Unapologetically Black: A Conversation with The Illustrious Blacks

Mark your calendars for an interplanetary party from the future with Out of Line: The Illustrious Blacks on June 23 beginning at 9:00 PM on the High Line under The Standard, High Line at Little West 12th Street. The Out of Line series is inspired by the original Renegade Cabaret and designed to bring a downtown vibe to the park with unforgettable performances.

Monstah Black and Manchildblack. Photo by Charles Meacham.
The Illustrious Blacks are an "intergalactic" duo carrying a hefty moniker that they've been able to deliver on with ease. Earning the title from a writer friend in 2003 after their commencement ceremony in the same year, the pair made a decided effort to begin working on music of a funky and futuristic amalgam.

"We realized how challenging it is for couples to work together in music or anything else," says Monstah Black, the funky, punk-preppy, androgynous hybrid of the group's two members. Seconds later, Manchildblack offers an addition – a lasting footnote that makes his partner's statement complete.

"But we recognize how the other works. Our work processes are different and we respect those differences." Those differences are on stark display when each performer describes his style and sources of inspiration.

The Illustrious Blacks. Photo by Charles Meacham.

Manchild, the more laid-back of the two, adorned in all black and a retro two-finger ring, takes inspiration from Donna Summer, Chaka Khan, Sade, Larry Heard, and Stevie Wonder for "[his] ability to inspire and uplift human kind while giving [his] gift back" to the world. For his part, Monstah cites George Clinton, Grace Jones, Michael Jackson, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, and Prince as inspirations—and, given the duo's performance style, understandably so. Monstah's panache tightropes along the modish line of androgyny.

The style and grace of The Illustrious Blacks mirror the late musician Prince, who pushed gender aesthetics and crooned openly about controversial subjects that included sex and religion. What becomes clear is each of The Illustrious Blacks' inspirations have deep ties to black history and a rooted sense in black pride.

While both were given their nicknames in earlier years, as the members of The Illustrious Blacks grew older, redefining those names was key. Though Monstah focuses on bringing positivity to the negative connotations associated with the term monster and the stereotypes linked with black, Manchild redefines his name absent of societal constraints surrounding gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

Miniatures of The Illustrious Blacks performing under The Standard, High Line at Little West 12th Street. Art by Brian Rodriguez.

The twosome are excited about their interstellar Out of Line debut, and they say that the material will be new and fresh. "It will be our way of giving birth to our ideas, and we get to use the High Line as a literal platform," says Manchild.

Monstah echoes his partner's enthusiasm and is intrigued by the idea of performing outdoors. "I'm excited about getting to perform outside with the river," says Monstah. "All walks of life will be on the High Line."

Next Thursday, June 23, beginning at 9:00 PM, The Illustrious Blacks will take center stage on the High Line for an experimental fusion of "intergelectrodiscosoul" music and technicolored fashions.

Don't miss their descent upon our planet. It will be a funky good time!

Tuesday, July 26 – Narcissister
Thursday, August 25 – Carmelita Tropicana
Thursday, September 22 – Heartbeat Opera

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