First Look Friday: Stonie Blue Finds Freedom In His Many Creative Identities
For this month’s First Look Friday we spend some time with Stonie Blue, an all-around creative who has done everything from photograph Solange to DJ alongside Sango.
Depending on when or where you’ve met Stonie Blue, you’ve been introduced to one of his many creative endeavors: DJ, photographer, producer, videographer, animator. Blue exists at a time where we’re witnessing black creatives expand their artistry into multiple realms ranging from music to fashion.
“It just feels like freedom to me,” Blue said. “I don’t have to wait on any certain situation to let me do the things I want to do.”
Born in Dallas, the youngest of three boys, it was Blue’s older brothers — designer, painter, and photographer Blue the Great and producer and DJ Brandon Blue — as well as video games that incited his creative spark as a child. With the rise of burning CDs in the early to mid-2000s, Blue began to sell mixes to his classmates, becoming the go-to music guy at his high school. Along with this, he’d film track meets and record artists from his school at his house, all of these creative forays foreshadowing the creative he’d become.
Blue went on to earn a degree in art/graphic design from the University of Nebraska. However, initially, he was more focused on becoming a professional football player.
“I was trying to go to the NFL, and then art stuff second,” he said. “I just picked art because I knew I liked graphic design and Photoshop. I was like, ‘I’m going to stick close to this to gain skills here.’
An injury during his senior year led to him dedicating himself fully to art where he took classes in drawing, painting, printmaking, and photography. He also found a community of fellow creatives of color at the university, where he met filmmaker Jordan Riggs, actor and photographer Gypsi Aponte, and others.
“There weren’t many people that looked like us [in the arts], so we would always come together and shoot music videos, or go to art shows, or just try to be around it. Make a bunch of music and stuff,” Blue said. “To find an art community of people of color is like, ‘Damn, this is the sweet spot. These are the type of people I want to be around, and they’re thinking about things differently, and they’re into the things that I’m interested in.'”
Blue began to implement what he was learning in his art classes in the real world — from taking photos of his friends and putting them on his blog to painting portraits of Nebraska Cornhuskers players, the latter of which helped him purchase a one-way ticket to New York City in 2012.
“In Nebraska, there’s no NFL team, so the college players are the NFL players. I would paint a portrait of someone on the team, and this big-ass fanbase would want to buy the painting,” Blue said. “I sold three of those for like $300 each and moved to New York.”
Blue interned at Karmaloop where he started making a name for himself as a photographer. Not only was he getting credited on Karmaloop’s website, but he was also frequenting events in the city and taking pictures, which earned him different freelance photography jobs.
In 2014, he made his foray into DJ’ing. He and his friend Matt Nelson, better known as American Matthew, used to throw parties called “Next Level Vibe” at a bar called The Brass Bottle, where he would operate visual projections while Matt DJ’d. Matt ended up leaving New York to live in Puerto Rico, leading Blue to step in and serve as DJ.
“From there, I got hired to DJ SOB’s, and then it just kept going and kept going,” Blue said. “I’d do a gig and then get more gigs, or play SOB’s and just keep going.”
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Since then, Blue has made significant accomplishments as a photographer and DJ. Last year, he took photographs of Solange prior to her arrival at the Met Gala, as well as opened for Virgil Abloh and Drake when the pair had a “Day Party” in Brooklyn. He’s also started releasing music; in April he dropped Black House Brownstone, an EP made up of four house music tracks. Released through Believe In Yourself Do It Yourself Records (BIYDIY Records) — which was founded by American Matthew — the EP features fellow multi-hyphenate creative Va$htie Kola, and not only reflects Blue’s admiration and love of house music but serves as a commentary on how the genre’s black roots have been erased and gentrified.
“A lot of the European DJs and top paid DJs are playing house or electronic music. There’s not many Black people in it [even though we created it],” Blue said. “The people in Chicago or the people in Detroit made it, but there’s still the gentrification of it still happening.”
As a part of our First Look Friday series, Okayplayer spoke with Blue about shooting Solange, DJ’ing, and what being a multi-hyphenate creative means to him. Stonie Blue also let us premiere his latest DJ mix, which you can check out below.
How did your shoot with Solange come about?
It was the day of the Met Gala. I’m not sure what I was doing but I got to the point in the day where I decided to take a nap. I wake up, check my email, and an email’s been in there for like 45 minutes saying, “Hey, Solange needs a photographer tonight. Wanted to see if you were available.” So I respond, “Do you still need this?” and they say, “Yes, can you get here now?” I’m like, “Where do I need to be? I’m coming from Brooklyn. It’s going to take me at least 45 minutes.” They’re like, “Just come.”
My batteries aren’t charged and I have no lenses. I pack all my stuff, take the train in from the Lower East Side and then Uber to a rental spot to get some batteries, lenses, and a flash. Then I go to her hotel. Once I get there, bro, I wait two hours.
I’m panicking and rushing. They told me to be there in 45 minutes. Then they text me, “Come upstairs.” I go upstairs, I wait another 30 minutes. Then Solange walks outside and says, “You ready? Start shooting.” I start shooting. Then we get in the elevator. No shooting in the elevator. We get down to the first floor and I’m shooting paparazzi style at this point, walking backwards, trying not to walk into anybody. Then we go outside and she’s posing in front of her ride, a stretch Hummer. Then she gets in the car and she looks at me. She’s like, “Get in.”
I get in, take a few more shots inside, and then she’s like, “All right, start sending them to me.” I start AirDropping the photos. She posted before she got to the Met, and then she tagged me in the shit. The first picture I took and the last picture I took were the ones she posted. Then her manager was like, “Meet us at the after-party. We want you to shoot there too.”
She did her own little [party] in the Lower East Side. Diddy came through, Virgil came through. Kelela. Issa Rae, Mary J. Blige. I’m in there and I’m the only one with a camera, which is tight. It’s this moment that will never happen again. I’m the only one that captured it.
Something that I appreciate about you as a DJ is that I feel you’re not afraid to take people on a musical journey. It’s not to just play the songs people know; it’s play the songs that people don’t realize they want to know. Would you say that your DJ philosophy has changed throughout the years?
I think the thing that stands out with me with art is if I keep it original, then that exists. If you can say “Nobody’s playing this type of music” and you start DJing that type of music, then you’re the guy that does that. When I started, it was like, a lot of people don’t play Southern stuff. So I filled that void.
What do you feel has been your biggest DJ gig, and then what is your favorite and most memorable gig and why?
My biggest one just happened in Brazil [with Sango].
I would’ve thought that you would’ve said the Virgil and Drake ones.
Those were big but those were last year. Those were definitely big. Every time those emails came in, I’m just like, “Me? What?” Then I’d run it and lock myself in my room and be like, “I got to go crazy.”
But I say Brazil because it was international, and I look up to Sango more than I look up to Virgil. Not to do a comparison thing but being a fan of music and seeing who I would be drawn to more in that space…Sango makes music and he DJs his own shit. Also, to get love in a place where nobody knows you is just crazy. They were hugging me after my sets. I’m just like, “Wow. I feel like Michael Jackson or some shit.”
And for most memorable — bro, I opened up for the Migos at VFILES. This is at the height of “Bad and Boujee.”
My set’s over and then they get on. Of course people go crazy, bro. “Bad and Boujee” is about to come on. I’m standing on this ledge and I step down and unplug the power. Their manager’s going crazy and cussing me out. I plug it back in. He’s like, “Stand over there.” I was so embarrassed I just sat in the back row. I let the venue clear out before I left. It was definitely the scariest and dumbass thing I did. It helped, also, though, because once they plugged it in, it —
Brought the momentum back.
What is your favorite song transition and why?
I don’t know. I think lately I’ve just been on the contradiction of gospel music into twerking music, just because it’s an automatic crowd reaction. It’s like, “We wouldn’t do this at church, but this is a nightclub where we can do whatever we want.”
You’re officially the first DJ I’ve ever heard drop “A Thousand Miles.”
The Vanessa Carlton [track]?
Yeah. I’m just like…It takes people out of their element because they weren’t expecting to hear it. But once they settle with it, it’s like —
“We’re doing this…”
It’s funny, though. This song exists. People love it so we’re going to get a reaction. A lot of it is comedy style DJ’ing with great songs. It’s like, “This is not a song you’ll catch me bumping, but I know y’all are feeling it, resonating with it.” It’s fun.
How did BIYDIY come about?
Matt’s the mastermind. In Christmas 2014, we played a party together in Denton, Texas. Then, in early January he calls me. He’s like, “Yo, bro, we should just go on tour. Me and you, out the gate. We should just get as many shows as possible, and call it the Believe In Yourself Do It Yourself Tour. We’re both good enough. Let’s just do it.” I was like, “Fuck it, let’s just do it. Ain’t doing nothing else.”
Ended up booking 10 cities and raising all the money that we needed to get to all those cities and back home through one of those crowdfunding sites. Once that happened it was just like, “Damn, the power of what we can do when we sit down and just do it.” He already knew the name for it — Believe In Yourself Do It Yourself. Then we just followed that message of, “All right, are we doing it? We doing it.” New York’s booked. Philly’s booked. Charlotte’s booked. Nebraska’s booked. Texas is booked.
Once the tour ended, Matt just turned it into the label. It was like, “We can be official DJs under our label and release official music artists on the label.” We just work well together. He’s the foundation of it, and then I was there from day one.
Is Black House Brownstone your first project under BIYDIY?
Second. Outside of all the mixes it’s my second original. The first one was Move Me, and then Black House Brownstone.
What inspired you to make Black House Brownstone into a house project?
House music is what I mostly listen to at home, just because the rap stuff is…The messages are never really what you want to hear. Like someone’s going to take my girlfriend and bullshit [like that]. But in house music the messaging is always positive. It’s easy to work to.
I think my introduction to house music was super late. I didn’t grow up listening to it. I’ve been so intrigued by it. A lot of the European DJs and top paid DJs are playing house or electronic music. There’s not many Black people in it [even though we created it]. The people in Chicago or the people in Detroit made it, but there’s still the gentrification of it still happening. This project was me trying to put myself in that space and bring it back. Just trying to bring it back to its roots.
I want to know how it got to that point. Granted, there are people doing it. I see Black Coffee’s always on there. He’s from Africa but still, there’s got to be more than just these people that get picked all the time. You’ll even see it in the city; there’s always the same people getting booked for certain things. It’s just like, “When are we all going to start taking chances on different things that are just as good?”
How would you say you’ve grown as a producer from Move Me to this project?
The thing with Move Me was I picked the best songs that I made and I didn’t have to overthink. During that time though I was still learning how to use Ableton. I was still learning how to make sure it sounded all right. Black House is more intentional. It’s like a part two to Move Me. But now I think my next direction is not trying to make the same thing, because those two projects were the same, it was just different sounds.
What advice would you give to somebody when they’re having creative fatigue?
What helps me is I just do something else. I could stop producing and go graphic design or animate shit. That helps because you have a block [in one place] but there’s other art forms. I think that’s helped as far as creativity goes because I can think differently about certain things. But it’s still so scattered around. Sometimes I won’t get nothing done because I’ll jump from here to here to here all in one day.
Sometimes you can do all those things and it’s right. If I could go from Ableton to video editing and get the whole idea done and post it in one day, I’m like, “Damn. That’s a whole concept I just bookmarked, and it exists now.” I can make a better one just based on seeing how it all connected. It just gets a little messy sometimes.
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What does it mean to you to be a multi-hyphenate creator?
The best part about it is just being able to learn. When I decided I wanted to learn animation it was because I was tired of the repetition of how easy photography is. Nowadays, if you have a good camera everything looks good when you take a picture. The challenge is not really there.
The challenge is making a picture that you’ve never seen before. Once you do that enough, then after a while, you’ve seen everything you wanted to see that was in your head. Starting to add animation to that or making pictures move, was [me telling myself] “I need to learn how to do this so I can push the conversation forward.”
Just being able to put yourself in these situations where you’re uncomfortable and become familiar with it, is evolving and growth, which is my favorite thing.