Songs without lyrics can be difficult to understand. Sometimes experimental tracks don’t get the best reactions from live audiences.
But none of this stops Charles Purnell.
“When words fail, you have music,” Purnell says.
Better known as Stllegend, DJ, beatmaker and vibe lover, Purnell finds samples of underrepresented music – like Polish or experimental jazz – and mixes them into hip-hop instrumental tracks. Purnell’s songs are between one and two minutes long and are infused with a synthetic blend of hip-hop and his inner awareness of depression and anxiety.
“I should probably work on that in therapy,” he adds with a laugh. For example, his song “Waiting On That Text Back,” composed of looping lo-fi drums and soft piano keys, encapsulates an all-too-relatable fear of someone not responding at a time when connectivity was most necessary, the pandemic.
From his nickname alone, one can deduce that Purnell is from St. Louis. The name was created because “I live here, and it sounded good,” Purnell says. “People saw the ‘caption’ and asked me if I won a battle to win the name. No, I tweeted it, and it stuck.
Purnell, 38, has been making music in St. Louis since 2008. He calls what he does beatmaking, and it’s a labor of love that’s constantly reinforced by his discoveries in music history. He says early music is a time capsule that allows him to find out what that period was like.
For Purnell, music can be a “wider learning experience and connection to life as we know it” since he can take historical sounds or samples and adapt them to modern times to add something new. or help them to be more recognized. By sampling the tempos and textures of too often overlooked and underappreciated POC artists, Purnell hopes to keep their stories alive.
“My approach is to learn and display what I learn through music in my beats,” he says. “Whether it’s me sampling a Bill Withers track, a Led Zepplin drum break, or that I carve a Stylistics bridge, find those moments, and share them with others through my music. To use these pieces of music history to tell a story in the modern era of remembering what we are all going through or will go through is something amazing to do.
In doing so, he draws on musical giants such as Van Dyke Park and Scott Walker, known for their experimental pop songs.
In addition to producing his own music, Purnell sometimes releases his beats for others to incorporate into their new music or dub with lyrics and rap. For many years, he was part of the team behind FarFetched, a St. Louis-based music label that focused on rap, electronic and experimental musicians.
Since closing earlier this year, Purnell have focused on their own instrumental beats and hope to release an EP later this year. He will also present his music in public for the first time since the start of the pandemic during the RFT’s Art A’Fair on Thursday, June 23. Attendees can expect “chaos,” jokes Purnell.
In his first gig since pre-pandemic, he’s eager to showcase an “assortment” of songs from the 70s to the 90s paired with contemporary hits and local artists to keep people dancing the night away.
Purnell treasures the soundscapes of STL, screaming dancing until 3 a.m. at DJ Alexis Tucci’s Nightchaser dance parties or taking part in the monthly Fresh Produce rhythm battles. He relishes opportunities to get guests to “get away from it all and work out a little bit of their problems.”
“If you’re looking for a specific sound, it’s in STL,” Purnell says. “If it’s not here, it’s being formulated.”
Catch Stllegend at Riverfront Times’ Art A’Fair on Thursday, June 23. Tickets are $25 online and at the door. Learn more here.