On a cold night, several years ago, childhood friends Alexis Wardlaw and Elizabeth Lashay Garland huddled by a heater laughing and discussing African-American culture and life. The two self-proclaimed “soul sisters” quickly realized that their chemistry was something special, and they began posting recorded conversations and interviews on SoundCloud. Before long, local broadcaster 103.3 Asheville FM discovered the recordings and invited Wardlaw and Garland to the station. The show “Slay the Mic” was born.
The mission of “Slay the Mic” is to “celebrate culture, community and creativity by amplifying voices from local artists and activists, and by providing new, old, underground and mainstream hip-hop and R&B music in the Asheville community,” explains Garland.
This fall, Wardlaw and Garland — aka Leckie and Li*La — celebrated three years on Asheville FM, where their show airs every Saturday, 5-7 p.m.
Both Wardlaw and Garland grew up in Asheville and have seen black stories hidden in the margins of the city’s dominant narrative. For two years before starting “Slay the Mic,” Garland lived in Oakland, Calif. There, she experienced a place where black culture, music and arts are celebrated, and where “being black is not something that is abnormal,” she says. When she returned to Western North Carolina, Garland thought, “There’s gotta be something here in Asheville where people can feel a sense of pride.”
For Wardlaw, “Slay the Mic” offers a lifeline to the black community — particularly to purveyors and fans of hip-hop and R&B. Before the show, she says, “A lot of people were searching for something, [asking] ‘Where can I put my voice?’ I feel like we give that opportunity to those who didn’t have voice.”
“Slay the Mic” has featured the music of and compelling conversations with local black artists including MOOK!, T.Y., DJ Besbeleve, STG Loot, Cash Jackson, DJ Twan, Po’ Folk, Santos, Virtuous, Lyric, Siyah, Mr. 1NE 5IVE, Kade, AJ Mills and TEYG. Community leaders such as Star, activist/poet Nicole Townsend and activist/author Maria Young have also shared their perspectives on air.
The majority of the show’s guests have been Asheville natives. “Whenever we have somebody who has lived in Asheville and has seen the good, bad and ugly, we always try and dive deep into it,” says Garland. There are also discussions about the real-life challenges of being an artist, such as how to balance creative work with often-necessary day jobs.
As people who appreciate having fun as much as they do being real, the “Slay the Mic” duo is intentional about the mix of content on the show. “We’ve got upbeat music,” says Garland, “but we also have a really powerful message that we’re trying to drive home.”
Part of that message is about the current cultural climate of this city. “I think that the door is opening more for a lot of black artists in Asheville,” Wardlaw says. At the same time, she adds, many artists have to leave the city to hone their craft and to build an audience.
“We ask this question almost every single show on our interviews: ‘Do you feel the support from Asheville?’” says Garland. The answer is often no.
“Slay the Mic” is seeding a day when that will not be the case. Wardlaw and Garland continue to put considerable time, energy and personal resources into the show because they keep hearing from the community that it is making a difference, that it is needed and appreciated. They’ve used their platform to connect artists, activists and audiences. They’re providing spaces for mutual support, both on the air and off. The goal is for increased synergy and visibility of black culture in Asheville.
“I really truly believe that Asheville has so much, it’s just tapping into that,” says Garland. For her, “Slay the Mic” poses the questions, “’Who is at the table, and who has a mic?’ Because,” she says, “I think everybody deserves to be heard.”
The two work toward that mission through projects such as teaching podcasting to teens of color through the program Word on the Street/La Voz de Los Jovenes; “Slay the Mic” events such as Music Matters: Diving Deeper into Hip Hop workshops; the Melanin, Mimosas & Memories brunch; the Hip Hop FM party; and the show’s active community and social media presence.
“Slay the Mic” ultimately hopes to spread its vision. “We don’t want to be the only ones doing this,” Wardlaw says. “We want to open the door and say, ‘Now y’all come in.’”
Find “Slay the Mic” on 103.3 FM Saturdays, 5-7 p.m., and at AshevilleFM.org/show/slay-the-mic