with a pen while speaking into a microphone.
Christylez Bacon collects words from the audience to use in an improv freestyle rap, demonstrating the verbal and intellectual skills that go into hip-hop performances. Photo by Stephen Winick.

Here you’ll find links relating to Christylez and Uasuf’s music, as well as links to Library of Congress collection items and other archival collections connected to their songs and the traditions they draw upon.

Christylez Bacon Connections and Links

First of all, find Christylez Bacon online here.

Christylez visited AFC as an participant in the Strathmore Music Center Artist in Residence Grad School in 2022.  Find an account of that visit at this link.

In our interview with National Heritage Fellow Billy McComiskey and friends, Billy’s son Sean mentioned Christylez as one of his favorite musical collaborators. Read about that at this link.

The American Folklife Center has featured several programs on hip-hop history and culture:

Uasuf Gueye Connections and Links

First of all, find Uasuf Gueye’s website here.

The American Folklife Center has featured several programs related to West African musical traditions and particularly the Nguewel, Diali, or Jeli tradition that Uasuf trained in:

Thanks!

As always, thanks for watching, listening, and reading! The American Folklife Center’s Homegrown Concert Series brings music, dance, and spoken arts from across the country, and some from further afield, to the Library of Congress. The idea of the Homegrown Plus series is to gather concert videos, video interviews with the musicians, and connections to Library of Congress collections together in one place for our subscribers. (Find the whole Homegrown Plus series here!)

For information on current concerts, visit the Folklife Concerts page at Concerts from the Library of Congress.

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