Still Shinin’: When Creativity Meets Vulnerability

Photos by Maddie Scarpone

Born and raised in Indianapolis, Menelik Diop Adisa, popularly known as Diop, is a community based activist and hip hop artist fueled by social and Black consciousness. As the son of two entrepreneurs and the founders of The Kheprw Institute, community building, activism and creative stimulation have not been unfamiliar to him. The release of his 2018 album Still Shinin’ was not only evidence of his range as an artist and a producer, but it also gave his audience a glimpse of his reality leaving an impact on others in need of healing.

With the help of the Create Indy Grant and a team of visionaries including Keenan Rhodes and Jamil Buchan, Diop was able to develop a visual piece aligning with the central themes of his album. Incorporating interviews from various Indiana based artists including Willis, Baby Ebony and Kid, the documentary not only serves as a marker of the innovation and creativity that exists behind the Indianapolis Hip-Hop scene, but also as a means to encourage open dialogue about pain and trauma in a community whose struggle is often overlooked.

PATTERN had the opportunity to have a one on one with Diop where he unpacked the many layers of this latest visual project.

Khaila King: What inspired Still Shinin’?
Diop Adisa: I made the Still Shinin’ album to transfer my own trauma into art with the purpose of healing myself and connecting with others that share similar experiences. This was the first album I produced myself. I decided that I would produced a beat a day to help me deal with the traumatic experience of my ex- girlfriend and her daughter’s death. I tried to create beats that reflected how I felt and then write songs to express those feelings. Out of that process came Still Shinin’. The documentary was created to display the same concept just visually.

KK: What did you learn from creating this documentary? What was the process like, any surprises?
DA: I have learned how to be more comfortable with a shared vision and allowing others to see themselves in my work and allowing their work and my work to live together. Also, working on my patience, because there were times when parts did not always go according to plan. I pushed the timeline back repeatedly and on my end I had to strategize on how I was going to birth it. I also realized the amount of solid relationships that I have. None of us had done a project that large, a 20 minute piece, so just the strength of the community and creatives definitely helped me out.

The type of feedback I got in terms of people dealing with trauma and impacting their spirit was surreal. I mean that was the goal. It is different when you see it in real time. It changes the conversation that people want to have and it’s not always comfy. I’m not always ready for someone to pour out to me what they got out of it, but sometimes they may need that and it’s not necessarily about whether I’m ready for or comfortable with.

KK: Do you feel as if it met or exceeded your expectations? If so how.
DA: It exceeded my expectations. I think it’s my best project to date. Never did I think that in less than a year I would have an album. It’s my most vulnerable work and it allows people to get a better sense of who I am and what is important to me than ever before. It’s one thing to tell people “try this,” or “do this,” but it’s a different thing to say “hey, I think you should try this or do this and I am saying this because I experienced it in this way.” It humanizes it. I don’t know if it necessarily impacted a lot of people, but the people who really took it in, it impacted deeply. I was just trying to channel energy and stay creative and it turned into something that people I may never meet can get something out of that has nothing to do with my original intent. That’s what art is for.

KK: Describe your relationship with the other artists in the project and how this documentary strengthened that connection.
MDA: Those artists I had been working with and building with for a few years. Some were more comfortable talking about their things publicly and some weren’t. I think the fact that it was in a creative piece and they weren’t by themselves, it was like “yea, alright, this is a supportive environment,” made it easier. So I definitely feel like it helped them grow. It helped all of us grow, our relationship with each other as well as our relationship with out art.

KK: The documentary at times touched on some deeper personal issues, as a Black person, specifically a Black man. The community typically does not tackle mental health. What was it like expressing your hardships on camera unfiltered? 
DA: It was somewhat uncomfortable. There are definitely stigmas that exist for Black men and Black people in terms of talking about mental challenges or appearing to be struggling. A lot of the times struggling is seen as weakness, but I feel like you’re headed towards healing once you acknowledge your struggle and talk to others about it, because you don’t have to heal alone. The more we can possibly set a norm in the community, in the culture that it’s okay to say, “hey, I’m struggling and I need help,” the better. So it was very uncomfortable and new for me, but I almost felt like it’s what I needed for myself. I knew others may have felt the same way and could appreciate it. Anytime you do something that’s public and it’s soul exposing, it’s going to have impact. Some people are going to totally feel it and others may be scared of it and not willing to go down that route and that’s okay. But for those who really feel it, it may save some lives.

Diop is currently working on other projects including his next album and his involvement with the Kheprw Institute. Keep up with Diop and his latest initiatives on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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