Spotlight – GRAMMY nominees Alphabet Rockers

Today I am very excited to shine the spotlight on Alphabet Rockers. Led by co-founders Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Soulati Shepherd, the group has evolved from offering poppy, light hip hop songs about everyday concepts that are geared toward younger children, to creating music that is “healing, reflects who we are, and empowers us.” The collective already garnered GRAMMY nominations for its albums Rise, Shine, #Woke, and The Love, but there is something unique about their latest album, The Movement. This time around, Kali de Jesus, Maya Fleming, and Tommy Shepherd III who have been with the Rockers since they were small children, are now teenagers, and they actively participated in writing the content of the album. The resulting collection of songs speaks to a reimagined world of belonging and justice.

For the 2022 Children’s Music Round Up I created a category called “The Children Are Our Future.” It featured The Movement as well as Multiply from The Wise Channel. I chose this heading because as Whitney Houston once sang, “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” With The Movement, that’s what Kali, Maya, and Tommy are doing – leading the way. The only time I’ve seen Alphabet Rockers perform live was at a pre-GRAMMYs showcase in 2018 (please excuse the blurry photo taken with an old phone). One of the things that stood out was that the adults in the group proudly shone the spotlight upon the young children in the collective – including Maya, Kali, and Tommy III – giving them the microphone to rap in their still high pitched voices and the space to dance with boundless energy and joy. Those kids who were only nine or ten at the time, have grown into amazing 14 and 15 year olds with voices that need to be heard. 

Rather than Kaitlin and Tommy being part of the interview for this post, they instead worked with Kids Rhythm and Rock to get feedback from, as Kaitlin calls them, “the kids.”

How old were you when you started performing with Alphabet Rockers?

(Kali) I was around 6 when I started performing with the group
(Maya)  8 or 9
(Tommy III) 4 or 5

You were an active part of the creation of the content for The Movement. What was your favorite part of that process? 

(Kali) My favorite part of the process in creating The Movement was getting together with everyone in the group, whether it be for a music video or in the studio. It’s always great to get together, brainstorm, and formulate our songs.

(Maya) That’s a good question. I think My favorite part was probably the feeling of being in the studio during the pandemic; being able to come to the studio and even though we were masked up, still being able to be together and be in that creative flow with each other and create music and spread love even though we were going through a really hard time.

(Tommy III) Oh, I don’t know if this counts, but the “Slide” video, that was actually really fun. Everything is fun to do but that one was hecka fun and that’s why it’s one of my favorites,

Were there any challenges?

(Maya) There were challenges, but probably the biggest one was being able to, as we get older, find the [right] stuff for us, as you know our bodies change and our voices change. I think just also being able to have a balance of things where we have things that we actually like and have things that, you know, we use for the album or music videos where we’re able to add our ideas while still meeting your vision (Kaitlin and Tommy). Like how we were able to do music videos and add our friends and add our school, being able to do things like that. 

(Tommy III) The challenge was, to be honest, sometimes I didn’t feel like doing it, but we have to do it because it’s the work that has to be done. Just being so tired. Because of Covid it felt like we weren’t doing that much but it took a lot of emotional energy out of us and it drained us a lot so during that time, I didn’t feel like doing a lot of things, but we had to put in the work so we can push for freedom.

Photos by Nino Fernandez

What does this GRAMMY nomination mean to you?

(Kali) This GRAMMY nomination means a lot to me. I believe that it provides us with the opportunity to present our work more widespread and gives us a voice that speaks louder than before.

(Maya) This GRAMMY nomination means a lot. The work we put in, and the time, and energy, and like Tommy was saying, emotional commitment. Knowing the struggles and challenges that we all had to go through during the time we were making this album and seeing our growth and being able to make it to now our fourth GRAMMY nomination, 

(Tommy III) The GRAMMY nomination. I just really like it. To say that we have a GRAMMY nomination, that’s really dope. To say we have a GRAMMY nomination considering what type of music we’re making. The music that we make doesn’t always get GRAMMY nominations because it’s not mainstream. But, it’s like, the music we’re making is pushing for change, and the fact that music like that can be put onto a platform like that is good. 

Thank you very much to Kali, Maya, and Tommy III for sharing your thoughts with us! These kids, they are our future and with them taking the lead, I think we’re going to be alright.

In case you missed it, check out the spotlights for GRAMMY nominees Divinity Roxx and Wendy & DB.

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