One of the most unnervingly multi-talented, interesting new artists working right now lives in Flint, Michigan, and works a day job at Planned Parenthood. If you’ve ever listened to Tunde Olaniran, you know what I’m saying—it sounds like you’re listening to 15 different artists flex their particular gifts at once. He’s equally impressive as a rapper and vocalist; he’s got grime and punky flamboyance, and a savantish ability to slip fluidly from style to style, inflection to inflection. I reviewed Olaniran’s debut album Transgressor a few weeks ago, and since then, it’s been one of few things that can break my Carly Rae streak: standouts include “Let Me Go,” “Namesake,” and “KYBM,” the new video for which we’re debuting here.
“KYBM” stands for Keep Your Body Moving. Olaniran told me over the phone that the song—which has gone through about eight different versions, he said, since he wrote it just after finishing 2014’s Yung Archetype EP—is about Detroit, and Flint, and “how you mobilize people, what that looks like, what it feels like. What it feels like to mobilize people in a way that doesn’t reinforce oppressive structures.”
Olaniran, aside from his day job and—of course—the whole music thing, is active within local social justice organizing efforts, and he’s as fluid and easy in the register of intersectional solidarity as he is when he’s shrieking like Danny Brown. “For me,” he said, “one thing that always came through, especially in Detroit, was this feeling of joy both in movement and in movement building. I think you find that, particularly with people of color, resistance combines with music. Your body is part of it. Your body is what they’re trying to control.”
So, the video, which Olaniran filmed in Detroit with director Natasha Beste (“You know when you share a brain with someone to the detriment of your actual productivity?” he said. “We’re the ones getting kicked off the wine train, unfortunately”) features dancers from the local scene, letting way loose. Olaniran normally choreographs for his dancers, and designs their costumes, but here it’s all up to individual vibes. “As someone who identifies as fat, I wasn’t always exposed to dance as something that was available to me,” he said. “So Natasha and I just wanted to capture how they feel when they’re dancing, rather than how you feel when you observe them.”
At one point in the video, he stands behind a pitcher and pours water into a glass in a somewhat abstract tableau. Olaniran explained to me that his fixation on water came out of the access issues that have been plaguing Flint and Detroit; how, because of his reproductive health work, he’s in constant contact with people who’ve been made medically vulnerable after being denied basic access to affordable, clean water. “Rashes and dehydration are serious if you’re HIV positive,” he said. It’s bleak as hell, this situation, but Olaniran grooves it out in this video nonetheless. It made me think of how intimately Detroit activists know the frustration of working their ass off in a zone that is considered by outsiders to be effectively abandoned. And “KYBM” is a moving meditation, one that guards against fatigue and apathy:
I love you / you make this worth doing / just keep that truth spillin / and keep that body moving.
I asked Olaniran about his outreach manager position at Planned Parenthood, an organization that attracts a breadth of reflexive anger that I didn’t understand until I started working at Jezebel—where, if we tweet a bad joke or something, an egg will tweet “Bet you loooove selling fetuses” back. Olaniran told me he’s been with PP since he started volunteering with a youth peer education program seven years ago.
“There’s a line,” he said, “on ‘KYBM,’ that says They don’t own it/ So they can’t control it. That’s the thread that goes all the way from Black Lives Matter to reproductive justice—our sick obsession with owning marginalized bodies in this country. And it’s funny: working at Planned Parenthood, the experience is entirely one of people caring for each other, people caring for you. Coworkers having babies and everyone celebrating. We have prenatal programs, doula programs; we help people get through whatever they need to get through. We refer our patients to groups that would never politically be able to acknowledge us in public, and that’s fine. We’ll work with whoever is working here.”
He added, “Conservative folks don’t understand that politicians are manipulating them. They’re the ones being used.”
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