One thing lacking in the world of hip-hop is the promotion of family. Hip-hop doesn’t endorse the traditional husband-wife-child model taking on the world as a unit. Sure, we get hip-hop condemning the ills of society and government, along with hip-hop that promotes promiscuity and glorifies street life, but the love of family is almost non-existent.
Rappers Big Samir and Aja Black, a married couple known as Colorado hip-hop group The ReMINDers, are looking to change that. On their debut album, ReCollect, the duo addresses the worldly assaults on the family with songs like “Outside My Window,” deals with the growth and sustainability of family on “Black Roses,” and offers encouragement and support on “If I Only Could Fly.” It’s a much-needed voice in a world that seems to be moving away from the family dynamic.
“We just strive to be good examples for people in general,” Samir, 29, says. “It’s not every day you see good couples. It’s not every day you see fathers taking care of their children. So we try to promote a lot of that stuff, just to remind people that’s how it used to be. Back in the day, men stayed with their wives and raised their children and worked. So we try to promote all that, especially in hip-hop music, where it’s definitely lacking in promotion.”
The duo met in 1998 through, of course, family. Both of their families moved to Colorado Springs because of relatives in the military. Big Samir spent a major part of his childhood growing up in Belgium, with stops in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Texas before ending up in Colorado, while Aja Black spent a lot of her early years traversing Europe before finishing high school in Colorado Springs. Although the duo was worlds apart early in life, their upbringing and musical influence aren’t much different.
“Music always had a big influence in my household,” Aja, 27, says. “I think we were always musical. My parents listened to all types of different music, so we were exposed to a lot of different things. Hiphop was always played in our house amongst other things, like The Police, Steely Dan, The Eagles, James Brown and all kinds of different stuff. In my house, there was no shame in singing or dancing. It doesn’t really matter how good you are or how bad you are, everybody does it, so there was always a comfort with those kinds of things.”
“Growing up in Europe, most of the guys in my neighborhood were break dancers, so I used to follow them and try to do the steps they did, the graffiti art,” Samir adds. “My mom would rock some hip-hop; of course, I was into the heavier stuff like NWA and Eric B. and Rakim. So I’ve been into to it since I was 11 years old. As far as really being active, by the time I was 16 or 17, I started writing my own stuff.”
When Samir arrived in the Springs, just finishing up high school, he founded hip-hop group Accumen with his brother-in-law and DJ Skip Ripken. The group had a strong buzz during the early 2000s after releasing their debut album, doing shows around the state, trying to break through. And while Samir was trying to make his mark on Colorado hiphop, Aja was working on a degree at Florida A&M, where she dove into the spoken word and hip-hop scene. The duo, strictly platonic at the time, kept in touch throughout the years and started making music together once Aja graduated and moved back to the Springs.
“We were friends first,” Aja says. “He’d be all up in my house with my brother and my dad. Our interest in each other at the beginning was never really romantic. We were just on the same vibe and one day he was like, ‘I heard you do music,’ and said we should do something together. We started spending more time together, building on music. I was going to his shows, I was helping him promote, and then from there it led to a romantic relationship. People are always like; ‘It’s interesting, how do you do the music as husband and wife?’ Well, we did the music before we were husband and wife. The music is what led us to becoming husband and wife.”
“We’d only kick it during the summer break or winter break,” Samir says. “So we were real good friends for over the course of three or four years, just off and on. We’d keep in touch whenever she was away at college, but when she moved back in 2004, that’s when we’d really rock it all the time. After a while we just hit it off and boom, pow, surprise!”
Samir and Aja married in January 2005. And between living the married life and having babies (they have two daughters, ages 4 and 2), they capitalized on their musical chemistry, recording ReCollect and releasing it in the fall of 2008. The production ranged from hardcore hip-hop boom-bap beats to reggae-influenced rhythms, and the album continues to gain a new audience even almost two years after its release. Earlier this year, Samir and Aja performed at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, N.Y., with hip-hop stalwart Mos Def and just recently returned from a two-week tour in Morocco. While in Morocco, Aja and Samir performed at various youth camps across the country and led workshops dealing with the elements of hip-hop culture. The tour ended with them performing for 6,000 people. But even with Samir and Aja’s veteran performance status, they’re still in awe of the doors that have opened — so much so that in Harlem, Samir admitted to a bit of stage fright.
“When it was time to go on, I’m not even gonna lie, they handed me the mic and I got nervous!” Samir says about performing at the Apollo. “I looked out there, and the lights were so bright, and I saw that there were three levels high and there were a lot people. It was sold out. So I kind of freaked out, I kind of froze up! Then the beat dropped, and I was looking at Aja like I almost forgot when I came in; I was looking at her like ‘Help me out!’ but I wasn’t saying anything. It was the craziest feeling. But once we hit the stage, it was a wrap, it was all gone.”
The duo is slowly but surely working on new music, hoping to drop something early next year, and is continually doing enough shows and collaborations to make a living. This also gives them plenty of free time to spend with their children, which is their No. 1 priority.
“Having children is what makes us more private people, so we kind of keep our persona with the ReMINDers and our family life … there’s a line between those. Sometimes we cross that line and bring the kids to shows, but you have to try to find a balance,” Aja says. “It’s funny, because we’ll be with the children and we’ll say, OK, we have a show, and they’ll say, ‘Are you gonna go do the ReMINDers? Are you gonna go be Aja Black and Big Samir?’ Even they notice that when we’re performing it’s something different.”