Xavier Martin (left) and Jade Green of The Black Creatures inside the Nighthawk lounge in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. (photo by Jim Barcus)
Storyteller musicians Jade Green and Xavier Martin are ‘going places others have not’
The Black Creatures are intergalactic storytellers, a scrappy DIY hip-hop duo with a sci-fi bent.
The Black Creatures — Jade Green (they/them) and Xavier Martin (he/him) — are also 2022 Generative Performing Artist Fellows for Charlotte Street.
“To be recognized by an official arts authority is something that I did not expect to come out of our work with The Black Creatures,” said Green. The award, they said, allowed the group to change the scope of what they were able to do.
The Black Creatures label themselves “darkpop hip-hop.” People underestimate pop music, said Martin. “I think there is a lot of nuance that has to be present and applied to make pop music work.”
He adds that their work has “contextual undertones and themes of harder emotional experiences, things that are complicated in real life.”
“We’re making compelling points and we’re telling heartbreaking and soul-warming stories alongside those hip-hop and EDM grooves,” said Green.
“We tell stories from alternate universes, where Black and Indigenous people’s voices were not silenced. We tell stories from parallel universes, where power dynamics are different. We tell stories from a lot of different perspectives.”Jade Green
Their lyric-rich work addresses a range of subjects, from nuanced love songs and chill summer anthems to police brutality and other social ills. Their videos, too, add layers to those stories, filmed in both familiar and hidden sites around town.
“We tell stories from alternate universes, where Black and Indigenous people’s voices were not silenced. We tell stories from parallel universes, where power dynamics are different. We tell stories from a lot of different perspectives,” said Green. “We go so many different places with our work, and we try really hard to go places that others have not.”
They started making music together about 10 years ago. They’d met in passing as students at Parkville High School, but later connected on social media. Green heard a track Martin created (an inchoate “Glass Thoughts”) and asked to add lyrics. When Martin heard their recording, he thought, “this is dope as hell,” so they worked together to create a finished product.
One song turned into three, then into a band, and they’ve just released their third full-length album, “By Thy Hand,” with Center Cut Records. 2020’s “Wild Echoes” was named album of the year in “The Pitch,” and their track “Negative Zero” was single of the year by KKFI 90.1 FM’s Wednesday MidDay Medley. They contributed theme music for “A Frame of Mind,” a podcast from The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, hosted by poet Glenn North, in conversations about race.
“I have this air of mystery about my writing and Jade has this air of boldness about theirs.”Xavier Martin
“We’re having more success than either of us planned,” said Martin. “We were supposed to just do one song and we’re four projects deep.”
Green is the primary singer, Martin produces and sings back-up, and they both rap and contribute lyrics. Their contrasts in personality and musical style contribute to the group’s layered and complex songs. “I have this air of mystery about my writing and Jade has this air of boldness about theirs,” said Martin.
Martin, who plays violin, got interested in producing in high school, because he needed background music for a video game project. Once he started, he was “enamored by the process . . . this moment of discovery had opened my eyes to new opportunities of creation.”
With each project they’ve grown in versatility and intentionality. “The heart of each track, each song, each story that we tell speaks to fundamental truths of the human desire for connection, the human feeling of ostracism, of solitude, of being alone,” said Green.
“It’s the little details, especially that our deep dive listeners pick up on, that make the storytelling blossom,” they said. “It’s almost like choose-your-own-adventure. You pick the path: You can choose to deep dive, or you can choose to bop your head and just listen in the car. You can choose to engage with this album at whatever depth you want to.”
They’ve played all over in Kansas City, from DIY basement sets to Boulevardia, the Kansas City Museum and the Crossroads Music Fest, and they have a strong following in Manhattan, Kansas, but are poised to tour other markets, with shows in Colorado and Oklahoma.
“We gotta branch out cause it’s just not fair,” laughed Green. “Kansas and Missouri shouldn’t be getting all this goodness and other people don’t know about us. Other states are gonna be jealous.”
This fall, they performed at Charlotte Street Foundation in September as part of CSF’s celebration of 25 years of granting generative performing artist awards. In October, they collaborated with Owen/Cox Dance Group on a world premiere choreographed by New York City-based Christian Warner.
And as they earned these successes, they haven’t lost sight of their scrappy beginnings, hustling and struggling to get seen, heard and understood.
“As much as we’re putting our blood, sweat and tears into these tracks, we don’t want the focus to be on us. We try our best to decenter ourselves when we tell stories, when we make music. In the spirit of what we do, which is telling untold stories, we gotta make sure there’s a balance,” said Green.
“We happen to be people with the privilege of holding the mic, and that’s no small feat. When you’ve got the mic, you better say something people haven’t heard before.”
For more information about The Black Creatures, visit theblackcreatures.com.