The Human Influence Sit-Down: Los Angeles' Lou Ridley

interview by James Stratton

Lou Ridley is a singer-song writer, originally from Texas, based out in Los Angeles. Human Influence sat down to chat and get to know her:

Grey Album Art Possible Final-noteardrops.jpg

Human Influence: Tell us about yourself. Who is Lou Ridley?

Lou Ridley: A musician from Texas. In Los Angeles temporarily.

HI: How did you get started with music? Both when you first began to play and when you decided to undertake a musical career.

Lou Ridley: I began singing in college. I guess looking back I did it often as a kid but I didn't grow up in a household that considered the arts a career choice, so college. I'll consider it a career later.

Where are all the hurt girls? I see them every day but it seems like no one wants to hear from them.

HI: What inspires you musically?

Lou Ridley: I relive my experiences musically. Does that sound weird? idk. When I think back on something that happened to me I hear it as a song.  When I write, I put myself back into a moment and that becomes the song. No thinking, no top-line is this a hit type shit, Just the experience - audibly. So my experiences inspire me.

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HI: Who features on your playlist?

Lou Ridley: Loscil, Fleetwood Mac, Sam Smith, Amy Winehouse, Yaeji, King Krule, Daniel Daesar, Bill Withers.

HI: Any upcoming projects?

Lou Ridley: I released an album yesterday [Ed. note: Grey released Jan. 12, 2018]

HI: What is the most unexpected thing you have learned on your path as a creative artist?

Lou Ridley: Most of our female idols are sold to us as faultless, perfect creatures. Where are all the hurt girls? I see them every day but it seems like no one wants to hear from them. If I can package my hurt in a way that makes sense, maybe that will change. I didn't expect to think this way.

James Stratton is Human Influence's Digital Content Editor; slide into his DMs on Twitter and Instagram

Raise Her Voice Revisited

interview by James Stratton

Tonight is 2018’s first installment of Human Influence’s famous “Raise Her Voice” series. In looking forward to tonight’s events, we caught up with two artists who performed at the last Raise Her Voice concert on December 7, 2017. Christelle Miller and Torre Blake tell us about their musical inspirations, current projects, and future plans:

Come see 2018's first Raise Her Voice, 8pm, Thursday January 4th, at Austin's Cheer Up Charlie's.

Christelle Miller

I: How did you get your start as a creative artist?

Christelle Miller: Growing up, my dad always played guitar, so -- despite the hundreds of piano lessons I attended -- it was only a matter of time before I picked it up. I started writing songs in a Lisa Frank notebook in middle school, and played my first gig at a book and record shop in San Antonio a few years later. It feels, however, as though I'm just beginning my journey as a creative artist because I'm still realizing and crafting my "sound". 

HI: Who are your biggest musical influences?

CM: The list is endless, but I'll name five (in no particular order): Kings of Convenience, Erykah Badu, Nick Hakim, Joni Mitchell, and Lianne La Havas

HI: What has been your greatest challenge overcome as an artist?

CM: Patience. 

HI: What does the future hold? Any exciting, new projects?

CM: I'm hoping to release an EP in the new year! In the meantime, I'm just writing and trying to collaborate as much as possible. I plan on keeping my SoundCloud fresh in the meantime. 


Via Twitter

Torre Blake

HI: How did you get your start as a creative artist?

Torre Blake: Honestly, I have been singing since I was little. I have always had a passion and a love for music. I was in the adult choir at my church when I was 12. I continued to sing throughout the years. I really did not start writing until my sophomore/junior year of high school. I was in a creative writing class and from there my writing started to take form and I was able to create my first couple of songs in studio. My first time in the studio it truly felt like home. I was instantly hooked. I played sports in college and was on a full scholarship and my music kind of slipped away from me. I couldn't focus on it like I wanted it to and get involved on campus like I wanted to. I did a couple of showcases and continued to do a lot of covers on social media. There was a lot of growth there, because at the time I wasn't seen or known as singer or an artist. It was the first time I really put myself out there. So, I would say I really started diving in to my music after school. I could finally put my whole self into being a creative artist. 

HI: Who are your biggest musical influences?

TB: Wow this is a tough question, because I take a little from everything I hear. If were to choose, I would say some of my musical influences are definitely Lauryn Hill, India Arie, and Justin Timberlake. 

HI: What has been your greatest challenge overcome as an artist?

TB: I think my biggest challenge to overcome as an artist is being comfortable with performing. I am so used to being in the studio or being in my own creative space, so I definitely need to get used to sharing my music on stage. 

HI: What does the future hold? Any exciting, new projects?

TB: Right now I am currently trying to perform as much as I can. I am working on some new content, but nothing is set in stone. I really like my music to organically come together. Hoping to release some new material next spring.

You can keep up with Christelle's and Torre's music on these social media channels:

Christelle: Soundcloud

Torre: YouTube, Instagram, Twitter

And a reminder, the first installment of Raise Her Voice is tonight (Thursday January 4th), 8pm at Cheer Up Charlie's.

James Stratton is Human Influence's Digital Content Editor. Slide into his DMs here or here.

Tsoku Maela: The Human Influence Interview

Interview by Wanda Lough

Appropriate, Tsoku Maela

Appropriate, Tsoku Maela

Tsoku Maela creates conceptual photography pieces conveying mental landscapes surrounding the African community. He focuses on showing subtle, unseen perspectives. Starting his art career recently in 2014, Tsoku “broke onto the international Art fair market for the first time in October 2016 at LagosPhoto festival”. Throughout his time, he has expanded into film. However, this interview examines his conceptual portraits through a lens of dreams, mental illness, and the intimacy the camera offers the artist.

Check out his work here.

Human Influence: According to your bio, you started presenting your work as an artist in 2014. How are you learning to become a career artist?

Tsoku Maela: Strangely, by trying not to be one. I didn't go to a fine art school. This was not the plan, but the medium is teaching me how to go with it and trust it.  .  .  .

. . . .When people start to know who you are, people tend to think that's the time to be more public and visible, but for me it's the opposite. I like being in my own space, learning and trying to get better at what I do so the stories I have can be translated more vividly. . . . But I am thinking more strategically about where I place it and where it becomes visible.

HI: Does your work with screenwriting inform the emotions in your conceptual photography? Or do you find them as separate sides of yourself?

TM: In a sense it does. My images are layered because there has to progression in the story. There has to be character, conflict and resolution. Not in the series, but in the image itself. It has be nuanced and reflective of the human psyche. I can't tell you the number of prints I've thrown away because I become too self-indulgent without a narrative. Sometimes you're fortunate enough to have the narrative find you . . . . Then you piece it back together. 

HI: What about the camera attracted you to the photography?

TM: The camera is something we've always considered a luxury item. By 'we' I speak of people that grew up in circumstances that don't offer second chances, you had to be with the societal game of putting any hobbies or dreams aside unless they were sports.

Anxiety on the other hand is an incredible gift to man. Kierkegaard once called it the dizziness of freedom

We only saw photographers during special events, like, weddings, traditional ceremonies or maybe even graduation days. The people behind the camera were always some old dude that looked like the very nice sensitive guy who was single and living with his Mom at 40 but still smiles like enjoys what he is doing. We had to look up to people that made it out of the township, educated, driving nice cars and living in the city, meanwhile this man looks like his life depended on weddings.

What attracted me to photography was convenience and maybe fate. I purchased a camera in my second year at film school. Thought I'd shoot my own films and learn how to direct, but it was the cheapest range and had full auto settings in video mode.

That made it useless to be honest. I shelved the camera until 2014, taking the odd picture here and there in full auto settings, popping the photo into photoshop, duplicating the layer and changing the blending mode to soft light. The colors would pop like crazy. That was it.

I didn't see it as particularly useful, so much, that I almost sold it off Gumtree, which is like Ebay. The guy came to the house but offered me less than the fee we had agreed. So I kept it and never used it. It was a disappointing experience because it cost us money we did not have.

That was until I got ill, had a revelation of sorts, became dead broke in the process and all I had were narratives I couldn't afford to make. So I decided to create still images that told the whole three act narrative, and maybe more, in a single frame. Self-portraits don't cost that much to make. Now, I think the camera is the eye of the Universe, the way it stares whimsically back itself...

Plastic Roses, Abstract Pieces

Plastic Roses, Abstract Pieces

HI: Your artwork is mainly conceptual photography, and to me, it comes off very dreamlike. Do your dreams inform your work? How so?

TM: They did play a significant part in the beginning. I wasn't spending too much time outside. The world into adulthood was very new to me. Had just graduated, had a job as a copywriter. My imagination was burning with an anti-system, 'fuck film school's way of telling narratives' , mentality.

Sometimes I'm in the shower. Sometimes I'm on the toilet seat. Sometimes I'm asleep or daydreaming. Sometimes you're the girl that woke up in my bed and the first thing I said you in the morning was 'You know I have a cool idea for a photograph...'

It became difficult to tell the difference between my waking existence and my actual dreams. It was happening all the time. I was still holding on, fighting in fact, for something beautiful while the world turned grey.

Today I'm more informed by the self, not within, but as a part of the grey trying to find color in it. I still maintain the vividness of dreams with the richness of an empowering Afrocentric narrative and my rebellion for dull imagery. So surrealism is the language of my dreams in the presence of my reality.

It is the language of my rebellion. To be yourself in a society of consensus is a rebellion. . . That's how I find the color in the grey.  By using the things that are happening today in a reimagined world...


HI: Your story sort of reminds me of Frida Kahlo; in 2014 you found yourself bedridden at Christian Bernard Hospital -- what about that experience spurred the need to create?

Tsoku: I've never truly spoken in depth about that experience. Probably because I don't have the vocabulary to explain what exactly happen to me at that time. It was spiritual to say the least.

I shared ward with a geriatric expat, well into his 80's. We only spoke briefly on the day I got discharged, but the previous four days were quiet. We just observed each other like two paranoid hitmen. He started doing this thing where he would do everything I did. So If I picked up a newspaper, he would do the same. I'd page and he would page. It was strange but funny as well.

My advice to them is that they are not struggling. The are discovering - how their mind works, how they contextualize self in the world around them

Anyway, he had no visitors for the duration of my stay and that concerned me a bit as he looked frail and wrinkled. Until a young woman came to see him the morning I was about to leave, briefly though. He regaled me with a tale of a young man from Slovenia with aspirations of going into architecture. He was drafted into the army but he did not want to go to war. So he fled his country and found himself in South Africa. He took a long ponderous look towards the window and said something that resonated with me and changed my life forever:

'People call me a traitor because I wanted to use my hands to build instead of destroy.' - I didn't respond, but I'd like to think that everything I've ever made affirms that sentiment within me.

HI: There's a quote from Ernest Becker (an anthropologist) that states -- "The artist takes in the world, but instead of being oppressed by it, he reworks it in his own personality and recreates it in the work of art. The neurotic is precisely the one who cannot create— The neurotic can't marshal this creative response embodied in a specific work, and so he chokes on his in­troversions. The artist too, has these large-scale introversions, but he uses them as material." A lot of your work surrounds mental illness. What advice would give those who are struggling to create?

TM: Mr. Becker may well have a point, however, every artist and novelty thinker began as neurotic by that definition at least. My perspective on mental illness, depression and anxiety specifically, have changed a lot since the last I spoke about them. There is currency in depression and anxiety as far as human freedom and actualization are concerned, more so in the cult of happiness that our society finds itself sacrificing a lot to with diminishing return. I'm no religious person by any stretch, but I'm aware of the texts. Many people have come and gone claiming to have heard the voice of God speaking to them, brandished deluded and crazy, sometimes lauded as prophets and evangelists. If that voice ever existed in whatever context you believe God to be - depression would be as clear as a bell. Depression is a deep melancholy that stems from being some sort of unmet desire or goal or a general displacement of the status-quo, internally or externally. Depression does not steal happiness from you, it takes away your vitality. Your will to be karma. Which is to say, you are more inherently passive, except when you have to feel waves of sorrow.

Anxiety on the other hand is an incredible gift to man. Kierkegaard once called it the dizziness of freedom. In the vastness of the universe, where our sun (the center of our solar system), is the largest object we can see with the human eye, turns out not to be the biggest object in the known universe. Reducing you  to nothing but micro percentage of a grain of sand. Yet, realizing that you have control of something, your life, you can make decision and choices to change it for the better or worse. If you're reclusive, why do public spaces make you anxious? Because people see you or you think they do. Social anxiety, for example, literally stems from one feeling the pressure to be sociable. It has nothing to do with you being unable to socialize. There are people you will spend time with and say not a word, then ten minutes later you meet a kindred spirit and chat their ear off. I've spent a lot of time by myself in the past two years, being surrounded by strangers reminding me how great my work is, is something I appreciate, but from a distance. I like to study what's beneath. And anxiety has become a tool, I allow myself to feel it without identifying with it.

I don’t fantasize about projects. They either happen or they don’t

The cult of happiness we find ourselves in is highly profitable, but can you imagine the amount of damage one could do to a person by telling them that happiness is the ultimate goal? I would loath sadness with all my heart. So much that I would do anything to steer away from it. Happiness has become something identifiable by signs and symbols. What happens when they are taken away? How does one compute an emotion so natural yet so stigmatized as sadness?  

My advice to them is that they are not struggling. The are discovering - how their mind works, how they contextualize self in the world around them. But most importantly they are looking at themselves and they have the chance to see themselves. It's not always a pretty sight, but it's worth it. Creating is a beautiful process, albeit a painful one at times, but beautiful nonetheless.

Above all, live. Live and love. Life gives us art and there is no greater truth than that. But without love, art has no fragrance.

HI: Do you believe historical oppression contributes to mental illness in South Africa? Or how do you feel mental illness has affected the black community in South Africa?

TM: I believe colonialism has done more than contribute to the state of mental health in Africans everywhere. Everywhere. I say this, too, knowing that the struggles that the African diasporas experience in South Africa are not that different to any other African diaspora anywhere. The correspondence I've received in that time can back that up.

It’s not always a pretty sight, but it’s worth it. Creating is a beautiful process, albeit a painful one at times, but beautiful nonetheless.

What baffles the mind truly is that we think we are immune to it somehow. More than 400 years of conditioning and displacement, living in some of the most impoverished areas in the world. Caged up and reduced to chattel. Crime, violence, poverty, domestic abuse, brainwashed by religion as our only salvation, school indoctrinating us with fear of being inferior, let alone to be wrong or different in a pass or fail system. University fees so high that our non-existent generational wealth lands us into debt from college loans. Human beings in survival mode live in constant fear. The brain and the body never have time to heal.  I remember one of my artist friends came to one of my exhibitions at a huge art fair here and was completely shocked to see the amounts my prints were going for. Having to explain to someone so educated and cultured that poverty isn't an African culture isn't something I should be doing. The indoctrination to look down on the self based on the color of your skin is enough to drive anyone crazy.

HI: Would you be willing to share a project you dream about working on but you haven't had the time, resources, or money to produce it yet?

TM: Not at all. I don't fantasize about projects. They either happen or they don't. Right now I'm putting together a show for March 2018 on the female form and that will comprise of images taken over the last two years. The project I'm producing, though, will bring you fully into my world. . . .

Wanda Lough: Autodidactic. Reads a lot. New to Austin area. From New Jersey and Arizona. No college degree. Art enthusiast and a professional admirer. Favorite album of 2016 was Wildflower.

DJ Khaled: Grateful Album Review

by Joseph Bonney

Grateful is the 10th studio album from arguably the most popular DJ in the world: Khaled.  Since his separation from Cash Money, he’s linked up with Sony and got a major Jay-Z cosign that brought his career to new heights (starting from Snapchat fame).  This album has to be his most ambitious to date and more deserving than anything else he’s dropped.

The theme is obviously grateful, something that Khaled has acknowledged greatly since gaining hip-hop respect, and the birth of his son Asahd, the poster child for the album.  Beyonce and Jay-Z introduce the album with their brand of sophisticated bragging.  Khaled also managed to pull an Alicia Keyes feature on the song "Nobody" with Nicki Minaj, another symbol of the height of this album.  

Khaled does well to blend the new school with the old school, but you can tell he’s clearly favoring the new kids on the block.  If you’re not a fan of the mumble rap/autotune/trap sound, this album is littered with it.  "I’m the One", the album's fifth track, introduces that, while the rest of the album reflects the vibe of that song.  Travis Scott is the go to guy on this album, with name credit on four tracks.  His hooks are hyped like you’d expect, but his hook on "It’s Secured" with Nas seems slightly forced.  Though Nas is on the song and he does what he’s best at: narrating the world around him.

Like I stated earlier the new school dominates this album.  Migos has a solo track - "Major Bag Alert" - an absolute banger, and they also feature on "Iced Out My Arms" with 21 Savage (who has been quiet as of late but recently dropped a new single).  Kodak Black hops on a couple tracks. His verse on "Down for Life" is his first verse that I’ve generally enjoyed. PARTYNEXTDOOR does a solid chorus with Travis Scott.  I’m not a huge fan of some of their sounds, specifically Kodak’s chorus on "Pull a Caper", 21 Savages verse, and future leaves some forgettable verses and hooks.  In the end, they all bang.

Raekwon blesses "Billy Ocean" - an old throwback about working the block - with a strong verse alongside Fat Joe.  Then Pusha T and Jadakiss flow on a lovely sample over a trap beat with "Good Man".  Jadakiss has the standout verse on this album; he feels like a father figure when he starts, and then he absolutely murks his verse and sons anyone else who tries to think they can out rap him.

This album has everything thing for the new kids and the old heads. DJ Khaled tries to show the current sound of hip-hop while breaking barriers.  He wants the youngins to know the old days, and the new veteran listeners of hip-hop to join the new wave sound.  This album brings everything that Khaled has worked for and he puts it in a powerful project.  “Wild Thoughts” is the perfect example of that with the “Maria Maria” sample.  This album gets a stamp of approval on being a contender for album of the year

Joseph Bonney is a writer, artist, hip-hop enthusiast, and gamer currently living in San Marcos,Texas.  A recent English graduate with an Art/Design minor, when he's not working, he's usually doing 1 of the 4, or eating.  You can find his Instagram page here.



I had been having trouble concentrating at work this past month cus our damn phones keep telling us a nonstop stream of news from back home, seeing our friends in civil disobedience, getting gassed & locked up by the National Guard, but when we were in that studio, nothing else existed

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3 Reasons Why I Travel

by Brandon Boone

Besides people asking me “how do you afford to travel so much?” I often get asked, “why do you travel so much?” I usually give a generic answer like “because I want to see the world” or “because it frees my mind.” Although both of those statements are true, there is also a deeper explanation.

I travel because it opens my mind to new experiences, gives me the opportunity to learn about new cultures, and connects me to humans that I never dreamed of meeting and connecting with. These are the three influential reasons on why I travel. I also believe you will find great influence in my reasoning as well. Let’s take a closer look.

Opens my mind to new experiences

The joy that traveling brings is endless. You create memories that will last a lifetime. You will also step outside your comfort zone, I can almost guarantee it. The more you travel, the more your mind opens up. I know I may sound like a character from Doctor Strange, but it's the truth.

Since I started traveling, I'm doing things I never thought I would do. Horseback riding in foreign countries, swimming in dark caves, or riding a cable car 10,341 feet up a mountain in Colombia are just a few activities I never dreamed of doing. But look at me now. Even my appetite changed since I have been traveling. I use to only eat American food like hamburgers and pizza, but now I'll try just about anything.

Learn new cultures

Experiencing different cultures first hand will definitely change a person and make them more diverse. We live in one of the more diverse countries in the world, yet many of us are not very diverse individuals. Growing up in Louisiana was like binge watching the same season over and over again. I love Louisiana to death, but I didn't understand the true meaning of diversity until I moved to Austin and started traveling.

Diversity is also the key to creativity. As stated by Jeffrey Baumgartner, “Living in a new culture, learning new ways of doing things and, in short, diversifying your life makes you more creative.” Believe it or not, creativity is very important to the human life. Boosting your confidence or giving you new ways to express yourself are just a couple of ways on why creativity is so essential.

Connecting to humans

This is absolutely one of my favorite aspects of traveling. Connecting to humans across the globe is life changing. It provides growth and maturity. It changes the way you see the world. Connecting with a human you never met before who grew up completely different from you will turn you into a better person.

The best part about it is that the connection does not always produce the best outcome. That makes the experience even more valuable. Call me crazy, but you'll understand it once you experience it. For example, my friends and I got hustled out in Cuba. Were we upset? Yes. Was Cuba one of our best experiences yet? Yes! We gained so much insight into Cuba’s culture and learned so much from that experience.

So why do I travel so much?

By now, you should know the answer to that question. Traveling has evolved me and made me into the person I am today. I can only continue to elevate. There are so many more places to see and humans to connect with. The possibilities of growth are endless!

Bio: Brandon Boone is a digital marketer, blogger, creative, travel hacker, community organizer, donut lover, and a University of Louisiana-Monroe Graduate C’12. He is also the founder of the lifestyle brand, The Great Ones. Brandon strives to inspire millennials to become greater people through his website, community outreach, and service projects.





Lil Yachty: Teenage Emotions Album Review

by Joseph Bonney

 The King of the Teens has dropped his long awaited Teenage Emotions Album.  Lil Boat is known for making fun party tracks as well as the poster child for the new wave of mumble rap.  I tried my best to go into this album without a biased view.  Listening to this album is like taking a glimpse into Yachty’s soul.

The project opens up with an intro from an uncle of Yachty’s to welcome you to this album.  But after a while he comes in with the usual auto-tuned whaling he is known for.  The “DN freestyle” takes an unexpected turn into a rapid incoherent rap.  He doesn’t let rhymes dictate his thought process, it’s a burst of thoughts  spilling onto a song.  “Peek A Boo” is the first track that feels planned, if that makes sense.  It follows the traditional chorus, verse, chorus that you hear on the radio.  The “Blow my dick like a cello” line, which Yachty has addressed, as ridiculous as it sounds doesn’t take away too much considering the track is a euphemism for playing with female genitalia (though not one of Yachty’s people recognizing that a cello isn’t blown is quite disturbing).

The next stand out track of the album “All Around Me”, is something I can see none Yachty fans listening to.  It’s catchy, fun and not as absurd as his other tracks.  Kamaiyah and YG’s addition to the track also give the track direction and the radio flare we’re looking for.  The following four tracks center around his newfound fame at a young age:  “Say My Name” wants people to chant for him while in the next track Yachty asks about the lack of attention he gets.  After that, the next songs are about living life to the fullest, enjoying oneself, and being free. He dips into a dancehall vibe with “Better”, reminiscent of Drake’s recent sound.

“Running with a Ghost” is the song that hit me the strongest out of the whole album because it’s a generic pop rap track, which isn’t bad at all.  I’m not sure how receptive the masses will be to the tune, but this song has heavy potential to blow up.  Grace sultry vocals serenading the hook on a bubblegum trap beat with Yachty at the forefront is an algorithm for a hit.  Tracks like ”Lady in the Yellow” and “X Men” are straight to the point but they take different directions.  Lady in the Yellow is Yachty crooning about a woman he loves, while “X Men” is the the cliche money, cars, clothes, women track.  It’s a confident entertaining track.

The last two tracks are a decrescendo to this album.  “Made of Glass” discusses unrequited love and being seen through or non existent to his love one.  The outro is the closure of his world with the assistance of his mother, who lists how much she loves her son. A sweet touch.  It ties up the raw emotion and angst that Yachty feels, as if to say, all over the place.  But you’ve done a lot and everything will be okay.    

This album isn’t going to convert you into a Yachty fan.  This album is like Flo-Rida or Pitbull when they drop an album.  It has the radio songs that do what they’re suppose to do; generate a song that people will play at almost every club or house party.  But at the end of the day, most are not fiending for this album.  You won’t see facebook statuses from your friends claiming how excited or ‘fire’ the album is.  Which is fine.  This album represents a moment in time, a phase our society is at right now.  Boat will gain momentum off this album, but it will really take his future music to decide how to feel about him.  Otherwise don’t go into this album expecting to be swayed.  Yachty’s entire persona is the basis of this album, what you see is what you get.


Joseph Bonney is a writer, artist, hip-hop enthusiast, and gamer currently living in San Marcos,Texas.  A recent English graduate with an Art/Design minor, when he's not working, he's usually doing 1 of the 4, or eating.  You can find his Instagram page here.