pandacafé talks friendship, ministry, and goals for the future (Q & A)
116 Clique, God Over Money, indie tribe. CHH has no shortage of collectives. The newest addition includes members who haven’t all yet met in person but are already creating new sounds and projects. Collaborative, multitalented, and on the move, we talk with the members of the artistic collective pandacafé about their name and origins, purpose, and what is next for the group.
Josiah Davis, JASXN, Steven Savage, Atsen, and reid, make up the collective managed by Blake Dunson. Much like their name implies, pandacafé is a mix of 5 multi talented artists. Each member supports, co-creates, and builds a common but independently executed vision of making dope music in the mainstream and CHH spheres.
NewH2O: Tell us about pandacafé: How did it get started? Any significance in the name?
Josiah Davis: Oh boy this is a fun one
JASXN: Hahaha, pandacafé began in 2015 as a semi-joke between reid and I. We had just started making stuff together and we kind of felt as if the only logical step was to create a group. From there we stopped actually making stuff, reid didn’t make any beats for a while, and I let it die. Then we met josiah in 2017 and began working regularly. We ended up recreating the group under different premises.
Josiah Davis: Jae and reid and I were all in a big group chat with a bunch of very underground CHH dudes. Lael Turner was in there, and Seni., and Micah Hampton, and actually Steven [Savage] I think was also in there. Jae and reid and I kinda clicked outside of the group chat. We started talking and we eventually decided to make a collab project together under the name “membersonly.” Shortly after we started planning out the concepts and working on tracks, XXXtentacion died. He had a really close tie with the phrase “members only” so we decided to stop rolling it out under that name. In the process of naming ourselves something different, one of them tossed in the name “pandacafé” as an inside joke bc of their old duo name. I was like “wait that’s actually dope,” and from then on that’s what we decided to call ourselves.
NewH2O: So have you all met in person? Pardon me if I’ve missed out or spaced it out, but do you guys have a song you’re all on together?
Steven Savage: There will be a song on my album that has me JASXN, Josiah, and Lael. Unfortunately I haven’t met any of these guys in person but hopefully will soon.
Josiah Davis: JASXN, reid, Blake (our manager), and I all met in person a couple weekends ago in Virginia when I was visiting Liberty University. Jason and I have performed together too. Atsen and I were in the same youth group in Illinois. He was a freshman when I was a junior. Then I moved to Austin this last summer.
JASXN: reid, Blake, and I are all best friends. We all went to church together in Richmond.
Josiah Davis: The connections are pretty cool. Steven’s the only one who was organically acquired. We all knew of him and loved his stuff but we didn’t know him personally previous to the collective’s formation.
JASXN: We’re meeting Steven in March
Josiah Davis: I’m going to be visiting DBU where Steven goes to school in a week or two and I’ll hopefully be meeting him then. Then, in March JASXN, Steven and I are doing a show together here in Austin.
NewH2O: We need a pandacafé cypher!!
JASXN: Soon! Very soon.
NewH2O: Is there a common goal or vision that unites your group? How have you each navigated the current culture in order to create the vibe you’re going for?
Atsen: Yeah, at least I feel so. As with any group, I feel that if you don’t have a goal you all work towards, why work in the first place? I’m still fairly new to the group but so far it feels like we’re moving in unison, of course there’ll be a few missteps and such, but all in all as a group it’s a little bit of everyone’s vision combined to a bigger goal.
Steven Savage: I know that for myself when I create I try to be as Biblically centered that I can be. Even in my more turn up songs I still try to bring in some presentation of the Gospel in some way. I honestly don’t look at the culture much, I know that sounds like super “Indie” but honestly I just want my music to be driven by God and His lead. If He told me to stop making music tomorrow I’d hang it up.
Josiah Davis: My personal mission statement is to be a light in the darkness of today’s world. I think God has given and is giving me a platform that is to be used for His glory. The biggest thing I see is that in the present time it feels like so many people the world over are just broken. Our generation seems to be hurting. I don’t know what it is exactly. It almost seems like it’s trendy to be depressed or to have anxiety. As someone who has gone through pretty deep depression and seasonal depression each year, my wish is to be someone those who are hurting can go back to and listen to and know they’re not alone.
I want people to know they’re okay. whether that’s through a turn up song, or a song about heartbreak, or an upfront profession of God’s grace in my life. It doesn’t matter what it is, I know that God is using my pen to do His work. I also know that the songs I make whether addressing Christ in them or not, are being used for His glory. I try my best to make it known as much as I can that God is the one I do this for.
JASXN: I echo a lot of these same thoughts. I just want people to know that they’re never alone, and that God is always there whether it be through music or pure conversation. That’s something pandacafé does really well i think
Steven Savage: I think as a group pandacafé is very ministry minded so when the offer came to join it was a no brainer for me.
Josiah Davis: What’s cool is that we can all have our individual goals and yet still be tied to each other through the overarching mission of the collective. I think we all represent similar things. I’m not sure we would market pandacafé as a “Christian collective,” but we are definitely trying to do God’s work with every chance we get. I think the goal is to make the best music we can make and be as creative and unique as we can. We want to craft new styles and new sounds and different vibes. We all sound pretty different from one another and I think that’s what makes us sound so good as a group.
NewH2O: I feel like in a really short time, pandacafé has created a brand that stays consistent and unique so that even in a culture like this, you’re able to stay top of mind.
The vibes are similar and the artwork all fits together. Whether it’s intentional or not, you’ve done a great job at creating this brand.
JASXN: Thanks so much! We want to be able to dip our toes into each area of the genre. It’s been amazing learning how to gel as a group and create content together.
Steven Savage: God has called us to do what we do and that calling is more important than those who listen. Not to say that we don’t love and appreciate every stream, it’s just that we will not compromise what God is leading us to because of popular demand.
NewH2O: Who are some people who inspire you in your craft? Anyone who challenges you personally?
Atsen: Some producers I really rock with are Weathrman, Kanye, John Cunningham, Pi’erre Bourne, reid, and my friend Gxbe. As far as artists, my biggest inspiration if you’ve ever listened to my music is XXXTentacion. The only person I feel who really makes my blood run is my friend Kobe, he got me into rap and it’s been an unspoken rivalry since.
Steven Savage: There’s a rapper in Dallas named Jahmaol Clark that has been mentoring me for about two years now and it has been great! Also Dillon Chase and I have grown close due to music and my job, we book him for events frequently. I love Andy (Mineo) and Tobe (Nwigwe) too. Outside of my home pastoral team I really like Chris Durso and Eric Mason. I also feel challenged by the guys in here because they are a part of my accountability with different areas in life.
reid: As far as influences, I grew up listening to people like Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Lionel Richie and others like that. Growing older, my bigger influences include the 1975, RUSSELL!, Drake, and Travis Scott.
NewH2O: Are you the main producer for pandacafé?
reid: For right now yeah. I mean, Atsen produces for himself a bit, and we might bring on another producer sometime in the future but for right now i’m the in-house producer. Josiah’s next project is entirely me
Josiah Davis: [Back to influences]
Andy (Mineo) has to be my biggest influence within the CHH sphere. Ruslan and Beleaf are also two big influences, not just in music but also just through their YouTube videos. Ruslan teaches me about industry and Beleaf just shows life stuff and it’s dope. I watch their stuff regularly.
Someone who influences me personally, though, is a dude named Aaron Alba. He’s a creative in the Austin area who I’ve gotten really close with through church and through hanging and talking. We’ve added him to our pandacafé group chat as someone to help us out with spiritual growth and just as an extra voice on the music side of things. He’s like a big brother to me. Love that dude.
JASXN: Artists I look at and am like, “wow!” – Definitely Ty, nobigdyl., and even seni. From a pure artistry standpoint I really love Kaleb Mitchell, and I’m not sure how evident it is anymore but I have a clear Logic influence but that’s just how I came up.
When it comes to spiritual means, I’ve actually been really connected to Josiah’s friend from Texas, Aaron. He’s an outstanding mentor spiritually and just in general.
Josiah Davis: seni. is also someone who has been a big influencer in all of our music. He’s been a good friend for the two years I’ve known JASXN and reid and he’s given us a lot of great critiques and stuff. He’s a blessing to have close.
NewH2O: It seems like you guys really value growth.
Josiah Davis: Yeah man, pandacafé is a family before anything else and that’s something we make sure is understood by everyone. It’s way more than music to us.
NewH2O: Speaking of growth, do you feel like discipleship is crucial in what you do? Do you guys seek out other people to mentor/coach/encourage?
Atsen: Yeah a little bit. I remember when I went to an Andy Mineo concert with my dad. It was the Magic and Bird tour. There was a video they showed where they were praying backstage. When my dad told my mom about it she said “it’s because they see it as more of a ministry and less of a show.” That really stuck with me. What you stand for as an artist in your music needs to be reflected in all aspects, especially in CHH. Obviously we’re not supposed to be out here shoving it down people’s throats. [We are here] to show by example. You can’t claim to be something and not showcase it. If you’re a Christian, you use every part of yourself to glorify God and in being a disciple, you glorify God so why not do it? I can’t stop you from doing what you’re doing no matter how much I say it, but if I do something this way and it works better for me, won’t people gravitate towards it?
Josiah Davis: I think discipleship, as well as accountability and fellowship in general, is very important. The tricky thing is figuring out how to do it electronically over hundreds and hundreds of miles. I think there are plenty people in CHH who are in closer proximity than we are, and are able to much more effectively disciple each other and keep each other accountable. I have a huge level of trust in these guys that I don’t have in many people, even people I know in my area. It’s weird but it’s just the way God has shaped my relationships with each of them to be.
NewH2O: Who’s got the next album drop?
Josiah Davis: Atsen drops on Valentine’s Day — it’s called ALONEANDINLOVE
Steven Savage: I have an Album dropping hopefully in April.
Josiah Davis: Yeah, Steven is dropping hopefully soon and JASXN and I also have a collab album coming before summer as well.
NewH2O: Hard at work. You guys all have jobs though right? Do you ever take a break?
JASXN: I do
Josiah Davis: Atsen and I are high school students. He’s a sophomore and I’m a senior. So that’s what we have during the day. I have a job too, I work 3-4 nights a week and when I’m not there I’m usually leading at youth group or I’m with friends.
reid: I’m a student
Steven Savage: Yeah I am a student too and I work at the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention.
NewH2O: Wow you guys are all young! What’s the earliest CHH music you guys can remember? What were your first impressions of it?
Atsen: The earliest CHH music I remember was when Church Clothes 2 dropped. That was the first Hip Hop I EVER got into. Lecrae was like the first rapper I ever listened to. I used to feel so cool cause I could finally listen to rap music like the cool kids but not be into the gang stuff and violence.
reid: My first exposure to CHH was Lecrae’s album Rebel. I still remember how dope “Don’t Waste Your Life” was when I first heard it.
NewH2O: That’s cool. Do your parents dig hip hop?
reid: Not really no. I guess it’s just old head mentality or something
JASXN: I remember my stepmom came home with CD from a dude called LP and I still remember how wack it was but it was enough to open the door in my mind.
Josiah Davis: My family was bumping to DC Talk’s Nu Thang album since I was born, and then my oldest brother got real into KJ-52 and Lecrae very shortly after with After The Music Stops. My personal first time hearing it and realizing “yo this is dope” was Flame and Lecrae’s song “Show Off” on DJ Official’s Entermission tape.
JASXN: My parents aren’t huge fans of hip hop they only listen to pandacafé.
Josiah Davis: My mom thinks it’s cool and my dad has an appreciation for it. My mom really likes Social Club and KB. My dad will listen if i’m playing it but neither of them like secular hip hop at all.
reid: My dad listens to Johnny Cash and classical music. I don’t come from hip hop at all.
Atsen: My parents do not dig hip hop, and if they did I would be weirded out. They’ve listened to their own fair share of it though; they know some Tupac and Biggie.
Josiah Davis: The Tupac style diaphragm rapping is out of date but I know that there are people that still like it so I’m not in a position to stop it.
JASXN: My dad is a huge fan of that style and grew up going to NWA & Wu-Tang concerts, so he’s not a fan of the way I spit fast sometimes. But yeah, there’s def still a place for it.
Josiah Davis: That’s where I think we as a group really excel. We have a lot of versatility not only across our own catalogues but also just as a group.
NewH2O: There’s a lot of versatility, but you are all unified in your sound, steez, and brand. I definitely see the family connection, fellas. It’s inspiring and actually impressive since you aren’t near each other geographically
So what’s the goal? How do you see yourselves? Are you the next indie tribe. Or 116 Clique?
Atsen: For me as long as I’ve been in pandacafe, I’ve only put together that we’re a mix of a lot of things. It’s new age. At the most basic level I can put it, we just make music that can speak to your soul in whatever way you need it.
Josiah Davis: I’d say we’re our own thing. We’re trying to build something new and unique.
JASXN: I want to at some point make this a label. Far off goal, but I kind of see us as an in-between if I had to compare us to those two.
reid: It started as a band-esque thing but I think it’s gonna grow into something bigger. With the current route we’re taking, it might be a label.
JASXN: Culture Villains and pandacafé are next up in my eyes.
I feel like we’re set apart in part by who we have as a part of a crew. This isn’t just for rap artists. I believe that we’re successfully dipping our toes into the mainstream while grasping our faith in our music. I feel like other groups don’t really get that together til later on in their careers.
Josiah Davis: I’m planning on going to college for Music Business so I can learn a little more about the business side of things since I already know how to make the music I want to make. After that, I’ll get a job that can keep me steady until I can go full time. I’m not really about “ifs” or maybes, I’m pretty confident in what we have happening and what God’s set on my heart to do.
JASXN: I feel like we’re in a great place now.
Josiah Davis: pandacafé does have more going for it than just music. reid and Atsen produce, reid and I are decently talented graphic designers, I sing, JASXN, Steven and Atsen rap. I mean we really cross a ton of spectrums in the art world and I think that is part of what makes us an artistic collective more than anything else.