By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
BEREA – After the November 2011 slaying of their friend Zackary Dustin Flower, the remaining members of Berea-based “hybrid-hop” group Strange Tang were ready to “hang up our mics,” said Marcus “Obliq” Leslie. But, “if we quit, in a lot of ways, he died for nothing.”
Leslie was in the Chestnut Street apartment on the Monday morning when the suspected killer, Matthew Denholm, allegedly kicked open the door, shot Flower and severely injured the third member of their group, Kevin Price.
Leslie and Price (now living in Florida) will return to Kentucky on Jan. 25 to release the album “No Worries,” dedicated and inspired by Flower.
“This album represents freedom and triumph. It’s how we healed from the murder, and it’s a celebration of life,” Leslie said.
The group had not performed in Kentucky since December 2011. Just two weeks after the death, they decided to continue the scheduled Food Tour, a concept Leslie dreamed up while a student at Berea College.
In place of a cover charge or for a reduced cover charge, those who attend a Strange Tang concert can bring nonperishable food items to donate to food banks in the community.
“The Food Tour in itself represents who Flower was and is,” Leslie said. “Everything he did was bigger than himself.”
For the December 2011 concert, Price left the UK Medical Center and performed while “in a wheelchair and on a lot of pain medication,” still suffering from gunshot wounds to the groin and thigh, Leslie said.
That night, the group collected more than 750 pounds of food that was donated to God’s Pantry as well as four truckloads of toys for Toys for Tots.
“Music is a uniting medium. We decided to take that music to the community, and in exchange for entertainment, the community supports itself,” Leslie said. “People don’t even realize how much they’re helping.”
The group had been working on an album, and Flower had just completed a solo album a week before the shooting. The two works will be combined and released after the Denholm trial is over, Leslie said.
Flower’s solo music was “almost foreshadowing,” he said. “It gives you chills to listen to it now.”
Back then, when Leslie talked about the future, Flower always replied, “I don’t think I’m going to live a long time.” In his music, Flowers wrote about dying for the people he loved.
“One of the things I loved about Flower was his passion for what we did,” Leslie said. He wanted to “make music that matters; that inspires people. That’s what we do it for and Flower believed in it so much.”
Strange Tang created a fusion of musical genres they like to call “hybrid-hop.” Their songs blend elements of rock, country, jazz, electro and old-school hip hop, Leslie said. “We never make the same song twice. With music, you can create whatever you want.”
That is one reason Flower was added to the group – “his style was such a great dynamic,” Leslie said. “There’s no way he can be replaced.”
The three friends met at a concert in 2009 when Leslie was a student at Berea College, Price at Transylvania University and Flower at the University of Kentucky, he said. “Sometimes you just know when you’ve met a friend.”
The group released their last album together in 2010.
If Flower were here today, he would be proud of the new album, Leslie said. “In a lot of ways, he helped make it.”
If they were trying to figure out how to finish a lyric, something Flower would have said “just comes to me,” he said. “Sometimes I just feel him – I know it’s right.”
During times when he was unmotivated to make music, “Flower was always ready to go,” Leslie said. “He had such a deep faith, and that’s what he left me. My passion for music has multiplied a hundred-fold since his passing.”
Flower will be represented in every Strange Tang photo until after the trial of his accused killer, Leslie said. “We’re not letting his memory die; we’re not letting people forget.”
The No Worries album release party will be at Riptide on the River at 9079 Old Richmond Road in Lexington. The cover charge is $10 or $5 with a donation of a nonperishable food item. All covers will include a free copy of the album. Doors open at 9 p.m.