Big Samir—one half of the Colorado Springs hip-hop duo the ReMINDers — is actually not all that big. We meet outside of Springs Orleans, and he laughs and shakes my hand. Standing a little under five feet six, there’s something instantly likeable about him, a relaxed affability. He’s wearing a shirt and tie and a patchy beard of the sort you are likely to see on Paris’ Left Bank.
But, of course, we’re nowhere near Paris.
Big Samir and his wife, Aja Black—who makes up the other half of the ReMINDers—testify to what Springs insiders already know about the artistic life of the city. It’s diverse and vibrant, and if you can make it work, it’s a great place to live.
Big Samir arrived in Colorado Springs when his stepfather was stationed here by the U.S. Air Force. Samir was born in Belgium and lived in Congo for five childhood years. His mother remarried when he was 15, and the family moved to Texas and later the Springs. It was here that Samir met Aja. The two settled down and started making music together. Now, two albums—Recollect and Born Champions—and three kids later, they are still going strong.
The ReMINDers have opened for some of the biggest names in the music industry, including Snoop Dog, Nas, The Roots, Lauryn Hill, Black Star, Big Boi, KRS-One, Rakim, K’naan and Fishbone. Their sound is a mix of soul, hip-hop and reggae, a mashup of sharp and often bilingual rhymes, soulful vocals and hip-hop beats tinged with reggae. Think of them as the Fugees crossed with the Black Eyed Peas with a dash of Digable Planets and an energy all their own.
When I ask Idris Goodwin—professor, playwright, rapper and fellow Springs resident—about the improbability of the ReMINDers being based in the Springs, he invokes lyrics by the legendary emcee Rakim: “It ain’t where you from, it’s where you at.”
“The ReMINDers prove him right,” Goodwin says. “Their work embodies a sort of wide-open-sky quality that makes it transcendent. And, of course, they’ve got skills, which in hip-hop is a primary requisite. They’ve been able to travel the world due to their level of focus and the fact that they make moves as a family.”
It’s that combination of rootedness and transcendence that have brought me to Springs Orleans face to face with the artist. As Big Samir sips Moroccan mint tea, we talk about the challenges of maintaining a music career, the challenges of having a growing family, and the best ways to keep three kids happy on a quiet Saturday afternoon.
Steve Hayward: What’s it like to do hip-hop in the Springs? Is it different from doing it elsewhere?
Big Samir: I think it is different. There’s no scene, no access to anything industry-wise. So you really have to make your way for yourself, work 10 times harder than you would in New York, California or even Atlanta. You have to make a way, make people believe in this music. When we started out, there were not any venues to perform at in Colorado Springs. There’s still some way to go, but it’s better than it was.
A lot of your music is based on a sense of place. What’s special about the Springs?
I think the fact that we travel so much, coming back to the Springs feels really good. You feel removed from the big city, but you still have a little of that city vibe. I used to say it was a small town, but it’s really not a small town anymore. It’s not a big city either. You have a good view, clean air. It’s a great place to raise our kids.
It feels like home.
I wouldn’t change it for the world.
You’ve got three kids under age 10. Is it challenging to balance the demands of touring?
The kids really understand. They get what we do. It’s been going on since they were babies, so it’s part of their life.
I have three kids myself. Did you find it a challenge to go from two to three?
I used to tell myself that it wasn’t. But it makes a difference, especially with us, because we went from having two girls to a boy. I mean, a boy, that’s a whole different world.
What do the ReMINDers do on a day out in the Springs?
Last time, we went to Sky Zone. Just wilded out for an hour. I’m still sore from it. One thing I do like to do when people come to the Springs is to take them to the Olympic Training Center, you know, to show it off. A lot of times people don’t even know it’s there.
How does the family emphasis in your work mesh with hip-hop culture generally?
It works perfectly. Most of the biggest artists we perform with, the moment they see what we’re about, they’re all about it—because they do the same thing, from Snoop to Lauryn Hill. The first thing Snoop said when we met him was that we had to stay together. He told Aja’s father, “You got to stay close to your child, support her like that.”
What’s your songwriting process? Do you write together or separately?
It really depends on the song and the vibe. There are some instances when I’ll come up with an idea, and then she’ll go her own way and come back. There’s no rule. There are times when we get an idea and get it right away. Those are usually the best ones. If you put too much thought into it, people are going to be, “Yeah, that song’s all right—but nothing special.” The best are the ones that come fast, really naturally. And those, most often, are the ones we write together.
You travel a lot, even internationally. What’s your favorite place to eat out when you’re home in the Springs?
India Palace for the lunch buffet. In terms of brunch, it’s Springs Orleans, of course. I mean, I do like these beignets. You shouldn’t be able to find them, so good, here in the Springs. But you do. They’re not supposed to be here, you know, but they are.
—by Steven Hayward
See The ReMINDers for Yourself
Want to catch the ReMINDers live? Your best bet locally is to catch them at a festival or at the Gold Room in the Mining Exchange. Of course, your kids may see them in the classroom; the duo frequently reminds kids they are born champions and can accomplish whatever they set their minds to. As for new music, the ReMINDers are currently working on a third album, about which neither member of the band will say much. “All I can tell you is it’s going to be our biggest record yet,” Big Samir says. “The one that’s going to take us to the next level.” Keep tabs on the group at theremindersmusic.com or facebook.com/TheReminders.