In the Beginning was the Word: The Floacist's Purposeful Evolution
Passion + Purpose Issue No 4
In the beginning was the word.
Orated by griots
Who scribe the tide of the ebb and flow
In the beginning was the word
Birthing herds of those who flow
Sourced by the creator
And those that know
And she does…
Natalie Stewart, the Floacist, is widely known for her poetic prowess in the Neo-Soul duo, Floetry, as she created intentional music that graced the world from the birth of the sub-genre to today. Our speakers were blessed with purposeful poetry that doesn’t play sidekick to the music she spoke over but aligned in ways that spoke to the soul of us listening on the other end. Her poetic delivery vibrates on a frequency much different than a lot of the mainstream music we hear today and it’s intentional. Those words, a kind of vibe that rests and resets you, rewires your brain to seek the peace, love and understanding of the hidden purpose in you and the experiences you flow through. Her presence and energy does the same.
I have been honored to get to know her personally. She is a legend of a renaissance era in music and an innovator of her style of delivery but she is not pretentious in spirit. She is present to listen and provide love and guidance to those around her, especially poets. After performing at her Flo Vortex event at Warmdaddy’s in Philly, she invited me and a few other performers that night to be FLO Poets in her International FLO Poets group, founded in London in 2014. I was in between being awe-stricken by a musical legend and zoning out to dig deep within myself before I hit the stage. I chose the latter; I didn’t want my excitement to throw off my performance. When we finally met, she greeted everyone with a familiar kind of love and embrace; the kind of love you get from a family member you haven’t seen in a long time. Her smile, as wide as the space between the walls we stood, her voice, soul soothing, she looked like us, spoke like us and loved poetry like us. Upon meeting her, I realized this is a whole ass person, like me, much more valuable than what she can and has offered the world. I could tell she was as excited as us to be there, in her second home, Philly, where things took off for her, among poets who understood her language and plight. She was among other poets, like her, who write in the depths of the night and the valleys of our lives to release it all on stage in a therapeutic session for the poet and audience. She understands the words that are needed to be heard will be said and she sees it as messages from the creator, delivered through her, the vessel, to land where it’s intended. Natalie, or Flo, understands after 20+ years in the music industry, that passion and purpose are a part of the journey with purpose being the sole fuel that ignites her fire today.
She naturally flows and I cannot avoid the pun here because it is her truth. Her connection to the source of it all makes a conversation with her feel well intended and fulfilling. Growing from a 20 something year old that moved to the States with a vision, fired up with passion and ambition to a 42 year old woman that embraces the ebb and flow of her creativity and life, she reflects,
I’ve healed from ambition. Today, purpose makes me feel passionate. Less searching, more application. Less ego, more patience. We come in perfect and life leads you away from these natural impulses.
Her notion of healing from ambition is a gut punching realization: our aspirations, drive and hunger for success can lead us to disingenuous people, hidden agendas, trauma and disconnect from our why. Today, Flo describes her purpose as a way to initiate internal conversations with the Creator rather than striving for the world to look at her. With time, the removal of the veil of vanity, positioned her to walk in her truth and light as a vessel for a divine message much bigger than her. Her creative energy, a divine power, not only amplifies the message of God, as she moves closer to that source, she can be used as a vessel to deliver the message to the world while receiving it for herself.
I’m much more mature in letting it be overstood it’s always about the presence of God. The Creator is connected to us all individually.
Reflecting on her time in the industry, she remembered hearing “NSYNC only sold one million records' ' in a tone that appeared 1 million records were not enough. The music industry, ridden with the demons of capitalism, misogyny and other immoral spectrums, dictate whether an artist is enough and it is understandable to see some lose themselves in it.
It’s been a dance for me. I always knew what I wasn’t supposed to be doing versus what I was supposed to be doing. You grow up knowing there is something morally out about the music industry and then you’re trying to be in it.
Flo’s saving grace: purpose.
Your ambition can kill you. Your purpose saves you. Your purpose can only feed you.
Ambition today is packaged and sold like drugs in almost every creative’s social media bio, leaving us addicted to the chase of our dreams with no boundaries to maintain peace resulting in disconnection. She observes the incredulous expectation of artists putting their work out to meet demands.
You used to have to wait to get your content to people. Now, it comes instantly and there is a high expectation of interaction that is supposed to happen with strangers. How do you respect or connect with your audience with this speed?
As I listened to her wisdom and insight seep from the speaker of my phone, I reflected on my own experience of pushing out content and feeling drained by the demands of the rat race altogether. The unhealthy side of passion is the manifestation of an obsession we feel we cannot rest from. We begin trying to make our passion work for the world, driving us further from the source and turning it into another task of our fast lives until it completely breaks us down. With wisdom, she allows herself to be present in the power of the Creator to move when she’s led to move and remain still when she’s led to pause. She calls this, “time on and time off.”
The time on is never as long as the time off (time spent with family) and I am grateful for that. When the unnatural part of life gets paused, you find yourself missing it. One of the great things of working with Michael Jackson was looking in the face of someone who spent too much time in the light. It didn’t look fun and I felt empathy for him.
The time on, in the limelight, is unsustainable in her eyes. She always understood it has to stop and when it stops for her, she just lives.
There’s a side of creativity that is just about living ‘good ole life’ to have something to express, something to share….Don’t expect everything you write to pay for your life, it’s a gift. You can fight it and call it writer’s block but you’re just living.
From her early work with Floetry to the word music she creates with her husband Maddox, she set her mission to be the change she wanted to see in everything she was a part of musically. When the music industry started to transform into an unfamiliar territory, she noticed there was another agenda at play and Black creativity was being streamlined. A paradigm shift took way, transmuting empowering lyricism and high vibrational records to misogyny, gang culture and less variety. She witnessed Black creatives move away from who they were, the gentrification of Black creativity, displacing authenticity with what “the industry” deemed fit. The clothing and the representation of women changed but her gift came with a responsibility to resist everything that didn’t align with what she believed in.
I remember recording ‘Headache’ in the studio and thinking if someone listens to this and someone will listen to this one day, they might leave it on repeat when they sleep and that’s deep. I felt responsible with my pen. [Committed to] no male bashing, learning in love in front of people and trying to be solutionary.
Knowing who she is and what she wouldn’t compromise led to various moments of advocacy for herself. Within a season of transition, the group began to diverge paths in thought and ideas and she found herself standing up to men in the industry much more than she would have wanted to. Feeling like an involuntary activist for normalcy, she resisted the lure of trading in her natural locs for perm endorsements or her soul filling messages for objectification or degradation of herself and others.
There’s a saying, ‘you don’t get blessed for what you say yes to, you get blessed for what you say no to.’ It’s important to know what you won’t do.
She was not seduced by the carrot, nor allured by the proximity of it. She mentioned the proverbial carrot, the reward for compromising who she was, as a test from the Most High; she is satisfied she preserved her character over chasing the bait.
Some of the things we are upset we can’t be a part of is because they are heathen things that we shouldn’t be a part of.
After the split of the Floetry duo, she released three solo albums, Floetic Soul (2010) and Floetry Re:Birth (2012) and Rise of the Phoenix Mermaid (2014). She returned home to the UK for a much needed pause from 2010-2012. This pause was an opportunity to heal from disappointment. In 2013, rebirth occurred and the emergence of her second set of locs marked another stage in her journey, this time embracing the time off to connect with God and wait for the time to move again. The end of 2014 brought Flo a familiar feeling, the presence of God, the same feeling that motivated her to leave home and relocate Floetry to the United States. This time, a more mature and spiritually connected Flo went into prayer to ask what to do with this sudden energy that hit her. The response: Open something, look for yourself and bless them.
She needed to go home. Home for any poet is the open mic scene. The intimate venues where you learn how to crawl into your vulnerability until you walk into your voice and stand in your truth feel like a hug from a grandparent when you retreat back. There is warmth, love, embrace and a safe place for growth. A place where you can learn yourself, grow and build on your craft. Encouragement when you stumble and when you forget, you still are enough. The energy of the audience: snaps, clicks, affirmations, claps, bouncing off the walls into your soul as you give them the most vulnerable parts of yourself through the word. It is communion and community. She found solace in this circuit and set out to build something that honored her favorite parts of it. She wanted to create something that took out all of the things she didn’t like about the open mic scene such as hosts that didn’t respect poetry. A solutionary woman, she stepped up to host it instead. She eliminated breaks in between the performances and created a vortex.
In November 2014, Flo Vortex was born. It was an answer to a calling, filled by her yearn to be around poets to feel inspired, to feel something. It was medicine for my soul. I’ve been out of my space for so long. The group evolved from a few poets in the UK that felt closer and uniquely a part of what she was doing to an international collective with poets from different countries in the world such as Ghana, France, Italy, Ireland, Brazil and the United States. Her husband, Maddox, invited the poets into their home to fellowship, workshop, and learn from Flo’s experience in the industry. She shared her experiences; the ins and outs of the industry and what they can do. Maddox invited the poets to their in-home studio to create word music which Flo proudly mentions is even more floetic because poetry is the center. She enjoys the way the Flo Vortex and Flo Poets grow and bless her everyday, thrilled by the excitement of poets being birthed into the poetry scene.
New poets are being born every day like a newly divorced woman who knows she used to write when she was in school and started writing again. Or a guy that realized there’s hot chicks at the poetry spot. Or someone that goes to a poetry spot for a year with friends eventually writes a piece and they’re doper than their friend.
The continued rise of the Flo Vortex sees a future where Flo can curate more spaces for poets to connect and elevate; it is important for poets to be around other poets. Retreats, conventions and Flo Vortexes in schools is the scope of the anticipated evolution of the group. With youth, she hopes to encourage and empower them to work on their own voices and communication in a world that forces them to study many lies. As she grows, she finds a new audience, a more defined purpose, that fills her soul and spills out to everyone she meets.
Since I was a child, I felt like there was an audience I was supposed to address so it felt extremely purposeful.
Presently, she enjoys creating with her husband and others she aligns with. She is no longer fighting or advocating for her freedom creatively; everything is organic and pure in its creation. That audience she was supposed to address is us. At some point, it may have been our parents. In the future, it may be our kids. There is a light in her that shines. It empowers us to embrace our stories, find our voices and pull the unapologetic poet out of us, speaking the word sourced by the Creator, manifesting a better world. I look forward to experiencing that awakening. One she feels has been mistaken as something solely for us [the Black community] when it’s truly for everyone. What does she look forward to?
Everything...the world getting better, correction, variety, [and] the generation being updated. Enjoying being brave enough to see it’s changing because cynicism can erode your heart. I’m leaving room for God and leaving room for the correction or obedience that is coming. I’m looking forward to being purposeful and not having to explain it. I’m looking forward to that.
In the beginning was the word, sourced by the creator and those who know, Flo.
In alignment, with purpose and as it always has been intended, she does.
To keep up with the Floacist's updates as she celebrates 20 years of Floetry