Chicago Spotlight: The Tables Turn...Mike Dunn and Terry Hunter interview Black Widow!

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Black Widow, T's Box Records & Crates spoken word recording artist, is a deeply expressive poet, writer, and blogger.  She is a powerful lyricist and arranger of words that vividly document her life’s journey and adventures in life, dating, love and relationships.  Her artistry can be heard currently on two house music singles, “Rough”, and “Gruv Me” released by Grammy Nominated Producer and CEO of T’s Box Records & T’s Crates, Terry Hunter under the production of Mike Dunn and Dee Jay Alicia. Both reached #1 on Traxsource’s Afro House, charted top ten overall, as well as reaching the top ten in their year of release.  In 2017, she was featured on the Terry Hunter Retouch of the song, "Fenix" by Emmaculate. As a writer, blogger, performer and spoken word recording artist she is working on several projects.  New musical releases with T’s Box Records, spoken word performances, and blogging about the Chicago House and Dance music scene on her website blkwidowsweb.com. She also is scheduled to publish her first book in 2018 (www.thesumofmanythings.com) and currently serves as the Regional Director of Black Bloggers United-Chicago, a organization that connects bloggers and content creators of color.  With her solo debut, “House Is”, released on Traxsource this month, she chatted with her producers, Chosen Few DJ, Mike Dunn and Grammy Nominated DJ/Producer and Chosen Few DJ, Terry Hunter to talk about her unique and unexpected journey.  

What happens when the tables are turned and the interviewer becomes the interviewee?  Check out the Chicago Spotlight with Spoken Word recording artist, Black Widow. Today she is interviewed by her producers, Mike Dunn and Terry Hunter!

Terry:  What was your introduction to house music?

 Black Widow & Grammy Nominated Producer and Chosen Few DJ, Terry Hunter

Black Widow & Grammy Nominated Producer and Chosen Few DJ, Terry Hunter

Black Widow: I was late to the party! [laughter]  I was introduced to house music by my summer camp counselor at a sports camp at Chicago State University, Pink House.  He would play house music all the time and all the kids would get up and dance.  I was in 4th grade at the time. I remember asking him what kind of music this was.  He told me it was house music and he said he was on the radio. I started listening to WKKC and WBMX then. I was too young to go to any parties, so I only heard house music on the radio and the occasional grammar school party. Even in high school, my exposure to house was limited because my parents were really strict.  I couldn’t go to many parties. I was limited to a few high school parties and such. It wasn’t until I became a young adult that I got out more and by then I was split between hip-hop and house music. When I did get out, it was mainly on the Northside because that's where I lived at the time.  I was in Wicker Park so I partied around there mostly. Then life happened.  I got married and started having children so I stopped going out until my marriage ended.  I started coming out again around 6 years ago.

Mike:  What drew you to house music and the scene?

Black Widow:  The music and the people.  House parties were liberating to me.  The music made me feel free and everyone was partying and comfortable.  It wasn’t like the parties I had attended previously. I remember my friends and I would wear bodycon dresses and heels and go to these parties where everyone just styled and profiled. Even when the music was good, folks were too busy looking cute to dance.  House parties were the opposite. Everyone was dressed to dance and people were sweaty but having the best time. I was drawn to that energy and the music made me feel something that kept me coming back for more.

Mike:  We saw you at parties but we weren’t introduced to you formally until you wrote Rough.  How did you and Dee Jay Alicia come up with Rough?

Black Widow: Months before Rough became a song; it was an erotic poem I wrote for a poetry show.  Rough was actually a dare to myself.  I’d been writing for years but had never shared my work. I attended one of Erika Jarvis poetry shows (Unleash Your Inhibitions) months earlier and told myself I should do her show to get over my fear. During my marriage, I felt so restricted and like I never had a voice. I purposely decided to do an erotic poetry show because I really wanted to step outside of my box and comfort zone.  I wrote this extremely sexual and erotic piece and performed to a full house with a bundle of nerves. I'd never shared my work before and now I was sharing something extremely sexual! [LAUGHTER]  I did the show and thought I conquered my fear.  I thought that was the end of it. Months later, Dee Jay Alicia and I were hanging out with friends at her house. She was getting ready to play a birthday set at the Shrine for BANG Sunday.  We were all laughing and joking at the house eating Mexican food and drinking margartitas.  She was playing music, trying to get a feel for what she wanted to play and she came across a track that was hot! She asked me if I could record my poem over that track and I did.  We literally recorded my poem over that track that afternoon.   She said, I'm gonna play it tonight and I thought nothing of it. I said cool!  She played it and the crowd went bananas.  I think she played it twice! It was crazy!   That's when it caught your attention and the ball went from there. The poem I wrote to conquer a fear became a song played all around the world.   I never expected a poem I wrote and performed months earlier to be recorded and go on to be a number one hit!  Everything changed at that moment. It was a huge lesson for me in conquering my fears and embracing the unexpected. The girl who thought she didn't have a voice now had a song and a platform where her words would be heard on dance floors around the world.  WOW!  I still find it surreal sometimes.

Terry:  You got a lot of flak for Rough because of the subject matter.  What are your thoughts about that?

 Black Widow performance at Renaissance Bronzeville. Photo Courtesy of Anthony Roberson of APRPhotography

Black Widow performance at Renaissance Bronzeville. Photo Courtesy of Anthony Roberson of APRPhotography

Black Widow:  Unfortunately, I wasn’t surprised by it at all.  Rough isn’t just a sexual song it’s deeply erotic with themes some are uncomfortable hearing especially from a woman.  I think it’s indicative of the world we live in. We live in a time when Black women are constantly fetishized in media, music etc. by men.  We are told what makes us acceptable & respectable.  We are told to be a lady in the streets and a freak in the sheets but when I make a song communicating what I like sexually, the judgements came. It was a complete contradiction.

..."Women should be allowed to be multidimensional. We can be amazing intelligent, strong women, girlfriends, wives, great moms and career women.  We can be all of these things and still be incredibly sexual and sensual beings..."

Women who know what they want and who aren’t afraid to communicate what they want is incredibly sexy in my opinion.    Men have been making sexual songs saying what they want to do to us for ages so what’s wrong with a woman expressing her desires as well? I didn’t get it, especially in house music. Our music has always had an element of sexuality and sensuality in it. The beats, the lyrics and even the dancers and how we move our bodies and dance with one another on the dance floor.   House People are sexy as hell! I'm a woman with many different layers.  "Rough" was sexy and erotic, "Gruv Me" was for the dancers, and "Fenix" was more inspirational and uplifting...my writing reflects the totality of my experiences so you will get to know me in many different ways.

 Photo Credit: Anthony Roberson, APRPhotography

Photo Credit: Anthony Roberson, APRPhotography

..."I love being a woman and embracing my femininity, sensuality and sexuality and that will come across in my music and my writing.  It's not something I shy away from because it's a part of who I am. You are going to get all of it in my music; my sexy side, my sensual side, my feminine side, my party and fun-loving girly side, the strong and opinionated side, my romantic side,  my thoughtful side…all of it.  It’s all a part of who I am. I embrace it”

Terry:  How long have you been writing and what made you transition into a recording artist?

Black Widow:  I’ve been writing all my life but started my first blog 18 years ago.  I also wrote for a website called Flagger Hill. It was a site about love and relationships.  I would write articles and opinion pieces about sex, dating, and love but I always used an alias and I never shared my work publicly.   That was the fear I was talking about earlier. Writing was always a release and a safe space for me. It was therapeutic for me.   Doing that first poetry show was my “coming out of my shell” I suppose.  The words and thoughts I write are deeply personal so I was always scared of sharing them with others. It’s a very vulnerable thing to do as an artist. The success of “Rough” transformed me into a recording artist.  I never expected to hear my words on dance floors but it was such an amazing feeling. Making music and having my words enjoyed by others is an indescribable feeling. The transition to recording artist happened quickly. I went from just going to parties to being asked to perform  at parties.  There's a quote that says, "writing is showbiz for introverts".  I wasn't one who enjoyed the spotlight, writing allowed me to share my work but not "put myself out there" for all to see, so initially, becoming a recording artist was intimidating.  That's an entirely different level of vulnerability that I wasn't used to.   I was scared and nervous in the beginning but I’m realizing it is all part my evolution as a writer and artist. Once I stepped out of my comfort zone, my entire world opened up creatively.  It's been an amazing life lesson.

Mike:  So describe your creative process?  How do you approach writing lyrics?

Black Widow: I write a lot!  I write in my personal journals, I write for two websites and I write lyrics and poems.  It’s important to constantly be inspired. I love watching people.  I'm extremely observant.  Everything I write comes from life experiences.   I draw inspiration from it all.   My writing is also deeply personal because I feel things intensely. I write throughout the day because as a creative, ideas are always popping up in my head.  I really don’t have a set time to write because I'm juggling so much. I usually carry a small notebook that I jot ideas down in. I'll drop my kids off at an activity and I'll be writing while I'm waiting in the car or I'll use my voice memo app on my phone to record something I come up with while I'm sitting in traffic.  I'm the queen at multi-tasking! [LAUGHTER]  Sometimes it’s a thought; sometimes it’s an entire verse. When I have moments of writers block, I usually stop writing and start living more. It’s a sign; I’m doing too much and not experiencing enough. Living a full life and enjoying experiences allows me to be open and vulnerable and hopefully that comes through in my writing.  

 Black Widow and Chosen Few DJ/Producer, Mike Dunn

Black Widow and Chosen Few DJ/Producer, Mike Dunn

Terry:  Who were some of your biggest writing and poetic influences?

Black Widow:  Wow….there are so many!   I’m an avid reader who loves women with strong voices.  Audre Lorde, Bell Hooks, Sonia Sanchez, Roxane Gay, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are all incredible influences.    I’ve loved the poetry of Maya Angelou, Saul Williams, Amiri Baraka, and Nikki Giovanni all my life. Their work is so timeless.    I’d have to say right now I’ve been engrossed in Warsan Shire’s incredible poetry. She paints such amazing pictures with her words.  Ursula Rucker is one of my favorite poets.  She truly is a modern day Sonia Sanchez. Her work and her delivery are masterful! I also love Oveous, I just think he's dope! I've been following him for a while. I love his style.

Terry:  Spoken word is becoming bigger in house music now. What would you say separates you from other spoken word artists?

Black Widow:  My voice. I think the tone of my voice and my delivery is different.   It’s always been my goal to communicate my poetic pieces with a strong yet feminine voice.  My voice is soft, it’s gentle yet there is power and strength behind it.   There are so many amazing poetic voices out now and I’m happy to see spoken word artists getting a chance to reach so many on a global scale.  It’s great for the genre! I just feel like spoken word adds another layer and dimension to the music and creates a different experience for the listener or the party goer.

Mike:  So everyone wants to know...what’s it like working with us as your producers?

Black Widow: [Laughter] I’ve always said you guys are my Jimmy Jam and Terry Louis! You are both tough and straight shooters.  You don’t sugar coat anything but you are also incredible teachers and mentors.  It’s not just music either; you’ve really helped me navigate this scene, dealing with the highs and lows.    I trust you both because you guys have been doing this for so long; you are well versed in the good, bad and ugly and helped me “toughen up”.  You've taught me the business of music.   I’ve learned so much in these 5 years working with you both. I feel like a sponge sometimes just watching you both and taking it all in.  You are masters at your crafts and know music so well.  Watching you guys put music together is incredible.  You both have an amazing ear for music.  It's funny because you both are so creatively spontaneous.  I'm more of a "Type A" Personality and you guys both help me relax a bit and just go with the flow and allow the ideas to just come.  As much as I like to plan everything, you've both taught me that it's ok to be more spontaneous and just enjoy the process!    You’ve also taken the time to get to know me as a person so you can relate to me more as an artist.  That’s why you can create beats that I love and that fit my personality so well. It just works!  The beats you create combined with my vocals is just a dope combination!    I won’t lie tho,  you guys are tough on me and you push me out of my comfort zone.   You allowed me to find my voice and gave me the time I needed to develop it and pushed me when I needed it. As a new artist, I was definitely intimidated but you brought out the best in me and that’s what great producers do! It's a great partnership and collaboration and I think it comes across in the music we create together.  

Mike: So let's’ talk about your latest single, “House Is”.  What was your inspiration behind this song?

 Photo credit: Anthony Roberson of APRPhotography

Photo credit: Anthony Roberson of APRPhotography

Black Widow:  I'm so excited about "House Is"!!!   I was at a point in my life where I was consumed with some of the negative aspects of this scene.  I was exhausted by the unnecessary conversations on social media. The debates about “house is this...and house is that”.  I hated the division between DJs who debate the equipment you use and whether or not it makes you a "real DJ". I hated the division in the different genres associated with house music.  The debates about “back in the day” house people vs “newbies”.  I swear every day it's a different debate.    It was all so counterproductive. The beefs, the division, the loss of relationships and friendships, it was all too much and I was getting consumed by the negative.  It was starting to change me and how I enjoyed the music.  I had to take a step back and remember what I love about house music and this scene. I took it back to the basics. What made me fall in love with house music? I had to remember all of the good that has come from being a part of this culture and community. I get to create music people dance to, I’ve made great friendships and lifelong connections, some of my best memories are from the House Music scene, I even fell in love once on a dance floor and the music has lifted my spirits during some of my darkest times of personal trials.  I've experienced so many amazing things because of House Music.  I have some incredible memories.    I wanted to change my energy and focus on all of the good because it outweighed the bad. Sometimes you just have to change your perspective.   “House Is" describes everything I love about House Music and the community I'm blessed to be a part of. I think if you love house music, this song is totally relatable and universal.  I just love it.

Terry:  You do quite a bit; blogging for two websites, running a network of Bloggers of Color,  performing spoken word around the city, writing and making music, all while being a single mom to three kids and working full time. How do you balance it all?

Black Widow:  Team No Sleep and lots of coffee! [Laughter]   Honestly, It takes a great amount of organization. I live a very scheduled life in order to make it all happen. My life revolves around my planner. On average, I get up do some writing, get everyone ready for school, and then head to work. At lunch, I’ll write some more or do an interview for my website, then go back to work.  After work, I head home, have family time with the kids then I’m up writing or planning or researching for new blog articles, poems or songs. If I’m not up writing, I’m usually out covering events. I spend my weekends running my kids to various activities and such then at night, I'm working.  I try to enjoy a little social life in between! [Laughter]  I also have an incredible support system. My family is amazing!  They support me and assist me when I'm over extended. They believe in me and are constantly encouraging me.    My friends are the best because they don't care about Black Widow, the artist. They just love me for who I am.    They support me and uplift me through it all.  I call my friends and my family, my village and I couldn't do any of this without them.    I'm surrounded with love and support and that is what keeps me focused and grounded.   They are the ones that help me balance it all.  It can be exhausting and sometimes I can go non-stop for days.   I’m learning to take breaks to rest and replenish. I’m also learning to get out more just for fun, not just work. I love what I do so it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. I’m pursuing my dreams and I never get tired of that.  I finally feel like I’m doing what I was born to do. 

Mike:  What does the future hold for Black Widow?

Black Widow:  I'm very focused at this time in my life and I'm really starting to see the fruits of my labor. The ultimate goal is to do this full time!   I'm working on releasing new music throughout the year. We got some heat coming soon! [LAUGHTER]  I want to make more music, travel and connect with audiences. I love performing and connecting with people!   I also enjoy telling stories, writing and blogging for my websites and I look forward to their continued growth and expansion. There is also my first book that I'm finishing up and hope to release later in the year and I'm enjoying my monthly residency as the host and performer for Love & Lust, a monthly soulful house party with Dee Jay Alicia, Steve Maxwell, Jus Denson and Nicky D'Vine.   I'm at a great point in my life right now.   Sharing my writing via various forms of media; blogs, books, poems and music is such a gift and I enjoy every minute of it.  It's been an incredible journey and I'm just enjoying the ride. The girl who thought she didn't have a voice now has a voice and a platform to share worldwide.  It really doesn't get any better than that.  I'm truly blessed and humbled by it all. 

Take a listen to "House Is" and add it to your music collection today!

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Black Widow

D.Sanders, a Chicago native, is a devoted mother, blogger and writer who is passionate about her family, friends, women's rights, living authentically and telling her story.   She is also a spoken word recording artist under the name, Black Widow. She has been writing and blogging for over 15 years providing commentary and expressing thought on life, love and relationships. Her artistry can be heard on two house music singles, “Rough”, and “Gruv Me” released by Grammy Nominated Producer and CEO of T’s Box Records & T’s Crates, Terry Hunter under the production of Mike Dunn and Dee Jay Alicia. . Both singles reached #1 on Traxsource’s Afrohouse and charted top ten overall as well reaching the top ten in their year of release.  She splits her time blogging about the Chicago Dance Music Scene on www.blkwidowmusic.com and on her book’s website, www.thesumofmanythings.com.  She is excited about her debut book, The Sum of Many Things, scheduled for release in June 2017.   She wears many hats but refuses to be placed in a box.  She believes that women are "The Sum of Many Things".  Embracing all of her roles as a woman, she firmly believes in breaking free of preconceived notions of womanhood.   She believes it is her mission to define her own life experience, femininity and sexuality and not have it defined by society.  She openly shares her story with hopes that women understand their worth, power and place in this world.