“Once you find your purpose to be something beyond yourself and to provide for the other families… That really enhances your presence within what we’re here to do."
Community over everything. New Jersey rapper HANZ, 27, understands this sentiment well. On June 5, the artist released his PRAYLUDE mixtape, with all profit from the album going to Jannah on Grafton, “an initiative to build a stronger, sustainable, and more self-reliant lower Grafton Avenue community through vacant lot activation.”
On Twitter, HANZ explained how this initiative is critical to end the food disparity gap in North Newark. At a time where COVID-19 is disproportionately ravaging Black communities, and uprisings against police brutality have rightfully consumed the nation, HANZ’ efforts are critical and worthy of celebration.
“I was born in Newark, but when I was three, my parents, who are both from Haiti—they moved here in ‘92,” HANZ tells me over the phone. The day before, he was protesting in Hoboken. “They moved here into a two-family home with my aunt and uncle and their kids. We were all packed up in one house. When I was three, they moved me to this little town in Parsippany, NJ.”
To know HANZ is to see an artist with a lion’s heart and passion for all mediums of work. “I was getting into writing poetry, which is how I started getting my writing style,” he details. “I didn’t start writing in rap formats until midway through high school. In college, I met my friend Flaire, who produces most of our collective [BLDY RXSE] work and the majority of my music. We both knew music was something we always ended up going back to—this is the thing our hearts are telling us to do. We started building our collective, BLDY RXSE. It’s a group where everyone comes from different mediums of art.”
Though BLDY RXSE features everyone from rappers and designers to woodworkers, HANZ assures me the collective goal—and his main goal as an artist—is to produce work bigger than himself. “Once you find your purpose to be something beyond yourself and to provide for the other families…” HANZ muses. “That really enhances your presence within what we’re here to do.”
HANZ and I spoke about giving back and community, a fruitful conversation from which you can find key takeaways below.
Trust your gut. “In the midst of spending time working on this bigger project, we ended up with a bunch of loosies. Originally, it was gonna be to test how we wanna roll out music. In the midst of everything going on in the world—a lot of the protests really started kicking up. With the murders that have been going on with Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, it kind of… Our group is full of different people from Black culture. The racial tension has been affecting all of us mentally.
“That week we were dropping, it felt like I forgot we were even dropping a tape because my mind wasn’t there. That’s when it brought us to a point of, ‘Can [we] put those proceeds toward something?’ We had already donated to the funeral funds at that point. As much as the freedom funds are needed, when we look at Black culture and community and really pushing it forward, in terms of the continued work, it has to be invested in ways to build our community through different avenues.”
Find local organizations. “One of the initiatives we came across was Jannah on Grafton. It’s garden- and agricultural-based in order to lower the food disparity gap. I spoke with [Bilal Walker], the head of that movement. He was explaining how, right now, they started off with a small parking lot in Newark and they wanna be able to feed 20 families with that. And teach people indigenous styles of gardening. Hearing him talk about that, it put more perspective into really investing in our own [people] and seeing that grow. In the long run, the other things our culture is battling, we can address and put more effort into.”
Use your platform for positive change. “Especially as a Black artist, I would hope that most of my fans come from my own community. So, it’s just so key for me to find a way to give back to them. When I look at art and rap, I’m forever grateful for having it as a gift, but I also know if I wanna make the impact that I want, I wanna use the money that comes in as a platform to give back.
“Not only here; I have sights for impacting Haiti as a country. I wanna be able to put [my success] back into where I came from. When you look at heritage and things that was passed down, whatever’s in me right now, it comes from Haiti. If I’m blessed with the opportunity to give that back, then by all means, I’ma try my hardest.”
Pursue your image of freedom. “Moving out of my parents’ crib… Music isn’t something they see as something that’ll work out. Going with my gut and going with my heart, and sleeping on a couch for two years… I just recently got my own bed and my own room. That is a moment in the freedom I want. I don’t have to compromise for someone else’s ideologies or their way of thinking in order to provide for myself and a bigger community than myself.
“Freedom in 2020 is continuing to tap into that mindset that got me to this point, continuing to work to put my artistry in a place it deserves to be.”
Educate yourself. “A step we have to take is knowledge. Life, across the board, is knowledge. I look at the school system. We’re given these textbooks and classes that don’t focus on the cultures in our town, not even Black culture. Asian Culture. Indian. Latino Culture. Look at how we’ve been taught history… It’s not really until you go to college where you’re able to lift the veil on a lot. We have to understand that the foundation wasn’t even there. I’ve become less and less confused about how much people don’t know what’s going on, because the foundation of knowledge and education in this country is all based on either lies or covering up actual information.
“I’m pretty sure a lot of young Black people go through this: When you go through school, you probably think a lot of Black culture started off through slavery because of the perspective of American education systems. It’s just not true! Knowing that you come from, literally, kings and queens—especially Haiti! We’re the first Black colony to gain independence. [Once] you know that, you start to move differently. Knowledge is the thing. If America’s gonna be a successful melting pot, it has to take in history from all these different cultures that live here.”
Don’t forget empathy. “And from a human standpoint: Empathy. Let’s be logical as we can when it comes to empathy. These things aren’t right. We try to justify a lot of things, but you can’t see people getting murdered like this. You can’t… There’s no way you could or should continue your everyday life as normal.”
By Donna-Claire Chesman for DJBooth.