Celebrating Two Artists Forging Their Own Paths This Black History Month
Community. Identity. Legacy.
Music is a universal language, one that bridges generational and cultural divides. It breaks down barriers, connecting us to something much bigger than ourselves. This Black History Month, we’re highlighting Dee-1 and Joyce Wrice — two musicians using their voices to champion community, celebrate their identities, and honor the legacies they hope to leave behind for generations to come.
Each artist also worked with Levi’s® to create patches commemorating Black History Month.
Over the course of his career, the rapper, activist, and scholar Dee-1 has staunchly supported the belief that music has the power to transform Black culture as we know it. The proof can be found in his sheer poeticism - his ability to pen lyrics that are not only memorable, but also socially conscious. “We have to look at hip hop as more than just an art form. There's lyrics, there's repetition, and there's rhyme. All of these things contribute to being able to remember what it is that you are hearing at a higher rate than you would remember a pastor preaching a sermon or a teacher giving a lecture.”
Music has the opportunity to make impact and to have influence in somebody’s life forever
Born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, a city with historic ties to beloved Black music legends like gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and rapper Lil Wayne, Dee-1 has become a hometown hero of sorts for his commitment to uplifting his community through song. It’s a big responsibility, and you better believe he’s well-equipped for it. After being awarded the 2020 NAACP “Power of Influence” award for his activism, he became the first rapper appointed to the Louisiana Council for the “Success of Black Men and Boys”. He has since backed up these accolades by pursuing academic research on how hip-hop can be used as a teaching instrument inside the Black community. “Rap music is not just entertainment. It is more than that. It is literally the manual to a lifestyle for the people who are listening to it.” Most recently, the rapper completed the 2023 Nasir Jones Hip-Hop Fellowship at Harvard University’s Hiphop Archive & Research Institute. This year he has been named the Alan Solomont Artist/Scholar-in-Residence at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life.
Dee-1’s love for hip-hop began at a young age. He was known for keeping a notebook filled with lyrics in high school and college. After graduating from Louisiana State University in 2008 and accepting a middle school teaching position, he started to see the benefit of pursuing music full-time. He witnessed firsthand the impact he could have on the next generation of young people who — like him — look to music for inspiration and strength in times of struggle. “Music has the opportunity to make impact and to have influence in somebody’s life forever. Impact over income is my mindset. When you focus on impact, the income will always land right where it’s supposed to.” His 2009 album, aptly named “David & Goliath'', retells the biblical story from his perspective as an artist. The parable has also served as the inspiration for his first anti-bullying hip-hop children’s book, “David Found His Slingshot”, which teaches kids how to use their unique gifts and talents to overcome obstacles in their lives. “Metaphorically, we all have a little bit of David in us, and we all have a slingshot. My slingshots are hip-hop and education. When you use your slingshots for the proper purpose, you're able to defeat the Goliaths in your life.”
This Black History Month, Dee-1 is taking stock of how far he has come and the legacy he hopes to leave behind. In December he hosted a sit-down with over 100 rappers in and around the New Orleans area to discuss everything from taking accountability for the messages they are putting out there to mental health. His advice for the next generation? “Be real, be righteous, and be relevant. Being real is all about being authentic and loving who you are when you’re looking in the mirror, even with your flaws and mistakes. Being righteous is understanding that doing the right thing is always right and doing the wrong thing is always wrong. Don’t let this world confuse and trick you. And being relevant is all about shutting up and grinding.”
His dedication to his community and culture remains at the heart of everything Dee-1 does. He recalls a trip to West Africa that he took as a teenager with a group of fellow students and how much of an impact it had on him. “I remember us standing on a beach in Ghana, all holding hands. Just a bunch of Black solidarity as the sun rises. That felt like Black glory in that moment — being connected to your roots, but also being unified with others.”
The moment you hear singer and songwriter Joyce Wrice’s music wafting through your speakers, you’re immediately transported into her own unique world. You hear it in the sweet lilt of her voice and soulful melodies, the way she is able to blend ‘90s-inspired R&B vocals with hip-hop inflected beats to create a vibe that is uniquely all her own. It should come as no surprise that she counts Black music legends Tamia, Aaliyah, and Missy Elliott as some of her biggest influences. “It's a blessing to have grown up in a time where there were these huge stars.” As a star on the rise herself, she’s proving that independent artists can forge their own paths while still honoring the legacies of the artists who came before.
It's hard being in this industry as a Black woman. But I think it's really important to know that you can be the change you want to see.
Growing up, Wrice was the only child to her Black American father and Japanese mother. Her parents met while her father was in the navy and stationed in Tokyo, Japan. The couple moved to her father’s hometown of Flint, Michigan before relocating to Chula Vista, California where Wrice was raised. She regularly visited the local Buddhist temple with her mother and quickly adopted it as a community space where she could be around other families and kids with her shared heritage. “I grew up around a lot of Black and Japanese kids through my mom's and dad’s friends. It was nice to be around other people who looked like me and had the same background as me.”
Wrice describes herself as a shy child, careful not to be too loud or attract too much attention. She credits music — more specifically, her parents’ love for music — with helping her break out of her shell. Some of her earliest music memories are ones watching her father work on his motorcycle blasting neosoul or sitting in the backseat of his car with the top-down, listening to everything from jazz and reggae to hip-hop and R&B. “I vividly remember he had CDs from Biggie, Tamia, and Brandy. And I remember 112 and Biggie’s “Only You” remix playing in the car.” Music provided her with the outlet and courage she needed to become the talented performer she is today.
Throughout her young adulthood, Wrice participated in talent shows and dance performances. She even tagged along with friends to dance auditions in order to hone her skills. “Mystically, that really was my training for the type of performances I like to put on right now, which is incorporating choreography.”
Her debut album “Overgrown” was released in 2021, and her sophomore album is in the works. As her career has taken off, Joyce has not forgotten to pay homage to the struggle of Black music pioneers who have come before her. “It's hard being in this industry as a Black woman [and independent artist]. But I think it's really important to know that you can be the change you want to see.”
This Black History Month, Wrice is reflecting on the power she finds within her family and music community. She's also continuing to have deep conversations with her relatives to honor her heritage. “I'm discovering I have Trinidadian lineage and all these things.” Wrice encourages everyone to celebrate their uniqueness and individual stories. "I grew up being told that I have a unique story to tell — that we all do — every single person does. And everyone has a mission in this lifetime. So, it's always important to live with purpose.”
Visit your local Levi’s retailer on February 23 to receive complimentary patches inspired by the stories of Dee-1 and Joyce Wrice this Black History Month. Available while supplies last.