DJ Pup Dawg

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The Biggest Shift in Music (That Nobody’s Talking About)

Meet Lachi, the Inclusion icon infiltrating pop culture.

If you’re not yet familiar with the work and influence of Lachi, you soon will be. The award-winning recording artist and songwriter has barely let her foot off the gas pedal over the past few years, collaborating with household names like Alicia Keys and of the Black Eyed Peas. authoring several books, serving as Founder and CEO of a thriving network platform, and gracing the TEDx stage. As if that weren’t enough, she is set to release yet another book (“I Identify as Blind”) and collaborative album (“Mad Different”) this spring, having just been named USA Today’s 2024 “Woman of the Year.” Impressive by any standards, but even more so because she bears yet another title - that of a legally blind black woman. 

 Raised among seven rowdy siblings by Nigerian immigrant parents in the suburbs of Upstate New York, Lachi took to music from the womb. Inside the walls of their home, her disability felt like a natural part of life. Outside, she struggled to find her place within a society constructed by and for sighted people. Through songwriting and piano performance, she found a safe space to self-express, explore, and build her confidence. Navigating life with low vision required a fine-tuning of her other senses, which supplied a steady stream of inspiration from a fresh perspective. 

 A gift for impactful storytelling led to a successful recording career, but it came at the cost of subduing the most integral parts of her identity: her femaleness, blackness, and, most especially, her disability. Eventually she built her own home studio fully accessible to her. Laying down tracks in the privacy of her home, she could avoid the awkward conversations and tangible discomfort of artists or producers who would minimize her talent if they knew the truth. Eventually, a series of significant historical and cultural events thrust her into the spotlight and an advocacy role where she could overturn stereotypes while shifting mindsets on a global scale, beginning with the music industry.

 Disability History is Black History: The Struggle to Speak Out

 “There is so much black in disability,” Lachi likes to say, and she isn’t just talking about beloved music icons like Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder. Lachi shared that, before their time, a former slave named Tom Wiggins paved the way as a blind, autistic piano player and composer. Though most won’t recognize his name, he remains the highest-grossing pianist in the 19th century, full stop, no qualifier. Not black pianist or blind pianist. THE highest-grossing, ever. 

 The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which sets modern standards for disability regulations and rights, was passed in large part because of a disabled Black Panther named Brad Lomax. Several well-known figures in school curriculums and pop culture represent various mental or physical divergences. Underground railroad legend Harriet Tubman had epilepsy and low vision. Harry Belafonte was dyslexic. A closer look at black history in the US reveals disability as a constant part of the story, just not the cultural conversation. It isn’t hard to understand why. 

 When you’re already battling stereotypes and stigmas surrounding “blackness” or “brownness,” adding “disabled” to that mix isn’t going to do you any favors. “It’s already difficult to be black in America,” shares Lachi. To admit struggles with bipolar disorder, depression, or post-traumatic stress adds another layer of vulnerability and judgment that few can afford. “These topics are very taboo for us, particularly in music, because we always want to look good to the folks who are really running things.”

The Authenticity Shift That Brought Disability Awareness to the 2024 Grammys

But the tide is turning. Top-charting artists like Drake and Kendrick are rapping about the real, raw mental health struggle, while performers like Solange Knowles are repping neurodivergence. Music fans increasingly crave stories that relate to their lived experience, including struggles with mental health and disability. In this rapidly changing landscape, Lachi looks to leverage a key cultural shift toward openness and authenticity into an ongoing conversation that normalizes disability. 

In early 2020, in the wake of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, the singer took up the activist mantle. As the loudest voice for change, she put herself squarely in the spotlight by calling for industry wide support of disabled artists and professionals. The overwhelming response from peers inside and outside the industry sparked a forward momentum that led to a new role: non-profit founder and CEO. In 2022, Lachi established the Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities (RAMPD) organization with fellow performer Gaelynn Lea and other accomplished music professionals with disabilities, setting the foundation for powerful progress. 

Through RAMPD, her mission is twofold: actively change the cultural conversation around disability and provide a network where artists, activists, and allies can get involved. “We need to start talking about disability culture,” Lachi shares. “Not just the traditional medical model that makes disability a personal problem to be fixed, but as a social model where we all work together to make space for everyone in our communities.” These conversations, she says, begin with taking back certain defining terminology for themselves. “We don’t say ‘handicapped,’ ‘handicapable,’ or ‘differently abled. It’s ‘disabled,’ ‘disability,’ or - in the case of parking, for example - ‘accessible.” 

When it comes to activism, the growing RAMPD community offers a place where artists and industry insiders can connect with other disabled professionals who share their experiences. The organization persistently aims toward disability inclusion at every level of the music ethos, bringing competitive opportunities and visibility to its members while making disability inclusion possible for industry and venue partners. They’ve even linked up with the 2024 Grammys to develop disabled-inclusive programming and event access.

Infiltrating an Industry - and Doing it In Style

Ultimately, Lachi and her cohorts aim to infiltrate the entire system with disabled or neurodivergent personalities who can carry the movement forward from the mailroom to the boardroom. “It’s one thing to book disabled performers or recording artists, it’s another to have people from our community writing the checks and picking the acts. The shift in mindset becomes less performative and more ingrained in our social fabric.” Maybe the biggest hurdle to forward progress is simply making conversations about disability and mental health more approachable for the general public. Fortunately, that’s a particular art form Lachi has down to a science. 

“I’ve never been able to be anything other than myself,” she laughs. This is the secret to her explosive success and the magic sauce she shares with anyone willing to listen. “More than anything, I’m trying to kill shame. When you can accept the deepest part of yourself that society is trying to tell you to be ashamed of, you win at life.” The singer flawlessly transforms disability into an unapologetic daily celebration sporting a collection of her designer bedazzled “glam canes” and a colorful personal style all her own. With every project and performance, Lachi is living proof that disability is a direct connection to limitless creative power and the fact that “it takes a black person to make disability a little doper.”

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