“That’s some Richmond shit,” Black Liquid said, as he watched an unleashed dog chase after two bikes pedaling fast and furious across the West End.
And Black Liquid — a pillar of the city’s hip hop scene — lives and breathes for that Richmond shit. His new single, “RVA,” is a personal and social commentary on the city of Richmond.
“My man Lithium God made the beat, and everyone in the room freaked out when he played it. It has like a 90s house party vibe,” Black Liquid said. “And then I was trying to figure out what lyrics to put to the beat. I wanted to make a statement, not just a house party record.”
He heard the words to the song in his head one day, while playing video games — typical, for Black Liquid.
“I ended up writing ‘RVA’ because I’ve seen Richmond move through its eras. I had another record called ‘Richmond’ back in 2010, and that record fit that era,” he said. “We’re in the era of ‘RVA’ now. This city as a whole has become a lot more industrious; that’s where the hustle and bustle of the beat comes from.
“It’s a fun time, with all the college kids here, so that party vibe is there. But there’s still that underlying sense of adversity and individuality in the song.”
The first verse, rhythmic lines shadowed by a Latin beat, describes Richmond as a city still figuring out its identity. The second verse is a love letter to the city from Black Liquid, words that describe his relationship with his strange city.
“Everything that I am, my success, who I am, it’s because of this city,” he said. “ And, yeah, the beat doesn’t fit — but Richmond doesn’t fit, and that’s why it fits for me.”
People told Black Liquid to leave Richmond if he wanted to make it big. He started out on food stamps and no cable, played 160 shows in a year, anytime, anywhere that would let him perform.
“A lot of people don’t think it’s possible for a great rapper to come out of Richmond — everyone looks at the big cities, like New York and Los Angeles, but there is no place like Richmond,” he said. “This couldn’t have happened anywhere else — I have friends who come here and are amazed that you can just perform in spaces, just hand out your music and people actually listen. At the same time, Richmond really shit on me. It made me work for it, so I could earn my place.”
For Black Liquid, that’s the main message of his new single. That Richmonders can be successful, with hard work and dedication.
“Richmond needs to believe that disadvantage is all about your vantage,” he said. “How you see things determines whether or not you’ll see this — Richmond — as an opportunity, or a trap. I want everyone here to recognize the potential within them. They can achieve what they want to achieve. I want everyone to appreciate what they have.”
There’s no place like RVA for Black Liquid. As a lover of hip hop, history and writing, he sees this metropolis in a different light than most. In “RVA,” he picks apart the politics and the pressures of the river city.
“Richmond is where the clubs close early, cops roll deep. Hipsters protest so we woke once a week,” he writes. That’s not a criticism, though. It’s a compliment.
“We were once the headquarters of slavery, the capital of the confederacy,” Black Liquid said. “Richmond is full of forward-thinking people that actually want to be involved, whether you think that’s corny or not — those hipsters protesting every week, they want to be involved in social change.
“They don’t see themselves as black people, or white people. They seem themselves as Richmonders, who can change shit. This place was totally different before; now there’s diversity, now we have a festival for gay people. People take the fact that Richmond has changed so much for granted — but we’ve come to accept that everyone is different. It takes some people their whole lives to realize that.”
While “RVA” was written before the Charlottesville protests, Black Liquid still has a lot to say about the statues on Monument Avenue here in Richmond.
“No, we shouldn’t tear down those statues,” he said. “How can we have a future if we’re not willing to face our past and understand it? How is that possible? You want to stick them in the building, say there’s your history, so people can hide from it.
“But how can we have the discussions that we’re going to have, if we don’t see these things? There are still people who believe in what the statues represent, so how can we accept that we’re on different pages, or be on the same page, if we’re not even looking at the book anymore?”
In the end, though, Black Liquid’s main issue with Richmond isn’t the statues. In the new single, he writes about homelessness and food deserts, about Richmond’s hidden problems.
“That’s the stuff that we really need to address,” he said. “Those statues aren’t even alive. We act like General Lee is riding up and down the street every day, cutting people off in traffic because they don’t have the right skin color. There are people in this city who feel abandoned and alone, who are struggling to survive every year.”
Black Liquid wants Richmonders listen to “RVA,” and feel positive things — he’s lived in Richmond for his whole life and has high hopes for the city.
“In a lot of ways, Richmond is actually very ahead of the curve,” he said. “And I love Richmond. I am Richmond.”