One of the largest hip-hop music projects in Arizona this year, featuring 20 different local artists, was published on Oct. 24. Local Phoenix artist and saxophonist for The Color 8, Ashton Vaughn Charles, collaborated with 19 other artists, poets and rappers to create “SKU” or “Stop Killing Us.”
The almost 20-minute music video is divided into three parts, and production of the project started at the beginning of the summer in 2020.
Charles attended a protest in Phoenix earlier this year that was held for the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by an officer’s knee in Minnesota.
The sense of community at the protest and throughout the Black Lives Matter movement helped inspire Charles to start on what would eventually become, “SKU.”
Charles said he originally wanted to create something similar before he even attended the protest. Once he went, however, he could not shake the feeling that something had to be done.
“That day I remember feeling that (sense of community) and sleeping that night knowing that something had to happen, and the next day I started laying out concepts for the melodies of the song,” he said.
Although inspired by his experience at the protest, Charles said that the main purpose for the video is to encourage free thought.
“I have no agenda to sway you. My only desire is that you see yourself in those of us in pain. See yourself in those of us who suffer. Because that’s exactly who we are: You,” Charles wrote on Instagram about the project.
The project began with Charles reaching out to long-time friend and local vocalist, KNova while working on the song.
For the first time, both Charles and KNova realized that the project was going to be something special.
“We stopped and then I listened to it and for some reason it just made me feel like, ‘Yea this is going to be big,’” KNova said.
Once Charles and KNova began working, the collaboration only grew. Eventually the team of two turned into a culmination of 20 different artists, 20 different voices, all with a similar message: there needs to be change.
“It’s so beautiful to be able to put something like that together because we all put our differences aside to come together with a common goal of commanding and demanding that we stop being killed, stop being oppressed and shed some light,” Charles said.
The full, roughly 20-minute video now has over 1,000 views on YouTube and according to Charles has received mostly positive reviews.
“Even those with opposing views have expressed that it helped them to see even more because this message has been so beautifully communicated, spoken, sung and played,” Charles said.
Youtuber, rapper and singer ScribeCash reviewed the first part of the song after it was first released in July, and noted that she was impressed with the amount of people involved in the project.
“I think it’s great just to get all these people in one song, and then to have them show up for a music video. That in itself is just super-duper dope,” she said in her video.
KNova said that “SKU” was one of the largest projects that he has been a part of in his career so far and added that the amount of people involved helped make his experience so memorable.
“To see that much African American youth come together and make a project that could be that big, it just had a crazy impact on how I felt about my career period,” KNova said.
According to Charles, the first two parts of “SKU” were released earlier in the year but were later taken down to ensure that the video was received well by viewers.
Charles said that an extra in the second part of “SKU” was, at the time of the video’s release, defending an accused abuser in the local artist community.
“Unfortunately, that itself was very triggering for a lot of those who suffered the abuse and the people that this project was directly made for,” Charles said.
After hearing feedback from viewers and talking with artists that contributed to the project, Charles took the videos down and worked on re-filming it to be published later on.
Charles said that though the process was long and stressful, it was well worth it to make sure that people felt the project was a safe space to be a part of.
“It was a lot, but it was absolutely worth it because this is absolutely created for those very people who did not feel safe in that space,” Charles said.
Charles also published a video explaining the reason behind taking down the original “SKU” videos.
Since the end of October, all three parts of the video have been published. Charles dedicated the importance of the project to all of the artists involved in its creation.
“It’s because these artists truly put their hearts into not only the project but the message behind it,” Charles said.
Coming away from the projects’ recent release, KNova hopes that people continue to pay attention to what the artists vocalized throughout the piece.
“Even though there is a lot going on in the world, I just pray that people don’t take their eyes off of this particular subject,” KNova said.