In the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests last year, Kaleena Zanders released “Reload,” a single featuring a powerful message that calls for reloading on love instead of bullets and chronicling her experience with police brutality. The Los Angeles-based singer, songwriter and producer was tackled to the ground by a police officer because she was biking on the wrong side of the road while on her way to a yoga class. The traumatic experience, which occurred 10 years ago, resurfaced in her mind following the death of George Floyd. “I literally was tackled to the ground in the same fashion,” she says. “The only thing that was different was I didn’t get my neck kneeled on or killed.” On June 30, the artist releases Reload [reloaded], a five-track remix package boasting reworks by Lee Wilson, R3LL, 12th Planet, KOIL and Vindata. Forbes received an exclusive premiere of Wilson’s remix of “Reload.”
The artist delivers a soulful house remix, differing from Zanders’ original track that she describes as “funky and dancey” that’s meant to bring lightness to a serious topic. “As a Black man living in the United States, I am made aware in my day-to-day life what people think of me before they ever get a chance to know me,” Wilson says. “I am happy to be a part of the conversation and happy to carry the torch for the queer Black folks who paved the way for me and this industry—an industry that thrives off of their innovations but has somehow along the way excluded so many queer and Black folks. The time has come to reload the history of EDM and for all Black and BIPOC [artists] to come and take up space.”
The other remixes prove to be as sonically diverse, offering everything from dance floor heaters to deep R&B, heavy dubstep and playful basslines. Each artist on the remix package is a BIPOC artist in the EDM space, an intentional decision by the queer artist as the release of Reload [reloaded] coincides with Black Music Month and Pride Month. “I wanted to repetitively have this message of reloading on love coming from Brown faces in the space, because we constantly see Black men, specifically, being shot or demeaned,” she singer says. “I want to keep showcasing that Black men can be more than just people that are shot at, people that are hurt or people that are unprotected.”
Wilson, R3LL, 12th Planet, KOIL and Vindata are donating all first year streaming royalties to National Bailout Fund and Diversify The Stage, LLC. The former is a Black-led and Black-centered collective focusing on ending pretrial detention and mass incarceration, while the latter is a nonprofit organization started by Noelle Scaggs of Fitz and The Tantrums that aims to create equitable opportunities for BIPOC, LGBTQ+, female and gender nonconforming individuals within the live events industry.
The songwriter says she aims to shift the narrative and build a collective of artists who fight injustice musically, as Zanders believes music, much like television, influences one’s subconscious. The EDM community, she adds, is full of young people with different backgrounds, so she hopes DJs begin to play music that can help spread love—a similar concept to the community’s PLUR mentality, which stands for peace, love, unity and respect.
Since the 2020 protests, Zanders believes the dance music scene has become slightly more inclusive, adding that she has been part of many conversations focusing on representation and she’s seen more BIPOC and female artists represented. However, she thinks the industry can improve by continuing to feature more LGBTQ+, BIPOC and female artists on festival lineups. In addition, the songwriter says that white allies should collaborate with more BIPOC producers and uplift them in the promotional materials surrounding the track. Numerous people, she adds, ask to use her vocals in disrespectful ways that make her feel exploited. Her powerful vocals have helped famous DJs hit the top charts, financially benefiting them while Zanders makes only a fraction of the proceeds because she’s listed as a featured artist as opposed to a co-producer. “That’s what happens in this community,” Zanders says. “A lot of Black people, because of their talent, are exploited but not actually lifted up in the space where we can monetize sometimes.”
Looking forward, Zanders plans to release a visual EP dubbed Everything We Have Is Misaligned, which drops August 11. She cheekily calls the body of work her “Lesbionade” as it’s influenced by Beyonce’s Lemonade and chronics the imperfections of Zanders’ 10 year relationship to her girlfriend and speaks on the madness in the world.