On this episode, Stas THEE Boss and her Black Constellation family reflect on her artistic journey, her heartbreaks, and the philosophies that made her one of America’s most gifted and slept-on rappers and producers. We also hear reflections on the term “Afrofuturism,” the burden of being the first in an artistic movement, and the spiritual and familial continuum she and the Constellation all work within.
Stasia Irons, aka Stas THEE Boss, is an agent of change, a self-fulfilled prophecy of art as a means of embracing Blackness and queerness. Through her early days as half of the Sub Pop-signed hip-hop duo THEESatisfaction through her solo work, Stas has always been “ahead of her time.” But Stas isn’t content to be looked back on as an innovator – she boldly and correctly asserts that her work deserves its recognition now.
On this episode, Stas and her Black Constellation family reflect on her artistic journey, her heartbreaks, and the philosophies that made her one of America’s most gifted and slept-on rappers and producers. We also hear reflections on the term “Afrofuturism,” the burden of being the first in an artistic movement, and the spiritual and familial continuum she and the Constellation all work within.
Listen to a playlist of music from the episode and read the transcript below.
STAS THEE BOSS: I'm Stasia Michelle Irons, also known as Stas THEE Boss, also known as Neon Warwick. Throwback for some of y'all. I do music, music. I produce it. I DJ it. I sing it. I write it. I am in a tumultuous and lovely relationship with it. Music, music is my life.
[ MUSIC CUE: Stas THEE Boss - “Rotary Style” ]
LARRY MIZELL, JR.: Welcome back to Fresh Off The Spaceship. I’m Larry Mizell Jr. – DJ, writer, and your guide in this podcast.
MARTIN DOUGLAS: And I’m your co-host, Martin Douglas.
LARRY: Through each episode of this podcast, we’re delving into the story of the Black Constellation. On the last episode, we concluded the story of Ishmael Butler, the force behind Shabazz Palaces and the spiritual center of the Black Constellation. If you haven’t listened back to that or the previous episodes, clear some space out and check those out. They provide valuable context into our next story.
MARTIN: On this episode of Fresh off the Spaceship, we’re exploring the life and work of Stasia Irons aka Stas THEE Boss – one of America’s most gifted and slept-on rappers and producers, as well as former half of the duo THEESatisfaction.
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “Needs” ]
LARRY: When THEESatisfaction hit the scene, there was nothing like them. A left-field hip-hop act fronted by two queer women, Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White, who now goes by SassyBlack. The two made their own beats, a sound of jazz and soul samples warped and skewed as if they were transmitted back to us from a thousand years in the future. Their live performances translated their off kilter drum beats, their time signatures, as they moved in sync, choreographed like a single unit. Their voices complemented each other, Cat singing in an intoxicating, soulful croon against Stas’ rapping in a hushed voice with her dazzling wordplay.
LARRY: A number of people in Seattle’s music community felt THEESatisfaction would be the next nationally recognized sensation to come out of the city. Their influence was already huge for those in the know. Their originality was irresistible to fans, critics, and other musicians.
ERIK BLOOD: They did their set and I was just like, Holy shit, like, this is the best thing I've ever seen.
MEGAN JASPER OF SUB POP RECORDS: It felt. I mean, I think we knew something very special was happening
DAVE SEGAL: I don't know, maybe I'm naive, I thought they were gonna really blow up..
LARRY: But, after a slew of self-released tapes and two boundary-pushing albums released on Sub Pop, THEESatisfaction broke up. This episode focuses on Stas THEE Boss, but the THEESat story is crucial history. That said, Cat, the solo artist now known as SassyBlack, declined to be interviewed for this podcast.
MARTIN: So, yeah. Let's get into the breakup. I mean, I know this is, you know, not the easiest subject to talk about.
STAS: No, I've had therapy. We could talk about it now, man. We probably couldn't have talked about it a year ago. We can talk.
LARRY: See, the duo weren’t just musical partners; they were also life partners. They had broken off their romantic partnership during an album cycle before mutually deciding they couldn’t work together anymore.
STAS: I mean, it was just... It was a lot happening. A lot of time spent together, like zero space, like just imagine
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “I Read You” ]
STAS (cont’d): like being on a spaceship, traveling to another planet for years and years and years and not being able to, like, escape or like you're stuck with that same person. And it was good, you know, for making music and being in sync and performing because, you know, we would do synchronized dancing. We were really synced up, for real. But we became like almost one person. When people refer to us they would be like, "Oh, the girls, the girls, girls." It was never Stasia or Cat, it was always the girls. So I felt like we just became one identity. And I didn't like that. I wanted to have my own and I know she wanted to have her own.
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “I Read You” ]
LARRY: Something that stands out to me about Stas is the way she navigates big change with a smoothness, with ease that complements, mimics her musical style. The break up of THEESat is just one instance. It makes sense, then, that one of her core influences is renowned science fiction writer, Octavia Butler. One of Butler’s most famous books, Parable of the Sower, focuses on the idea of embracing change as a core tenet.
All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
[ Music Cue: THEESatisfaction’s - “Earthseed” ]
STAS: I read that in college, and that was the Bible for me, like. To know that somebody could write in the future in that way. And to see myself in the future in a book, because I've never seen that, there's no fucking black Sci-Fi characters.
LARRY: Like Octavia Butler, Stas and other members of the Black Constellation have been described as “ahead of their time.” It’s history’s backhand compliment, an acknowledgment that someone might be breaking new ground or creating new means of expression that society or critics will later look back on and note as “influential”, “seminal”, or “proto-” whatever. But the flip side of you being “ahead of your time” is that your work doesn’t get recognized at first, except, perhaps, by other artists, or the cool-hunters that they keep on staff, who won’t bother to cite influences when they get shine off of the ideas, precepts and aesthetics found in your work — which won’t get its own due or be acknowledged until much later. Perhaps long after you’re gone! That’s a song we’ve heard many times in the case of Black and Queer artists, trailblazers who never got their flowers while they could smell them.
[ MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Bad Bitch Walking” feat. Stas THEE Boss ]
LARRY: Another idea you’ll hear positioned with the Black Constellation is this idea of “Afrofuturism.” Afrofuturism, as coined by critic Mark Dery in the early 90s, is the idea of examining the African diaspora through the lens of science fiction and other “futuristic” artistic means; as such, it’s come to be a wide descriptor for the music of Sun Ra, Parliament-Funkadelic, the writing of Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany, the art of Ram-El-Zee, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Angelbert Metoyer. The very phrase “Black Constellation” conjures thoughts of afrofuturism, and it’s certainly been a tag applied to the music of Shabazz Palaces and THEESatisfaction. However, the terms’ value as a descriptor, particularly when in the reductive minds of lazy critics, or the mediocre machinations of opportunists, is certainly debatable. Here’s a word from KEXP’s beloved DJ Riz, in convo with Stas during a 2018 in-studio.
RIZ: May I say something that’s kind of weird? Because when I was talking to the people about Octavia Butler, I used the term Afrofuturism. And just in the last week, I’ve decided I’m gonna drop the “afro” from it because to keep separating us, even in the future, is to me, to perpetuate something we’re trying to get away from. What do you think about that?
STAS: I think that’s dope and I think we’ve always been doing…we’re afro-past, afro-present, afro-now, we’re afro-tomorrow…we’re all of that, but we’re also like…don’t put us in a sub-category. We just here. You can’t really section us off. We gonna be everywhere. Afro-continuum.
LARRY: Stas makes music that draws from the ancestral, from the cosmos, from a broken heart. Stas puts her truths from her lived experiences into her rhymes, beats, and even her DJ sets.
LARRY: She’s been lauded by legends and helped inspire well-known younger artists, but as an artist, if she’s mentioned at all, it’s often with this collar of “ahead of her time”. What if, with artists like her, we paid closer attention to what they have to say right now? Why should we have to wait to appreciate something until someone else commodifies it, or we’re lightyears away?
MARTIN: How do you want to be remembered through your artistry and how do you want the Black Constellation to be remembered?
STAS: I want to be on and poppin right now. I don't want to be remembered. I want like a continuous stream of, like, y'all fucking with me. Because everyone says that they're going to "in 20 years from now, they're going to put TheeSat on. You guys are going to blow up. You're gonna have like a second, a third wave." I'm like, nah I don't -- I want it now.
LARRY: Before any of the acclaim, before the heartbreak, Stas’ journey into music began with a chance encounter with Catherine Harris-White, Cat, aka SassyBlack. Back then they were both attending the University of Washington. They met at an open mic. Just as they were getting started as a couple, Stas took a trip across the world that would forever change her perspective.
STAS: When I went to Cape Town, it was the worst experience and the best experience of my life. It was my first time going to Africa, but it was study abroad and under the guise of like I was supposed to go out there and learn about Africa and learn about apartheid. But the group of people I went with was like 16 white girls that went. And me and another East African girl. A Chinese girl and a dude who was Nigerian and white. So it was kind of like we're all staying in the same house, it felt like the 'Real World.' And at that time, I was also finding out and discovering like the system of white supremacy, like I knew that racism existed, but I didn't know it was that deep, I was like maybe like 19, 18 or 19 and like figuring that out. And so at that point, every white person was the devil to me, I didn't want to fuck with no white people at that time. And just being in that house, just seeing how they were moving around out there, a lot of them were going down there and just, you know, they weren't there to learn anything. They were there to get drunk and party. And like, it fucked me up a little bit to see that. And I begged my instructors, "I want to go home. I can't be out here for this. Like, I'm here to enjoy Africa. And I'm seeing all this craziness out here."
LARRY: At the same time, Stas was struggling with her sexual identity in a place where she didn’t feel welcome or safe.
STAS: Also coming out and being gay out there was another ordeal because, you know, it's not legal to be queer or gay or lesbian there. They did have like a pride ceremony, but it was it was dangerous, you know. I went, but it was wild.
LARRY: While she tried to reckon with the white privilege surrounding her classmates and the hostility toward her queerness in what was supposed to be a transformative trip, Stas was in need of an outlet. Some means of expressing, and of processing, her feelings about the intersections of her identity and the societal limitations the world presented her.
STAS: So all this is happening and then Cat's sending me music, I'm like, I need to get this energy and channel it and put it somewhere, because this is just a lot for me to handle. I didn't have therapy or nothing, so I was like, let me just put it in music. So I came back to Seattle. We started THEESat immediately.
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “Deeper” ]
LARRY: With a renewed sense of purpose, Stas and Cat laid down the groundwork that would be the launching pad for both of their careers. It was a fruitful, creative time for both of them as they explored mutual influences and began dating. In a word, they became harmonious.
STAS: Oh, yeah, we were really in sync. We lived together. We were dating. And so just listening to, like, old 70s, like, I think the time period that we really loved was like 1977 to 79, like the Jheri Curl funk and like disco with synthesizers. That era was gold for us. SOS Fan and Rick James and you know, Earth, Wind and Fire. Music from that time was... That was all we jammed out to. That's what we wanted to sound like. But, in the future, you know. So most of our first tapes were like samples from that era, kind of like disco dancey and then very hip hop influenced, as I was, you know, listening to Tribe. I love Q-Tip. I love Outkast. And I wanted to sound like 3000 (Three Stacks) and Q-Tip at the same time. You could hear that in my earlier tapes.
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “Permission to Bash” ]
STAS: But, yeah, we really we didn't hear the things that we wanted to hear, like the synthesis of like hip hop and then that 70s, 80s funk, disco, soul, plus R&B, plus queer people talking about queer relationships and queer love and then just, you know, racism happening. So we fuzed all that together and we came out with THEESat.
LARRY: In 2008, THEESat would self-release their first album, the psychedelic and otherworldly That’s Weird. Way before the Black Constellation was even a concept, Stas and Cat rapped about being aliens from another planet, bringing with them the gift of music.
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “Wee Sound Weird” ]
LARRY: From the beginning, THEESatisfaction didn’t just wear their influences on their sleeves – they actively paid homage to them. Some of their earliest recordings came with a series of THEESatisfaction Loves… tapes, remixing and sampling iconic artists like Erykah Badu and Anita Baker. Their first in the series was THEESatisfaction Loves Stevie Wonder Why We Celebrate Colonialism. A celebration of the Afro-continuum.
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “Bush” ]
STAS: Then, later on, a couple of years later, my uncle passed away. He really loved Anita Baker, like a lot, a lot. Like he wanted to marry her. When he would sing her songs, he was like, talking to her while he was singing. He was like, "Anita baby, I love you." He loved her. So I wanted to honor him and make a Anita Baker beat tape. I did that and then Cat was like, "I want to sing over this too." Alright, let's do TheeSatisfaction Loves Anita Baker.
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “Black Fact” ]
LARRY: The tapes even saw them getting props from one of their biggest influences, Erykah Badu.
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “Game BLOUSES” ]
STAS: We we did this tape called 'TheeSatisfaction loves Erykah Badu,' where I flipped her songs, we sampled it and then sang over it and then tweeted it. And someone sent it to her, and she's like, 'You made me sound better than me.' I was like, what? She brought us out to Salt Lake City and performed for, like, three thousand motherfuckers in a park. And just became like her little sisters.
[ MUSIC CUE: Stas THEE Boss - “Rut” ]
LARRY: Just as THEESatisfaction was beginning their ascent, Stas and Cat made their first crucial connection that would eventually bring them into the Black Constellation. They met artist and filmmaker, Maikoyo Alley-Barnes.
STAS: Yeah, so we met Maikoiyo in 2010, no, it had to be 2009. So we had already put out one tape and he saw us perform.He was like, "You guys, you guys are amazing. I need to know you guys. We need to hang out. I just want y'all to know you're amazing." And we were like, who's this crazy dude? Whatever. But in knowing him and realizing, like later, I've known him my whole life. Like his little sister, I ran track with her. His mother mentored my mom, but like we never, like, crossed paths until then. So it was just really wild to, like, connect in that way.
LARRY: And through Maikoiyo, Stas and Cat became acquainted with the Palaceer himself, Ishmael Butler.
STAS: Maikoiyo introduced us to Ishmael, uh, because Maikoiyo had this art gallery, uh, called Punctuation on Capitol Hill. It was like the most poppin thing ever. Like everybody would come through there. You have the craziest shows. Bring out all the folks and leaders and tastemakers in the community. And he was all "I want y'all to meet this dude." And we met him. I was like, oh, he's hella chill. And then I didn't realize that it was Ishmael from Digable Planets, didn't realize that he was from Seattle this whole time. Grew up listening to music, like just mind blown.
LARRY: Ishmael was impressed by what he was hearing in THEESat’s music too.
ISHMAEL BUTLER: I was knocked out because conceptually, it was such a realized concept. It was always funky and imaginative, their play off of each other was sensational. Bars, Stas with the crazy bars and poetry, same with Cat with the singing, beats was dope. They just had a command and a confidence and, you know, then they was like in a relationship, you know what I'm sayin, which is wild, do you know what I mean? To be able to pull that off as well, you know? They were just fascinating. And then when I met them, they were just hella funny and clever and witty and like dope, you know what I mean? So it was just like, I knew they were sisters, you know what I mean, no matter what. Yeah.
LARRY: Black Constellation member JusMoni even booked THEESat for their first show, when she was just 14.
JUSMONI: it was all really hazy then, but I do think that I did, like, book them for their first show, which is wild now that I'm saying that out loud and like thinking about it, I was a baby.
LARRY: It was a unique time for all of the future members of the Black Constellation, all of whom were on the precipice of releasing some of their most acclaimed work. As mentioned in the last episode, Shabazz Palaces had just released their groundbreaking debut EPs and were being courted by Seattle label Sub Pop. Maikoyo’s Punctuation gallery was starting to boom. Meanwhile, THEESatisfaction were about to make their acting debut in the Seattle edition of MTV’s $5 Cover web series, directed by the late Lynn Shelton.
BEARDED MOVIE DUDE: Hey sweetie, listen to this. I’m at Costco right now and it’s THEESatisfaction! You know, we saw them at Hidmo. They work here. Yeah! They’re just like running carts around.
LARRY: One of the sponsors of the web series was Sub Pop Records, who started to show interest in THEESat’s music.
STAS: We never planned on signing to anything, you know, we were like, we're going to be independent, we're going to do our thing, we gon' ride this out. But they really loved our music.
LARRY: This was around the same time Sub Pop was looking to sign Shabazz Palaces. Both groups shared the same manager, Jonathan Moore. Moore encouraged the group to make the deal.
STAS: We're like this could actually be really dope because we could change. It won't be known as a rock label no more, you know. Let's change it. And it was such a good match and made so much sense. And they're so kind to us. We got to have complete creative control and tour the world... It was life-changing.
LARRY: Before the duo would make their formal Sub Pop debut, they were featured on two tracks from Shabazz Palaces’ seminal Black Up.
[ MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Swerve…” ]
LARRY: Ishmael speaks to collaborating with THEESatisfaction.
ISHMAEL: It's such an intimate, particular thing. You don't always gotta jump on some stuff together. I know that's the way it goes nowadays, but to me, it's like more specific. I gotta hear this person, that person in something rather than just trying to do it, just to do it. But I like doing it. I will. But so that wasn't what I thought at the time. But I figured like doing shows together, performing at the same place and stuff like that was going to happen. And then we ended up really doing some, some good music together as well. So I just knew that we was gonna rock, you know what i mean? [Larry: “Yeah”]
LARRY: As Black Up garnered acclaim, more and more interest was mounting around THEESatisfaction. It was the perfect primer to get audiences ready for the THEESat’s proper debut, awE naturalE.
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “awE” ]
LARRY: Released in 2012, exactly 10 years ago almost to the day as of this episodes release, THEESat’s debut showed them as a fully-formed, fully-realized group. Everything they’d been releasing and building toward over the years – the THEESat loves tapes, their early demo recordings, their buzzed about live performances – were all intentional steps to this moment. They always talked to me about how awE naturalE was gonna be their ‘real album’ and it took the group to a whole new level. Stas’ level of production had never been higher. She and Sassy’s musical chemistry was tighter than ever. You could feel the influence of artists they’d cited like Badu and Tribe, but wholly interpreted in a new way.
LARRY: It felt like an R&B infused hip-hop record left on earth by an alien intelligence. In this 2017 KEXP in-studio session with DJ Riz, Stas says that science fiction, the work of Octavia Butler to be specific, was top of mind when making the record.
STAS: The first THEESatisfaction album we were heavily like immersed in like Octavia Butler books. We have a song called “EarthSeed,” actually, yes, which talks about parable of the sower, parable of the talents, and it was talking about how God is change. The song just talks about that aspect, and, you know, like you think you know, changes is, no, it's God. It's literally God. God has changed. Like, that's all it is. Never ending.
LARRY: Stas says signing to Sub Pop gave THEESatisfaction opportunities they might not have had otherwise, going on tours with Shabazz, as well as acts outside of the hip hop idiom like Sleater-Kinney. They found fans across genres and toured around the world.
LARRY: One of my proudest moments as somebody, as a fan and advocate of THEESatisfaction was when I saw that they were on tour in China, taking pictures on the Great Wall.
STAS: That was mind-blowing, you know? I mean, I saw myself there in my dreams, people, you know, black as we always do, and I go to the Great Wall of China when they think about which you never like, really like. Actually, like think that this is actually going to happen but it did like. It was just mind blowing being there.
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “Recognition” ]
LARRY: Word of THEESatisfaction’s groundbreaking record began to spread throughout the music industry. Artists Stas and Cat looked up to were now approaching the duo and confessing their own fandom.
STAS: Man, it was surreal, like every time one of our like influences or like people that we saw as legends would like tap us, and be like, "Yeah, I fuck with you." The first time we performed in Atlanta, we performed at this spot called Earl's and it was like a burger joint slash music venue. There was no one there. No one came. OK, so we're just rapping to ourselves. Felt like a rehearsal, the last song,
[ MUSIC CUE: Janelle Monae - “Q.U.E.E.N.” feat Erykah Badu ]
STAS: Janelle Monae walks in and her Black and white crew we're like, what the fuck is going on here, yo? And she's like, oh my God, I can't believe I missed your set I was running, I had my own set, I was running here. Can you guys perform again? We were like nah, you know, we kick it. So we kicked it with Janelle.
LARRY: THEESatisfaction also found fans in Abbi and Ilana from Broad City.
STAS: We randomly had this gig with Planned Parenthood, and they were the hosts. And they hadn't heard our music before, but we just vibed out during that event. And then, they listen to our music and they're like, yo, we need to do everything. So we ended up being on one of the episodes, Cat was on an episode of Broad City. Our music was on there. I'll talk to Ilana every now and then, we cool.
LARRY: During THEESat’s performance during KEXP’s 2012 broadcast at Iceland Airwaves, one of the country’s most renowned artists was front and center in the crowd.
[ MUSIC CUE: Bjork - “All Is Full Of Love” ]
STAS: That Bjork shit was mind-blowing. We were performing and... I look down in the audience and I was like "That look like Bjork. Nah, that ain't Bjork." I was like, whatever. I was just like, you know, rocking out. And then we end our set, we go backstage, some guy rushes back and we're like, get out of here, you can't be back here. He's like, Oh, I represent Bjork. And she was out there. She wanted to tell me to tell y'all that y'all her favorite group. Yo, I was just joking. I was, like "Ah, that's probably Bjork." Nah, man. It was her. Well, yeah, just, I'm thankful that the people that I fuck with fuck with my shit.
[ Music Cue: THEESatisfaction - “QueenS”]
LARRY: Another admirer of their work was director, writer, dream hampton, who worked with THEESat on the video for “QueenS.” The “QueenS” video is a high-water mark that points to how ahead of the curve THEESat were, in terms of boldly representing Black women and Black queer love, in aesthetically and authentically honoring Black art, and in presenting a tableau of beautiful sistas kickin it outside of the confines of hiphop’s male gaze. Visually it was a reference to the work of the celebrated visual artist Mickalene Thomas, who’s images of Black women lounging in colorful, richly-textured settings felt like a natural corollary to the THEESat sound. The visual language of the “QueenS” music video would really become commonplace in music videos in years to come, but at the time, stood out. It also featured a lot of women who’d go on to be prominent figures in various fields of culture..
STAS: Yeah, if you, if you look at the QueenS' music video and look at some of the motherfuckers that are in there and what they're doing now like. We just knew we knew a lot.
LARRY: Constellation fam Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes speaks on it.
MAIKOIYO ALLEY-BARNES: It's kind of a who's who of some of, as far as I'm concerned, some of the most important thinkers and makers of the now, a whole generation of female, femme, women creators. Tionna McLodden’s in there. Kimberly Drew is in there. Farhia Tato’s in. There's a lot of people just in the video.
STAS: There was no men allowed on set except for the dude who was shooting it, Ferrari Sheppard, who did the design and then…you know, who came through? Michael K. Williams.
MAIKOIYO: …it's a fucking classic. And it's a jam. But I do. I think it's as a an artifact and a time stamp, knowing what we know now, 10 years later, about who some of these people become. And I'm sure there are people in there that maybe I didn't even mention who will do any number of other things and have done any number of other things, it’s just kind of an interesting kind of timestamp, an artifact, as far as like the community, that stas and cat were integral to and is a magnet for Seattle. Brooklyn and D.C., Maryland, you know, DMV Toronto, but you know what I mean, it was kind of interesting that way.
LARRY: dream hampton herself speaks to the lasting cultural importance of this video, and THEESat’s music in general..
dream hampton: I think of the THEESatisfaction album that Cat and Stas made as like, it's going to be one of those kinds of albums that people are going to rediscover in another generation.
dream hampton: Somebody tweeted, and they were like, “I didn't know you directed the video for the, you know, ‘Queens’” or whatever, and I was like, oh, someone is discovering THEESat right now.
LARRY: The energy of the party depicted in that video would be the blueprint for what was to come next, a new facet of THEESatisfaction’s influence.
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “Sexy Girlfriend” ]
LARRY: We’ll get to that right after a short break.
STAS: We realized when we would go out to parties or whatever that they weren't playing like, you're not going to hear Sa Ra at no party, you're not going to hear Sun Ra, like, they're going to be playing top 40 or they're going to be playing like some real like, just rock or whatever. And that's just in Seattle. But also when we would go out to other cities, we wanted to meet the queer people in those cities, the queer black people. So we thought the best way to draw them there was to throw a party.
LARRY: Black Weirdo was a series of parties and events organized by Stas and Cat across the U.S. and even outside of it.
LARRY: The Black Weirdo events became a vital lifeline for queer, Black artists, a place that was uniquely theirs.
STAS: Those parties, we really turned out a lot of places, you know. They were just magical, you know, we'd have performers -Gifted Gab performed, we had Njena Red Fox, we had Cakes da Killa, we had like all these queer rappers, you know. It was beautiful.
JUSMONI: It was a we – like it was a space where black people, once again. were like breaking down like barriers in these, to get into these venues and these spaces and like be like, All right, we're here and you're not about to kick us out because we're just here to have a good time. There's no funk, but also just like Black people getting to play the music that they wanted to play and to get very, quite honestly weird with each other safely. And do the things that we wanted to do. And it was like a night at the disco all the time.
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “Existinct" ]
LARRY: KEXP DJ and local artist Gabriel Teodros looks back at the scene at the time, and the influence these parties had.
GABRIEL: I feel like Black Weirdo was so important. Like one of the most important movements that happened in Seattle, maybe in the time that I've done hip hop in Seattle. I'll bring it back, right? So when we started right in the in the late 90s and early 2000s, Seattle rappers, a lot of them were very vocally homophobic and that was never challenged. You know, it.. It wouldn't be far to say that hip hop was not a safe space to be out and queer when we when we started, you know?
LARRY: Plus, the music was just good. They had style, they had taste, the crowds that came out were fly, smelled good – now this could be a rarity in Seattle club going, mind you.
GABRIEL: I was just such a fan of their deejaying. You know, it was the perfect vibe and it was, yeah, exactly. It was stuff I would actually listen to when I'm listening to music. You know what I mean? Not not the stuff that you hear in the club that you kind of tolerate because it's, you know, what's popular or whatever. Right. So. So just to frame that, like. That's what the parties were like, but they were unapologetically black, they were unapologetically queer, you know what i'm saying they were queer positive. But anyone and everyone could come kick it and that kind of space that they created? Like black weirdo, like even as a concept like THEESatisfaction gave you a whole esthetic. You know what I mean? Like they were, they were channeling both like Octavia Butler and Steve Urkel. And I'm saying, like at the same time, like and making all that shit like cool. Mm hmm.
LARRY: Creating a space for the Black queer community meant Stas was also creating a space for herself – something that she didn’t always have.
LARRY: Was everybody supportive when you came out?
STAS: No. No way, not supportive. They’re very supportive now. But that was like mind blowing to experience. You know, just. I got kicked out, you know, when I was 17 and my parents, I think they just were afraid and just didn't really understand or whatever, and it was very hard to like, build that relationship up again after that. But we're good now like we talked through it and thank God for therapy and all of that.
LARRY: Stas grew up in the church, in Tacoma – a city 40 miles south of Seattle.
STAS: I grew up in Baptist Church and Church of God in Christ, my church in Tacoma was very special to me, they had this crazy, amazing choir that like still like I get chills thinking about like being at choir rehearsal with my mom and just like actually feeling a spirit, the spirit and feeling all the things I'm supposed to feel.
[ MUSIC CUE: Richard Smallwood - “I Will Sing Praises” ]
But I was so young that I didn't realize, like all the drama and crazy shit that was going on inside the church. So when I moved to Seattle, my eyes were open to all of the hypocrisy. And just like you show up to church and it's got to be a fashion show, you can't wear jeans, you got to wear a skirt and like, it was just like super duper strict, homophobic as hell to the point where the pastor was like preaching about gay sex and how horrible it was. And how can two men be in bed with each other? What do they do like saying that? And I'm like, What on earth are we talking about here? [laughter]
LARRY: We're in church right now, fam, what are you talking about?
STAS: So it was just disgusting to me how much hatred I felt going to church when it was supposed to be a place that I feel loved and cared for.
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “Prophetic Perfection” ]
LARRY: Stas continued to carve out a unique space for herself, via her art. Exhibit A: THEESat’s second full-length album, titled EarthEE.
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESat’s “Prophetic Perfection” ]
LARRY: So, Martin, when EarthEE hit the streets, How were you feeling about that record? I mean, what was going on at that time? That was like, what, 20,
MARTIN: Well, no, they broke up in 2016. It was 2015. Yeah.
LARRY: That was a very different time.
MARTIN: This is kind of the beginning of the of the Black Lives Matter / All Lives Matter dichotomy.
MARTIN: Like really having to, you know, stand up for yourself as a black person in America and not just like in the streets, but in discourse.
MARTIN: And so to have like this majestic, beautiful piece of music that makes you feel good to be Black and feel like you are represented and seen and felt instead of having to defend your ideals to people who don't understand is amazing.
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “No GMO” ]
LARRY: Yeah, it was a balm for sure, and just their themes of self love and and identity and seeing the cover, they're kind of on this like, space age, throne kind of floating in space. The whole record has this kind of like post-Earth sensibility. You know, when they're talking about “No GMO,” “Planet for Sale,” you kind of get the feeling that Earth is done and that was kind of the feeling everybody had and still has.
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “Planet for Sale” ]
MARTIN: “Planet for Sale” in particular is a track that strikes me because people weren't like, there were people talking about climate change.
MARTIN: But like as far as like on a widespread level, especially like in Hip-Hop, like people weren't talking about, like how capitalism leads to the destruction of our planet. Like, I think people think people in hip hop like even to this day, you know, applaud capitalism as a structure, as a societal structure.
MARTIN: And then you've got a song like “Blandland,” which is talking about the appropriation of hip hop in a very specific way, which we won’t get into..
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “Blandland” ]
LARRY: Just very specific to this place. You know, this place as blandland. You know where you could you could go to some one pot meal where they're going to serve you fried chicken with a, you know, hot sauce. They might hit you with a watermelon dessert. No lie this. This definitely. That's absolutely real Seattle.
LARRY: And it's a Stellie fest.[...] You got Ish, you got Porter on the title track. Erik Blood, of course, is in there.
[ MUSIC CUE: “THEESatisfaction - EarthEE” ]
MARTIN: There are so many songs that are that are rooted in genuine emotion. I mean, you know, like. “I Read You.” That's the classic breakup song, right?
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “I Read You”]
LARRY: In 2016, a year after the release of EarthEE, THEESatisfaction announced that they were calling it quits. After years of touring, pushing themselves to new creative heights, and operating as what many saw as “a single unit”, the two felt it was time to begin exploring their own individual identities.
STAS: You know, we all had things that we didn't like about each other. I had things that I didn't like, she had things she didn't like. I was producing most of the music and she wanted to produce. So I was like, this is going to change our sound completely. Like if you're doing the beats now, it's not going to be... So we disagreed on a lot of things, but I think it was just... I'm glad it ended when it did, because it would have been a lot messier if we would have tried to stick it out as we did. We stuck it out for as long as we could. But, yeah, it had to end.
MARTIN: How do you feel when you listen to THEESat? I guess I should ask you if you've listened to a lot of THEESat since you and Cat broke up.
STAS: I do. I do. It makes me emotional. I miss it, a lot. I have a majority of the music, but not all of it. So recently, I had to illegally download our first mixtape ‘That's Weird.’ This is a week or a couple of weeks ago. And just hearing it and just hearing the rawness and just like transporting myself back to that time, I just broke down and cried. I was like, this is like, really wild, that's it's been like--because we put that out in 2008. So it's been some time, you know, 12 years, 13 years. Yeah, I still get emotional about it. But I truly miss it and I love the music we made and the time. Yeah.
All that you touch
All that you Change
LARRY: Stas embraces change. And with the end of THEESatisfaction, she forged a new beginning.
[ AUDIO CUE: Stas on Street Sounds ]
LARRY: A handful of months after THEESatisfaction broke up, Stas went from being affiliated with Sub Pop to another Seattle music establishment when she became my successor on Street Sounds, KEXP’s long-running hip-hop show.
STAS: I know that the Street Sounds hadn't had a woman do it, and there wasn't, you know... I know my ear and I know there's a lot of things that, you know, people would have never played on the radio that I wanted to get on the radio. And it was so fun, it was like a dream job for me, and I didn't know that it was going to be a dream job, but it felt so good to have that platform.
LARRY: She used that platform to challenge hiphop norms in her own fly style.
GABRIEL: I remember tuning into street sounds one night on Pride weekend, and Stas did a whole show of like queer hip hop artists on street sounds on KEXP. Yes. Like, I never heard nothing like that.
LARRY: While Stas was holding it down on Street Sounds, the call to make her own music never went away.
[ MUSIC CUE: Stas THEE Boss - “Solo” ]
LARRY: How did it feel when you were working on your first solo stuff after THEESat?
STAS: It felt... Sad, you know. It felt like. I'm like, oh, I didn't plan on doing this, I didn't ever want to be a solo artist. I'm someone who my aspirations were to be a background singer. I really studied like background vocalists and loved to blend. I love the blend. I don't really like to be the star. But I have star power and star quality. My aunties Used to always call me star, so I was like, why not?
STAS: And the shit sounded good, it sounded good, and It felt freeing to not have to like, ask somebody else if they were fucking with it or not. Cuz it's all on me and I got to really like. Play around a lot more.
[ MUSIC CUE: Stas THEE Boss - “The Many Ways in Which She Tried It” ]
LARRY: Stas tested the waters of a solo career with a beat tape called Stas for Hire, It opens with an instrumental titled “The Many Ways in Which She Tried It,” which reappears as “Tried It” on her 2017 official solo debut, S’Women.
[ MUSIC CUE: Stas THEE Boss - “Tried It” ]
LARRY: Even though Stas was moving forward, she still had pieces of the past to contend with. As cool and laid back as it sounds, S’Women was an incisive, vulnerable and occasionally bitter breakup record with multiple targets.
STAS: I was pissed, still depressed and angry about the TheeSat break up, still trying to figure shit out. So I came out with S'women. I wanted to step away from TheeSat and go into my own, but I still wanted people to know that it was me. You know, I didn't want them to forget who I was. That's why I was afraid for our group to break up. I was like, I don't want them to like--you know, when groups break up. And you're like, I don't want to hear this solo shit from this nigga that was in, you know. That was in TLC or whatever. You know, I don't want to hear, but...
MARTIN: Because you never know if you're the one who was the dope one in the group or if you're the one who was the wack one.
STAS: Facts! Man, I didn't want it. [laughs] That's true. I was afraid. But, you know, I'm not going to say who's the dopest. Cat's doing her thing. I'm doing my thing. We both doing our thing. But yes, S'Women was kind of like a 'fuck you' to my ex at the time and to TheeSat and to Cat. There's some diss songs on there, it's really heavy.
[ MUSIC CUE: Stas THEE Boss - “Bummer” (or “Tried It”) ]
LARRY: Reflecting on her past through music wasn’t just limited to her exes. Around this time she started to explore the musical influences from her childhood – particularly gospel music.
STAS: That was one of my favorite parts of going to church is hearing in the choir sing and the feeling that I got from it, like is no other. I still listen to gospel probably like two or three times a week. I have this crazy gospel playlist that I throw on and just old songs that my mom used to sing, my grandma, my dad. It's like, it's healing honestly. So you'll hear that in my music.
LARRY: The same year she dropped S’Women, Stas released VOICES, a beat tape built around gospel samples pushed to their experimental brink.
[ MUSIC CUE: Stas THEE Boss - “Resurrect’ ]
LARRY: With Gospel music, Stas found familial bonds with her mother.
STAS: Yeah. My mom, she loves gospel music and she would just play it all the time, sing it. My auntie always, uh, aunt a huge influence on me. She would take me to Pike Place Market every weekend when I was a baby and play gospel music on the way up. We'd get coffee. I was too young to be drinking coffee. But, I would drink coffee. Listen to gospel music. But they were both in this choir called The Voices of Saint John. Otis was also there. He'll remember. He'll tell you about that.
LARRY: Otis, that’s OCNotes, another member of the Black Constellation and another person who hosted a radio show on KEXP.
STAS: But, I would sit in their choir rehearsals, and it would feel like church. Their harmonies were just unmatched. Like, so, so beautiful sounding. I would get chills. I would cry. I would you know, have all these emotional responses, just from their choir rehearsal.
STAS: So I named the project Voices just in remembrance of that choir and then the samples that I used were songs that my mom loved, my grandmother, who I hadn't met. My mom's mom, she passed away before I was born, but my mom would always tell me her favorite song was Rance Allen, 'That Will Be Good Enough for Me.' So I sampled that.
[ MUSIC CUE: Rance Allen - “That Will Be Good Enough For Me” ]
STAS: But yeah, it was all church. The whole instrumental project is deep. And I get chills listening to that too.
LARRY: What's your relationship to, you know, faith and spirituality these days, if you don't mind.
STAS: Now? I don't even really know it's kind of all over the place and pulling from from African spirituality and pulling from just based on feelings like I feel protected, I feel like my grandmother's with me everywhere. My grandfather, my uncles. I feel them, have their pictures in my room like. I don't necessarily feel like I'm. Practicing or devoted to anything, but I definitely feel love and spirits guiding me.
LARRY: Stas carries her family with her in her heart and in her name.
STAS: My middle name is Michelle, but it's an acronym: Mamie, Athol, Huey, Stephanie, Carol, Hawala, Evelyn Levi. And those are my mom's siblings. First initial. So my aunts and my uncle. So she gave me that and I feel like I'm. I have the family with me everywhere I go. I think about them constantly. I have to tap in with them, see them, talk to them almost daily, like is very important to me. I have a huge family and I'm very lucky and blessed to have that.
LARRY: There’s also Stas’ chosen family. The Black Constellation and the community she’s created from Seattle to Brooklyn. Carrying on what she and Sassy started with Black Weirdo, she’s a founding member of the Sway & Swoon collective.
LARRY: Talk to me about Sway & Swoon, I think it's incredible how you are. Bring people out who you bring out, who you like serve, and that just the joyousness, that's all you all bring out, like I've never. You always are able to convene community that I don't see other people doing there yet.
STAS: So Sway & Swoon was it's kind of like an offshoot in iteration of what we did with Black Weirdo where we wanted to bring together queer. Community, queer black people and, you know, regular black people as any black people this come together sly to some non-mainstream music, bemoaning she's from the CD and I'm from the South. And so bringing those two worlds together is magical.
LARRY: Sway and Soon is made up of Stas, DJ Yaddy –who’s the host of Street Sounds now on KEXP – and JusMoni.
JUSMONI: We were recognizing, similarly to like Black Weirdo, like, there are not spaces for us in these like traditional art spaces and our institutions or venues that cultivate a space that is, one like as safe as can be, two, hella fun also like three, hella black and very queer, very queer and very free. And we so we threw our little first little $5 party. We used to keep our prices used to be five dollars period and we were like, we're going to keep it like that. So then help people come. But also like, it's just hella accessible.
LARRY: While continuing to work on Sway and Swoon, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and ground everything to a halt. Stas left her post as host of Street Sounds headed for Brooklyn, but continued to make new music.
[ MUSIC CUE: Stas THEE Boss - "On the Quarner" ]
LARRY: While the world was in lockdown, Stas hunkered down and created On the Quarner, a 16-minute EP delivered in one continuous track.
STAS: On the Quarner, obviously, is a play on Miles Davis' album On the Corner. And his songs are very long and are movements, so I wanted my project to be a movement and to feel like one long piece.
LARRY: It would illustrate her growth as both a musician and a producer.
STAS: So I was living in Seattle. And making beats on a DJ controller that had 808 pads built in so I could sample directly from, you know, the decks and then put drums over it. So I just had all these beats or whatever. COVID hit in March. And I was like, I'm moving to New York, because my girl is living in New York. I was I'm going to New York. I'm not going to be stuck in Seattle during this crap and not be able to see my boo. I don't know what's going to happen. So let me just pack up everything. I moved to New York. And COVID was there. I was, you know, just working on music, I had nothing to do but work on music.
MARTIN: I think the most prevalent thing about Stas, especially when she developed her solo career, is that you can tell that her rhyme patterns are circular. Yes. And so it sounds if you close your eyes and listen to her music, it literally sounds like she's wrapping circles around people. Right? That shit is crazy.
LARRY: I literally used to sit in her old apartment and watch her late at night after some jam. She's at the controller and she's got something looped up and is just like vibing into it, and I can tell she's writing something.
MARTIN: She is thinking about how she can fit the production rather than how the production can fit her vocals.
LARRY: It's like, you know, jazz informed. She plays with the changes, whatever's going on. She knows how to riff on it. There's no there's no bad note. There's just a bad response to a certain note.
LARRY: Tacoma’s Bruce Leroy, a rapper with close ties to a few members of the Constellation, offers his opinion on what makes Stas’ production special.
BRUCE LEROY: With Stas, I think her production style is influenced by how many genres of music she's a genuine fan of. There's a lot of people that say they like music and then they'll name you seven niggas that sound like Travis Scott and like, that's their playlist, like the niggas that sound like Travis Scott and Future. I love Redman, I love Ice Cube and Bone, and I'm just saying the most different people that I'm fans of off top right? So those sounds are just way different as far as like vocals, production, they're going to use on a beat, on an album or whatever like that. But that's just rap. That's not alternative. That's not house. And most people, they forgot when they said they listen to everything, they forgot all the other genres of music, and Stas is the person who didn't. She didn't forget, she's going to put you on to some soul music. She's going to put you on something.
[ MUSIC CUE: Stas THEE Boss - “Voices”
And so when she's sampling her spectrum, shit to grab from, it's just too big. So when she do something it's like, she might flip the same sample four times. And I ain't even know and then I hear something like, hold up, this is the same sample of the beat that you sent me, like, oh man, she just be doing that shit that fast. And then, of course, she gonna put her vocals on there. You know, she begins, she gets to bar out now and then she gets it doing her whisper joint. And then there's something where you got to figure out where she was at and meet her there. She made it for herself, and she didn't tell you that, you know?
[ MUSIC CUE: Stas THEE Boss - “Keys” ]
LARRY: Immediately after On the Quarner, Stas recorded Sang Stasia!, an album that features her gifts as a rapper but also slides into the lane of gloriously woozy R&B.
STAS: Yup, I recorded that right after On the Quarner I was itching to make something different. Maikoiyo was begging me to come out with a singing album. He was like, you need to come up with a new alias and just put out a singing record. You sound better than all these singers and all these rappers trying to sing, you just need to do it. I was like, all right, I'll do it. I'll just do it under my name. I don't have to have a secret alias, but I'll do it. And I sang a lot in TheeSat. And so I went back to a couple of those records and just remembered how much I was singing. Because everybody thinks it was just Cat singing. I was singing all the back up and singing a lot. So I Sang Stasia! It was just me showcasing my vocals. I love Chaka Khan. I love Bilal. I love King. And so influenced by them on that record.
MARTIN: According to Stas, all of her solo work thus far has been tied to a specific thematic element.
LARRY: Talk to me about how relationships have intersected with your creativity.
STAS: I wish they didn’t. You know, I wish I could make an album about something else besides the person I'm dating or not dating, but that's how you know, that's what I'm supposed to be doing. People need to hear it.
LARRY: As you might imagine from a multi-talented artist, Stas has a lot of different pots on the stove. Stas has the sequel to her album S’Women in the works, as well as a collaborative LP with another close collaborator, Nappy Nina.
STAS: Nah, me and Nappy Nina have been linking like every week to work on music, making beats on the spot and then writing, right there. We got a whole bunch of packs from Swarvy, from ? from B Rock waiting on a pack from Ishmael. So that's probably gonna come next, before any of my solo stuff.
[ MUSIC CUE: Nappy Nina & J.Words - “Real Tea” ]
LARRY: The deepening of Stas’ craft doesn’t come from divine intervention or the clarity of an epiphany; it comes from an artist who has been doing this for a long time continuing to work at it. A naturally curious person exploring the corners of her sound in order to expand it.
STAS: I guess just getting older and being jaded and being dumped, multiple times, like life shit... Just the evolution of me. I had to switch it up. I mean, I'm still there. I'm still chopping jazz samples. I'm still, you know, putting on my voice. But it's grown up style. So, you know, I'm not, like, complaining about racism. I am, but, like, it's different now. There's other problems in life. So I guess I just got older.
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “Recognition” ]
LARRY: In just over a decade of music, Stas has already left a lasting mark. From her earliest days of THEESatisfaction through her solo career today, Stas has always brought her own seat to the table. But Stas is far from done. Change is the only constant, something she’ll continue to embrace. That said, she won’t be relegated as an artifact that was “ahead of her time.”
MARTIN: So do you do you feel saddled by the fact that Black Constellation are so much described as ahead of their time?
STAS: Yeah. Yeah, um, but I would rather be ahead than be behind.
[ MUSIC CUE: Stas THEE Boss - “Three 6 Stasia” ]
LARRY: Next time on Fresh Off The Spaceship, we look at the work of Maikoyo Alley Barnes…
STAS: Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes is... He's my guy. That's all I got to say. He's my guy. He's my person. He sees me the most, the realest.
MAIKOIYO:The reality of all of these things is really about, um, internalizing a more, uh, holistic and realistic view of who we are.
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