Photo: Hailey Bollinger
How many people do we have out here who garden?‚ÄĚ asks Siri Imani, eliciting a chorus of woos from the sizzling mass of Northsiders brave enough to stand in Hoffner Park‚Äôs unshaded edge on the Fourth of July.
A shirtless man dressed as Beaker from The Muppet Show takes the opportunity to lift his cylindrical headwear and wipe the sweat from his brow.
Immediately following the neighborhood‚Äôs Independence Day parade, Triiibe‚Äôs opening set at the annual Northside Rock & Roll carnival attracts a mixed bag of locals ‚ÄĒ costumed folks wandering in from their floats, parents and their wildly dancing children, fans who mouth the lyrics ‚ÄĒ all of whom have prioritized soaking up Neo-Soul grooves over shielding themselves from the dangerous heatwave frying the city.
Fortunately, the trio is willing to deliver. Backed by a live band, Imani, Pxvce (government name CJ Houston) and Aziza Love (Alexis Thompson) exchange verses about everything from growing their own vegetables to the experience of oneness, interjecting ad-libs in the spaces in between. Comprised of noodly guitar riffs, crystalline keyboard pads and a hefty rhythm section, the music stretches out comfortably into roomy dimensions to leave space for the emcees to prophesy.
‚ÄúWe don‚Äôt need nobody‚Äôs help…Green thumb growing; garden still potent.‚ÄĚ
Triiibe‚Äôs Fourth of July celebration isn‚Äôt so much a celebration of American independence as it is an affirmation of individual freedom. In the interval between songs, the collective invites their audience to think introspectively, teaching the virtues of living off the land and taking time to meditate.
‚ÄúTriiibe: True Representation of Intellectual Individuals Invoking Black Excellence,‚ÄĚ Imani says, as the spaced-out melody of the band‚Äôs currently unrelease single ‚ÄúA Wrinkle In Time‚ÄĚ creeps into the background. ‚ÄúWe want to be a positive representation of urban culture.‚ÄĚ
And then the beat drops.
This positive representation doesn‚Äôt end in the lyrics. Triiibe is equally dedicated to art and activism, churning out new music when they‚Äôre not serving the community. Outside of the studio, the members of Triiibe help cultivate a community garden in Avondale, mentor students enrolled in Cincinnati Public Schools and organize a monthly free Potluck for the People at downtown‚Äôs Piatt Park, which serves those experiencing homelessness.
‚ÄúThe music and art go hand in hand,‚ÄĚ says Pxvce. ‚ÄúArtivism‚Äôs what we call it. We‚Äôve realized what the world is starting to come to and we want to be the solution to the problem.‚ÄĚ
For a band that has yet to drop an album, Triiibe has established a prolific presence in Cincinnati‚Äôs Hip Hop scene. Over the past year, they‚Äôve maintained a busy schedule of DIY shows and single releases, finding time to contribute three guest appearances to Bootsy Collins‚Äô 15th studio album, World Wide Funk: a collaboration that bridged two generations of Cincinnati natives.
After stumbling upon a Facebook Live stream of a Triiibe home recording session, Collins invited the group to his studio in Nashville to help finish a song he was working on at the time. Impressed with the finished product, he asked the band back for two more sessions, producing a handful of new verses.
At that time, the group was known as the Blvck Seeds, a quartet that included visual artist Jessi Jumanji, whose Afrofuturist collages depict a post-human convergence of humanity, nature and machines.
When Jumanji accepted an opportunity to move to Los Angeles, the group changed their name to Triiibe in January, out of respect to the bond they‚Äôd created. Once the four are reunited, they plan to play as the Blvck Seeds once again.¬†Photo: Hailey Bollinger
The band first met at The Mockbee, where they were all booked for the same show.
‚ÄúWe really gravitated toward each other and started having jam sessions at my house,‚ÄĚ Pxvce says. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs when it just started to click. When we started to perform, we had a chemistry that was something that I haven‚Äôt experienced. There were a few times that we did things where I don‚Äôt know if they‚Äôve ever been done. So, we know there‚Äôs a magic between us.‚ÄĚ
Each member‚Äôs particular role in the group can be difficult to suss out, given Triiibe‚Äôs penchant for call-and-response vocals and their adaptive show setup. Generally, though, Imani assumes the role of resident rhymester, shouldering the bulk of the band‚Äôs lyrical content while Love belts soaring, glossolaliatic hooks and the occasional verse. Pxvce creates most of the beats from scratch, dropping DJ mixes between sets.
In recent months, fans have enjoyed a bumper crop of new recorded material, released in anticipation of the band‚Äôs debut record ‚ÄĒ III AM WHAT III AM ‚ÄĒ due Oct. 10. In July alone, they‚Äôve revealed the album‚Äôs first single, ‚ÄúGossip,‚ÄĚ in the form of a music video, alongside a pair of ‚Äúshemixes‚ÄĚ‚ÄĒ socially conscious rewrites of popular Trap songs that allow Imani and Love to spread new messages on familiar beats.
Thus far, they‚Äôve dropped Imani‚Äôs own take on ‚ÄúPlug Walk,‚ÄĚ Rich the Kid‚Äôs vibey breakout hit, exchanging the original track‚Äôs flex-heavy hedonism for an examination of an artist‚Äôs social responsibilities. During live sets, Love has taken to performing a stylistically complex cover of A$AP Ferg‚Äôs ‚ÄúMattress,‚ÄĚ detailing her connections to the Northside neighborhood and the spiritual realm atop distorted, speaker-knocking production.
‚ÄúWhen Aziza and I came up with the shemixes, we just wanted to take male-dominated songs and switch them up,‚ÄĚ Imani says. ‚ÄúWe felt like their content was something that we could honestly trump. We chose about seven and started remixing them. We did the ‚ÄėPlug Walk‚Äô video at Findlay Park, which was a spot that we hit often and we know the people there. But everything that you hear in the lyrics of the song, you can look at the park and see the culture being cultivated in that space.‚ÄĚ
In the meantime, Triiibe‚Äôs still putting the finishing touches on their album with help from local Indie Rock outfit Jess Lamb & The Factory at the Harrison Skydeck studio.
‚ÄúFor me, the album is a declaration of the hard work we‚Äôve put in to understanding ourselves,‚ÄĚ Love says. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs amazing how you can come to that understanding through being with other people. The members of Triiibe are like reflections of me ‚ÄĒ¬†an opportunity to help me look at myself and look at the music I‚Äôm creating effortlessly now that I‚Äôm with other people.‚ÄĚ
Love says that Imani‚Äôs often the group‚Äôs songwriting catalyst, penning new verses to Pxvce‚Äôs production, then herding the members into the studio to flesh out the idea. Though Imani‚Äôs adept at seamlessly knitting her ideas and flows into beats, she‚Äôs actually the newest to music out of the group.
Growing up, she was surrounded by poetry. Her mother, Jennie Wright, was an active member of the Raw Poets Society in the late ‚Äô90s and early ‚Äô00s and encouraged Imani to take up the craft at a young age.
‚ÄúI think the first time I performed, I was 5,‚ÄĚ Imani says. ‚ÄúAnd, it was, like, goofy. Just words together. But ever since then, I‚Äôve kept writing poetry. I‚Äôm newer to Rap, but it‚Äôs really interesting to me. I‚Äôd never done it until I got around Triiibe. But, I still have huge dedication to poetry ‚ÄĒ I want to mainstream it. It has to become a genre where kids are growing up, like, ‚ÄėI want to do poetry.‚Äô I‚Äôve been looking at the Chicago scene for ways to do that. Malcolm London, Chance the Rapper, Noname, and all of them.‚ÄĚ
Pxvce and Love, on the other hand, have been making music for a good portion of their lives. Influenced by both Gucci Mane and Arrested Development, Pxvce‚Äôs instrumental creations chop mystical Funk samples to the flutter of drum machine hi-hats. Love‚Äôs roots are folkier, giving a rawer, more visceral contribution to the group.
‚ÄúIf you ask my mom, I sang myself to sleep when I was born,‚ÄĚ Love says. ‚ÄúI was in church choir when I was young, and that turned into elementary school choir. I stopped choir later on and went to instrumental music throughout high school and college, but I kept singing outside of a structure. I did my first solo shows when I was about 17, and I‚Äôve been rolling ever since.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúDoes everybody have trays? Paper?‚ÄĚ asks LaTrese Green. Two plastic trays filled with soil are at her side as she walks a diverse circle of twentysomethings through the process of transplanting seeds for the fall harvest. She traces five vertical lines on the surface of the soil to sow seeds in each container, and her audience of seven follows suit.
It‚Äôs a weekly ritual for Green and her fellow gardeners, who make the trek to Avondale on Saturday mornings to help give life to a once-vacant lot sandwiched between houses on Beldare Avenue. Alongside Triiibe, she‚Äôs nurtured the seeds of friendship at the Hilltop Community Garden, attracting regulars and newcomers alike over the past year and a half.
Green, a health educator and civic garden coordinator, hopes the garden will become a ‚Äúdemo site,‚ÄĚ promoting plant-based foods and self-sufficiency.
‚ÄúYou know how Triiibe as a collective is all about positivity?‚ÄĚ she asks. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre who I was able to get this land through, basically. I‚Äôm in partnership with the Civic Garden Center (of Greater Cincinnati), and the zoo owns the land.‚ÄĚ
Signs of progress: new pear and apple trees sprout around a rainbow-colored shed, built and spray-painted by volunteers. There‚Äôs an herb garden that Green hopes to use for ‚Äúmake one, take one‚ÄĚ tea parties.
‚ÄúThis is a playground,‚ÄĚ she says. ‚ÄúI want schools and community programming to come on out and visit throughout the school year.‚ÄĚ¬†Photo: Ty Wesselkamper
Meanwhile, Pxvce works the soil in a more sun-drenched plot, digging to the steady drone of a lawnmower. Triiibe‚Äôs dedication to service makes them tough to catch all at once ‚ÄĒ while Pxvce gardens, Love focuses on running her weekly ‚ÄúSoulstice‚ÄĚ meditation/yoga classes at the Hive in Northside and Imani spreads her passion for poetry to a younger generation via partnerships with Cincinnati Public Schools and OTR-based arts organization Elementz.
And that‚Äôs just a single day‚Äôs work for the band. Triiibe‚Äôs Facebook events calendar reveals just how invested in Cincinnati they really are. They host a book club at the Public Library‚Äôs main branch on the first Monday of each month, organize a weekly fitness run on Sunday mornings and help serve at the aforementioned monthly Potluck for the People ‚ÄĒ the next of which takes place July 29.
The Potluck made headlines in June, when the Cincinnati Parks Department billed Triiibe $450 for a special use permit and retroactively charged one of the organizers‚Äô mothers another $450 for the preceding month. The free event had been running regularly since January.
The group says that the event‚Äôs purpose is not only to provide nourishment to Cincinnati‚Äôs homeless population, but also to bring light to all attendees. The organizers give out free haircuts, clothes and provide opportunities to make art.
‚ÄúAfter serious conversation between Triiibe, Cincinnati Peace Movement, Cincinnati Parks and United Way, we were able to come to an agreement that the policy should be changed,‚ÄĚ Love says. ‚ÄúFor the betterment of all the city. So now the policy stands that anyone providing a free service at Piatt Park can have the opportunity to have the fee waived.‚ÄĚ
It‚Äôs important to the group that they stay busy, spreading themselves throughout the community as much as possible. Pxvce says that through Triiibe‚Äôs activism, he wants to prove that it doesn‚Äôt take experience to serve ‚ÄĒ just the will to help out.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs why it‚Äôs so DIY,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúWe went through Civic Garden Center to learn about gardening, but this is our first year with our own land. We‚Äôre experimenting as we go.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWhen we say Triiibe, we‚Äôre inviting you into our hearts and our community,‚ÄĚ says Love, enveloped by the red glow of Northside bar and music venue The Comet‚Äôs neon signage.
Anyone who‚Äôs seen the band live knows the call and response between the performers and audience that follows.
With a sampler basket of nachos cradled in his left arm, Pxvce lowers the volume of his Soul-inflected Cardi B remix as Love introduces the lineup for Triiibe‚Äôs Friday the 13th celebration in July: ‚ÄúBlvck Magic.‚ÄĚ
Punctuated by more intimate versions of Triiibe‚Äôs usual live setlist, the show features performances by Brooklynn Rae, whose whispery solo tunes recall Frankie Cosmos or Nick Drake; Blas√©, who adds a sinister flair to her R&B/Funk output with the help of her technically impressive backing band; and Love herself, whose set stretched to 2 a.m., drawing sleepy showgoers from their drinks and baskets of chips to the small arc of chairs scattered around the performers. The band is as passionate about hyping up their friends as they are when performing their own material. There‚Äôs even a short open mic session between acts, with content ranging from freestyles to spoken-word poetry sessions.
‚ÄúWe just know really good people,‚ÄĚ Imani says. ‚ÄúEverybody around me has some type of crazy talent. I mean, I don‚Äôt think it‚Äôs possible for somebody to not have talent, but recently all my friends have just been showing them out. They put a lot of work into what you see on stage. People ask me, ‚ÄėHow do you meet these people?‚Äô I met them as friends! They grew into the people you see now.‚ÄĚ
It‚Äôs seeing Cincinnati‚Äôs Hip Hop scene blossom that Triiibe says gives them the energy to press on. First and foremost, they work hard to put their city on the map.
‚ÄúWe might get big, who knows?‚ÄĚ Imani says. ‚ÄúBut what I really want is to see something beautiful happen here in Cincinnati. We want to open a school that teaches all of the arts what you can do with a business. Things it took us years to find out.‚ÄĚ
She adds that although Triiibe may not be the best rappers, artists or even people in the world, those people are out there. If her trio shows those people that they, too, can start making DIY artwork, they‚Äôll have succeeded.
And, the band wants to go on tour soon after III AM WHO III AM drops. That is, once they‚Äôve found folks to take care of garden while they‚Äôre gone. And keep the Soulstice classes running. And make sure the potluck happens each month.
Through their continued outreach, Triiibe hopes to be the role models they wish they‚Äôd had when they were kids.
‚ÄúI can clearly see changes happening every day,‚ÄĚ Imani says. ‚ÄúOnce we get it together on one harmonious level, Cincinnati is going to be just like Chicago; just like Atlanta; just like LA. It already is. It‚Äôs just a hidden magic.‚ÄĚ
For more information on Triiibe and upcoming events, visit facebook.com/TRIIIBEworldwide.