It was 2005. ‘All Falls Down’ was blaring from my chrome glass-plated stereo. I walked out of my room to find my dad giving my siblings a speech on the importance of finding their voice and cadence. I rolled my eyes at the noise. My three siblings — Danielle and Marquise who were nine, and Aaron who was seven — went right back to their lyrics written down in college ruled notebooks. This was a normal Saturday: Me, a dancer and junior in high school, free styling, sweating, and dreaming in my bedroom; Them: rapping (and, depending on whether my dad was in the mood to let them into the studio, hoping to record one of their tracks).
We were children of the movement, sharing a father who, outside of his alcoholism and abuse, was a brilliant artist and jazz musician. Our life tended to be centered on music — the way it would make me feel, the way that it would transform their lives. We weren’t old enough to say that we were a part of its origin, but in the most authentic way, like the pioneers that came before us, we weren’t just lovers of hip hop; we lived it. Everyone who knows what I mean reading this can resonate with that feeling. With being able to be moved and engulfed in an 808. With finding yourself in between the lines of spoken word, with resilience being your center point and creativity being your style.
Like every older sister on earth, at the time, my siblings were the bane of my existence most days, but I secretly thought they were ridiculously talented. They were more gifted in lyrical ability than most of my own peers chasing the same dream. Summer days like this one seemed to last forever, filled with Top Ramen lunches, and late nights plotting our future. It all went by too quickly; days turned to months and months to years, and before I knew it, it was 2015.
Danielle, Aaron, and I looked on helplessly as the machine that was breathing for our mother took her last breath for her. After the traumas in life that we had already lived, despair was the only emotion we could muster. Clawing through the days, I watched my siblings put everything they had left into their music — every pain, every scream, every tear — into 808s that moved mountains, and lyrics that released the contents of our hearts, in a way that we seldom could find the words for.
I made the nerve-racking, life-changing decision to move the three of us to Los Angeles. And just like that, like all of those years before, our life aligned back to those summer days when we were younger — raps on college ruled paper and dancing into any reflection that we could find. I had become a professional dancer by this point in my life, but here we were, dreaming again.
In 2015, their last show in the Tri-Cities before the move to LA was on the infamous stage at Ray’s Golden Lion. Danielle was 21 and Aaron was 19, but they now went by Yel and Topp. The show started full of energy. The audience was young, but they loved them. Yel and Topp performed a new song written for my mother, one I featured on, called ‘Real Love’. They came alive on stage. Their energy was raw and fresh, and they shifted the atmosphere with ease. Where it had been stale and dull, it was suffused with their energy; it became upbeat and full of lightning.
I believe that people who are grieving and suffering the pain of loss, especially at a young age, have a perspective so pure and realistic about the balance between life and death. When they have glimmering moments of joy, they are palpable, loud, clear, and heavy like a wet blanket. When they performed, their words became vehicles to that place. And if you were lucky enough to see them back then, you more than likely felt exactly what I am talking about.
Just as it always does, time moved quickly. LA was like a warm hug full of culture, experiences, and most of all, music. I had the honor to perform the song that they wrote for my mother with them on two occasions. One was at Tisha Campbell and Duane Martin’s XEN lounge on New Year’s Eve. It was a hub for good up-and-coming talent. It was a packed house that night (and honestly, one of the most memorable of my life). Topp and Yel’s careers had just begun, and you could see the evidence of It by the flyer for their performance that night being a Tumblr-style picture of them at the Columbia Center Mall. Luckily, the audience loved them anyway, and the connections that they made that night were for life.
The other was a showcase in Hollywood where the vibe was reminiscent of Amateur Night at the Apollo. Acts were getting criticized left and right by the audience, and here I was, a dancer who had no plans of becoming a singer, going with the flow to the best of my ability. I was nervous and shaking, but Yel and Topp were like still water. They weren’t scared at all. I remember being in awe of their demeanor, how much they oozed our father’s musical confidence and my mom’s poise.
My talented siblings had a quality about them that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. But it was big, and it was infectious. That night In Hollywood went on without a hitch, and the crowd loved them. I decided that it must be very clear — everyone could see the same star quality I could see. I spent many nights losing my voice being their biggest fan in shows across LA. That first year was one of the most transformative years in all three of our lives.
Fast-forward to 2018 — Yel and I sat at the kitchen table on speaker with our other siblings: Topp who had moved to Spokane, Marquise (whose artist name was now Nobi) who lived in Seattle, and our youngest sister Adryan who was still living in Richland.
Our dad had just passed away from alcoholism. At the ages of 29, 23, 21, and 19, we found ourselves speechless, disillusioned, and orphaned. No one prepares you for a life filled with this much loss so early. Although I know that some experience it on a much greater scale, It was a defining moment in time for all of us — separately and together.
The next few years were a blur of beauty, grinding, ups, downs, and everything in between. On the bright side, I got married and gave birth to our beautiful daughter (and my siblings’ first niece) Nova, and then three years later, her little sister Ali.
All the while, Yel, Topp, and Nobi released multiple projects and singles, including Topp’s singles: ‘Sanity’ featuring Yel, ‘Welcome’ featuring Nobi, and his latest album: ‘Lifes Crazy’; Nobi’s single: ‘New Chains’ and his album: ‘Fulminate’; and Yel’s single: ‘Its That’ featuring Topp, ‘Moments in Therapy’ featuring Nobi, and her latest album: ‘The Life I Live’. During the intervening years, they have also been working endlessly on building their fan bases across LA and Washington. I’ve never been more proud — not only for the fact that they have been able to do amazing things in music coming from three little cities in Washington state (and at such young ages), but also with the fact that they did it all with the burden of overcoming so much.
So, six months ago, when Topp asked me and my husband if Urban Poets Society (our nonprofit that supports the arts for youth and adults) would sponsor his last show on his first ever tour, ‘Lifes Crazy’, YES was an easy answer.
The air was drafty on November 25, 2023 at Ray’s Golden Lion. The staff rushed around eagerly preparing for the night. The openers Bapeface, The Boy Beerus, Ducce 2x, and Zaeshaun Haze could be seen scattered around the venue, preparing and mingling. I hadn’t seen Topp, Nobi, or Yel perform in over a year, and I locked in on them tying up loose ends and mentally grounding. It had been almost a decade since they’d performed at Ray’s, and they seemed different — not only older, but more professional, more seasoned, and something else powerful under the surface that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The venue slowly filled as the openers went on. I was extremely impressed by their sets. Topp formed a collective called Affili8d that the openers (with the exception of Ducce 2x) were all a part of, and the family atmosphere, as well as the flow of energy, was a strong and steady foundation. Bryan (my husband) and I introduced the performers.
Jang the Goon was the main support for this tour stop. I had seen him once before, but tonight’s performance was one that I would never forget. The second his set started, the floor around the stage filled with concert-goers. The crowd erupted. The only thought that I could muster watching him perform from the floor was: “This boy is a star.” Jang’s sound is gritty, powerful, and raw. His stage presence is that of a seasoned vet. He breathed his music, and easily made the stage his home. At the height of his set, you could find him jumping into the crowd full force — fearlessly. They surfed him through the air while he guided them calmly with his hand, directing them back to the stage when he was done. I was in awe. His sound is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. There was an intermission after his set ended, and he left the air crackling and electrified.
Bryan and I made our way to the stage once again to introduce Topp and his special guests, Yel and Nobi. I looked out over the stage and was pleasantly surprised to see that the bar section was filled, the area around the bar was full, and the floor was packed with patient eyes looking back at us. I told the audience what an honor it was to introduce my younger siblings along with these powerhouse performers. It had been seven years since they had last touched this stage, and everyone in the room was ready to watch them do it again.
Ray’s Golden Lion is an iconic platform here in the Tri-Cities, but hip-hop shows are not their regular genre. Everyone was in anticipation of what was to come. Bryan yelled out to the crowd to chant Topp’s name to get him to come to the stage. The rumble of chanting was loud, deep, and started off slowly: “Topp, Topp, Topp, Topp…” I held out my microphone over the concertgoers and the chant grew: “TOPP, TOPP, TOPP, TOPP…” “Make some noise!” we yelled out into the audience. The chant got louder and stronger: “TOPP! TOPP! TOPP! TOPP!”
Suddenly from the open, dark space of the venue to the right of the stage, Topp entered, barreling from the back. He jumped on stage and the crowd went wild. Bryan and I took our place with the audience. I wanted the full experience. The speakers in Ray’s struggled to handle the bass of this magnitude. The ground vibrated, and the energy in the room was bigger than the building itself. He jumped around the stage, commanding eyes, and making the atmosphere intense with his presence. He did his song ‘Prettiest Star’ and the audience belted out the chorus with him. I watched as they threw their heads back and sang into the air. I was floored, and my eyes welled with tears remembering seeing our mom and dad on stages performing when we were kids. I thought of what they would say, how they wouldn’t even recognize this courageous, talented, intense, emoting son of theirs from the shy boy that they once knew.
Topp went into his next song, and his guitarist shredded with one foot up on the monitor. The screams in the room affirmed the moment — and it was a moment. He brought Nobi onto the stage, and again, the crowd erupted. Nobi’s sound is intelligent and thoughtful, bleeding the sentiments of Lupe, Common, and Rakim, with an edge that is years beyond his time. The audience mirrored a chorus of one of his songs back to him. The room filled with voices echoing “I need you now” in harmony. The lights from phones filled the air and the venue that holds around 350 people felt bigger than life.
Yel followed next, and just like with the others, the excitement in the atmosphere went through the roof. The vibes came blaring out of the speakers, everyone on the floor started grooving and dancing. Heads bopped back and forth across the venue. She switched up her flow half way through, and a Caribbean beat flowed through the building. I smiled as girls all around me lost themselves in the music, hands in the air, bouncing to the ground, and twisting and contorting to the beat. She sang to one woman standing directly in front of the stage. The woman looked up on the stage in awe, her eyes wide in a daze. She was transfixed by Yel’s stage presence and flirtatious, commanding energy. The music carried on as the concert-goer turned to the girl behind her and melted.
The three of them continued on stage, and the music carried on. I watched the kids that I once knew — that had survived with me, endured with me, and persisted — being their full selves. I watched as their audience saw the same thing that I was seeing: purpose, alignment, and star power. Topp went on to perform one of his newest songs, ‘Pops & Momma’, and the crowd erupted into a mosh pit. It was an experience that I would never forget. Not only are they hip-hop in its most authentic form, but they are genre-benders, contorting and molding the sound and climate into messages and feelings, weaving on and off the roads left behind by the Black influences of rock, R&B, trap, blues, and jazz that have always had their hands in music and culture.
I left the show floating on a cloud of inspiration and magic. My siblings had honored the Tri-Cities, and our mom and dad, giving everything they had and leaving it all on the stage in their hometown. It was a beautiful night of music. But if you know them personally, then you know it was also a night of healing and full circles — a night where they could see where they had come from, and have so much clarity about where they are going next.
I was also finally able to put my finger on what was the underlying energy that I had once seen in them. It was light — undeniable, powerful, all-encompassing light. One that I’m so elated that I have the honor to be near. They found their voices after all, and now my speakers blare with the sounds of them. The ‘Lifes Crazy’ tour hit stops all around Washington state, leaving its undeniable mark on the hearts of the Pacific Northwest. If people only knew the story of these artists… the road that they have walked.
Knowing that this is only the beginning fills me with anticipation for the future. I’m a proud fan of the creatives that they have become, of this tour and its supporters. Life’s crazy, indeed.
Poet, writer, social justice advocate, and choreographer Daishaundra Loving-Hearne is no stranger to the arts or the power they hold. She is the CEO of Urban Poets Society and Loving Hearne, LLC, both organizations in our community centering the youth, art, empowerment, and mental and emotional wellness through a social justice & DEI lens.