For decades, Chicago’s spoken-word poetry community has made influential waves across the city and country. Open-mike nights are a proving ground for young creatives to discover their voices and hone their crafts. One of the unsung architects of this community is JazStarr, who is now venturing on her path and stepping into her own spotlight as a musician—one who also works tirelessly behind the scenes.
“I came up in the poetry scene under my mentors,” JazStarr recently told me. “They really showed me that community can actually be a part of your everyday life if you make it that way, whether that be showing up for a fundraising event or organization, or it be organizing yourself to provide resources for people around you. I don’t see myself ever being an artist that could choose one or the other. It has to be both together. I have to both be an artist and be an activist.”
JazStarr credits her grandmother and the west-side block she grew up on with instilling within her an appreciation for the importance of building solidarity within communities. In addition to actively helping to create spaces for young Black and queer creatives, she also organized interventions between Black and Latinx gang members when racial tensions rose following the 2020 protests that were sparked by George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police officers.
“I felt like everybody around me was doing something and I was just in my own area feeling crazy, because it felt like my brother couldn’t walk down the street,” she recalled. “This is just not the time for us to be busting each other. We need to be focused on the bigger issue at hand. Let’s come together because what happened to George Floyd is happening to both [Black and Brown people], and as minorities and POC we should be able to come together to make a bigger push.”
JazStarr helped organize a coalition of people from both Black and Brown communities along the south and west sides. The coalition led multiple peace walks in which residents and gang members from predominantly Black neighborhoods would walk into Latino neighborhoods and join their respective residents hand in hand, and vice versa.
After pouring so much of herself into filling the cups of those around her, JazStarr came to a point in her life when she realized she needed to do something for herself. She’s spent the better part of the decade supporting others, whether it be through her contributions as an organizer or as a backup singer. With the release of her debut project Ambrosia, she’s finally ready to step into her own spotlight.
“It took a lot for me to get to the point of trusting myself to put out music, trusting the process and a lot of growing pains,” she lamented. “We were just making music, and making music, and I didn’t really have a theme for it. At first, I was just like, ‘I do want to see myself complete something for myself.’ That’s really the energy of this project: showing up for myself, and the execution of starting things and finishing them with intention.”
The same way JazStarr showed up for her community for so many years, her community showed up for her to assist in the creation of Ambrosia, namely key collaborators Freddie Old Soul and _stepchild. The project is a nostalgic eight-piece of smooth and seductive neo-soul with subtle hip-hop influences. JazStarr embarks listeners on a nearly 22-minute journey of love, vulnerability, and spirituality that is easy to relate to. After finally accomplishing something for herself, she intends to continue celebrating as a multidimensional Black woman, and helping give those around her the proper tools to improve themselves and their community.
“It gives a very gratifying feeling to know that you could very much change somebody else’s life with music. I want to be able to see people younger than us take this and then keep going until it becomes the culture of Chicago for people to grab their bags and put them to work,” she said. “Let’s keep the youth productive, hold ourselves accountable, and be emotionally sound Black people in the city of Chicago. That’s the goal.”