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Black Love: An audience in action

Jessica Anderson '14 and Tyler Brooks '16 perform at Black Love in Toyon Hall. (NAFIA CHOWDHURY/The Stanford Daily)

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Jessica Anderson '14 and Tyler Brooks '16 perform at Black Love in Toyon Hall. (NAFIA CHOWDHURY/The Stanford Daily)
Jessica Anderson ’14 and Tyler Brooks ’16 perform at Black Love in Toyon Hall. (NAFIA CHOWDHURY/The Stanford Daily)

On Sunday, February 14, Black Love takes over Toyon Hall. For a few minutes, a few hundred formal people crowd in Toyon’s outer lounge, sprinkled generously with rich desserts and Martinelli’s. It’s lit. Someone takes pictures with her friends in front of a balloon arch; someone else flaunts his bow tie (a real one) and warms up his voice. As the doors to Toyon’s large inner lounge open, people rush for the best seats in the house. Some end up in the periphery, but nobody complains. The main event, the product of tireless work from Stanford’s Black Student Union, is about to begin.

A freshman, Clarissa Carter ‘19, starts with an original song: “Speechless,” a sultry love song that builds over a few guitar chords. With the climactic high note, “I’m speechless,” the crowd erupts in applause. They laugh and snap with Abisola’s spoken word putdown of a man who doesn’t respect her; “I’m Word 2016, and you’re Word 1996; you can’t even read me.” They gas up Justice. They sing with Jessica. This is black love.

At this year’s event, the performers were almost universally spectacular – though Escape Hatch carried the night. The group, composed of Conrad Kisunzu ‘16 (often known as Connie.K), Aisha Sharif ‘18, Kevin Coelho ‘17 and Johnny Weger ‘18 performed three songs, culminating in a well-received cover of Chance the Rapper’s “Sunday Candy.” The lead duo foiled each other perfectly; Aisha’s understated performances were an effective contrast to Conrad’s big stage presence, and her vocals brought elegance where he brought grit. Together, the group proved an R&B powerhouse, though I was disappointed not to hear any originals.

Finally came the professionals. Expectations were low after the sudden withdrawal of Kehlani, the event’s much-hyped headliner, just a few hours before the show. People were exiting as LA-based rapper KR (Kalaan Rashad) took the stage, and his early calls for crowd engagement fell short. The audience came for the people they knew — in lieu of their fellow students, only a big name like Kehlani would suffice.

Gradually, however, Rashad began to win them over. He paced the stage and flirted with the front row. He rapped bars with intensity and charisma, seemingly oblivious to the stream of sweat running down his face. In the latter half of his set list, he left the stage entirely to perform in the middle of the crowd. They fell for him.

The final performer, Marc E. Bassy (of 2AM Club fame), drew a more mixed reaction. Perhaps owing to his celebrity, Bassy proved (and could afford to be) a more casual performer after the high-energy spectacle of KR. With a creative mix of R&B, pop, and his own personality, Bassy brought confidence and self-possession to stage. “Chemistry? What the fuck do y’all study here?” he cajoled the audience between songs. They laughed, but by then the night was over. With all Bassy’s predecessors on stage, the audience got what they came for.

Contact Josh Seawell at jseawell ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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