St. Louis Musician Stllegend’s Beats Preserve Music History

click to enlarge Catch Stllegend aka Chales Purnell at the Riverfront Times’  Art A'Fair on Thursday, June 23. - Harry Boston
Harry Boston
Catch Stllegend aka Chales Purnell at the Riverfront Times’ Art A'Fair on Thursday, June 23.

Songs with no lyrics can be difficult to connect with. Sometimes experimental tracks don’t elicit the best reactions from live audiences.

But none of that stops Charles Purnell.

“When words fail, you have music,” Purnell says.

Better known as Stllegend, DJ, beatmaker and vibration lover, Purnell finds samples from underrepresented music — such as Polish or experimental jazz — and mixes them into hip-hop instrumental tracks. Purnell’s songs last between one to two minutes and are imbued with a synthetic blend of hip-hop and his inner consciousness dealing with depression and anxiety.

“I should probably work on this in therapy,” he adds, laughing. For example, his song “Waiting On That Text Back,” composed of looped lo-fi drum sets and mellow piano keys, encapsulates an all-too-relatable fear of someone not responding during a time when connectivity was needed most, the pandemic.

From his moniker alone, one can infer Purnell is from St. Louis. The name was created because “I live here, and it sounded cool,” Purnell says. “People saw ‘legend’ and asked if I won a battle to win the name. No, I put it on Twitter, 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 is constantly enforced by his discoveries into music history. He says old music is a time capsule that allows him to experience what that period of time was like.

For Purnell, music can be a "larger learning experience and connection to life as we know it" since he can use historic sounds or samples and appropriate them to modern times to add something new or help them become more recognized. By sampling tempos and textures from too-often-ignored POC and underrated artists, Purnell hopes to keep their stories alive.

"“My approach is all about learning and displaying 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 chopping up a Stylistics bridge, I’m finding those moments and sharing them with others through my music. Using those pieces of music history to tell a story in the modern era to call back to what we’re all going through or will go through is something amazing to be able to do.”

In doing so, he stands on the shoulders of 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 over 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 it shuttered earlier this year, Purnell has focused on his own instrumental beats and hopes to release an EP later this year. He’ll also be showcasing his music in public for the first time since the start of the pandemic at the RFT’s Art A’Fair on Thursday, June 23. Attendees can expect “chaos,” Purnell jokes.

At his first gig since pre-pandemic, he’s eager to present a “smorgasbord” of songs from the ’70s through the ’90s paired with contemporary hits and local artists to get people bopping all night.

Purnell cherishes STL’s soundscapes, shouting out dancing until 3 a.m. at DJ Alexis Tucci’s Nightchaser dance parties or participating in the monthly Fresh Produce beat battles. He relishes opportunities to get guests to “escape and shake their problems out for a little.”

“If you’re looking for a specific sound, it's in STL,” Purnell says. “If not here, it’s being formulated.”

Catch Stllegend at the Riverfront Times’ Art A'Fair on Thursday, June 23. Tickets cost $25 online and at the door. Read more about it here.

Carlos Mendoza

Carlos is an editorial intern with the Riverfront Times.
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