‘Mic Dispatch’ episode 24: Nonwhite men and black metal; hip-hop’s favorite lawyer

Wilbert L. Cooper speaks with black metal rocker Manuel Gagneux

On this episode of Mic Dispatch, correspondent Wilbert L. Cooper speaks with black metal rocker Manuel Gagneux about the subgenre’s anti-Semetic leanings and what it’s like to be a person of color in a field dominated by white men. Then, correspondent Chantel Simpson interviews Drew Findling, who is known for providing legal counseling to some of today’s biggest acts in hip-hop.

Christina Long, creator, BLKGRLSWURLD: When I would go to a show and, you know, maybe it’s like less than 100 people there, as soon as I walk in, somebody, usually some big dude, will say, like, “What the fuck is a black person doing here?”

Cooper: I love rock ’n’ roll, but there’s one subgenre that I’ve always been a little wary of, and that’s black metal, mainly because in its origins it had ideas of white supremacy and neo-Nazism. But there’s one band that’s changing that narrative: They’re Zeal & Ardor. Lead singer Manuel Gagneux was inspired to create the project after receiving a derogatory post on an internet forum.

Manuel Gagneux, leader singer, Zeal & Ardor: I would play this game, which was going on 4Chan and asking members there — the users there — to name musical genres, and I’d make a song out of two of those suggestions. And one day someone said “black metal” and another guy said “black music” in another way, and instead of being offended by the racial slur or whatever, I figured the bigger F-U would actually be to make a beat to make a decent song of it.

Cooper (voiceover): Since then, the project has wowed metal critics and fans. Their new album, Stranger Fruit, cemented Gagneux as one of metal’s most unique voices.

Gagneux: So the first metal bands I listened to were like Iron Maiden, which is basically the vanilla stuff. And I got into the more harsh stuff pretty quickly, like Cannibal Corpse, and then finally black metal.

Cooper (voiceover): Black metal was born in the ’80s as an extreme, satanic subgenre of metal. By the early ’90s, Norwegian bands like Burzum and Mayhem made the genre internationally notorious with embracing neo-Nazi ideologies. However, a new wave of black metal is on the rise that eschews bigotry. The band Zeal & Ardor are at the forefront of this movement.

Cooper: I noticed that, like, some people who are on the far right, they like black metal because they feel like it’s devoid of African-American influence.

Gagneux: I mean, yeah, there was this thought that, you know, black metal should be whitewashed or just pure Aryan bullshit. But it’s impossible. It’s still rock ’n’ roll, and we all know where that came from.

Cooper (voiceover): Many music genres, including rock ’n’ roll, have their roots in work songs sung by African-Americans throughout slavery and Jim Crow. Zeal & Ardor directly reference this music. I met with Jaimeo Brown, an expert in work songs who samples them in his own music.

Brown: These are prison inmates singing, and you can hear that they’re actually using — there’s that mantra.

Cooper: Is there any song on the radio right now or any song, like, in recent years by an R&B artist or a hip-hop artist that you were like, “That’s a work song?”

Brown: Oh man. I was listening to Kendrick [Lamar], “Everything’s gonna be alright,” which is not really new right now, you know, when you hear the hook.

Cooper: Right. “We gon’ be all right. We gon’ be all right.”

Brown: You could put some dance, African dancers, on that and put that hook on, and it would look like this fits together right here. It would be harder for me to find a song that didn’t have influences from that history. It’s hard to communicate the importance that they play within American music, because without the work songs — that’s really where blues came from. Out of the blues came jazz, rock, hip-hop, electronic music, heavy metal. It really is the roots of the tree. The branches are all the music that we listen to today.

Cooper: Some people might say that work songs and black metal are diametrically opposed genres. How do you see that? Is there a connection or a through-line between the two of them?

Gagneux: Black metal can be listened to in two ways: The first obvious one is that really harsh, aggressive thing that will kind of shoo you away, and there’s a second layer to it that’s kind of beautiful and tender in a weird way. But if you precede that with the work-song element that kind of invites you, lures you into the song anyway, it’s kind of a shortcut to that soft metal part. So they play off of each other really well, strangely enough.

Cooper: When you were creating and developing this music, were you thinking that you were maybe speaking to people of color who had a different or outsider point of view?

Gagneux: It’s funny. With the first record, I didn’t really think about that too much, but we played here for the first time last year and I was approached by a lot of people who told me how the music made them think or how they related to it, and that forced me to think about what this music is supposed to mean.

Cooper: So yeah, the concert is about to start. There’s a bunch of people in line. I’m going to try to holler at a few fans to see what’s up. What do you like about the sound?

Devin Chee, fan at black metal show: I guess I really like how different it is. It’s a mix between dark metal and spirituals, and it’s definitely a very unique sound to it.

Anuj Kale, fan: In adulthood it’s really nice to see how much diversity has come into metal. Being a brown person myself, it’s nice to see it become more of a universal thing than a dirty little secret.

Cooper: What was it like for you as you sort of started to get into this heavy music, being a black woman?

Christina Long, creator, BLKGRLSWURLD: Coming from the Midwest, it was probably most intense there in terms of racial disparities and people actually calling it out when I went somewhere. When I would go to a show and, you know, maybe it’s like less than 100 people there, as soon as I walk in, somebody, usually some big dude, will say, like, “What the fuck is a black person doing here?” We really enjoy this music and this expression. I’m not gonna let somebody stop me from going or enjoying it.

Cooper: What do you particularly think about the band Zeal & Ardor?

Long: I think it’s really nice that Zeal & Ardor are touching on it in a very literal way by pulling in African-American spirituals and that soulful rock, soul, R&B for folks who might not have realized that — to me, that was always kind of there, but now it’s a lot more clear for folks that these things are very much built together.

Cooper: I just talked to everybody in line. It was dope. People are excited. I’m about to go inside and check out the concert. I can’t wait to get in that pit.

Cooper (later): When those work songs mix with that brutal black metal and you’re in the middle of a mosh pit, all you can feel is power and love. I’m about to go back in there and do it again.

Natasha Del Toro, anchor, Mic Dispatch: Who do big-shot rappers call when they get into legal trouble? His name is Drew Findling. Correspondent Chantel Simpson takes us to meet the so-called billion dollar lawyer to talk about why rappers tend to get targeted by police and why he’s on a mission to help them out.

Robert Patillo, civil rights attorney and radio host, on his radio show: We’re being joined today by the president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, one of the premier criminal defense attorneys in the country, Mr. Drew Findling. Drew, how are you?

Drew Findling, criminal defense lawyer: Doing great, Robert, thanks so much for having me here. Those of us in the business, we know that there are three problems with the criminal justice system: racism, mass incarceration and the issue of collateral consequences. All those were touched on with Meek Mill. He was on probation for an extended period of time — he had a judge who was just in love with messing with him — and, of course, the fact that he was in an industry that really focuses on his race, all three were at play there.

Simpson (voiceover): Drew Findling is Atlanta’s “billion-dollar lawyer.” Having represented acts like Waka Flocka Flame and Gucci Mane, Findling has found himself an unlikely ally to many in hip-hop.

Findling: I get phone calls from West Coast to East Coast, you know, Canadian border to the border of Mexico. If there’s a hip-hop artist in trouble, I’ll get a phone call.

Simpson: And would you say that hip-hop artists are particularly vulnerable to being arrested here?

Findling: Oh, hands — just absolutely, 100%. There’s a tremendous amount of money in this industry, and law enforcement is clueless. So what will happen is, they’ll see a young African-American man driving a shiny, beautiful $350,000 car, he is laden with diamonds and gold, and there’s automatically an assumption that he’s a gang member or he must be a drug dealer.

Findling: Welcome.

Simpson: Thank you.

Findling: Welcome. My partner and my wife for 31 years, Beth.

Maddie: So right now, we got almost 64,000 followers, which is really sad for me because he has more followers than I ever will in my life.

Maddie: Yesterday was Young Dolph, young Riff Raff.

Simpson: Oh my gosh. And he gets a lot of DMs from rappers, too?

Maddie: Yeah, a lot of DMs people like, “Listen to my tape. Listen to my beats.” He’s always like, “I don’t even know what beats are.” That’s always what he says.

Simpson: How did you start representing a lot of people in hip-hop?

Findling: It began with my representation of a guy named Big Meech. Big Meech was a guy — to me, his name was Demetrius Flenory.

Simpson (voiceover): Flenory ran a drug-trafficking ring with his brother called the Black Mafia Family but gained notoriety in hip-hop for helping to launch the careers of Atlanta rappers like Young Jeezy. In the early 2000s, Flenory was charged with a double murder outside an Atlanta club. Findling represented him.

Findling: I threw a couple big hearings and the case fell apart because Meech was really innocent of those charges. And I had no knowledge at the time, but as people have told me in the years that passed, my name became popular in the street, and one guy that came along the way was a guy named Radric Davis.

Simpson (voiceover): Also known as rapper Gucci Mane. Throughout his career, Davis has had multiple run-ins with the law, eventually being sentenced to 39 months in prison after pleading guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon. Findling secured Davis’ release from prison four months early, in May 2016.

Simpson: So how would you describe your relationship with him and the guys from the Migos?

Findling: I don’t really go to shows, but I’ll see them at a baby shower, a birthday party. I mean, I’m worn out from all the hugs. I’m just a lawyer. I mean, there’s a lot cooler people at these events than me.

Simpson (voiceover): In July, Findling was sworn in as the 60th president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Findling at NACDL’s Presidential Summit: As criminal defense lawyers and as just citizens and people, we are all so troubled by mass incarceration.

Simpson (voiceover): Twenty-three-year-old Atlanta rapper Dominique Jones, aka Lil Baby, served two years in prison on a drug charge. Since then he’s put out songs with Drake and Gucci Mane, and as his star continues to rise, he leans on Findling for guidance.

Findling: It’s kind of shiny. Let me do it over here.

Lil Baby: I’m like entwined with younger people who still in a certain environment, who still facing these problems, like, every day, who’s still getting in trouble. So, like, I need Drew help on a lot of stuff, you know what I’m saying.

Lil Baby: Aight, Drew.

Findling: Make me proud.

Findling: One of the things that he and I talk about is that, you know, the expression, “The streets call your name.” The temptations are out there because — but the difference between Dominique and other people is, he doesn’t go back to the streets. I say that all the time: Women and men that are black and brown go to jail for a longer period of time than white folks. And that’s just an example of what takes place in this country.

Findling: You ready?

Karen King, Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta star: I mean, well, OK, I’m always ready. Even without the check. Come on, Jamari.

King: He has helped me to the point where in my normal, everyday life I say, “I cannot disappoint Drew.” You know, it’s like watching a magician do magic in the courtroom because the shit that come out his mouth some attorneys won’t say. Most people in the rap and all of that do have some type of past and they need to get it together. And Drew gives them that inspiration to completely change your life.

Findling: We are rebranding patriotism. There’s a new concept of patriotism. People used to think that just because you wear a red, white and blue flag that you’re a patriot. That’s not what a patriot is. A patriot is somebody that fights for people and fights for their constitutional rights. We need to get out in the community and educate people.

Patillo: Thank you so much for your time, Drew. One of the best lawyers in the country, Drew Findling from the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, News and Talk 1380 WAOK.

Findling: I really dedicate a tremendous amount of my time to addressing the issues of mass incarceration, racism in the criminal justice system. For the most part you’re talking about some really nice, young, creative people that, even though I don’t really listen to hip-hop, they’re artists and they’re expressing themselves.

Del Toro: What do you think about rappers getting targeted by the police? Is it, as Findling says, about racism in the criminal justice system? Let us know what you think in the comments. And that’s it for another episode of Mic Dispatch. Thanks for watching. See you next time.

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