McKinley Dixon opens up about upcoming jazz/rap fusion record and the importance of diversifying hiphop’s message

by | Apr 7, 2017 | FUNK & JAZZ

In his forthcoming album, The Importance of Self Belief, Richmond rap/jazz musician McKinley Dixon broadens the scope of the challenging subject matter and sentimental dialogue indicative of his prior album, Who Taught You To Hate Yourself?. With an ensemble of gifted jazz musicians and an arsenal of talented collaborators, Dixon brings new perspectives, experiences, and crucial conversations to his captivating narrative.

These albums follow the story of a young, Black man who, after witnessing a drive-by, is confronted with the grim realities of the sociopolitical atmosphere and class struggle around him. “The first [album] is the boy sees a drive by in his neighborhood and starts reflection and seeing things: racism, police brutality, gang violence, what is okay what is not okay,” said Dixon in an interview with RVAMag.

The sophomore album in what is to be a trilogy, The Importance of Self-Belief, does not have an official release date yet, but Dixon said it continues the storyline of Who Taught while taking up issues that didn’t come up in the preceding album. It focuses more on Dixon’s conversations with trans people, femme people, and black women.

“The flaw about Who Taught You To Hate Yourself is it didn’t talk about women/femm people enough,” he said. “There’s a line – it’s not my story to tell so I try to portray it as lightly as I can while definitely jumping to the issues and that’s not something I expected to do with Who Taught You to Hate Yourself. I was just thinking about Black issues. Now with this one, I realize without femme people, without specifically Black femme people, there’s nothing – there’s nothing without women.“

The Importance of Self-Belief progresses the narrative of personal growth and identity established in Who Taught. In the upcoming album, Dixon parts from traditions of the familiar “coming of age” trope to create a coming of age story that is bigger than the focal character himself.

The lens, which focused on the young man who witnessed the drive-by in the last record, is now shifted to be more so from his perceptive, accounting for the depth and influence of femme figures and the characters own conceptualizations of race and gender.

“This one includes more concepts of femininity, maternity, and masculinity in how it is seen through the Black male subject,” said Dixon. “I decided to talk more in celebration of women and femme figures in my life and how, even at the base of this world that I created that is loosely based off things that I’ve experience, it’s still the Black mom who is the main figure.”

“The drive-by is the fictional story,” said Dixon. “But the experiences of going through stages of questioning, experience of losing loved ones and friends to different things, and being in different environments that force you to do different things are all based on things that I’ve experienced or things that loved ones close to me have experienced.”

Dixon said that there is much he has learned between the two albums regarding the importance of visibility of marginalized people, motivating much of The Importance of Self-Belief’s content.

“Trans rights are something that we need to talk about and how trans rights are human rights. We need to discuss these things. Or the murder rate for Black trans women,” he said. “These issues that face and surround Black people, my brothers and sisters [and family], but how nobody is talking about them in the community and out of the community.”

Both albums have featured a significant collaborative effort. Dixon worked with producer Onirologia on each. Both albums also feature a number of guest artists. The indie fusion outfit Vanilla Summit return to collaborate on the forthcoming album as well.

And of course, Dixon’s band of adroit jazz musicians lights up each song, on and off the record. Dixon began making music hardly three years ago as a college Freshmen. He recruited most of his band through VCU’s jazz program, and they have been growing together since.

“They’re all incredible and you can hear the maturity from Who Taught You To Hate Yourself? to the new stuff,” said Dixon.

Live performances give an especially electrifying experience. The chemistry between the band is infectious and necessary for the improvisational style. Dixon notes that the pleasure in playing with seasoned jazz musicians is his own anticipation for what he might hear. “Every solo is different,” he said. “Every time is different.”

As for the third and final installment in the trilogy, Dixon isn’t ready to share information.

But keep an eye out for a release date on The Importance of Self-Belief on Wadada records. In the meantime, the single for the album, “The Story So Far” is available below:

Catch Dixon on May 5 and May 29 at Strange Matter.

Top image via David Muessig

Greg Rosenberg

Greg Rosenberg

more in music

Illiterate Light, PBGRenegade w/ Téy Renae & 4la7la: Sound Check

I'm keeping it local this week, because once again the local talent here is just so powerful and concentrated in Richmond that I can't help but talk about every artist at length. On this week's SOUND CHECK, you might actually be able to get tickets to an Illiterate...

Congrats 821 Cafe! A Favorite Richmond Hang Out Turns Twenty

821 Cafe, the unassuming diner/restaurant/bar on the corner of Cherry and Cary streets - where Oregon Hill and the Fan meet - turns 20 years old in its current incarnation. Andrew Clarke and Chip Cooke bought the place from its previous owners back in 2004, and have...

The Motet, Low Phase & Erin & The Wildfire: Sound Check

I know you're itching to get back outside as much as I am, but while the rain clears up we'll have to wait just a little while longer. We're almost in festival season where outside concerts seemingly never end, with sunshine and tunes galore. Until then, we've got an...

Chandler Has Gone Viral, Again

When your friend from far away Portugal hits you up with a message like, "Have you seen this? Do you know this guy? He's from Richmond and he is all over TikTok!" you can't help but check it out. And when you discover it's Chandler Matkins, it's almost a given—of...

The Descendents & Circle Jerks Show is Sold Out…

It’s 1978 and Los Angeles is mic-checking and clearing its throat before unleashing its answer to New York City and London punk rock. It’s about to birth two of the most influential punk bands of all time. Descendents and Circle Jerks, titans of the sun-drenched and...

King Kaiju, Lockedinkee & Nickelus F: Yo! Hip Hop RVA

Hey y’all! I know it’s been a few months since my last YO! HIP HOP RVA write-up, but the hiatus was necessary because wedding planning was consuming my life. As of a few weeks ago, I’m off the market! Now, without further ado… this week’s edition of YO! HIP HOP RVA...

Macrock XXVII, Circle Jerks & The Mitras: Sound Check

Well don't go looking for a lot of local acts this weekend in Richmond, as many of them will be trekking to Harrisonburg to participate in Macrock XXVVII. A two day affair that will span much of downtown Harrisonburg where dozens of acts will be gracing numerous...