DownBeat Keys

Posted on: Monday, September 29, 2014

A few months ago, Jessica introduced us to a band that formed a few years ago at her college. We promptly fell in love with their single “Lonely” (which was even featured on an MTV Spring Break commercial) and that’s why introducing today’s Real Life Glam feature is so exciting. These guys are seriously talented and have definitely been making a name for themselves in the music industry, from opening for Bon Jovi in Times Square to playing at the 2014 MS&K Grammy Party in Los Angeles. We caught up with one of the members, Andrew Root, to get his and the rest of the band’s perspective on success, their future, and more. Without further ado, here are the DownBeat Keys:

downbeat keys, dbk, brooklyn, hamilton college, lonelyMeet the guys.

Ryan Calabrese, Andrew Root, Kadahj Bennett, Baldwin Tang and Jared Schneider

GLAM Life Blog: Tell us a little bit about yourselves and how DBK got started.

DownBeat Keys: DBK happened totally spontaneously, which is kind of the spirit of the band. We were all students at Hamilton College when Cal, Baldwin, and I decided to form a hip-hop group with live band instrumentals a la The Roots. We were working with this rapper from Hamilton at the time and heard there was a big show happening on campus, so we decided to audition for the headlining spot.

We showed up at the audition and the rapper wasn’t there, so we all started freaking out. Then Baldwin spotted Kadahj who was also auditioning and knew that Kadahj sang and rapped, so we asked him to get on the mic and freestyle. I had never even met the kid, but he was onstage with us. So Cal, Baldwin and I dropped this funky hip-hop beat with no idea what was going to happen, and Kadahj opened his mouth and effortlessly the DBK sound was just immediately there, and it sounded good. Good enough that we’re still into it six years later.

GLB: What does DownBeat Keys mean?

DBK: Wouldn’t it be great if the name meant something really deep and profound? Nope! Kadahj and Baldwin are the coolest members of the band, so we said, ”Come up with something cool.” They had a quick conversation, decided DownBeat Keys had a nice ring to it and that was that. Plus, it shortens to DBK which sounds awesome in rap verses.

GLB: How would you describe your music to people who haven’t heard you before?

DBK: The lame way is to say we’re like a cross between The Roots and Maroon 5. The cool way is to say we sound more awesome than a bald eagle dunking a basketball while simultaneously playing “Run To The Hills” by Iron Maiden on electric guitar. With its beak. Think about it.

GLB: How do your new songs on [memory.chrome] differ from some of your older material on Summer on Saturn?

DBK: Summer On Saturn was our third project and kind of the culmination of the original DBK Hip-Hop/Rock sound. We felt like we really crystallized that rough around the edges, high-energy, ruckus vibe on that record, and it was time to move in a new direction.

When we were thinking about where to go next, we realized that one of our most popular songs ever was “I Don’t Remember” off our first project Invisible Ink, and it had this tight, up-tempo dancefloor feel that we all really enjoyed. We started writing some songs in that vein with a little neo-soul thrown in, and really liked where it was going. Turns out audiences did as well, and as soon as we released [memory.chrome] with three dancefloor tracks, we started getting a lot more attention.

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GLB: Do you guys have any rituals that you do before you perform?

DBK: Nothing formal, but there are definitely things that seem to happen pretty consistently. Eating for one. We usually have a big meal together before the gig, although we had to institute a strict “No Burrito” policy for obvious reasons.

GLB: How do you handle mistakes during a performance?

DBK: We don’t make mistakes. Ever.

GLB: How would you define the word “success?”

DBK: Making great music. As a band trying to be world famous, get signed, tour the world, all that good stuff, it’s hard. You spend so much time focusing on the business side of things, it’s easy to forget that the whole point is to be able to make music all day, every day. That’s the true goal; it’s really that simple.

We’ll be in the studio for like 20 hours straight, exhausted, sick of each other, and then we’ll add this one layer that brings the whole song together and everything changes to euphoria, dancing, singing, high fiving. That’s success. That’s always what we’re after. Getting famous and getting signed and all that stuff is just a vehicle to have that feeling more often than we do right now.

downbeat keys, dbk, brooklyn, hamilton college, lonely

The cover of [memory.chrome] was a “collaboration” between DBK and an artist, Jerkface, from Street Art Live.
The band smashed the keyboard with a rock for ten minutes and Jerk painted for two hours. 

GLB: What’s next for DBK?

DBK: We spent the entire winter writing and in the studio, and we just finished up three songs that are absolutely on a whole different level than anything we’ve ever done before. Better yet, we’re in the process of shooting a new music video that is going to be mind-blowing. We’re talking green screens, slow motion cameras, the works. We’re going to drop the video and song early this fall, then follow up with other new tracks shortly thereafter. Get ready DBK nation, after a year without any new music, you’re in for a treat.

DownBeat Keys is all over the interweb.
Check them out on Facebook, Twitter, or SoundCloud!

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Let’s talk hair: Dominique Toney

Posted on: Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A few weeks ago we featured singer-songwriter Dominique Toney in our Real Life Glam series. And today, her debut album A Love Like Ours drops! One thing we were dying to know about Dominique was her secret to that gorgeous head of hair. Luckily, we asked her about it:

dominique toney

“My hair is natural. I do it once a week. Rarely use shampoo, I mostly co-wash. I always deep condition! That is a must. Then I do a 2-strand twist, a flat twist out, or a rod set. I use a gel called Black and Sassy (found at Sally’s Beauty Supply) and my conditioners range from Aubrey’s Organics to Shea Moisture! I’m also a big fan of Castor Oil. I massage my scalp with it every night and seal my ends with it. Magical stuff!”

Simple enough?

And we leave you with Dominique’s video for “We Are” from A Love Like Ours:

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Dr. Crystal Leigh Endsley

Posted on: Monday, August 11, 2014

Today’s installment of Real Life Glam features spoken word artist and higher education scholar, Dr. Crystal Leigh Endsley. As someone who exemplifies both “Brains and Beauty,” we had the chance to ask the Doctor a few questions about her past, goals for the future, and lots more. Check it out!

GLAM Life Blog: Tell us about yourself!

Crystal Leigh Endsley: I’m originally from a small town in Louisiana, which is still home for me, and I grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I recently moved to New York City, so I’m like Whitley Gilbert in the Big Apple!

I’m an internationally acclaimed spoken word artist and an assistant professor of Africana Studies at John Jay College, which allows me to combine my passion for education with the power of performance to create the world I want to live in. I’ve worked across the globe in over ten different countries conducting workshops focused on using the arts as social justice.

GLB: Who or what inspires you to write poetry and perform spoken word?

CLE: I was raised to believe that God created each of us with a purpose we are to fulfill on this earth. For me, when I write and when I perform, that’s when I accomplish my purpose.

My Grandma was the one who told me that at first when I called her having a crisis about what to do with my life and was I wasting my time. Her wisdom definitely helped me at that moment and I realized that was exactly the effect I wanted to have on anyone who saw me perform—the ability to transform their perception of a given situation, to enable them to shift perspectives, to express the love of God to them.

Dr. Crystal Leigh Endsley

Photo Credit: Naomi Tsegaye

GLB: When did you start writing?

CLE: I never intended to become a spoken word artist. I never even intended to go to graduate school either, but I was good at school and did not know where to go next in my life. No one in my family had ever completed college, or even thought about grad school and so I really was stumbling through sort of learning as I went.

The same was true when I first began performing. I was threatened, I was told to leave town, I was told I wasn’t “black enough” or that I should quit. I took all of that energy and prayed for grace to use my frustration as fuel and turned it into material for the stage.

GLB: How did you get your start with spoken word?

CLE: I wrote in a journal for a really long time, through high school especially. When I got to undergrad, there was an open mic called “Etymology” and my roommates knew that I wrote poetry and they encouraged me to go share a piece. I will never forget walking on that stage, holding my little piece of paper, my hands sweating and shaking. When I finished reading, I could hear people clapping, and I couldn’t believe it. I was so scared. The lights were bright and I couldn’t see into the audience, but heard the applause. As I was walking back to my seat a few folks dapped me up and said they enjoyed my work. One girl came up to me and hugged my neck. After a few seconds she didn’t let go, and I realized she was crying. She said, “Thank you. I felt like you were talking about me up there. Thank you.” It was that moment that I realized exactly how powerful the spoken word could be—that it had the ability to connect two utter strangers through an experience and that it could move a person to tears.

GLB: We really like your concept of “Artist meets Scholar” because it shows just how multidimensional people are. Which sides of yourself do you feel are best represented whenever you’re on stage?

CLE: When I first started out, I was given the nickname of “that fire,” because of my performance style and the content of my poetry. There’s such a fine line between consistency and imagination that an artist who is interested in integrity must negotiate. I work to make my life off stage consistent to a degree with the content I present to an audience while on stage—I feel that’s my responsibility.

I have 30 minutes to speak to a crowd who may never see me again and so I am responsible for making sure those people walk away having been offered the very best work I have to share with them. I want my audience to walk away feeling strengthened, being reminded ‘I’m not alone,’ knowing that they’re loved. I also feel obligated to represent those of us girls who are good girls, who are smart girls, who [were] nerds growing up, who transformed, who prove the system wrong.

Dr. Crystal Leigh Endsley

Photo Credit: Naomi Tsegaye

GLB: What inspires you to write?

CLE: I believe that passion is a crucial ingredient for any compelling work—artistic or otherwise. I heard someone say that many times situations or circumstances that cause me to respond with frustration or anger are often areas that I need to be working in. I believe that applies to writing as well.

Any situation or theme that causes me to respond strongly—positively or negatively—is typically going to end up in a poem. I have also learned how important it is to challenge myself to write about things in new ways. Because I am so often asked to develop curriculum and workshops for aspiring writers, I’m always learning new writing exercises and prompts, which help to keep my own skills and techniques developing.

GLB: What advice do you have for someone who wants to begin writing but isn’t exactly sure where to start?

CLE: I always think that people who read make the best writers and that is one key piece of advice I have. If you want to write well, read well. The second suggestion I have is for performers and that is preparation. My students crack me up because they think I lead a glamorous life—and I love my life, wouldn’t trade it for anything but it is not like the movies. They hear that I’m going to [a] gig somewhere wonderful, or that I’m on the road again and they think it’s this glossy sort of sexy life. They don’t realize that my mornings begin while it’s still dark outside, that the 30 minutes you see on stage means a thousand hours in my house rehearsing and revising and writing. It’s all about preparation. Writing and rehearsing with precision so that when you book the show you are ready to go show out!

Dr. Crystal Leigh Endsley

Photo Credit: Lizzy Brooks

GLB: Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?

CLE: I’m actually starting to dabble in visual art and photography. I’m working on curating my first photo exhibit this coming fall/spring so stay tuned for that!

GLB: You’re a really well-traveled person because of all your work both inside and outside of the classroom. Where have your latest adventures taken you?

CLE: Performance and research have opened so many doors for me. I’ve actually just returned from East Africa where I was co-hosting and performing at the Music Concert stage for the Zanzibar International Film Festival in Stonetown, Zanzibar. I did my first international television interview while I was in Stonetown and that was incredible. From there I went to Athens, Greece, to present at a conference and then I traveled on to Hawassa, Ethiopia, to work with a fantastic new project I’m so excited to be a part of called Long Live the Girls! It’s a series of creative writing and performance workshops geared towards young women. We’re looking forward to planning more domestic workshops over the coming year as well. This was a great summer.

GLB: What is your personal philosophy?

CLE: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path.” Pursue God and you are guaranteed an adventure, that is for sure! The presence of Jesus is success: if you’ve got the presence of God then you are successful. Love always wins.

GLB: What’s next for Dr. Crystal Leigh Endsley?

CLE: I’m gearing up for the start of the school semester, planning my courses. Also on deck I have gigs booked for San Juan, Puerto Rico, and New Orleans, Louisiana this fall as well as a few colleges for my tour over the next year. I’m working on editing some of the gorgeous footage from the summer and looking to release that this fall as well. I’ve also got some manuscripts in the works (gotta get that tenure) and a few more collaborations with former students coming out soon. Many more exciting things to come!

Dr. Crystal Leigh Endsley

Photo Credit: Naomi Tsegaye

Fallen for Crystal Leigh, too? Check out her website, follow her on Twitter, or send her an email at crystal.leigh.endsley@gmail.com. Don’t be afraid to reach out!

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