The Rapidian

Freedom from fear: Musician/dancer shares his art of achieving what was thought impossible

Shamar Alef, Grand Rapids native, ballet dancer and hip-hop artist, offers spiritual solutions to social issues, discusses his recent tour and reflects on his upcoming album, "God is in your Belly."

All that Glitters NYE Party wsg BedRock - Shamar Alef - Aramis & more

Shamar Alef will be headlining the "All That Glitters" New Years Eve Party at the Tip Top Deluxe Bar on Thursday Dec. 31. 

Alef will be reprising the On Earth As In Heaven Live Experience with Bedrock.

Find more event info here.

Listen to recent tracks by Alef on SoundCloud.

Shamar Alef performing/winning the Hip Hop Heavy Weights Competition at the Stache/Intersection, May 8th, 2015.

Shamar Alef performing/winning the Hip Hop Heavy Weights Competition at the Stache/Intersection, May 8th, 2015. /Courtesy of Anthony Norkus Photography

Shamar Alef Ben-Yasara’El, given name William Griffin III, was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Starting at a young age, his mother enrolled him in summer art classes at Kendall. He was a member of the Grand Rapids Ballet company for about three years, dancing in the Nutcracker at the DeVos Center and a few other major productions including performances at the Festival of the Arts at Calder Plaza.

He started producing hip-hop music around 2010.

“It kind of just fed into what I wanted to write. I had a short introduction into poetry in 7th grade. A teacher of mine, Aliyah Armstrong, introduced me to poetry and creative writing," says Griffin. "Ever since, I just went back and forth with it. Those experiences have really made me the artist that I am today.”

Since 2013, he has partnered with Michigan producer, Mozaic (Donnie Odom). Discussions on spirituality, religion, life and art are the foundation of the deeply spirited context from which they collaboratively create music.

“Our relationship as artists really feeds into our personal relationship as men. Over the course of our artistic journey we’ve helped one another out and we’ve become better men to the people around us,” says Griffin.

Last year on Christmas they released the first album of their collaboration, “On Earth As In Heaven,” which captures the essence of the unity that exists between planet earth and the realms beyond this physical existence. They also developed a creative line of merchandise and branding for OE∆IH, which includes a triangle at its center where the A would be, with a prism of rainbow colors inside it.

“We wanted to capture the essence that exists between these firmaments and capture that spiritual energy, translating that energy into sight, sound and experience that you can smell/taste," he says. "And we’re still developing that sound getting ready to release our new project.”

In October 2015, Griffin had the opportunity to take this project and have it recreated live by Grand Rapids band Bed Rock and Kalamazoo hip-hop group Last Gasp. They took the experience on tour for three consecutive nights in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. The support and encouragement of “Fable” Marcel Price, FosterRachel GleasonAzizi JasperMitch BurnsKFGDonnie MozaicHop CatStella’s and the Mix made the tour possible.

“The experience was phenomenal, the sound, their interpretation of the original master of the music was absolutely mind-blowing and it was an experience for me,” Griffin recalls. “Even though I was the creator of the music, that was a blessing to me, that something I was a part of could be that good and that I could impact people in the way that it did. Even though coming in that was the plan, to actually see it and get energy back from our audience, back from our supporters, was a blessing. [It] has invigorated me to keep creating and consistently perpetuating this concept.”

This first album came from a transitionary space where Griffin was coming to understand his value as an artist. Previous life experiences had made him feel as though his voice as an individual had been taken from him. With the excess of racial tension in the country at the end of 2014, Griffin was deeply affected by The Mike Brown incident, and was compelled to create his first album.

“[It was] fueled from a controlled rage. It was like a coming of age: it’s time to surpass, break through a lot of the barriers that I felt were holding me back at that point in time. I wanted to come out and express everything I wanted to say,” Griffin recalls.

Consisting of four songs, he wrote and recorded the E.P. in a week. After it all came out, Griffin listened to all the rough edits over and over again and was confident that he said everything he wanted to say within those four songs. He sent it for mastering and within two weeks the project came fully into existence.

After the liberating experience of speaking everything on his mind in the first album, Griffin continues to produce music for this project working towards a second E.P. to be released soon.

“The project that we’re doing now is really a testimony of what the possibilities are when you put yourself in a position to liberate yourself from the things that are in a sense holding you back,” Griffin explains. “When you jump off the ledge, when fear is no longer a part of the equation, fear is no longer a factor in your decision making what could happen. When you eliminate fear, when you’ve reached a point when you’re freely creating freely thinking freely living. The freedom to create means more than eating sometimes.”

“God is in Your Belly- It’s a story I have to tell and I have to tell it that way,” he says.

A.A. Rashid is a pillar of the Black Consciousness Community from New York, who does a lot of ancient philosophy of Kemet," Griffin explains. "This project is really inspired by one of the concepts he expounds on in his lectures: essentially saying that we manifest the powers of the Creator through our will and our will resides in our belly, our stomach, the solar plexus when you are talking about the chakra system or a spiritual system.”

“For me, eliminating fear increased my will. So I am telling the world, my peers, the people around me what that’s like, how you can even start that process, what it’s is like to struggle with that process and what is possible- what you can manifest in your life by eliminating certain fears and increasing your will to push forward and on earth move things,” he says.

Griffin got a chance to meet one of his greatest influences, Erykah Badu this year. They were reflecting on the fact that hip hop, the drum beat and vocals, comes from African spiritual traditions. It infuses various facets of our culture today and it is bigger than religion, than the government.

Griffin recalls how Badu explained this experience.

“No matter who you are what culture you came from no matter where you are in the world, everyone bows down to worship the kick and the snare," says Griffin of Badu's assessment. "When those vibrations go out and resonate with your soul, everyone nods their head." 

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