(Genesis Be is a native of Biloxi, Mississippi now residing in the Big Apple. As a Senior at NYU, a Hurricane Katrina Survivor, activist and founder of ‘Strive Till I Rise’- Genesis Be is an extraordinary 23-year-old. Currently studying at the Clive Davis School of Recorded Music and a political science major, she is preparing to release her fourth album, ‘Mississippi to Manhattan', on April 29. She also makes time to go to high schools and conduct workshops for the youth to address issues such as HIV/AIDS, domestic violence and teenage pregnancy. For her community service, she will be receiving the 2011 NYU President's Service Award. This our one-on-one.)
Brother Jesse Muhammad (BJ): At what point in time did you really feel like you were born to do music?
Genesis Be (GB): As long as I could write I was doing poetry and I heard Tupac's first album. I was really intrigued and it was one of the first times I even heard hip hop. And I found myself listening to this man talk about police brutality, teen pregnancy, issues that are really happening around him and he's getting paid for it, he's famous, he's able to get his message to millions of people and I said that's what I want to do.
BJ: I read some interesting background on the activist side of your family. Tell me a little bit about that civil rights environment you grew up around in Mississippi.
GB: My grandfather was very involved in educating and empowering Black people to vote in Franklin County which is where my father was raised at. So he would give courses on how to vote and he and his friends would pick up carloads of people and take them to the voting booth. You know he caught a lot of hell for it naturally. There are speculations and rumors that he also was helping to arm citizens against the Ku Klux Klan and importing firearms from out of state and out of Franklin County. He died at a very early age, at age 42. Suspected poisoning from the Ku Klux Klan, possibly the FBI, we don't know. Just the fact that one of my ancestors was so dedicated, willing to put his life on the line for what he believed in. It's really a powerful thing to keep in the back of my mind and something that drives me.
BJ: How have you been able to balance being a student at the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at NYU, a producer, a writer, an engineer, a mixer and a performer?
GB: I'm a senior now so like two more months. I can't wait to graduate! I don't know if I have been able to balance it. It's extremely difficult. The school is really challenging of course, the Clive Davis Department, but I also have a double major. So sometimes I feel like a little like schizophrenic because I constantly have to go from my creative mind to my analytical mind within the hour, within the day, within the week. It gets to me a little bit but at the same time I know what a blessing it is that I'm even here. So whatever difficulties I am having, mentally trying to balance everything, I just look at it like I was blessed with a burden. Not everyone gets the opportunity.
BJ: I read that you are a Katrina survivor from Biloxi, Mississippi, one of the towns that was said to have been "wiped off the map.” Tell me a little about that experience.
GB: We are use to riding out storms so when Hurricane Katrina was coming, we decided to stay even though there was a mandatory evacuation. And literally in one day I was out getting batteries from the store, getting water, the canned foods like we usually do. And then like the next day that whole store was not even there. The whole city was not there and surrounding cities were not there. Some of the roads were so distorted and disrupted that it looked like an earthquake hit as far as the pavement being cracked and raised eight feet high. One of the strangest things that I witnessed was a whole casino, I think it was The Grand Casino, was completely lifted and taken across the highway. And it was just such unfathomable things to witness that, it kind of seems really unreal. I stayed there after that for about a whole year and a half trying to rebuild. I had just graduated high school maybe three months before and either people moved away or you just never heard from them. I still don't know what happened to some people. A lot of people moved back eventually but those first couple of years was literally like a ghost town.
BJ: What are you learning at the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music that you've been able to immediately apply in your budding career as an artist?
GB: When I came to the department I wasn't inclined as far as mastering, mixing, and engineering. Being able to have my ear trained has been very helpful. I'm releasing an album called Mississippi to Manhattan and it's taking me my whole entire school career to finish this album.
I wanted to make this album to kind of portray a time in my life that I was a student learning about sound. So that's why I took on the burden of doing it all myself, which I probably won't be doing again. The Clive Davis Department is amazing! It has taught me a lot about being a business woman as well and contractual law and really helping me be more confident as far as speaking and meeting and letting people know what I want and what I need as an artist and as an entrepreneur.
BJ: What is the motivation and message in your music?
GB: The overall theme is that you can do whatever you want to do, with the right education and the right confidence and self-esteem. I enjoy empowering the youth. I enjoy talking and rapping in front of kids and letting them know that what you see on T.V., what you hear on radio does not reflect reality and does not reflect what it means to be a man or to be a woman in America. I never use the N-word because that's just something I'm really sensitive about coming from my background. What I hope to do in my lifetime is, I want to do what my grandfather did basically, and that's just empower people about their own power.
BJ: Now tell me in closing about the Strive Till I Rise Campaign.
GB: Strive Till I Rise is a mantra. It's a motto. It's a way of life. It's basically taking the responsibility to look within yourself and say, "I'm gonna be better than I was yesterday”, “I'm gonna be a better student”, “I'm gonna be a better boyfriend or girlfriend”, I'm gonna be a better wife or better mother.” That's the basis of it. That's the core of it, just to strive to be better. You know progress is a slow process; you just have to work at it and keep it in the back of your mind that not only do you deserve better but you are better than what is portrayed to you and reflected to you through our society.
BJ: Thank you so much for your time Genesis. You’re doing great work in the community that is needed and spreading a positive message in your music.
GB: Thank you for giving me some exposure. It means a lot for an independent artist. I'm really trying to take this to the next level. So I appreciate that.
(For more information on Genesis Be's music and works visit her website @ www.genesisbe.com and follow her on Twitter @genesisbe)