Kamasi Washington is a multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer born and raised in Los Angeles. He grew up playing jazz in the city’s storied Leimert Park neighborhood, forming his first band, the Young Jazz Giants, with Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner, Ronald Bruner, Jr. and Cameron Graves in high school. Washington went on to study ethnomusicology at UCLA and play with Snoop Dogg, Raphael Saadiq and more.
His debut album, The Epic, was released in 2015 to rapturous critical reception, universally embraced as one of the best of the year and awarded the inaugural American Music Prize. His highly anticipated second album, Heaven and Earth, was released in June 2018 and is set to build on the success of The Epic as well as Washington’s acclaimed 2017 Harmony of Difference EP.
Until recently, the Twin Cities collective now known as Astralblak fused together funk, soul, and hip-hop in fresh ways—under a different name. Initially performing as Zuluzuluu, inspired by the Zulu tribe of South Africa, they won City Pages’ Picked to Click, an annual poll of best new Twin Cities musical acts, in 2016. They toured last summer with local rap royalty Atmosphere, and were chosen by Minneapolis music legends Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to perform at this year’s Super Bowl Live.
So why change their identity with so much going right? “The name change really came out of us wanting to be respectful to the Zulu culture and Zulu tribe,” says vocalist and multi-instrumentalist MMYYKK. “We’re not directly connected to the Zulu tribe, so we wanted to have a name that was more encompassing in its narrative of blackness. Astralblak comes from an idea of the universal black experience, so it leaves room for other narratives.”
The group—which consists of MMYYKK, Greg Grease, DJ Just Nine, [and] Art Parte, each of whom is a producer and multi-instrumentalist—has roots that run back to childhood friendships. Through a mixtape, called The Cover Up, and a full-length album, What’s the Price?, Zuluzuluu articulated a powerful message mixing ruminations on the African-American experience with dreamy, philosophical visions.