For Monstah Black, growing up in the South meant seeing a lack of representation. While he would occasionally see queer role models and black role models highlighted in the media, he had no one to look up to as a queer black role model.
“I had these celebrities that I looked up to, but no black queer people in the immediate area,” Monstah tells Billboard. “So to become a representation for other youthful black queer kids has always been a goal of ours.”
Monstah and his husband Manchild Black make up the queer pop duo The Illustrious Blacks. Known for their high energy shows at nightlife events around New York City, the pair are now channeling that energy into their new video for “Black Like Jesus,” premiering below.
Manchild says that the purpose of the video was to imitate one of the group’s famous live shows, while imbuing it with an emotion that often isn’t seen in representations of queer black men: joy. “We get to see people of all races and genders and sexual orientations get together and celebrate life at our live shows,” he reflects. “With everything that’s going on today in our society … it was so important for us to show some joy and togetherness.”
But the video opens with a moment of anger — the pair sampled a speech given by Philando Castile’s mother after the police officer who killed her son was acquitted of all charges. “My son loved this city and this city killed my son,” her voice yells, while a group of dancers slowly sway before the song’s start.
The Illustrious Blacks took that clip, before placing it in their video, and used it during their live show as an intro to “Black Like Jesus.” Manchild says that the outrage that clip inspires ends up fueling the performance. “We took that energy, that anger and frustration, and put it into our show,” he says. “With all of this pain that’s happening, we can still somehow come together.”
And come together they have. The duo have seen their star on the rise, especially since getting the recent opportunity to open up for Chicago rapper CupcakKe. While they didn’t get a chance to meet her at the performance, Monstah said that her unabashed personality was infectious.
“She is unapologetically herself, and we are obsessed with any artist who is unapologetically themselves,” he said. “Her fans were so amazing to us, and welcoming to us. It’s about people coming together, and it was a beautiful, diverse group of young people. Black, white, LGBTQ and all the rest of the letters.”
The group has no plan on slowing down any time soon. With an upcoming residency at Joe’s Pub in New York City, Manchild said audiences can expect to see new songs, extravagant costumes and a different kind of performance. “I think that you get one part rock show and one part theatrical experience,” he said. “That’s definitely what we’re going for.”