CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
At first, Pittsburgh-based artist and composer Feralcat didn’t specifically set out to create a playlist celebrating contemporary Black and Brown music artists in the Steel City. But his Spotify playlist — Black (and Brown) Pittsburgh as an ‘outsider’
— does exactly that.
The playlist began as a way to promote his newest single “Anselm the Wise,” which was released in January. He created the playlist on Feb. 1, but instead of just including his own songs, he decided to add tracks by friends and acquaintances to support and amplify their talents. While their songs appeared on other playlists, Feralcat hadn’t seen a Black Pittsburgh-specific playlist, so he decided to create one.
“Through my lens, this is what I have seen … either friends of mine, or just artists that I admire locally that are Black or of color,” Feralcat says. “The idea just became, I wanted to make a playlist with friends of mine that also included my own music.”
Feralcat is a saxophonist and composer who came to Pittsburgh from New Jersey in 2011 to study engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. He arrived in the city as East Liberty’s gentrification was heightening, which compounded his sense of being an outsider since many of the Black Pittsburghers he knows have memories of growing up or spending time in that neighborhood under different circumstances.
“I don't feel representative of Pittsburgh Blackness,” Feralcat says. “I feel very connected to the city, but at the same time, I feel like the city doesn't feel connected to me.”
CP Photo: Kaycee Orwig
To clarify his relationship to the city, he added “as an outsider” as a disclaimer to the title of the playlist. While he’s lived in Pittsburgh for nearly 11 years and has adapted to living in the city, he doesn’t want to claim a Pittsburgh identity since, to him, being from Pittsburgh means growing up in the city.
The artists he’s met through performing and producing music in Pittsburgh are a mix of transplants and natives. The more than 50 artists on the playlist also vary in genres — from R&B to rap to rock to electronic — as well as in popularity, as measured by monthly listeners on Spotify. They range from artists like hardcore punk band Killer of Sheep and hip-hop artist Hubbs, both of whom have about 100 monthly listeners, to artists like soul singer Sierra Sellers
with 2,094 monthly listeners, hip-hop and pop artist Brittney Chantele
with 15,910, and record label Spillage Village with 1,136,420.
For some of the artists, Feralcat chose from Spotify’s generated list of their top songs. For others, he selected certain songs that felt right for the playlist, admitting, “I'm not much of a curator … I really just did a hodgepodge of artists I can think of.” Compiled together, the songs create a smorgasbord sampler of Pittsburgh’s Black and Brown musicians who swing between genres and aesthetics.
He also made an admittedly “inflammatory” Facebook post about a dearth of Black jazz musicians actively making records, which led to several suggestions for artists to include in his playlist, which he then added. While he hasn’t updated the playlist since then, he says he’s open to further feedback, with the caveat that he’ll listen and decide for himself whether to include the suggestions.
His playlist description qualifies that “I vibe with all of these tracks,” and he adds, “there's something that puts [Black artists] out from their white counterparts. It's very real and visceral to me, like I hear a difference. And it's not always like, one is good or one is bad. It's just like … I can hear a certain ‘it’ factor that I want that makes me prefer listening to Black artists sometimes.”
The playlist, as of March 4, has 66 songs and lasts just under four hours. Many of the artists on the playlist have collaborated with each other, giving the playlist a sense of community within itself. It only has a small following for now, and Feralcat is anxious about keeping up with people’s suggestions if more people start to follow. Still, when asked what he hopes people get out of the playlist, he has a single word: “Joy.”
Black and Brown Pittsburgh as an ‘outsider’