rIVerse: Turning Adversity Into Art

Written by | Entertainment, Music

There’s a new group of superheroes on the scene – they’ve got the outfits, they’ve got the attitude, and they’ve got the superpower – turning adversity into art. Their mission: to represent the underrepresented. Meet rIVerse, the music group made up of BIPOC, multi-racial, queer, and plus size artists. They have all faced some form of hurt because of their identity or their looks but have clung to music as their salvation.  Using social media to their advantage, they have made it on their own self-releasing two albums and garnering over half a million subscribers on YouTube. The group recently gained international attention when the group’s founder and lead songwriter/choreographer, Dizz, came out as HIV-positive in solidarity with National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

Their latest endeavor, “Poison IV,” is all about truth.  Every song covers the lived experiences of each group member and covers themes from coming to terms with one’s queerness, body positivity, and self-love, to political outrage at the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. The album celebrates a unique mix of R&B, early 2000s pop, EDM, and kpop.

Their message and image serves as an inspiration to the queer kid in a small town who is afraid to come to terms with their sexuality, it is a message to the black community living in fear, it is a celebration of the girl who doesn’t see herself represented on the runway. rIVerse is literally reversing the effects of hate and violence towards our community and turning it into music.  Dizz, Khadija, Zak, and Monroe – our modern-day Justice League.

How did the group meet?

Monroe: rIVerse all met in 2008 while auditioning for a live theatre production here in Toronto of Disney’s High School Musical 2.

What does rIVerse mean?

Dizz: The band name rIVerse used to be spelled “REVERSE” and it speaks to our musical inspiration, which is the music of past decades, particularly the 90s and early 2000s. After we briefly split in 2016, when we reformed, we went through a rebrand and decided to change the name to rIVerse, using IV which is the Roman numeral for 4. Past managers and audiences always told us that what makes this group special is the 4 of us, so we wanted to highlight that.

With so many different personalities in the group, what is the creative process when creating a new song?

Khadija: As a band, we are very aware of our strengths and weaknesses and we have chosen to play off of our individual strengths to the fullest. That being said, Dizz is the topline songwriter of the band and he is mostly in charge of the creative, his biggest role being the creation of the music.

What has been a defining moment for the group where everything clicked and the group felt in sync?

Zak: There have been many defining moments for rIVerse in our 9 years as a band, but one time that the group really clicked and felt totally in sync was definitely our reunion in 2017. That time of rebuilding felt like we were returning to what we had been destined to do and we were all on the same page in a way we hadn’t been before. Also, being apart for a year and not having the rIVerse magic as part of our daily lives, we each had a love, appreciation, and respect for each other that had grown tremendously. Everything felt like the universe was completely in our favor that year.

Besides the look, what makes your group different from other LGBTQ music groups in the market?

Monroe: rIVerse is not just a band, we are a family. We have a bond and chemistry together that comes from a 10+ year friendship and that shines through in everything we do. It is very much ‘chosen family’ vibes and not ‘contractually obligated’ vibes. On top of that, we completely run this ship and are totally independent – we write our own music, produce our shows and videos, do all of our branding and marketing, etc. What you see and hear is 100% us.

What have been the biggest obstacles for your group?

Dizz: One of the biggest obstacles we have faced is the financial aspect of being independent artists producing in the “big pop space.” The quality of show production, sound quality, imaging, branding, visuals, etc. have to be at a certain level to compete in this market and that requires big money. It has taken us a lot more time to produce our work, for example, our sophomore album came 6 years after our debut album, partly to raise the funding to afford our recording and production costs.

What have you learned the most about the LGBTQ community from working together?

Khadija: From working together as a group, we have had the opportunity to learn from each others’ experiences to gain perspective on all different issues within the LGBTQ community. Using that understanding, we’ve seen how much representation is needed within the LGBTQ community and how much people find value in seeing artists or creators they can relate to on stage or on screens in front of them.

Body positivity has been such a hot topic in the LGBTQ community.  Is it really changing?

Monroe: The issue of body positivity is definitely a hot topic these days and I do think there being so much dialogue has led to change. Even if things aren’t perfect, we are hearing the conversations happen, we are seeing people start to question the beauty standards we have always been told were “right.” There are more people now saying, “No, you don’t have to look one specific way or fit into one specific mold to be considered beautiful or valuable.” So that’s definitely a positive thing and the more that happens, the more we’ll see real change.

Even with the advancements in education and advancement in HIV awareness and medicine, there still seems to be a stigma surrounding HIV. Why do you think that is?

Dizz: The stigma surrounding HIV is difficult to break out of because the stories and ideas have been so ingrained in the human psyche. When I was growing up, HIV was this very taboo, very dark subject, that affected other people, but in reality, it’s a disease that can affect anyone. When I came out as HIV positive earlier this year, I was so afraid of what people would say and think, but since coming out I’ve learned that there is so much strength in living your truth, and now I’ve made it my mission to empower our fans to get in control of their own sexual health and know their status.

How did the group get through COVID?

Zak: COVID has definitely been a tricky time and one that has taught us a lot about the world, about the ways we run our society, and about ourselves! rIVerse has taken a lot of time this year to reflect on ourselves both individually and as a group, to really focus on who we want to be and what are the most important things for us. We’ve also pushed ourselves to think outside of the box and discover new ways to keep sharing our music, spreading our message, and connecting with our audience during this new way of the world. As I often say, we’re making lemonade from the lemons. We focused on finishing our album, ‘Poison IV,’ we focused on our YouTube series and connecting with audiences that way, and we just focused on setting new goals for ourselves.

What is the meaning of the name for your latest album, “Poison IV?”  

Dizz: The album title ‘Poison IV’ has a dual meaning. The first is that the energy in this album is very different, compared to our debut album, Glad To Meet You 2.0. The first album was very fun, bubblegum pop whereas, in this album, listeners get a more mature, grown side of rIVerse. We’ve taken a no-holds-barred approach to the sound and subject matter so listeners are getting a somewhat darker side of rIVerse – the Poison 4 (IV). The title also speaks to the sonic trajectory of the album. The music and lyrics start off very light and playful and as the album progresses, the sound and subject matter gets darker – almost like poison slowly seeping into your veins, being injected through an IV.

What do you want audiences to walk away with from listening to Poison IV?

Khadija: We want our audience to walk away from hearing our album with 3 things: 1) truth and vulnerability are power, 2) there is magic in diversity, and 3) they don’t need any outside entity to give them permission to make their dreams come true. This album is the result of 4 very unique individuals who didn’t wait for a label or company to “choose us,” but made the independent choice to put ourselves out there and be great.

How does a musician keep their voice heard in a time where there is so much content out there?

Zak: As a musician, the way to keep your voice heard is to be authentically yourself and tell your truth. Your experience will never be the same as someone else’s.

What do your fans tell you the most?

Monroe: One of the comments and messages we receive the most from our fans is how much it means to them seeing artists who look and think and act and love like THEM. There are so many people in the world who never see a representation of themselves in mainstream media and they are so tired of feeling like they can’t relate to the celebrities they are “supposed to look up to.” So when they see us, they get so excited and they tell us that we give them hope or we make them feel confident about themselves, that they can go out and do anything they dream too! That really is our biggest mission so it makes us feel so proud whenever we hear that.

Have you had to deal with any social media haters? If so, how have you handled it?

Khadija: We most definitely have had to deal with social media haters. The success of our YouTube channel has been such a blessing to help us reach global audiences, but with that also comes a lot more criticism and strangers saying all kinds of really ugly, hurtful things when they are trying to bring us down. Luckily we have each other. When one of us needs to take a step back to protect our mental or emotional well-being, there are 3 other people who can keep things moving. And if those comments ever start to get to us, we have our bandmates who fully understand exactly what we’re going through and who can remind us of the truth. We are confident in who we are, what we represent, and the music & content we put out. So online haters can just stay pressed (which happens to be a line from a song on ‘Poison IV’ all about clapping back at internet haters)! haha

Your group celebrates friendship in diversity. We have been through a rough time socially and politically, is it possible to have a friendship with someone from an opposing point of view, especially in today’s day and age?

Dizz: It is very possible to have a friendship with someone from an opposing point of view if there is mutual respect at the foundation. With respect comes genuine listening, understanding, and a willingness to learn the other person’s perspective. It is possible to find common ground or to change your views once you’ve understood your friend’s reality. We are a living example of that, in so many ways.

There is blatant hate out there towards the LGBTQ community, is cancel culture sometimes necessary?

Zak: Cancel culture is such an interesting and tricky subject. We don’t necessarily believe in canceling a person or public figure who has done wrong, but we DO believe in accountability. If that accountability takes the form of losing your platform for a time, or no longer holding a position of power that you’ve abused, or not getting opportunities that could be going to those who are actively doing better for the world, then that just feels like a natural consequence, right? But every human being has the ability to learn and to grow, so we can’t say we fully agree with outright canceling someone. Maybe it’s more like… suspended service, indefinitely.

What is your advice to an emerging LGBTQ musician?

Monroe: Our advice to an emerging LGBTQ musician is to be unapologetically you, shine your light, live your truth, and understand that you are just as worthy of your dreams as anybody else. There is space for an artist like you. There is an audience who needs to hear music from an artist like you. And if you are facing challenges or barriers, know that you are not alone and that there is a community out there that already supports you!

What can we expect from rIVerse in the future?

Dizz: You can expect global domination in the future and that’s on period. But in the short-term, expect a 60+ minute Virtual Concert experience of the ‘Poison IV’ album, new music videos, more exciting content on our YouTube Channel, and more spreading of love, light, and encouragement to the masses.

Who is the diva of the group? 

Khadija: We used to joke that it was Monroe, but Dizz is most definitely the diva! Spends way too much time in the bathroom, looking at himself in the mirror. Doesn’t like to get dirty, doesn’t like to be outside around bugs, super particular about wanting things the way he wants it when he wants it. But he’s not actually a diva though! He just has OCD and these are things that make him who he is! It also makes him super creative and detail-oriented and able to think of ideas nobody else would ever come up with, so it has strengths too!

Who is the party animal of the group?

Dizz: That used to be Zak, 100%. He was always heading off to go party with friends or go check out some cool new venue. But in more recent years, as he’s taken his journey of sobriety, Zak has become more of the Mom Friend who stays home and cooks us delicious food before settling in to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race!

Which one of the group has the best worst date story?

Monroe: Oh, as a family, we always talk about our dating life and share all the tea! We have heard all the best, worst, and ridiculous stories from each other! There have been some good ones over the years; it’s hard to say who has the best worst story.

Which one of the group is the most likely to be late to rehearsal?

Khadija: All of us!! This is one lesson we’ve been trying to work on for years and there are periods of time that each of us will be really punctual. But then other members will be consistently late. Then we switch roles and someone else takes the torch. But overall, we are all not-so-great at being on time for rehearsals.

What is your message to your fans?

Monroe: Our biggest message to our fans is the declaration we placed as an interlude on our album and that we share in all of our YouTube videos: you are Beautiful, you are Worthy, you are Valued and you are Loved. Because each and every single one of you is!

Follow riVerse on Instagram: @riverselive

Check them out on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/ReverseOfficial

Last modified: April 15, 2021