Maat Free is back with the second ever #untoldrva 5 Things! This time, she explores what Richmond has been, currently is, and will export to the rest of the world. History isn’t always pretty, but it is always fascinating.
Last week, though it boggles our minds how, Richmond showed up in the No.1 slot on American Express Travel’s list of the most popular U.S cities to visit this summer. So wait. After all this time trying to figure out what we had to offer the world, this is what we’ve come up with? Purveyors of an epic vacation? Well, alright! We can definitely roll with that. Sweet.
So in celebration of our latest award-winning Richmond product, this week’s theme on The #untoldrva 5 Things is: Exports. Join us as we meander down a historical timeline of our most notable mentions, listing some of the things we’ve made, which in turn have made us.
1. RVA, WAAAAAY BACK IN THE DAY
It’s amazing how many people in town actually believe that there are visible slavery auction blocks intact and standing somewhere in Shockoe Bottom. This is not so. If you asked around, people would say they’ve heard talk of how countless Black folks were pulled out of the bottom of slave ships coming in from Africa. They’d also mention a scene where these African-born captives were marched around the river’s edge at night from what’s now the City boat landing.This happened, but not for as many years as one would think. In fact, not many people know about the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves of 1807, which kicked Richmond’s homegrown exportation of human trafficking into the highest gear.
Slavery was officially frowned upon quite early in this nation’s history. Founding father Thomas Jefferson declared the International slave trade of African people “a violation of human rights” and passed a law that made it illegal to take anyone out of Africa and bring them to America in bondage. The general assumption would be that this law drove down the numbers of enslaved Black people in Richmond, but it didn’t. To the contrary, it caused a huge surge in the local human breeding industry.
It’s outrageous when you think about the law-abiding wickedness that contributed to the prominence of corporations that still do business here. History bears witness that Richmond was at one point the number one exporter of human beings and sent more people down the river against their own free will (from the Sugar Pad) than anywhere else in this country. Therefore, in our recollections of Richmond’s most notable antebellum achievements, domestic slavery cornered the export market in a very dubious way. But keep reading. Thank goodness, things do get better.
2. RVA in the ’70s and ’80s
When I was in middle school, our next-door neighbor was a sales executive at Interbake/FFV, which meant we would get all the free boxes of Girl Scout cookies a child could ever want. The trefoils and samoas were my shot. Next up in the list of RVA exports is the Cookie Factory.
It’s a great piece of local hidden history, remembering the day Broad Street smelled like burnt cookies. They’d had some kind of oopsie and it took two whole days for the smell to fade away. Any other time, the delicious aroma of fresh-baked cookies took over Boulevard and Broad. It could actually sweeten your whole day.
Only two manufacturers of Girl Scout cookies supplied all the orders everywhere. One of those two factories was right here in RVA. That definitely qualifies as a local export with a huge impact. Until 2006, when ABC/Interbake moved to the far West End, Richmond was the main source and supplier for America’s Girl Scout cookie lovers. Interbake had been in town since 1899 and produced all kinds of variations on the original Girl Scout cookie lineup since 1937. In the 1980s, our local varieties were, in many ways, richer, more complex recipes than the cookies produced in the other market area.
So for this segment of RVA Export history, we remember or dearly beloved Girl Scout Cookie Factory. Now our mouths are totally ready for some caramel coconut samoas right out of the refrigerator with a cold glass of vanilla almond milk. Get in the belly.
3. RVA IN THE ’90s and ’00s
We can all count ourselves lucky to live in the city that gave birth to the Black Messiah, alternatively known as D’Angelo. His 1995 debut album, Brown Sugar catapulted to the top of R&B charts and translated into over two million copies sold. His second album, Voodoo, features an unadorned black and white cover photo of the shirtless virtuoso looking rather flawless with his cornrows and cocoa butter skin. Voodoo debuted at number one and went on to win a Grammy for Best R&B Male Vocals and Best R&B Album.
OK, now that’s huge. Having talent like D’Angelo coming straight outta Richmond really puts our Export roster at an all-time high. He made critical contributions to a dream team music collective at okayplayer that defined a new musical invention sprouting off of the popular neo-soul aesthetic.
In the late 1990s, D’Angelo joined fellow okayplayers Questlove, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Vikter Duplaix, Jay Dilla, Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Raphael Saadiq, and Q-Tip to form Soulquarians. Many of the best projects of that era were produced as a result of the Soulquarians assisting each other as band personnel.
After 14 years of waiting in what seemed like total vain, D’Angelo stealthily released his latest project in December 2014. Ecstatic fans all over the world nearly broke the Internet with nonstop proclamations that the long awaited third album had just magically “appeared” online without any heads up at all. At first it was supposed to be called James River, which would have been so dope for RVA, but in the end he went with Black Messiah. No argument here.
4. TODAY’S RVA
Technically, this lovely place is located in nearby Louisa County, Virginia. The thing is, there are hundreds of people in town who have lived and worked at the Twin Oaks farm making delicious, like-no-other, firm and fabulous soy foods and because of this connection, I think it’s time to celebrate the magic of Twin Oaks tofu.
All tofu is certainly not created equal. Twin Oaks tofu is like tofu manna from heaven. Personally, I would not dare use any other brand. If a local vegetarian restaurant isn’t boasting “Twin Oaks Tofu Served Here” on their menu, they will probably not get my taste buds to the table. Vegan purists all know the deal. You want your tofu to come from Twin Oaks. Case closed. Plant-based people near and far unanimously feel the same.
Twin Oaks exports their product line all over the United States and beyond. Every ounce is produced by hand at their worker-owned cooperative farming community. They meticulously press and drain their high protein staple food item to a level that other tofu producers don’t even begin to offer their customers. Twin Oaks uses only non-chlorinated artisan water, non-GMO, locally grown soybeans, and a tremendous amount of love to bring forth an ethically produced handmade product that’s absolutely worthy of our appreciation. Twin Oaks, we love you. Rock on.
5. THE RVA OF TOMORROW
Doubling back to our earlier shout out to native Richmond musical greatness, the future of RVA’s most promising Exports is in the nimble hands of a man of complex simplicity, known in the underground instrumental music world by the name of Ohbliv. I stayed several hours until the absolute end of the Satellite Syndicate One Year Anniversary at Strange Matter last week, just so that I could watch Ohbliv school the whole audience on how to transmit waves of sound that carry positive nanoparticles charged with love. Only he is able to do this. Dilla could, but he’s an Ancestor now. But…we still have Brad Oh!
Ohbliv seems to sync himself into the actual mix like a piece of ancient alien technology that he’s cracked the code for. He then becomes something of an organic vibrational frequency modulator. His tool of choice is the Akai MPC2000XL and, most importantly, the little beat machine with a huge following of worshipful neophytes, the Roland SP-404. Everyone performing at the Satellite Syndicate show used some version of the SP, which is what their musical collective has in common.
Ohbliv’s music is definitely on some next-dimension type vibes. It’s spacey but also quite earth-based and natural, rooted and dark like a network of trees meshed together under the soil where nobody can see. His following extends all over the U.S. and overseas. You’d immediately respond to the humility and easygoing nature he exudes, which allows him to impart even more good energy into the universe. Having a conversation with him makes you truly feel as though you’ve been gifted with the supreme and ancient wisdom of a galaxy far, far away.
Richmond does well in having him represent as the Exporter of tomorrow, sending beats into the farthest reaches of the atmosphere and elevating all those within the hearing of what he’s created. Check out Satellite Syndicate and Ohbliv’s latest projects here.
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Wanna take a listen to an exclusive, next-level dialogue between me and a special Export Edition guest? Sure you do, you’ll love it! Tune in to WRIR 97.3 at 9:00 AM on Friday, May 22nd for “The #untoldrva Five Things” radio show. It’s a full hour of talk, music and random quickfire questions for our secret guest, and I guarantee we’ll all have tons of fun.
Don’t forget to keep up with #untoldrva on Facebook and stay tuned for what’s happening with our little side project COMMUNIVERSITY as we Export our own specialty contribution and make a way for the brightest, brokest folks in town who deserve to be in the room.
Oh yeah, and just in case you weren’t before, YOU ARE NOW ROCKING WITH THE BEST.
Peace, RVA. Be excellent.