Golden Souljahs Records is a family affair that hopes to elevate music to "a golden standard." Co-CEO Mark Stewart, aka DJ Knighteyez, first met his partner and now co-CEO Lauren Black when they were in school at Manual High School. Black, aka Miss Aphrodite, sang for a talent show, and from there, Stewart knew he would collaborate with her.
“I was looking for a singer,” Stewart says. “She sang in a talent show and swept me off my feet. I was like, ‘That’s our singer.’ Luckily, her little brother ended up being my favorite rapper, so it all worked out for me."
Black’s younger brother, Jeremiah Black, aka Young Teach, is Golden Souljahs' president. Together, the three hope to create music that is different from the mainstream music playing on the radio. The trio is collaborative: Stewart produces beats for Lauren to sing on, and Jeremiah sometimes writes Lauren's lyrics.
When asked what their "golden standard" looks like, Stewart explains that it’s “Good music. All-around good music with good lyrics, something that is substantial…you know, the music you grew up on. The stuff your parents talked about — 'That was the good stuff.’”
Stewart’s desire to use his platform in music to create positive change stems from his experiences growing up in Five Points.
“Where we grew up, it was a lot rougher, a lot harder,” he says. “Our neighborhood has changed with gentrification so the demographics are different. But there are problems, the problems just moved in the city. There are definitely a lot of problems still in the city, and that’s one of the things we want to address, especially for the youth with gangs, violence, drugs and everything of that nature. ... The exposure and everything out there right now, kids have no other option but to follow a negative path, where you used to have a middle ground and high ground. But the cool thing right now is to follow what popular culture has dictated.”
Members of Stewart's family were involved in gangs, and he was headed in the same direction; he never thought he would live past eighteen. But then his family started going to church, and he discovered a sense of peace within the music there.
“There was a time in the early ’90s when everyone in my family was like, ‘Enough is enough,’” he says. “We had enough people dying, enough drama day by day. There was a church two blocks from us, and we went in. It ended up being this big thing — my grandma joined, my mom, my aunties, cousins. It ended up being all of us. It was a great time in my life.”
Experiencing the healing power of music inspired him to create music. Lauren and Jeremiah also grew up in Five Points but had a different, more positive experience growing up.
“We also want to really help our community expand their idea of who they can be,” Lauren Black says. “I feel like when we were kids, we were allowed to aspire to be scientists or whatever we wanted to be. Whereas I feel like we’re kind of – I shouldn’t say kind of – especially with the artist representation we have right now, it’s really, ‘Oh, you have to be a stripper to be a successful woman,’ or, ‘You really do have to sell cocaine to be a successful as a man.’ I think those ideals are false, even though they’re strongly held.”
In his raps, Jeremiah Black addresses social-justice issues such as racism, sexism and police brutality.
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“The first thing I want to do is open people’s minds to possibility,” he says. “I want to introduce people to different types of literature and different types of poetry. To think differently instantly — that’s what I want them to do. I want them to hear my music and hear words or a thought that they’ve never heard before, used in a way they never thought it could be used. ... I want their synapses to fire differently first.”
The music produced at Golden Souljahs Records incorporates a range of genres, including jazz, rock, hip-hop and even disco. Ultimately, the collective hopes it will reach and resonate with their community, especially the youth.
“I know music has the power to change lives,” Jeremiah Black says. “I feel like if they give my music a chance, it would.”