By Yepoka Yeebo
Last year, five 12-year-old girls from Brownsville, Brooklyn recorded an exuberant, electro-tinged song that would see them featured in music snob bibles ‘Pitchfork,’ and ‘The Fader.’ By a bizarre twist of the record industry, it became the soundtrack to luxury label Proenza Schouler’s show at Fashion Week in February. But only one of the five girls knows they’re an indie electronic sensation.
“There’s this totally fucking creepy runway show with all these emaciated 18-year-olds marching around looking angry and indifferent in these bizarre get-ups that are exorbitantly expensive,” said Sam Hillmer, who helped produce the song. “They’re playing this music made by these really down-to-earth, normal, basically happy, all things considered young African American women from Brownsville, Brooklyn, one of the toughest neighborhoods in America.”
The song ‘Born 2 B Fly,’ from the debut album ‘Da Brats from Da Ville,’ was the product of a program at PS284, a Brownsville school in the shadow of the Langston Hughes projects. Hillmer, director of the youth program at the Beacon Centre for Arts and Leadership in Bushwick, designed the program to teach young people about business through the music industry, with help from True Panther Sounds, a small indie record label.
“It was as simple as someone hearing it and liking it,” said Dean Bien of True Panther.
Soon after ‘Born 2 B Fly’ was released on vinyl, True Panther was bought by Matador, a huge label and home to artists like Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth and Cat Power. “It was super, like, in the upper realms of people selling shit to each other,” Hilmer said.
Matador, in turn, is owned by indie records conglomerate Beggars Banquet.
Hilmer said: “Beggars Banquet has people who basically take these portfolios of music, and sit down with with, like, Honda and whoever the fuck else wants to buy music for commercials and movies.”
And fashion shows.
In theory, all five girls made a modest amount of money, but Hillmer is only in touch with one, Tamara Barden, 14. “There’s one young person who I don’t think ever saw it or knows about it or anything, she had to leave her neighborhood because of complications about gang stuff and I was never able to get in touch with her,” said Hillmer, who also plays saxophone in the experimental rock band the Zs.
The program, Representing NYC, was also about connecting the artists moving into neighborhoods like Bushwick and Bed Stuy with the community.
“You can come and be on a vibe where you’re like waiting for the coffee shop and the restaurant with the arugula salad to come through, or you can really be where you are and bring whatever you have to the table,” said Hillmer.
Proenza Schouler and Matador did not respond to requests for comment.