In spring 2020, Gray-Kontar invited 20 young people from Cleveland connected to Twelve Literary Arts to share their poems at an open-mic Zoom conference. Wallace, who lived near Washington, DC at the time, listened to the call in an effort to select a range of poems depicting a myriad of voices, cadences, and tones.
“Hey Hood” by Tiyana Williams explored the reconciliation of personal identity with the negative perceptions of others of their Cleveland neighborhoods.
Deija Vinson’s “Red Line Kid” spoke of an individual’s ability to dream about government-sponsored divestment in predominantly black Cleveland zip codes.
Wallace invited a few of these poets to a follow-up session to have them proofread their poetry on the music he had prepared.
“I knew when you read words to music like Lee Morgan and Alice Coltrane it would conjure up more layers of meaning and that’s exactly what happened with those poems,” Wallace explains.
Gray-Kontar and Wallace emerged with seven recorded poems that served as their appeal to artists. They uploaded the recordings online with instructions for contributors to use the poems to submit their work. Leveraging his many contacts across Cleveland, Gray-Kontar called, emailed, and posted on social media to create the widest possible network to attract talent.
“I wanted everyone to hear about this project, from musicians and singers to beatmakers,” says Gray-Kontar. “We were hoping people would notice. “
They received a slew of submissions from artists including Fernandez, Cleveland keyboardist Eli Hanley and hip-hop artist Tommy Sheridan, all of whom uploaded a wide range of possible sounds – from jazz to folk and soul. For Gray-Kontar and Wallace, it wasn’t about finding finished works, but rather about seeking limitless possibilities for collaboration.
“Take Tommy Sheridan, who is called Broken Keys,” says Gray-Kontar. “His musical dexterity overwhelmed us and that is the subject of these submissions: What can you look like?”
Through the submission process, a network of interdependent Cleveland artists began to emerge. While none of the initial songs submitted were on the final album, Gray-Kontar and Wallace were introduced to a network of talent they immediately wanted to introduce, from singer Jessica Yafanaro to melodic and funky Malik Hayes, known under the name of 2ssaint. , and Cathalyn Roberts, lead singer and bassist for The Katy, all of whom ended up performing on the album.
“There are a lot of extremely talented, skilled and gifted artists who are not heard enough because Cleveland speaks to me in a low voice,” Barrett explains. “It was an incredible opportunity to be part of an album that makes Cleveland feel like it’s screaming for something.”