[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]I've known Keisha Dutes, otherwise known as TastyKeish, for years on the local NYC hip-hop scene. She's a hilarious live event host and a radio personality, not to mention pediatric nurse, thrift dealer, and a light weight comedian (at least in my book). In 2013, she cofounded Bondfire Radio, an independent radio station with a diversity of robust programs ranging from music to talk radio that keeps it real while still keeping it inspirational. Her own show TK in The AM runs every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning bringing conversations, rampant sass, and great music through your speakers. Keish's love for her native Brooklyn and her community of artists has inspired her to use Bondfire as a jumping off point to create a much larger initiative--a community art space in Caribbean Flatbush, Brooklyn-- by people of the community that will cater to the local community. In a fast changing Brooklyn, many new arts institutions are created and patronized by gentrifiers. Keish ain't with that. If you aren't either, she calls for you to join their cause. TastyKeish gives Project Inkblot a glimpse into her vision, shows us why radio isn't dead, and why it's usually a bad idea to run a radio show with six-year-olds.
How did you get the name TastyKeish?
I did college radio and I had a whole bunch of different names, from Kiki--which I hate. I don’t even know why I ever entertained that. I had Big Keish, but I was not big. But it’s the radio, and who cares? I had so many names that I don’t even remember them. I went through college radio still not having an identity. Then, someone said something smart alecy about "Keish--like the food." So fuck it, Tasty Keish, and I’ve just been running with it ever since.
Tell me about the amazing growth of Bondfire Radio since it launched in 2013.
We started with two shows, now we have seven, by the end of this summer we’ll have nine, by the end of the year we might have twelve. It's my job as a program director to look at these shows that make a difference to your life. Whether or not a million people are tuned in, the fact that I take one person away from the conglomerate shows, that’s a win for me.
These broadcasters are out here really working hard, bringing you regular fresh programming, and almost no re-runs. They are doing this just to be amazing people effecting change in this world, to give you the options that apparently you are asking for.
The beginning stages of starting a new business are the hardest. How do you maintain?
I have my day job, and when I have my day job that gives me motivation to not want to be at my day job. For me there is no other choice. Whatever incarnation it takes, there’s no such thing as failure for me. My stamina comes from knowing there’s no other choice for me. I know what I don’t want to do, and I know what I do want to do. This is it.
What’s your day job?
I’m still a pediatric nurse in private care, which gives me flexibility. It’s part-time. I feel like that’s progress.
Those are pretty different things. Has there ever been a direct overlap of nursing and radio for you?
So I went to work at a summer camp after I graduated and they wanted me to be their nurse and their radio teacher. I’m an licensed practical nurse (LPN) and they needed me on site. I was sleeping there, giving kids medications, and teaching the radio program. I would take groups of kids at a time, different age sets, and they would come and do little programs on the campus station. I was out there for 10 weeks with six-year-olds. Have you ever done radio with six-year-olds? That shit is dangerous.
Because they are impulsive, they get in their feelings very easily, they are a lot like adults. I had one time where I was with them in the morning--they were six to nine--one girl felt like she wasn’t getting enough microphone time. It was very early in the morning. It was just me with the kids and maybe two people in the adjacent office. That little girl had decided that she had had enough. She ran out. It was a decision that I had to make, go rescue the one and leave five of them in this office alone, or stay with the five? Rescue the one, or stay with the five? So I just yelled “yo, we got one loose. I’m running! There’s five here, I don’t know what to do with them.” So whoever was in the office looked after them. I ran after this one girl because there was a road. If there wasn’t a road I would have left her to wander the fields, but there was a road. I just pictured a car coming. I was like, “hey little girl. what is wrong with you?” She was like, “I’m not getting enough time,” and I’m like, “well you have to share.” So we have this moment about sharing and I get her to come back. The infraction was so deep that they got their show taken away from them. Because you don’t run into the road! Even though it didn’t work out for them, it was a sharing moment that we had, and it taught me about six-year-olds, and not to let them do radio shows.
Haha. What was the biggest takeaway for you that summer?
You know, people of color don’t be doing sleep away camps. Girl, it’s true, have you seen them? It was me and four little black kids, and 100 white kids, but I loved it because this little black girl came to the office one day and she said something to the affect of being happy that I was there, because we look alike. She was maybe six or seven. So then I knew I was on the right track, whether they got their show taken away or not, I was like, somebody is listening. Somebody gets it. That became my mission, even if it’s indirect, one person, a little kid, an old lady, somebody from Michigan...That was my memory marker, 2005 summer camp, run away children, and little inspirational moments.
Now you're a part-time nurse. What’s your advice for people who want to take the leap to go part-time or leave their jobs altogether?
When I went balls-to-the-wall first time, I had a plan, but I didn’t have a plan plan. My coping mechanisms don’t work when there is no plan. It was more comfortable for my psyche and my mental stability to be part-time, because I know that something is coming. Some people need to quit their job. You gotta find out what works for you. For me, it wasn’t cutting it. I tried that and it freaked me out too much. The freaking out can make you paralyzed. I was becoming paralyzed in my freedom, so I said, you know what? let me build some of these walls back up. I’ve been part-time for sometime now and it keeps me going, to know that I have a roof over my head. I need to feel safe in life. The whole Maslow’s hierarchy: I need shelter, food, and security, and then I can do this shit. Find out what you can work without. If you can work without food? Girl, that’s weird. If you can live on your friend’s couch? Do it. I can’t. Find out what you don’t need. Eliminate those, and then do little things. Start from building blocks. You have an idea? Now how can you make that idea a reality?
My idea-to-reality process was coming back from overseas trip and noticing that all of these people were going for it balls-to-the-wall. I met these four young men from France that were starting their own urban wear store with a barber shop in the back. They were building a studio in the back to do radio, and it was just four guys. Find points of inspiration and make it happen. For me, it meant calling my friends to help me paint my basement and turn it into a studio. That’s how the first studio was built. It was a paint party, pizza, beer, soda, boom! You do little shit like that and it motivates you to do the next thing. I know I can’t bullshit on these people who came to my crib and painted. Those people expect me to do something with that. I have to show them that I am putting in the work. Find inspiration. Find out what you can live without, and make yourself accountable to people. This campaign is making me accountable to people now. Now they need to see this new studio when we finally have to leave this one.
What is the end goal for Bondfire Radio?
The vision is to create this space that we can have for the community. So many people are hitting my inbox like, “yo, I just want to get a building in Brooklyn before it’s too late. I just want a place where I can do my dance programs.”
I want this to be a space for creative people to come and do panels, talks, to come set up their computers, if they want to just use some wifi and tap out some emails, come visit us! It’s not just about the media aspect. We can broadcast from anywhere, but this is more about the community and to get people to come out and share. That’s the vision. We just want a space that’s ours, especially in this underserved area that we’re in now. We’re in Caribbean Flatbush, to me that’s everywhere from Empire Blvd to almost King’s plaza, where the Caribbean community is. It’s beef patties and it’s liquor stores, it’s churches, and jerk chickens. There’s nothing cool out there yet. The artists haven’t come out there yet, and we want to be the artists to be the ones to bring it. Not some colonizers. Real talk. Before the gentrification hits--and I see it coming--I want to have this space. Before the rents go way up, I want to have this space. Before we are priced out of our neighborhoods, I want to have this space. I think we can do that.
How do you reconcile the fact that people like us are the artists that contribute to the first step of gentrification?
We work within the community. We do a lot of community service, meeting people who have needs out here, out in Caribbean Flatbush and in underserved areas. We reconcile ourselves with that. We have to give back actively. We can’t just move into a neighborhood and magically set up some cool shit. For us, it doesn’t work that way. We’ve been doing community service before the radio show started. That’s how you got to get in there, you have to shake some hands, go up into that church and be part of their food services, become part of the community. Don’t just set up some effin’ artwork outside like, “I’m the cool shit,” right next to the beef patty place that you never talk to the proprietor. I eat a beef patty everyday just so I can go say hello. It’s delicious too, and it’s cheap.
Also, keep your stuff affordable so that they can participate. I’m from Brooklyn, I’m from the area, I did my time in Long Island because I have Caribbean parents, they always want to do this moving on up, George Jefferson, “I’m moving to Long Island, Queens,” but I decided as an adult to live in Brooklyn, to work in Brooklyn. Every time I get a ticket, I’m giving back to Brooklyn, everytime I get a summons for some bullshit, I’m giving back to Brooklyn. Become part of the community. That’s how you reconcile yourself.
Even with the popularity of crowdfunding, it's still super difficult for most of us to ask for money. How are you experiencing that in your campaign?
I don’t cope well with things where I have to ask for help. It’s just that I’ve been socialized to just go ahead and help myself that when it comes to asking for help, I always think I’m asking for too much, or I’m very gentle with it, but now is not the time for that! Now’s the time for replying back to everyone who said “Yo, Keish, what you’re doing is amazing. I got you!” Now’s the time for me to come back at you and let you fill that empty ass statement with some action. “I got you.”--The fuck? That’s like “let’s build.” If it doesn’t have any action behind it, it doesn’t mean anything.
What's the hardest part of getting people to support this campaign?
I think they don’t know about us. This is just as much an awareness campaign. This is not the first time that someone ever thought about making a radio station that addresses the needs of the people, but there’s such a small amount that are doing it well, like really programming instead of just playing mixes.
I was in my feelings about my family and friends regarding this campaign. Getting out of that is important because I can’t function. I can’t do the work that needs to be done if I can’t function, and not functioning means we stall and our campaign stalls. We have to show that our campaign has value compared to the 75% that suck and aren't relatable, whereas I know for a fact that this relates to people, because everyday on my timeline there’s people complaining about commercial radio, and commercial artists. “Why is no one supporting me? No one is playing my songs! No one is giving my cause a chance. No one is coming to let me talk about women as entrepreneurs, sensitive men, or whatever.” But we do that. Now I’m telling you, we have a platform here, we made this, it’s functional, it’s happening, it’s already in the world for you to enjoy, and for you to act on.
For many of us entrepreneurs, "getting in our feelings," is one downfall of productivity. How do you deal with that?
You got to keep your classy face on all the time. When you’re not keeping it on, people who you let see you in that way have to be your trusted peeps. My friends are there to listen, some of them give me advice that I need and some that I don’t need. When I don’t need it, I tell them, “Hey, I just need this moment to spazz out. You don’t have to say anything. I just need an ear, because I don’t want to be one of those guys who goes on Facebook and is like, “Y’all motherfuckers don’t support. If I had a dollar from all of y’all, we would have been done this.”” Nah, that’s so passive aggressive and bullshit. I don’t want to be that guy, so I have a few friends that I call and I tell them “yo, can I just come over and watch tv with you?” I’m not good at turning it off, but I turn off the internet, I turn off the internet, I unplug, and I start over.
If it’s a work thing and I feel like maybe I’m not pushing myself hard enough, I do one small thing on my list. Maybe instead of sending 20 emails, I send one heartfelt email and see how far that gets me. Sometimes I’ll hear back from that one email and it will change my mood. I recently got an email back from a family member that said, “I feel you, I love what you’re doing, I’m getting married so I can’t really contribute, but I’m going to share this.”
Just the fact that she hit me back--not that she said she was going to share it, not that she said she had other stuff that she had to spend money on, but the fact that she hit me back turned my whole day around, because you feel like someone heard you. I just need someone to hear me in those moments where I’m at my lowest.
You just reminded me of this Einstein quote that was "Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value." What do you think about that?
When you want to do something in the public eye, people automatically think of whatever mainstream thing is out. You know my momma from the jump has been like, “did you send your resume to Oprah?” I love Oprah, I just feel like I can effect change over here, and one day someone is going to tell her about us, which is going to be amazing and great, but I’m not going to wait for her. I had to reconcile myself in recent years with what I wanted. Did I want to be a radio personality on a big station that doesn’t help people in the same way that I want to help people? When I realized the downward spiral of commercial radio, I finally had to say it out loud. When I verbalized it to another person, it made it real how much I didn’t want to do that. When I said it, I almost whispered it. “I don’t want to go on that station anymore.” And they were like, “why are you whispering?” And I was like, “because I’m scared.”
It’s like, if you aren’t aspiring to work for the big dogs, what are you aspiring to? And I’m like, oh my god, does that mean I’m like a loser that doesn’t want to be great? No, I want to be great by helping other people. Fuck it, so now I’m saying it loud over this truck driving by right now, “I don’t want to be on the big stations!” I want to keep doing the work that we’re doing. You have to reconcile those things with yourself, and when you do, it’s a revelation. I no longer whisper it, but if I do get that opportunity, maybe if they’re like, “TastyKeish, we would love to do radio with you.” I’m going to be like, “do you have things implemented? Are y’all giving out turkeys?” I need something, so I can go back to my peoples and be like, “I know I told you I wasn’t going to sell out, but they are giving away turkeys.” I need to go back to my peoples with something. I’m not closed to it, but I’m not seeking that validation anymore. I’m looking for a way that can build this dream to help other people, because this is not some shit that needs to be kick-started. It’s already being done.
Interview by Boyuan Gao