“Everything is us”
aka Diamond Dicky ro
The music of Tulsa, OK artist Steph Simon can be enjoyed without a history lesson, but some historical context can certainly deepen your appreciation. In the early 1920s, Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood was home to a thriving area of black businesses known as Black Wall Street. In 1921, white mobs backed by local police and city leaders burned Black Wall Street to the ground in one of the most horrific incidents of racial violence in American history.
Simon is a leader of World Culture Music - a collective of artists inspired by the legacy of Black Wall Street to stake their claim to the city and restore the excellence that 98 years ago turned to ashes. A true leader and visionary for the city, Simon uses his music to uplift and inspire transformation both personal and communal while never taking himself too seriously. There is a spiritual undercurrent to his work that is unmistakable, perhaps what one would expect from an artist who grew up listening to Notorious B.I.G. in the heart of the Bible Belt. As he puts it on the gospel-tinged track “Silver n’ Gold”, his music is “like a mix between holy ghost and Hova quotes.”
On his new album Born on Black Wall Street, Simon draws parallels between the creative culture in Tulsa today and the energy that made Black Wall Street thrive in the first place. Throughout the album Simon takes on the persona of “Diamond” Dick Rowland, a 17-year-old boy scapegoated for instigating the 1921 massacre after an incident with a white girl in an elevator. Of this creative choice Simon said, “I feel a connection to [Rowland] that I can’t explain, almost like I’m carrying his spirit with me. It wasn’t right that his name was used as a catalyst for a lot of pain and destruction, I use the name Dicky Ro to be the catalyst for transformation and hope.” His authentic spirit carrying messages of economic empowerment, community healing and personal growth will be felt by all who listen.
Born on Black Wall Street stands as a seminal album for the emerging Tulsa hip-hop scene, but Simon is speaking to a uniquely black American experience that will find resonance in the heartland and beyond. On album centerpiece “Diamonds” he raps, “See it, want it, buy it then you own it/put your pot with mine let’s make it grow.” And later on album closer ‘The Promised Land’: “My n*ggas starting businesses ain’t even got degrees now/my n*ggas with degrees man they out here selling weed now/Yeah they say we from the bottom but I do not see how/When the people with the money want to look like me now.