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Name to know: Joy Postell, singer/rapper/songwriter

Postell creates socially aware, outward-facing music -- a hybrid of singer/songwriter R&B with touches of soul and rap

As part of The Baltimore Sun's Fall Arts Guide, reporters and critics picked 10 up-and-comers whose names you should get to know. See the full list here

Joy Postell, 24, singer/rapper/songwriter

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When a black person is killed by police officers, Baltimore musician Joy Postell writes their name, age and location on her bedroom wall in Abell, "just to pay homage."

"It's almost overwhelming how many names I'll have in a few days," said the 24-year-old Postell from a couch in her living room recently.

Those familiar with Postell's socially aware, outward-facing music — a hybrid of singer/songwriter R&B with touches of soul and rap — won't find this surprising.

Singer/songwriter Joy Postell is making her mark on the arts scene.
Singer/songwriter Joy Postell is making her mark on the arts scene. (Caitlin Faw / Baltimore Sun)

In April 2015, days after Freddie Gray's death, Postell uploaded to YouTube a live performance of "Hands Up, Don't Shoot," a song addressing the history of police brutality against black people.

"Know your rights and your will, and if you don't, they won't hesitate to pull the steel," she sings over acoustic guitar.

Since then, the Baltimore native has toured the East Coast with local rapper Al Rogers Jr. and released loose tracks like the jazz-influenced "Seattle Freestyle."

But Postell's most significant step forward comes this fall, when she releases her debut, two-years-in-the-making EP, "Diaspora." (She's eyeing a potential release date for Oct. 31, "a day when the spirits are very much alive," but nothing is set.) The title acknowledges how so few of us are true natives of America, she said, and calls out others to understand their history in order to know their identities.

"None of the songs are called 'Diaspora,' but it really encompasses my journey of self-discovery, of me becoming aware of what's happening and me being upset about that," Postell said.

She's expressing anger and frustration, but also searching for solutions.

"Consciousness," the independent project's first single, asks in its hook, "Where is this consciousness you speak of? Is it hidden in the reefer?" Her message: Our vices often do more harm than good.

"Do you really think you're smoking to obtain consciousness? Because I don't believe that that's real," Postell said. "I believe that we numb ourselves to avoid these issues, but that's not reality. We don't have to do that."

Rogers said Postell's most striking quality is her ability to connect with strangers in the audience through her music.

"If you ever catch one of her live shows, it's like you're watching a friend you've known for years put on a show," Rogers said. "She's connected with the people."

"Diaspora" is the first project in what Postell hopes is a long career filled with Grammys and milestones ("I want to sell out Carnegie Hall because it's so classy there," she said). Ultimately, though, she aims to create conversation, especially when topics get knotty and difficult.

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"I want people to hear my music and talk about the content, like two people that wouldn't normally talk, just start to have a conversation about these issues that are uncomfortable," Postell said. "Dialogue promotes understanding."

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