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A National Movement To Make Beer For Racial Justice Inspires A Raytown Brewery — And A Kansas City Rapper

Courtesy: Crane Brewing Company
In August, Crane Brewing Company released its new 'Black is Beautiful' imperial stout, in tandem with a new release by musician Kemet Coleman.

As part of an international 'Black is Beautiful' initiative, rap artist and bandleader Kemet Coleman teamed up with Crane Brewing in Raytown, Missouri, to create a new imperial stout — and a new album.

This summer has been one marked by rising coronavirus cases, Black Lives Matter protests, and continued insecurity around jobs and schools.

So maybe it’s time for a beer.

In June, Weathered Souls Brewing, an independent craft brewery in San Antonio, Texas, launched the Black is Beautiful initiative.

Co-owner and brewer Marcus Baskerville, who is Black, chose stout beer for the collaborative brewery effort since it represents "the whole color scheme — hues of black from light brown to deepest, darkest black."

To date, 1,120 breweries have signed on in 21 countries and all 50 states, including eight in Kansas and 15 in Missouri — to brew a beer, boost awareness about racism, and raise funds for equality and inclusion organizations.

“For us, we try and do a lot of beers like this throughout the year that benefit a local organization or something important to us,” said Crane Brewing Company co-founder and co-owner Chris Meyers.

“The fact that it’s a big imperial stout, it’s something that we don’t do very often, so it’s a fun excuse to do that.”

Weathered Souls released an open-source stout recipe, and encouraged brewers to add their own twists. Some breweries have experimented with flavors, others with artwork on the cans.

Courtesy: Kemet Coleman
Kemet Coleman's new EP, 'Black is Beautiful,' was timed to coincide with a beer release by Crane Brewing. Coleman also created the album artwork.

For Crane Brewing, it sparked a collaboration with rap artist Kemet Coleman, known as the lead vocalist and bandleader of The Phantastics, the Kansas City-based psychedelic soul collective.

“'Hey, what do you think about finally doing a beer together?’,” Meyers said he asked Coleman. They’ve known each other for years and partnered on different events, and he knew Coleman, who once worked at a brewery, was a fan of beer.

Coleman originally suggested a playlist, such as one on Spotify, to accompany the beer.

But, then, said Meyers, “Almost immediately he reached back out to me. And he was like, ‘I’m going to do my own EP. I’ve got some songs I want to release. And I want to do ones specifically for this beer.’”

The “Black is Beautiful” album features four songs, as well as their instrumental versions. It's Coleman’s second album release during the coronavirus pandemic.

“‘Black is Beautiful,’” said Coleman, “is kind of the first step in addressing some of the conversations around racial injustice, and diversity, belonging, all that type of stuff.”

Coleman said the album has a hip hop vibe, with tracks that are “also danceable.” And the subject matter is thought-provoking, such as one titled “Black and Rich in KC” exploring wealth creation.

“I wanted it to be, to feel like a song that you can just be confident as a Black person in Kansas City,” he said, “You know, fighting the struggle to build something for your family when you have so many things against you.”

Real estate developer J.C. Nichols, who developed the Country Club Plaza, but also perpetuated racial segregation, crops up in the song. And so does restaurant chain Gates Bar-B-Q.

Coleman described these lyrics as "hidden nuggets that I wanted to plant in there for the listener to have fun with."

Crane Brewing.jpg
courtesy: Crane Brewing Company
As part of the collaboration with Crane Brewing Company, artist Kemet Coleman visited the brewery and pitched some hops into the brew kettle. He also helped can the new 'Black is Beautiful' imperial stout.

Crane Brewing invited Coleman to spend a few days on-site brewing the beer and canning it, too. And he suggested where the brewery could donate the proceeds: Generating Income for Tomorrow, or G.I.F.T., a non-profit that supports Black-owned businesses in low-income areas in Kansas City.

The Black is Beautiful imperial stout was released on August 1, sold in Crane's taproom, on-line, and distributed across the metro.

Earlier this week, Meyers said, only a small amount of beer was left. And, once it’s all sold, they’ll write a check.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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