The Evolution of BLK ODYSSY & Their New Single ‘XXX’

BLK ODYSSY defies genre categorization, with their new single they prove their inability to be boxed by a genre. Propelled by band leader, composer, producer, wordsmith and vocalist Juwan Elcock and guitarists Alejandro Rios, the band released their new single ‘XXX’ featuring Wiz Khalifa venturing into new sonic territory. Renowned for their skill in blending genres, the band seamlessly combines jazz, funk, hip-hop, neo-soul, and R&B throughout their first two albums. Their venture into hyper-punk and alt-pop represents an exhilarating new phase in their musical journey. 

As they are gearing up for the release of their third album this summer, BLK ODYSSY offers a glimpse into their evolving sound with the release of their latest single, “XXX.”. From the lyrics to composition, BLK ODYSSY has set themselves apart from many of their contemporaries with their raw authenticity. Departing from their previous sound, the band ventures into a hyper punk/alt-pop/indie sound. Earlier in the year they dropped “I Want You” which gives influences of post punk and pop rock. I was able to sit down with frontman, Juwan, to talk about their latest single “XXX” featuring Wiz Khalifa, their musical journey, and the upcoming album. 


I first came across BLK ODYSSY in 2022 at their performance in Los Angeles at Black Market Flea. They performed their debut album, Blk Vintage, which explores themes of the Black experience including love, lust, and trauma. The band has a beautiful way of warping reality and pulling you into their world, and making time stop. The band’s use of instruments in their music is pivotal to their performances and the quality of their records. After this introduction, I became a fan instantly. It’s so refreshing to see musicians embrace traditional instrumentation in a culture where digital music has taken over. I love that BLK ODYSSY composes original work not utilizing samples as crutches to create impactful records. Their first two albums, Blk Vintage and Diamonds & Freaks, showcased their ability to seamlessly blend nostalgic vibes with contemporary sounds, demonstrating their versatility and creative prowess.

They teased their new single at an electrifying performance on From The Block at an Austin skatepark which went viral as folks are excited to see Black artists reclaiming rock. Personally, I haven’t been able to get the song out of my head since. The latest release has sparked my anticipation for their ever evolving sound. I appreciate their love of experimentation and their commitment to not bending the knee to a single genre/sound. This new single gives hyper punk and pop rock resonance, fulfilling their Black alt fans dreams. 

“XXX” transports listeners back to the early 2000s punk rock renaissance, reminiscent of MTV’s pop-rock era. The song tells the story of a professional yearner who’s committed to fulfilling the desires of the girl he dreams of. To masterfully embrace this new sound, Juwan had to embody the character of this emo kid who’s invisible to the girl of his dreams. With its infectious chorus and compelling storytelling, the song captivates with a blend of nostalgia and modernity. BLK ODYSSY masterfully adopts elements of the past while infusing their unique style, creating a composition that resonates deeply. The eerie background vocals add depth and atmosphere, enhancing the overall sonic experience. You can always count on the band to serve elements of psychedelic surrealism.

As a fan of BLK ODYSSY, I found working with Wiz on this track felt more like a business move than a musical/creative decision. Especially as they branch out to pop-punk/hyper punk it feels that to reach a wider more diverse audience, you need tracks like this to become a certified radio hit. However, don’t let the Wiz Khalifa feature throw you off, this record is still a banger and has been viral online way before Wiz hopped on the track. I had a chat with Juwan to understand why they made this choice and learn more about this new era for BLK ODYSSY. 

Q: As a BLK ODYSSY fan, I’m here for the new sound. I love, love, love XXX. But my first question is, why Wiz? What was behind that decision making and collaboration with him on that song?

A: When we were making this record, we wanted to really bring the nostalgia of a sound that I feel is missing in modern urban music today. We always try to meld genres together. And this particular record is a mesh between, hyper punk and alternative pop. So I just thought it would be interesting to get that sound, mixed with Wiz who brings your modern day hip hop to the table and continue to bridge gaps in genres like we like we try to always do.

Q: I know you guys are known for definitely bending genres and doing a lot of fusions with both ‘Want You’ and ‘XXX’ you’re obviously leaning more to an alt pop/punk sound. What made you want to go in this direction for this specific project?

A: There’s a lot of things that prompted us to do that. To be completely honest, we felt a little bit boxed in by our fan base. We had a very distinct sound when coming into this. We had our first release in 2021, and it was very ingrained and neo soul and funk. Pretty much all of the Sonics that we had lived in, although our influences went way beyond that. We tried to tease that a bit in early records but yeah, we saw a ceiling to what we were doing. We felt like we needed to take an aggressive step, especially after Diamonds & Freaks to prove not only ourselves, but to the people that wanted to follow BLK ODYSSY to see that we couldn’t be boxed into a genre. That was the inspiration behind going in this direction. Also, it’s just a liberating sound for us. I’ve always liked rock music and I’ve always liked listening to things that weren’t necessarily like those around me when I was growing up. So I’m just tapping into different influences at this point and really enjoying the process of doing that too.

Q: This sonic leap feels very organic and authentic. Black kids up 1000. As you’re broadening your audience with this new project, new people are going to be exposed to you and your sound. What songs from your discography would you recommend people listen to and in what order, if they found you through “Want You” or “XXX”.

A: I mean, it’s tough to say because  you’d go back to the previous projects and there’s not very much that  says this is where they were going next. I think we tried to plant a bit of it with “Orange Wine” on our previous record and “Big Bad Wolf” on our debut album. Both of those had pop elements and a Big Bad Wolf had punky elements as well. And yeah, I just feel like that was what bridged this gap, so if people were listening from our newest stuff to our original stuff, I would say that’s probably a good segue because we tried to make those changes seamless within the record.

Q: In general, what has been one of your favorite songs to record and work on?

A: I would probably say XXX. While I was in a studio, I was practicing what actors would consider like method acting, where I was very much trying to embody the character of this album and like, be that person while I was in the studio. So that the emotions came through as genuine and as possible. That meant changing my vocal tone or changing my attitude when I was going in the studio, so that I could really nail the part. For us like this is like cinema, and we want the theatrics within these records to be convincing to the people that are listening to them. So I mean, it was all like fun for me because I love film and I love the acting element of this. When I was in the studio, while recording a part that was more angsty and a kid was yelling in it. I’m in the booth and I’m yelling and in between takes I’m not breaking character- I think we have BTS videos of me really getting into this character and just, you know, embodying the whole role. So I had a great time recording this record. Again, it was really challenging and I had times where I was very frustrated and argued with the team internally about directions musically, but you know, I think what we ended up with, we’re really proud of.

Q: As a fan of your music I’ve dreamed of collaborations of BLK ODYSSY collabs with Yussef Dayes. Paramore, EKKSTACY, Erykah Badu, Will Smith, and so many more. Who do you dream of collaborating with?

A: So many like a lot of the ones that you said would be insane. I’ve always been a fan of Willo and Yussef and many different people. Our sound has evolved and with that, and, who I really want to work with evolves as well and changes. If I’m going based off of this record, you know, it would have been incredible to do some work with like Lana Del Rey or Lenny Kravitz. Willow Smith was definitely on my wish list. I was able to work with Joey Bada$$ on this record, who I’ve been wanting to work with for a while, and I didn’t necessarily think that that was going to happen on this record but cool, it was great. It was definitely a surprise for me. I never thought that I would work with him, but that was great. The list goes on. I think Jack White would be super tough to work with and obviously, my being I think Andre 3000. And the reason I say that is because Outcasts was still very much a you know, expiration on his record, although we have like a little bit more edgy, you know, tones to the record, structurally and like, as far as how the song sound chord wise, you know, songs like Roses and  Hey Yeah was still like very much influential to this phase of black honestly this era black obviously. 

Q: And I’ve noticed that you guys move with a lot of intention with how you produce and write your music? What did the recording process for this specific album look like in terms of intention moving through which songs and etc.

A: The first thing to note is that it pretty much happened chronologically. We did ‘Want You’ first before we went on tour last year, and when we came back we finished the rest of the album in a span of like five months. So it was a pretty short record. But I think it started with understanding the story, understanding the characters within the story. Really like studying their characteristics. A lot of this was inspired by films like just watching different movies and studying how people act and just trying to bring that to life through audio. So once we did that, I just got into a character and went to town with that. I’s good to note that like, for people that know, Blk Odyssy I think that’d be very surprised by this record, because pretty much throughout the entire record, with the exception of maybe one or two songs. I kind of have like a voice character that doesn’t sound anything like mine. People will be like, that’s not really like you’re not giving people anything to hang on to. But that’s the thing people should hang on to the concepts of our records, not necessarily how you hear my voice or how you hear a guitar or how you hear the production because that’s going to be ever changing. But the concept is what we want our fanbase to marry. I embody this teenage angsty, emo kind of vocal. And I had to figure out a way to make that sound genuine and make it not sound like a joke, you know, I’m saying so. That was a good part of the process. Figuring out what their vocal tone sounds like. And then figuring out different ways to create dynamics within this production because I had always done hip hop, r&b stuff, so now I’m moving into the pop space with alternative vibes. We have to figure out different tones. And as a producer, I just say like, Okay, this is how you make this sound happier. That’s how you make the sound darker. This is how you raise the energy in this part. So that was a process, you know, and I’ll go through the same process on our next record. When we change sounds again. 

The band is not one to shy away from addressing uncomfortable topics. In their freshman album Blk Vintage, they transformed the pain, triumph, beauty, and adversity from the personal experiences of Juwan and the collective Black experience, and turned it into a record that echoes liberation through psychedelic surrealism addressing social justice and mental health. Their new punk era is not far from it. At their 2024 SWXSW show, the band took time out of their sets to share their stance on Palestine as they wore Keffiyehs on stage. As a band that created an album about Black liberation, it easy and aligned for them to speak up against the genocide Palestinians are facing. Because punk aesthetics and sounds are marking a mainstream resurgence, I had to ask Juwan about his thoughts on the absence of punk values in the new age adoption.

Q: We are in a space right now in music/culture where punk and alternative culture/aesthetics are starting to become mainstream or in better words more culturally acceptable and sought out, but the values of punkness are not being embraced the same way. As you’re moving into this era, what synergies are there with punk values and the band’s?

A: People that knew BLK ODYSSY before, based off of our first record, know that one of the biggest things that we’re rooted in is activism. Although this record might not like, particularly speak to it, it could be a segue for us to get back into that. When I’m performing I’m gonna talk about whatever I feel is on my chest, in any capacity, whether that’s South by Southwest and talking about Gaza, and whether it’s social injustices around the country. It’s always been what we do, because that’s who we are. We’ve always used our platform to speak up. This sound definitely has a deeper meaning than what this record is. So, in lieu of that, when I get on stage, I’ll always find a way to speak while we’re in front of people about things that are actually important

Punk and its values are here to stay no matter how many folks want to co-opt our aesthetics, our ethics never die. Excited to see Blk Odyssy lean into a sound and movement who’s ethos resonate with them so well. I was able to get a sneak peak of the album and I’m afraid Blk Odyssy will be 3/3 certified. Alt Black kids up 1000.BLK ODYSSY’s music and visuals exist in a realm of surrealism taking us through journeys of real life issues and consolidating them into alternative universes. In the multiverse that is BLK ODYSSY, this new era is bringing forth the unsetting and alluring embodiment of indie punk rock while embodying their true identity- limitless and uncontained.

Q: I was able to listen to half of the upcoming album, and let me say this y’all are going 3/3 with certified records. Let’s give them a sneak peak into this new album and era. What concepts and themes do you want your audience to walk away from with this new album?

A: That’s a good question, because there are commonalities and through lines between all of our projects. The storyline has an element of surrealism and psychedelia. I think all of our records possess that to some degree. And, um, you know, that’s something that’s still here. This one is a fictional story. And it’s definitely surreal, like it feels like one of those crazy shows that you’ll see on Netflix- always bending reality. The character spends a lot of this album in a dream state, but he doesn’t know he’s dreaming. He’s interacting with things on this record that only exist in the subconscious. So surrealism is the main theme of it.

Check out ‘XXX’ featuring Wiz Khalifa, available on all streaming platforms! I can’t wait for their upcoming album dropping this summer. You better believe I’m gearing up for their tour too! Keep up with all things BLK ODYSSY by following them on social media @blkodyssy.

shirley tetteh’s nardeydey mixes alt-pop and post-punk

Even among all the young talents on the rise from London’s incredible new jazz scene, Shirley Tetteh stands out as a true don. She is a guitarist of high renown, and a key member of the spiritual-jazz big-band Maisha and the all-star, all-women’s ensemble, Nejira. But on “Speedial,” her first single under the name Nardeydey, Tetteh also reveals herself a fabulous alternative pop singer-songwriter.

Speedial by Nardeydey

Though Tetteh says “Speedial” is under the influence of jazz progressives like Ornette Coleman and Kurt Rosenweinkel, it could not be easier on the ears if it tried. Over an inviting mix of rolling percussion, and a guitar riff detuned and jagged enough to be classified post-punk yet melodic enough to be full of Afro-pop sweetness, Tetteh addresses a partner not sitting in front of her: “I wish I had you on the speedial/just press a button and your person appears,” she sings as matter-of-factly as you like, intimating a complex modern relationship.

Yet by the time we reach the chorus, and Tetteh’s voice ascends to a strong insistent falsetto, and the vibe has become more passionate and elemental. “So I’ll sing to thunder/dance my rain/I will sleep with the fire,” she sings — before returning to her phone, “don’t wait for me.”

It’s a masterful turn-of-perspective, one that the songwriter and singer pulls off with comfort. And it makes us very excited to hear more. With all the other stuff Shirley Tetteh has got going on — both Maisha and Nejira also have albums scheduled for 2018 — it’s fascinating to wonder what the rest of the Nardeydey project will sound like.

hope in humanity is restored in this alt. pop-rocker’s ‘gta’-inspired single

Partially inspired by the wild west that was GTA, The Skins alum, BAYLi is taking on the media’s obsession with violence and the system that spoon feeds us violence and vitriol. Not only that, but violence seems to have become part of our everyday lives in the news and in our schools. Countering the intensity of this imagery with a surprisingly comforting melody, BAYLi juxtaposes lyrical intention with hopefulness. “It’s starting to feel like life is a really bad video game,” BAYLi explains about the inescapable barbarity of modern everyday life. “I think we need to try and disconnect as much as possible from this constant violent imagery because it’s desensitizing us to the loss of human life.”

future funk ogs bad rabbits turn the tables with their #timesup anthem “f on the j – o – b”

It’s the rare song that can make your skin crawl at the same time it makes your body move. But Bad Rabbits have always been a rare kind of band. Easily one of the best live bands out there, for their first new song since 2013, the band shreds their corporeal form for an animated alter-ego. The band adopts the inner monologue of an office creep who harasses his coworkers and pays the consequences. It’s a smart and chilling inversion of the band’s usual future-funk, that highlights the line consent draws between sexy and monstrous.

Singer Fredua Boakye intended it as a statement of solidarity with women who experience workplace harassment, saying “The song and the video shame and mock the men who feel entitled to sex just because they are attracted to a woman. The narrator in this song is the guy that Mimi deals with every day at work. To the douchebags that sexually harass women, your time’s up. To women, we just want you to know that we support you.”

video premiere: treat your senses to folk-soul singer mariama’s dreamy “raindrops”

With lush synths shading in the lines drawn by Mariama’s evocative voice, and the dense imaginative video by Nando Nkrumah, “Raindrops” is a feast for the senses. The Paris-based singer’s latest single builds from a downbeat song of heartbreak to the moment when you wipe off your face and watch the clouds begin to clear. Her rich voice traces a jazzy melody over retro synths and a spare beat. Nkrumah ties it together with a visually ambitious video which tracks a continuous zoom past the heartbreak.

It’s about “Love, sweat and tears,” Mariama tells AFROPUNK. “Raindrops belongs to the TEARS part of the album. The song describes a state of confusion, loneliness, sadness, but in the midst of these dark feelings, there is always a voice that speaks to us – pain also has its “raison d’être”. It can tell us what’s wrong with our lives and where we need change – provided we listen to it. If one manages to face unpleasant feelings without trying to stifle them or run away, a crisis can become a new beginning. It takes rain, so that the flowers can blossom again. Ultimately it all depends on our attitude. There is a quote that says: Some people feel the rain – others just get wet.”

En Français:

“Appartenant à la partie TEARS de l’album la chanson décrit un état de confusion, de solitude, de tristesse. Mais au milieu de ces sentiments sombres, il y a toujours une voix qui nous parle – la douleur aussi a sa raison d’être. Elle peut nous indiquer ce qui ne va pas dans notre vie et où on a besoin de changement – à condition qu’on l’écoute. Si on arrive à faire face aux sentiments désagréable sans essayer de les étouffer ou de fuir, une crise peut devenir un nouveau départ. Il faut la pluie, pour que les fleurs puissent s’épanouir à nouveau. Finalement tout dépend de notre attitude, il y a une citation qui dit: some people feel the rain – others just get wet (certaines personnes sentent la pluie – d’autres sont justes un peu mouillés).”

Mariama’s forthcoming full length LOVE, SWEAT and TEARS is due out in Fall 2018.

Director: Nando Nkrumah
Cinematographer: Jennifer Günther
Dancer: Kristina Kunn, Abine Leao Ka, Nnandi, Saliou Diouf, Ekaterina Thor, Jessica Trommenschläger
Styling: CHANG13°, Denise Kynd, Eva Nkrumah
Makeup: Anam Mahmood, Marcel Wiesmann
Visual Effects: Jonas Dörschel, Nando Nkrumah, Cordula Croce
Catering: Linda Jalloh
On-Set Photography: Gamajan Ganesh
Producer: Lichtblick Studio

video premiere: west african singer-songwriter angelique kidjo re-imagines talking heads’ “once in a lifetime”

Really excited for today’s first premiere, the jubilant cover of Talking Heads “Once In A Lifetime” by the fantastic Angelique Kidjo. The surrealistic video opens in a world of workplace monotony that’s quickly broken up by blasting horns, an intense West African groove, and the ecstatic vocals of Angelique, transforming the lifeless scene into a raucous bacchanal sanctioned by Angelique’s joyous proclamations. Frankly, Talking Heads never sounded so good or interesting and lucky for us, the track is just a preview of Angelique’s reclaiming of the Talking Heads entire ‘Remain in Light’ album, out June 8. But for now, check out the epic video for “Once In A Lifetime,” below!

“In the 1970s, under the dictatorship in my home country of Benin, it was really difficult to find music to listen to from the rest of the world,” Angelique Kidjo. “When I went into exile in Paris in 1983, I discovered so much new music, and among them was the song “Once In A Lifetime”. Initially, it felt strange to me. People said it was Rock and Roll, but it felt African somehow. When I performed in New York in 1992 at SOB’s, David Byrne was the first American artist to come see my show. Many years later, I discovered that Brian Eno and The Talking Heads had been influenced by Fela Kuti and studied John Miller Chernoff’s book African Rhythm and African Sensibility about the power of African music.

“Once In A Lifetime” was released at the start of the Reagan presidency, and you feel the anguish and anger in its lyrics. I feel the same tension in today’s political climate. Bringing “Once In A Lifetime” back to the African continent, with the help of superstar producer Jeff Bhasker, Black Panther’s percussionist Magatte Sow and guitarist Dominic James, feels so right today. Luc Besson helped me find the right energy for the video when he introduced me to the diverse young community of the students of his Film school at La Cité Du Cinema in Paris. The young Antoine Paley, with the help of the students, directed the video like a celebration of the strong and eternal spirit of African music.”

watch: janelle monáe drops two (2!) videos for new singles off upcoming album

Janelle Monáe’s new singles from her upcoming album ‘Dirty Computer’.
She goes full hip-hop in ‘Django Jane’ single & video, while ‘Make Me Feel’ is a funky joint with a video directed by Alan Ferguson (Solange’s husband!)

alt-r&b singer mélat digs deep on her massive collaboration with jansport j ‘move me ii: the present’

The best artistic collaborations are the ones that are bigger than the sum of their parts, where the collaborators don’t just work well together, but bring out the best in each other. That’s definitely the case with alt R&B singer Mélat and producer Jansport J. On their latest collaboration, the unwieldily titled Move Me II: The Present, the two are like raspberries and chocolate. Or french fries and chocolate. Or anything and chocolate. Mélat’s melting soprano swirls around J’s beats, each taking turns pulling focus.



The record is rich in hooks and textures. Whether singing about some late night regrets (“4AM, Call Me I’m Up”), a new boy (“Beautiful Black Boy”), or police violence (“Worries (Revelation 8:3)”), the duo digs deep. Jansport J’s sun-stained soul samples keep Mélat’s soaring voice grounded while giving her room to fly when the song calls for it. Nodding to MC Lyte’s classic “Lyte as a Rock,” the closer “Too Good To Last,” saves the biggest hooks and most inventive beat for last. With a sober eye towards a relationship, Mélat recognizes that the best things may not be meant to last, but that’s no reason not to love it while it’s here.

premiere: kenneka cook’s alt.-pop ‘moonchild’ is a totally unique record that needs to be heard to be believed

Moonchild by Kenneka Cook is one of the most unique albums I’ve ever heard. The album is part improvised vocal loops and part Billy Holiday-esque deceptively upbeat songs about heartbreak and pain (both often at the same time), with touches of neo-soul and Flaming Lips kind of indie rock thrown in for good measure. But here’s the really weird thing: it works. Really. Really. Well.

Cook reportedly came to the style after seeing Reggie Watts perform, and you can hear traces of his glorious weirdness throughout. But more often, Cook seems to be summoning a 1940’s jazz singer into the 21st century. Where far too often working synths under a jazz melody can feel self-conscious and precious, album highlight “Don’t Ask Me” is riveting from the contrast. Then she covers Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang.” Then goes on a looped vocal adventure with unreasonably catchy “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance.” That any of this works at all, let alone so well is a testament to the warmth, personality, and serious vocal power Kenneka Cook brings to everything she does. As Kanneka explains, the album was an attempt to combine the myriad facets of her personality into one little package:

“I want Moonchild to be an introduction into who I am not only musically, but in all areas of my life; The mystic metaphysical thinker, the girl who isn’t afraid to ask her mom for help when she feels the weight of the world on her shoulders, the movie buff who also appreciates cinematic orchestra and more.”

blood orange honors black history month with 2 new songs

The genius of Dev Hynes is his ability to merge the personal and the political behind an indelible hook. In honor of Black History Month (all year, he adds) the mercurial force behind Blood Orange dropped 2 new tracks that put that talent in the foreground. Though he says they won’t appear on any new album, the 2 tracks give a taste of where Hynes’ head is at these days. “Christopher & 6th” is more of a sketch, following an impromptu electric guitar line that melts into a giant keyboard line. “June 12th” is the more polished of the pair, buttoning a document of pain and the question “Are u an ally or are you hiding?” with the reminder: “You must love yourself.”