There’s something to admire about the effervescent gleam that radiates from BLACKSTARKIDS. From the bravado they proudly carry on songs like “Britney Bitch” to an aesthetic consisting of neon clothes and flowing afros, the group’s inherent charisma stems from simply being their authentic selves. The trio—consisting of Ty, The Babe Gabe and Deiondre—manages to infuse diverse musical influences into the experimental sounds they create. Their latest album, Puppies Forever, shows off blistering confidence that has only soared since last year’s Whatever, Man. From the slick boasts and shy bars of “Fight Club” to the pop-punk glow of “I Hate Being in Love,” their latest offering is as infectious and shiny as they are.
However, “ACAB”—which stands for “All Cops Are Bastards,” is the boldest and most incendiary moment on the record. The song’s simple yet potent lyricism (“These days I’m counting down my life by every minute/I know you hate my fucking kind”) drives home the acrimonious sentiment they have for law enforcement. We hopped on the phone with BLACKSTARKIDS and spoke about why they made an anti-police anthem and how Puppies Forever—along with the group as a whole—dispel the notion that Blackness is a monolith.
SPIN: Can you talk a bit about the journey between Puppies Forever and Whatever, Man?
Ty: We’re definitely inspired by a lot of just clean, big records. You know…Weezer’s ‘Blue’ [album] was a huge inspiration on Whatever, Man…so was Oracular Spectacular. Those were two really good reference points to start from. Ultimately, we wanted to make something that just felt bright, happy, poppy, sunny…all of those things. With Puppies Forever, we were more focused on making something that had a bit more of a splash. It’s still bright but it’s a bit more aggressive, a bit more raw. It has a bit more punch to it. We watched a Beastie Boys documentary before we made the album and that definitely changed our perspective on music–so there’s a few references to them on it.
Deiondre: We’ve been making music together for a while and after Whatever, Man we just wanted to perform—but then COVID happened. We were two shows in and then it got stopped…so it was like ‘I guess we’ll make more music now.’ We just ended up wanting to make music out of boredom anyway. It wasn’t much different for us making Whatever, Man. We were kind of getting used to the COVID side of things…even when it was cold and super depressing. Missouri gets the shittiest weather all year round. It surpasses everybody else’s heat or cold and it was just fucking bad on us. We were going through the seasonal depression thing, like towards the tail end of [Puppies Forever]. But we’re proud of it.
What excites me about BLACKSTARKIDS is that you’re claiming your place in alternative and rock music, a genre where Black people are frequently erased. Are you intentionally showing that Blackness in itself is considerably diverse with your art?
The Babe Gabe: I don’t think it’s intentional…it goes back to us being influenced by people like Prince and Jimi Hendrix. Showing just how diverse Black people are just naturally happens with the music we make.
Ty: A big point of BLACKSTARKIDS has always been that all Black expression–no matter what it is—is valid. What you said–we aren’t a monolith. So if Black people want to make rock music—or whatever genre of music they feel like making—that makes sense to me. If you’re a Black person making music–it’s Black music regardless. But sometimes when you listen to certain music or like certain things, you feel like an outcast in the Black community, so you rebel against it. With BLACKSTARKIDS we’re saying you can love that community but still be different from them as a Black person. You don’t need to have an inferiority complex because you listen to a different type of music. Even if there are like people who look like us who like don’t even like our music or think our shit is wack or it’s weird or whatever, it doesn’t matter because at the end of the day we’re really for the love and for the growth and acceptance of everybody who looks like us in this world. Just for Black people to exist freely is the most important part of the band.
Let’s jump into the latest single from Puppies Forever, “ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards),” which is the one that caught my attention and got me into BLACKSTARKIDS. How did you know you wanted to turn such an infamous slogan into a song?
Ty: The themes of the group have always been clear to us but that’s easy to say because we know ourselves. Our morals and the things that we stand for, things that we speak for have always been really important to us and making a song like that didn’t require much of a conversation.
Deiondre: We just knew it had to happen…it was a feeling that we all shared so we knew it made sense to make a song like that.
Ty: It was based on personal experiences that we went through. After the murder of George Floyd, there were a lot of protests in Kansas City that we went to…the things that we saw, the relationship between KCPD and the people of Kansas City. I’ve been reading comments from people saying “I really like this band and am surprised that you guys made something like this.” Like they’re disappointed. It’s not even a big grand statement: we don’t like the police and that shouldn’t be a surprise. Most Black people don’t like the police, bro.
And honestly, social media has only magnified this disturbing issue.
Deiondre: There’s been too much video evidence of violence between Black people and the police. It’s blatant and obvious right now and the lines about teargas and shit—we had to go through all of that. The same exact stuff was happening in every city at every protest. Everyone knows what it’s like to deal with police over that particular subject, you know? It gets rough and is a touchy subject for the police for some reason. And the people who are mad about the song…I don’t give a fuck. Like the police bro? They killing n—s—like what you mean? People who aren’t even police themselves are getting mad—but why would anyone stick up for the police?
When you think of an anti-police song, you think of the explosiveness of N.W.A.’s “Fuck Tha Police” or Ice T’s “Cop Killer.” But “ACAB” is sweet and upbeat and pop-punk. Were you trying to be ironic?
The Babe Gabe: That’s just how the song came together. At the time, we were really emotional about the situation. Performing that song and singing those lyrics like that felt really good and we just felt really powerful.
Do you think the backlash from it was warranted? It must have been especially difficult to deal with that situation as a Black woman.
The Babe Gabe: For sure. As a Black woman, you definitely kind of feel like you’re at the very bottom of the pyramid. Black people are already at the bottom but just being a Black woman means you’re entirely overlooked. I also think people sometimes forget that artists are actual people and not just performers—we go through some serious things and police brutality is one of them.
Puppies Forever also mentions issues plaguing young people, like suicide, depression and societal pressures. These are universal themes but are worse when you come from a marginalized group.
Ty: Everybody goes through stuff like heartbreak…depression, pressure, you know, school, work, family. But then also, there’s this anxiety of being accepted by not just a person but the country that you exist in. That’s a different type of feeling that applies to people of color. There’s violence against people who look like you simply for looking like you, you know…shit like that. Imagine it being on your mind in a space where there are a lot of white people in power. And every day you have to hope that the white people in power aren’t racist.
Despite your experiences, is Puppies Forever a message of optimism?
Deiondre: I would say it’s about valuing the time you have with your friends right now. And also, just live your life—it’s ok to be sad but not for too long.
The Babe Gabe: The takeaway is you have a lot of problems in the world, but at the end of the day you’ll overcome them. When we were making this album, we weren’t in the best place, but now we feel happier than ever just coming off tour. We just want everyone to know that it all gets better, for sure.