Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, is a significant cultural and historical celebration in the United States. Observed on June 19th each year, it commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans and serves as a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggle for equality and justice. With its deep historical roots and renewed significance in contemporary society, Juneteenth continues to foster reflection, education, and unity among communities.
We are commemorating Juneteenth 2023 by discussing the role of music in the African American story with critically acclaimed Hip-Hop producer, composer, artist, and owner of For the Win (FTW) music library, Kenny Moron, also known as “Kikbak.”
Born in Inglewood and lived in Manhattan Beach for 20 years, Kikbak started his musical journey in 1994 and in 2009, got his first television placement, which catapulted his career to new heights.
His music can be heard on major ad campaigns for Carl’s Jr., Reese’s Puffs, Coors Light, Wonderful Pistachios, the Oscar-winning movie I, Tonya, and TV shows such as Dancing with the Stars, NFL on FOX, Scream Queens, Judge Judy, Miss Universe, UFC Countdown, The World’s Strongest Man, Miss USA, and many more. He’s also written and curated full albums for production music libraries such as Firstcom, Sonoton/APM, Megatrax +and others.
How has music historically played a role in conveying the African American community's stories, struggles, and triumphs?
Kikback: The first thing that comes to mind is the song "The Message" by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. This track was probably the first "Reality Rap" in Hip Hop. Mc Melle Mell did a great job conveying the struggles in his community (South Bronx) at the time. Those lyrics, "Don't push me, 'cause I'm close to the edge, I'm trying not to lose my head," are timeless.
Can you share examples of specific songs, genres, or artists that have been influential in using music to tell these stories?
Kikbak: Storytelling was big in the golden era of Hip Hop. Artists like Slick Rick, KRS-One, NWA, Tupac, Public Enemy, and Wu-Tang ( C.R.E.A.M.) are good examples.
What elements or qualities make African American music unique and powerful in its ability to convey the community’s experience?
Kikbak: Hip Hop music is tightly knit with the culture. There's a synergy between the culture and the dance moves, dress code, and slang that come from hip-hop. Look at what MC Hammer did with the running man. It became a cultural phenomenon, as did his Hammer pants. Look at what RUN DMC did for Adidas. Look at what Lil Wayne did with the phrase "Bling Bling."
How do you see contemporary African American musicians and producers continuing to use music as a platform for sharing stories and perspectives?
Kikbak: We must be aware of the current challenges and triumphs within the community to highlight our struggles and strengths through lyrics and beats that appeal to a broad audience. There must be a combination of great production, songwriting, and performing for the story within the song to spread awareness and, when necessary, advocate for change.
What advice or message would you give to aspiring African American musicians and producers who want to use their music to tell meaningful stories and make a positive impact?
Kikbak: It's much needed and long overdue: Put in the work and make it happen.
Finally, what do you hope people take away from Juneteenth celebrations and the appreciation of African American music's role in telling stories and promoting cultural understanding?
Kikbak: We are who we are because of our heritage and our music! Historically, music and dance have been ways of coping with profound struggles. Through both, we can continue to be uplifted by celebrating how far we have come and amplifying hope for what we can do.
Listen to our special Juneteenth playlist curated by our music director Sarah Ponder. The playlist is chronologically arranged to show the vastness and richness of African American music through the ages.