Stereotypes of super-human strength, coldness, erratic anger, and the ability to hold up a community grip Black womanhood. Generally, stereotypes are based in some truth. But what are the repercussions of being seen as super-human? Are Black women not afforded the space to be human? To be vulnerable?
Charleston-based musician Niecy Blues emphasizes the strength in vulnerability and power with her latest EP CRY, self-released on April 22, and now available on Bandcamp. Niecy self-produced the EP in collaboration with partner and frequent collaborator Khari, also known as Contour. In this release, she confesses the link between pain and healing in just three songs. She described crying as a way to “let out” emotions that bottle up for her when practicing healing.
“For me, I’ve noticed that [crying] kinda forces that cap to open,” she said. “I fill up for so long and need to release. I realized [when starting this project] that I had not cried. I was like ‘why haven’t I cried?’ I’ve been through so much. I have this idea that has been given to me by society. Black women are strong. [We] hold up the community and this and that. I was like, ‘You know what? Imma fucking cry.’”
With CRY, she creates space for Black women to be “as emotional and soft as they want to be” while exposing a sort of courage that comes along with being emotive. CRY isn’t just about sadness. It’s also about anger or the range of emotions one can feel when grieving.
“I am [reimagining] what it means to be a Black woman and a Black-queer woman, at that,” Niecy said. “This work could take a lifetime, who knows.”
CRY came about through an entirely digital rollout and is an improvised rarity; the process leading up to its release was therapeutic, intense, and cathartic. The first two songs, “CRY!” and “painted seats (for Domo),” were created in the same session. Niecy describes the process as heavy.
“I was sitting down to try to learn some chords,” she recalled. “I kept building on what sounded cool. I didn’t want [the song] to be super structured; I wanted space. I went in to add some synths and I asked Khari if he could freestyle some stuff on the piano. That’s how [the song] happened.”
“Painted seats (for Domo)” was crafted around the last note of the EP. Niecy shared how her all encompassing grief for a slain friend became part of the session.
“It’s about the grieving process and how we all grieve and feel alone,” Niecy explained. “It’s about not really understanding why it feels like separation in the grieving process and how it feels so isolating. I was actually literally crying while singing that. I stopped the session that day because I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a lot.’ I allowed myself to sit in that and rest.”
The EP’s closer, “keep goin black girl, ur not far” was created some time later. “I didn’t feel complete with the first two songs and I got the basslines for ‘keep goin’ black girl, ur not far’ from a session with Khari,” she said, adding that the third and final song brought about feelings of completeness. “I felt like, Okay, this is the last thing I wanna say.”
The freedom to create, innovate, and explore bleeds through in this CRY. This EP is unlike other projects in Niecy’s discography and unlike anything the self-described theatre kid has ever performed. The sound is astral and spacey. The tone is dark and heavy. Her voice is both angelic and ominous. CRY demonstrates Niecy’s fantastic range, both sonically and thematically. She can sing up-beat sexy songs and yet, her voice can carry tunes of somber doom. She offers us a reality in which artists still create for intimate reasons. She’s an artist that makes compositions like time capsules. Her responses to the world are forever immortalized in song.
“Part of me wrote [“painted seats (for Domo)”], because if I don’t remember her, then I lose her forever,” Niecy said about her friend who passed away. “Memory is not perfect; memory fails you. I don’t want to ever lose those memories.”
Although CRY features ambient production and freestyled lyrics, every part of the EP carries so much intent. No part of Niecy’s work is left up to chance; it is a meeting of authenticity and technique. So often in contemporary noise-music, the sounds are accidental or experimental. In this case, the sounds are sought after and worked for. After some artistic exploration and encouraging prods from her partner, Niecy started cultivating a sound she held dear for a while.
Niecy admitted, “Once I was done, I removed myself from it. That was the only way I was considering sharing it. I was like, ‘I’m stepping away from this.’ Do I want to help facilitate the releasing of emotions?”
To properly facilitate this release of art and emotion, the project needed an accompanying visual. The iconic red cover was a collaborative effort from Niecy and Austin Butler. Niecy described the cover as a mutual understanding that was borne from delicate conversations on masculinity and femininity, the color of her sound, and water.
For weeks, her friends and supporters enthusiastically responded to the EP on social media. Like her peers, she used Instagram as a tool to gauge what folks thought of her work. She also took it a step further and, true to her healing nature, asked her followers when they’d last cried.
“All musicians and creatives are vessels,” Niecy said when asked about how she shared CRY. “It’s supposed to go through you. There are of course things you can make for yourself but [music is] meant to be shared and build connections. You never know when something will lead to another. They don’t call it a gift for no reason. It’s something to give.”
Niecy certainly gives with CRY: she gives a new perspective on what it means to make noise-music or ambient music. She gives even more space for Black women to be vulnerable. And most importantly, she gives an accurate depiction of both the delicacy and firmness in crying.