Blueberry Lemon Thyme Smash:

A Cocktail Recipe & Conversation with Anthony Blue Jr.

By Brian Martinez
Illustration by Anthony Blue Jr.

Quarantine and working from home have been quite interesting for me. I’ve had to adapt to this new life, figure out ways to keep myself entertained, and not get caught up in my head so much. All of this has allowed me to pick up on some new hobbies, among them, sitting on my balcony (or what you guys like to call a fire escape, psshh) and reading, building Lego sets, and making tasty cocktails.

I was gifted a mixology set for Christmas like two years ago and it shames me to admit that I just had it sitting there in my closet, so I decided to open it up and get crafty. I’ve shared below one of my favorite cocktails to make at home from one of my favorite food blogs Half Baked Harvest. After you’ve made this cocktail, enjoy our conversation with a good friend of the agency, Anthony Blue Jr.

Blueberry Lemon Thyme Smash

Cocktail Ingredients
· 2 tablespoons fresh or frozen blueberries, plus more for topping
· 1-2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, plus a sprig for serving
· Juice from half of a lemon
· 2 tablespoons blueberry jam
· 1.5 ounces bourbon or tequila
· 0.5 ounce elderflower liqueur (such as St. Germain)
· Splash of sparkling water to top

Lemon Sugar Ingredients (OPTIONAL)
· zest of 1 lemon
· 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
· 1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves

Crafting The Cocktail
  1. To make the lemon sugar: Combine the lemon zest, sugar, and thyme on a shallow plate. Rim your glasses in sugar, then fill with ice.

  2. In a cocktail shaker or glass jar, muddle the blueberries, thyme, and lemon juice. squashing everything to release the juices. Add the jam, bourbon, and elderflower liqueur. Fill with ice and shake until combined.

  3. Strain into your prepared glass. Top off with sparkling water, then gently stir to combine. Enjoy.

Meet the Artist: A Conversation with Anthony Blue Jr.

The effect of the current times can have very different effects on different people. Some people find that sitting back and listening is the way to go about it. Others find themselves not knowing exactly how to put their feelings into words and then there are the ones like Ant Blue Jr., who don’t feel obligated to change their artistry and message to match that of the internet feed.

“Even just seeing the internet’s response, whatever feed you're on and how it’s geared toward one message. When you get a chance to take in all that information and I start thinking like, ‘Do I need to make political music?’ or like, ‘Do I need to have a message every time I post something or make something?’ Then it's just like, actually, I can't even think. I just got to cut this stuff off and think for myself and think about stuff that I would do regularly. I guess since we're already Black, we been fighting the whole time.”

We sat down and chopped it up with the Texas-born, Brooklyn-based artist to talk about the current space we find ourselves in, the impact of social media, and how he manages to stay inspired.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Brian Martinez: What inspired you to become an artist and just launch your own brand?

Anthony Blue Jr.: I think mostly just being surrounded by and growing up around my brothers. They always did stuff. I'm the youngest of the boys and we have a younger sister, Syd, who’s really the illest one of us all. Just trying to be like them, follow them, doing everything they did. Our parents, too. Our parents also encouraged us to do everything we're interested in; they just put the tools close to us so we can explore that. They didn't really try to force us to go one way. If we were interested in music or making beats, they would get the beat machines or just all the resources and stuff. They just encouraged that way of thinking.

[Building the brand] just happened naturally, really. My boy Matthew and I started DJing here in Brooklyn in 2013, 2014. Then, before he moved to Puerto Rico, we would host parties so he would DJ and I would do videos. Once he moved, I wanted to keep the party going and we needed a DJ so I was like… I would just do it. That led into me and him going on a 12-city tour. Then, after that, we just got to turn it into something that you can keep on going, and that's what launched the brand.

BM: Mentioning your family, obviously, art runs in the family. I actually have one of your brother’s prints framed here on my living room wall. Your brothers, Bryan (AKA Blue The Great) and Brandon Blue, are also successful artists. What is the relationship like between you guys? Is it more collaborative or is there low key a bit of friendly competition there?

ABJ: It's been competitive for me, but it's always been an inspiration as well, just knowing that I'm so close to these two guys that set my foundation as far as artistic output. It's very collaborative now that we're older. Everything we're working on we just kind of share it just to stay connected.

BM: You also have your brand BIYDIY Records. Talk to us a little bit about that platform and what was the inspiration behind that, and what does that all entail?

ABJ: BIYDIY Records is Believe in Yourself, Do it Yourself Records. When me and Matthew went on tour, the idea was we both started DJing and we loved it enough and we wanted to just show people and bring people an experience, and it was just the idea of not waiting for someone to reach out to you and invite you on a tour, like waiting for the perfect scenario to go on tour. It's just like let's just see all the people we know and just run it and just take it to how we do it, how we will want to do it, and that just opened up so many ways of how the world works. It's like if you build it, they will come-type of mentality.

All of our shows were free for people that attended, and we didn't get paid at all. We just wanted to raise that money, invite the people, and then do the shows for the people. Once that concluded, the energy was still strong and that's how it turned over to the record label. Because we're both DJs we were able to get ourselves signed. We signed ourselves, we put out our own music, run our own music, and then that allowed the brand to be able to offer more products than just music and the art that we do.

It's been a blessing because of the message itself. You can hear that message and apply it to whatever you're working with, which has been the biggest blessing for us because it's something we started that can reach so many people on a global level just by hearing the name. It's an everyday testament to what you can do.

It's been a blessing because of the message itself. You can hear that message and apply it to whatever you're working with, which has been the biggest blessing for us because it's something we started that can reach so many people on a global level just by hearing the name. It's an everyday testament to what you can do.

BM: I think more people are starting to recognize that they don't need all this help that they think they need to be able to start their own thing, you know what I mean? I think that now, more than ever, people are just getting up and starting to do their own thing, and I think that that's important. What you're doing serves as an inspiration to other people that they can start their own platforms.

Obviously, there's so much going on outside through the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. How do you stay inspired, and have the times influenced your music and/or your creative process?

ABJ: I think staying inspired is just really… I don't know. I think, for me, I have to do something as therapy for what's going on. Right when the George Floyd incident happened, it was just like, "Whoa," that's all you can think about that. That's all everyone's talking about. Once that happens, you find yourself in a space of what can I do to help, what can I do for myself? What am I supposed to be doing? All of that weight kind of just hit me and I felt that I had to do something to keep my mind right, keep my mind fresh. You see that video and just instantly get depressed.

It's just understanding my role and that I have to keep creating and keep sharing because, ultimately, we're the creatives. That's my understanding. It's been interesting. You know how the internet goes. There are so many opinions. Somebody was like, "Art is not important right now," and it's just like, "Whoa. How can you say that?” For one, art is the process of how we document the history. Somebody has to keep up with all that information. I don't know. Just hearing that, and that instantly made me like, "Actually, let me just keep making stuff if that's how some of them feel. Let me show them the other side of it."

BM: Right. Social media can be a gift and a curse sometimes. I think it has its positives in terms of exposure and getting your brand or whatever your work is out there, and then I think the downside of it is how it allows people's opinions to be more visible than ever before, which creates a lot of divide in a way, and sometimes you get people who say things that don't make any sense at all. At the same time, I think it also allows an opportunity to educate, right?

Another thing social media has allowed a lot of is to give people the opportunity to collaborate more. Given the opportunity, is there anyone you would like to collaborate with, and why?

ABJ: I don't know. I feel like there's been people I've always looked up to, but I kind of want to work with this animator that's from Brazil, his name is Ariel Costa. His animation style is so crazy. When I think of collaborating with people, I kind of just want to learn something, like an intern aspect of it. I would love to collaborate with him, just to learn and see the process of how he does it. It's just his one-on-one style.

I've been getting deep into animation more since the pandemic because I was more so operating as a DJ full-time before, and then everything else came secondary to that. Just having the mindset of if we can't DJ then I still got to eat. I've already started doing animation work. If people are working digitally, this is how I can fit myself in the ecosystem for right now.

BM: You talked a little bit about your illustrations and the designs. You dubbed them “Antnamations,” which I think is pretty clever. Talk to us a little bit about what makes an “Antnamation.” Did I say that right?

ABJ: Yeah. I was trying to get it to say “Antnimation” so I put an “a” in there. I wanted to put an “i” in there but I couldn't because the Instagram handle was already taken. It's still kind of close if you know how to say it. I guess what makes it an animation is mostly just coming from me. I jumped into animations through photography. Just that process, I feel like they're very one to one. I think you can replicate it by looking at it, by just having that source, the original piece. You know how they say it's hard to be original, but it's not hard to be original if you just listen to yourself and do it how you would do it. I think that's what makes it an animation. Just getting through that style by just bullying my way in to figuring out how to do it *laughs*.

BM: Yeah, yeah. I love your work. I think it's pretty dope stuff. It's simple but captures one’s attention right away. When we talked about producing this segment of the zine for our team we wanted to work with artists and you immediately came to mind. That's when I hit Kika to connect us. I was like, "Hey, Kika, how do you feel about Ant Blue Jr. putting one of these animations together for us? I think it'll be super dope and very different to have." And she was like, "Yeah. Definitely. I'll definitely reach out and see what he thinks." Thank you for doing that for us. I really appreciate it.

ABJ: I appreciate you guys.

BM: How does music intersect with your overall creative practices, knowing that you're a DJ and you work a lot with music?

ABJ: I always think about this, but I think music is the reason I create. When I moved to New York, I moved because I got an internship with Karmaloop. It was like online retail before online retail was a big thing in streetwear. I was able to do photo and video for their blog. I think that foundation was me getting closer to the music because they had artists come through all the time. I would go shoot shows just to take pictures of people performing, and so I was always chasing music not realizing that that was the main love for everything that I created.

If you took away the music, I'm not sure if I would have done photography which led to going on a tour, shooting a tour with Denzel Curry, which lead to learning how to DJ, which led to having a career in music, to producing music. I think that's the foundation and the interest, just kind of how we were brought up, just always listening to new music, and our dad playing NWA stuff, Tupac stuff. Being from Texas, we're right in the middle of the map so we're able to see what's going on. We kind of knew what's happening in Miami, New York, and on the West Coast from my dad. We kind of just had a deep musical foundation from being in the middle of the map. We soaked it all in.

Oddly, at the time, I feel like Texas had a lot of influence in music, but it didn't really get outside of Texas unless you were UGK or chopped and screwed music, but we soaked in everything else. I don't know. I don't know how that happened before the internet was too intertwined, but I think it's just been the foundation of what moves me really.

BM: Depending on what the genre is, I have a specific type of music for when I'm just chilling in the crib, relaxing. I have a different type of music when I'm cleaning the house. Especially cleaning the house. I’m Dominican and I remember growing up and my mom would sweep and mop and clean the house bumping salsa music really, really loud and just singing along to the lyrics and dancing. That image never ever left my head. I think that it passed on to me. For us, just culturally, I think it's important that we pass that down to our kids because we have that responsibility of keeping that culture alive.

Someday, when I start my own family, I’ll have that same way of going about cleaning on Saturday mornings and bumping the same salsa music.

ABJ: It's so interesting because sometimes I think our parents didn’t really realize what they were doing, because I think at the time, some of my parent's favorite artists I kind of just absorbed by default. Now, when I hear it, it just brings you back to a special place of your first times hearing those songs and hearing those artists. I feel like knowing that, when we do get a chance to raise a family, how can I affect them, knowing the impact that it will have on them?

It's so interesting because sometimes I think our parents didn’t really realize what they were doing, because I think at the time, some of my parent's favorite artists I kind of just absorbed by default. Now, when I hear it, it just brings you back to a special place of your first times hearing those songs and hearing those artists. I feel like knowing that, when we do get a chance to raise a family, how can I affect them, knowing the impact that it will have on them?

BM: We talked a little bit about social media and its effects on people; how the rise of social media influenced how artists work and how the audience perceive and access the work that's produced. How has social media personally affected your process, and has it done so for better or for worse?

ABJ: It's definitely worked for the better. I think I built a career off of social media. Just understanding that the perception will open up opportunities. I think early in my photography career we would do shoots for free and say "Shot this thing for Nike." Even though it's kind of like a scam, people are looking at it like "Whoa," and it gives it a chance that Nike could repost it or a brand will repost it. It just portrays that this could be a real thing.

Just early on doing shoots and just always looking busy and always putting up content and showing your work and having the vulnerability to share work, even if it's good or bad. It's like, I made this thing. I'm going to share it, and I'm going to keep sharing it and consistently. Once you figure out that you can show people what you do if you do it consistently then people start asking for it. It's worked out well.

But, then again, I still struggle with it now as [social media] shifts and is turned into what it turns into. It's just like starting to account for numbers. I don't want to say everybody, but sometimes I do find myself where I compare, thinking that this person got this gig because of however many numbers they have versus whatever the case. It's just kind of knowing when to think like that and when not to think like that and just knowing that I can use this platform to see what's going on, but also to be conscious of what I have going on. I think fighting the comparisons is one of the biggest problems I deal with from time to time. Still, it's just still pushing through that and what's for me is what's for me, and I'll still keep swinging at it.

BM: Let's talk about workspaces which I know are often synonymous with being sacred spaces for artists. Can you describe your workspace to us? Are there any absolute must haves that you need to be able to do what you do?

ABJ: I kind of struggle now. From 2012 through 2018 I lived in Jersey. There, I had the actual workspace and then I had my room. Ever since I moved to Brooklyn, it's always just been my room is the workspace.

Which is interesting now because literally my bed is my desk chair. My computer's right here in front of me. I think I just need more space being a Texas person. My workspace is my room. I tried to get a studio for a little bit but it didn't make sense because I was going to the studio to get on the computer and I can just do that at home so I was spending money to pay for a space to go get on the internet. It didn't have windows either, so it's just like "Yeah, I got to get out of here."

BM: That's obviously the thing about New York is not having a lot of space so you try to do the most that you can with what you have, just got to make it work. It's like, "All right. This is the space I got, let's make it happen." How does the culture in BK influence your productivity?

ABJ: I think just New York in general. You feel the need to be productive. If you take two days off, you kind of feel that. I think I'm at a place where I'm ready to slow down and go at my pace. When I first got here, I just jumped in like, "Got to go fast. Got to do everything. Got to try to do everything I can, and then some."

But I'm at a place now, just the older I get, that I just want to slow down and get things right. I think, living here, you feel the energy, but it's so hard to turn it off.  I feel like two weeks here is a month, really. I went to Texas in February and the second you land there it's just like, you can breathe and slow down and it's okay to take a nap.

BM: What's next for you, man? Any upcoming projects that we should be aware of? Anyone you want to shout out? Tell us a little bit about what you got coming up.

ABJ: Mostly, I'm just organizing myself. I've been making tons of music and just kind of sharpening up my animation skills because in that world there's so many possibilities and there's so many ways to do it. I feel like I'm still pretty early. I always have this thought that before I did it I didn't see many people that look like me doing it. I know there's probably a ton of people that do look like me that are doing it, it's just I don't see them as far as my close circles go.

I probably know like four or five other black people that do animation. They're on the internet. Just trying to sharpen my skills and still plant that flag. I feel like it's a whole new world that's on the other side of this skill set; once I get it to a certain level, it's going to be crazy. Just slowing down, focusing on that, and then organizing my music so I can continue to share that for whoever's willing to listen and just keep it mellow.

BM: I get why they would feel that way. It's definitely been a very, very rough first half of the year, but I think it’s all about perspective. If you look at this as an opportunity, or if you're looking at this year as canceled or whatever then I think that that allows you to miss on the other side of what this could be. I see this as more of an opportunity to just sharpen skills, learn more things, recalibrate, rest and get ready for what 2021 has to offer.

ABJ: Yeah. It's such a great opportunity. It's like now is the time where everything has to be addressed if you choose to address it. It's just a lot, I feel like, in the past we haven't really took months to put all the problems out on the table and just face them to try to build a new world for after. That's been how I've been thinking about it. We all had plans and then the corona shit happens, and then right after that, multiple injustice situations happen, and so we just hit that breaking point where it's like, "We're going to fix all this shit now and create the world that we want to live in." It's definitely been a wild one.

BM: You're the very first guest of the Cocktail Recipe & Conversation column of the Team Epiphany Times. We really, really thank you for being a part of it. Thank you so much for carving out the time and chopping it up with us. We really, really appreciate it.

ABJ: No. Thank you. I know the first time I met Kika she—just her energy—I was like, "Aw, this is a person I'll fuck with."

BM: She's one of my favorite humans on the planet.︎