by Marcus Harrison Green
With his latest single, Draze wishes to eliminate every imaginable justification for not supporting black businesses.
The Seattle-born, Zimbabwean-raised rapper repeatedly disposes with said excuses over the course of his four-minute song “Building Black Wealth,” which releases this week alongside Draze’s newest album African American.
“Build Black wealth. Spend money with yourself. No excuses, I say it over and over again to get it into your brain,” says Draze, whose real name is Dumi Maraire.
This message is in desperate need of absorption locally, according to Draze. As an entrepreneurial hip-hop artist, he regularly makes the rounds on the local college and high school speaker circuits. Just as often, he asks the classrooms he visits to name three black-owned businesses in Washington state. So far, not one has been able.
They usually get stuck on one.
“Ezell’s Chicken,” he laughs. “And that’s okay. That’s dope! They should know Ezell’s. But they should know so much more. And so I challenge these classrooms, because if you don’t know our businesses, how can you support them?”
It’s why his single namechecks over 20 different Black proprietors, including the Seattle-based hairstylist Royal Strandz and rideshare company Moovn.
The support is needed in spades, says Draze. The well-chronicled gentrification of Seattle’s black community is something he’s documented in songs over the last five years, beginning with “The Hood Ain’t the Same,” which traced the ever shifting streetscapes of the Central District and “lamented the death of the community.”
He followed it with “Irony on 23rd,” referring to the opening of Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop on the same street young Blacks were arrested for selling weed.
After community members constantly asked for his solutions to gentrification, he crafted his latest song, in what is now a trilogy examining its ramifications.
“One of the most important steps we can do is support Black businesses. There’s nothing more empowering than giving people money that’s not through a bailout but through hard work, dedication, honoring someone’s ingenuity and creativity,” he says. “Support our businesses and let us build it ourselves.”
Such support should begin within Black communities, both locally and nationally, he says. With Black Americans spending $1.2 trillion annually on consumer goods, according to demographic data, why shouldn’t half of that money be recirculated within the hands of Black people, using their buying power to prop up their communities.
“Imagine if half of that money went back to our neighborhoods. Inherently it’s going to achieve what we want it to achieve,” he says. “There’s not going to be someone else telling you, here’s how the Central District should look. You should have a bike shop. You should have a dog kennel.”
It would instead reflect the well-being and economic preferences of its community members.
He doesn’t want his stance misconstrued for financial segregation. He calls it “intentional spending.”
“Building black wealth is not a boycott of others but rather a matter of self-love and a practical blueprint for survival and prosperity,” he says.
He sometimes gets pushback from those asserting “white people will stop supporting their businesses” if they outrightly vocalize support for prioritizing black businesses over theirs.
“The message being misconstrued is always a concern. But the numbers show that they’re not spending money with us anyways. So what’s to be afraid of? Of course, I would love for all communities to support us, but if they don’t, we’ll be fine. We spend trillions of dollars in this country. We just need to be intentional about where we spend it.”
What stokes more fear in Draze is the precarious economic trajectory the Black community faces. The median Black wealth is predicted to plummet to $0 by 2053 according to a recent study by Prosperity Now and the Institute for Policy Studies.
His community’s prospects aren’t much better in Seattle, where the median net worth for Black households is 20 times less than their white counterparts.
Those sobering statistics are a function of society’s preference to not acknowledge comparative differences between its racial and ethnic populations, says Draze.
“[The Black] population is so diluted here that our concerns often disappear along with us. Our circumstances are not the same as everyone else—so how do we create circumstances that honor that fact, and leave us both better off?”
That complex question posed by Draze and his single are critical for our city and nation to grapple with, says Derrick Wheeler-Smith, a close friend of Draze.
“Economic viability is so vital. Our system of white supremacy originally privileged slaveholding white men. And it’s kept privileging them through how financial resources are currently skewed,” says Wheeler-Smith.
He sees Draze’s single as a conversation starter for how the Black community can shift from an American ideal of individual financial enrichment to one that prizes collective gains.
Hip-Hop is the optimal carrier of that message for local Black business mogul Jaebadiah Gardner, the CEO of Gardner Global.
“What Draze is doing is dope. Everyone plays a part in this movement, and we need that vocal hip hop piece to get that message out. We need to talk about what ownership looks like in and for our community, whether it’s business, real estate, or relational,” says Gardner.
Last month, Gardner purchased an old church property near 23rd and Union through his company’s real estate arm that he plans to redevelop as a 64-unit multi family housing complex. He hopes that it will serve as a small source of shelter in the midst of the Central District’s continued displacement storm.
More actions like Gardner’s is what Draze hopes his song provokes.
“It’s a sparking of consciousness,” says Draze. “The music always sparks the movement, right?”
Draze will be hosting a listening party for his new album African American at the Jerk Shack on Feb 13 at 7pm. More information is available here.
The South Seattle Emerald will also host a Black Enterprise panel discussion at the Renton Library on Feb 13 at 7pm.