Photo Credit: Shawn Lee
For a time, Black women in rock music were pushed to the sidelines. Even though most know it was Sister Rosetta Tharpe who rocked out long before Elvis Presley was declared royalty in the genre. Alas, we’ve come a long way thanks to everyone from Tina Turner to Brittany Howard, and now the Detroit duo, We Are Scorpio are ready to continue to put their stamp on the world by combining an unbeatable prowess with powerful poetics on their debut. With a taste of what’s to come featuring Talib Kweli out now, we talked to We Are Scorpio about the collab on “Supa Dupa Star,” making their presence known in rock, and more in this back-and-forth exchange.
Kendra: You’ve each been releasing music for a decade or close to it, but 2023 marked the first time you connected. Had you known about one another in the Detroit scene before then, and how did you two decide to join forces?
Jessica Care Moore: I started recording professionally as a poet in 1997. I was featured on saxophonist Antonio Hart’s record, “Here I Stand.” My first rap star collaboration was with Nas on his 1999 release, Nostradamus. My rock band, Detroit Read made its rounds to all the NYC indie/punk/theatrical spaces in the roaring 90’s. Music was always an extension of the poems, and this record is the sound I was searching for. I was searching for Steff and didn’t know it. Me and Steff were in NYC at the same time and she told me she knew who I was – I’d won amateur night at The Apollo and most of Detroit was paying attention. We met many years later when I returned home in early 2007. I was dating Steff’s cousin Ray and I told him I was looking for a rock singer to work with. I’d work with powerhouse vocalists in NYC like Imani Uzuri and Alice Smith. I wanted to find a version of that goddess energy in the D. Steff was it…and so it began.
Steffanie Christi’an: I knew who Jessica was when she first appeared on her historic Apollo run starting in 1995. It wasn’t until she moved back to Detroit in 2007 that I believe that we were introduced to one another. She was looking for a Black female rock singer and my cousin (who she was dating at the time) told her about me. We have been working together ever since our initial meeting that year. I began working as her vocalist and later headlining her Daughters of Betty powered by Black Women Rock! concerts.
Kendra: As a teen, I was into the pop-punk/emo scene and it was rare to see other Black girls at the shows. Usually, there’d be one other girl, once in a while two. Regardless we stuck out in the crowd and rarely, if at all, did we see ourselves represented on stage. Thankfully that’s changed with artists like yourselves, Meet Me at the Altar, Baby Got Back Talk, and others that have come out in recent years. While Black people are the foundation of rock and roll, why do you think it’s taken until the 21st century for more Black rock artists to make their presence known in the genre?
Jessica Care Moore: That’s a heavy question. They are so layered. The easy answer is racism and sexism, but the real answer is fear. Fear. The truth is there is no rock and roll without Black women and the “industry” knows this. Beyond rock and roll, everything that black artists create has been commodified, copied, repackaged, and the authentic voice erased. This is why I write poems. I write us into existence because we are invisible even when we created the room everyone is standing inside. I created Black Women Rock! in 2004 as a young producer for The National Black Arts Festival.
Even in black spaces, black women rock artists and this genre of music built on our strings, tears, backs, stories, and sacrifice – is not celebrated enough, if at all. NBAF gave me space, and we lifted up Betty Davis so loudly, that her best friend Connie called me from Pittsburgh to tell us she was alive!! I remember speaking with her and saying “Yes, I know, will she get on a plane??!”
That’s how Daughters of Betty-Powered by Black WOMEN Rock! came to be 20 years ago…she’s our patron saint now. I loved her so much. I was invited to her private funeral. It was surreal. She wrote to me, she sent me autographed photos, and she thanked me/us for keeping her music alive. This icon. Why was she a recluse? Why did she become a mythological creature when so alive, so beautiful, Mile’s muse? Well, that’s the” why” we grapple with every day as Black women in rock and roll. Still, we won’t be buried alive. We are here and we have a community now.
Steffanie Christi’an: I too was usually the only Black girl at a rock concert LOL It can be a lonely place! I think that we have to admit that people who look like us are not necessarily in charge of the industry so we don’t get to make the rules. I don’t know when it happened but it was decided and accepted that Rock music was not “our” music and was “white people music” when that can’t be further from the truth! The internet has certainly helped with exposure and making it easier to be seen and heard. WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN HERE!
Kendra: With that, your debut self-titled record is said to be unapologetically Black, while still being universal. What do you think helped bring that balance most; lyricism, arrangements, themes?
Jessica Care Moore: I believe it’s the music. As far as the poetry/verses I wanted to make a record that gave into a traditional song. On my first record on Javotti, Black Tea – I allowed the poems to lead, and there is a freedom in that record that you have in “jazz” if that’s what you want to call it. With “We Are Scorpio” the shortened to-the-point verses and loud, hard hooks are intentional. I’m proud of the lyrics. I wrote most of the record during the pandemic. I shared my voice memos with Steff and Wayne for feedback and ideas. Wayne produced 4 of the tracks on the project. A few of the songs were records I was playing live with my NYC band decades ago but never recorded properly. There’s new life in the now with Steff’s voice and our energy together is just unfuckwitable. It’s just time for a group like us to exist.
Steffanie Christi’an: Honestly, I think all of those elements play a part. While each song is very different, they all come together to create a powerful story of love, life, revolution and just existing in this world today. Jessica and I have both traveled the world performing our art and with that experiencing other cultures. We are every woman.
Kendra: And if you had to compare the self-titled debut to a place in Detroit based on the overall tone of the record, where would it be and why?
Jessica Care Moore: The East Side, and I’m from the West side!!! The East is an edgier side of the city according to rumors. Most of my ex-boyfriends who sold dope were from that side of town..and they had the flyest old-school whips and they were tall. This has nothing to do with music maybe!!! lol But, yeah, but this music is boots on the ground, ear to the street…we are taking heads…as Steff would say…these are not poems/songs about butterflies and sunny days…it’s political..and still sexy.
Steffanie Christi’an: Jessica and I actually grew up not far from each other on the west side of Detroit. I know that our neighborhoods and our experiences influenced us both. But with that being said, I can’t honestly narrow down a place. We both embody the total spirit of our city from the west side, east side, downtown – all of it.
Kendra: On the album we’ll hear “Supa Dupa Star,” a song – speaking of – I felt was universal because while fame has changed the person in this song, I think any level of success or a life change can make someone a stranger to us. As for fame though, why do you think it continues to have this insane power over people’s personalities?
Jessica Care Moore: Fame is a lie. Supa Dupa Star is a poem about a few people I saw lose their minds to the high of popularity. I watch them morph into something outside of themselves, but eventually, they come back to earth. Something is always here to ground us all eventually. It’s a fun song too…about just hanging out with that energy….knowing what it tastes like…but knowing it’s not to be taken seriously.
Relax everyone, we’re just having a human experience!!! And yes, send the groupies to buy us food in outer space!!
Steffanie Christi’an: Celebrity culture is a weird thing. I don’t even really understand it myself. When people believe you have some level of success they want to be a part of that because they can’t experience it for themselves. People begin to cater to you and I can understand how that can alter someone’s perceptions. They feel untouchable. Ego is a real thing. It can also be your downfall.
Kendra: How was working with Talib Kweli? How’d that come about?
Jessica Care Moore: His work ethic is crazy. We’ve been friends since 1995. He’s one of my closest friends and a huge supporter of my voice. In his song “Good Mourning” from Reflection Eternal he rhymes my name inside his bars and quotes a poem from my first book –
My heart is racin but I know just what I stand for
We chasin death carelessly like Jessica, I Care Moore
Who said, “Just because no one can understand how you speak
Don’t necessarily mean that what you be sayin is deep”
He’s my brother for life. He heard Black Tea in his Brooklyn apartment in 2014 and asked me what I was gonna do with it, and I asked him the same thing. The same thing happened with We Are Scorpio (formerly titled Rock & Roll Nigga).
He’s my friend and peer and one of the hardest-working emcee’s in the business..and he respects a good book shelf and poetry:)
Steffanie Christi’an: I was introduced to Talib about 15 years ago when he did a show with Jessica here in Detroit. We’ve been friends ever since. Talib is more like family at this point. He’s featured me on his records and helped me to release projects of my own. We’ve toured together the whole nine yards but we also just get to hang out. He’s been one of my biggest supporters.
Kendra: Time for a side note – With it being January and us all starting a new year, I’d love to know what non-musical resolution you have set for yourself.
Jessica Care Moore: I’m home from my first trip to Bali and I am forever changed. I plan to keep yoga as a regular part of my wellness journey. Self-care is not just a word, it’s intentional work to take care of your mind, body, and spirit. I always have a thousand projects…but I want to feel good while I am doing it. Oh…I also plan to stay single until my son goes to college in the fall.
Steffanie Christi’an: I am totally into weight and powerlifting. I want to do a powerlifting competition this year as long as touring doesn’t get in the way of my training.
Kendra: Lastly, with the debut record out on April 12th, what else can fans be on the lookout for as we get into 2024?
Jessica Care Moore: The artwork is so gorgeous for this record….the cover photo by Detroit’s own Bre’ann White is every damn thing…and the layout and design and art of Voodoo Fe are next level. Just be on the lookout for our music, and our tour, and oh…we’re planning to be nominated for the Spoken Word Grammy for 2025. No doubt.
Steffanie Christi’an: We are working on tour dates and TV appearances at the moment. I am always working on my solo project and will be recording new music for that. Jessica is working on new writings I believe that will be released this year. We stay busy. I like it that way.