The Men That Stopped Kanye West’s White Lives Matter Merch Movement Speak

Civic cipher

Kanye West tried it, but the two Black men that own the phrase “White Lives Matter” said “No, Sir.” We talk to them.

Two Black man own the trademark for “WHITE LIVES MATTER.” 

Civic Cipher, Ramses Ja and Q. Ward, seemed to stave off Kanye West’s efforts to sell merchandise with the polarizing phrase on the back. The Arizona-based radio duo were not with the games, as West and cohort Candace Owen flaunted the phrase, triggering and gaslighting many. AllHipHop’s own Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur talked to the pair about their plans for the phrase, what they won’t do and the ace-in-the-hole they have for racists, bigots and so-called white supremacists.

AllHipHop: All right. What’s going on everybody? Your man, Chuck Creekmur, AKA Jigsaw, here at AllHipHop. We’re here with two gentlemen, two gentlemen that have been in the headlines lately. Can you guys introduce yourselves to me? And then, let’s just jump right into it.

Yeah, yeah. Of course. My name is Ramses Ja.

Q. Ward: I go by the name Q. Ward.

Ramses Ja: And we are the hosts of the nationally syndicated radio show, Civic Cipher.

AllHipHop: Civic Cipher. Okay, I love the name. Tell us a little bit about Civic Cipher.

Q. Ward: Civic Cipher was born out of the unrest, really, of the whole country in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. Working as hip-hop DJs in radio at the time … and also being out on the street protesting, mourning, kind of putting our arms around each other trying to deal with the trauma that comes with seeing our people snuffed out in front of us on video with impunity … we started to see a narrative on news of us being violent rioters looting, and we’re looking around and none of that is true. And we’re broadcasters on the radio every day and we’re just looking around like, “Yo, somebody needs to at least mention what it’s actually like out there. Even if just for 30 minutes in the middle of the night, someone needs to be telling our story.”

AllHipHop: Yeah.

Q. Ward: And when we brought that to our station, the initial response was, as you could imagine, “Oh, yeah. That’s a great idea. You should really work on that.” And then time goes by and time goes by and time goes by and finally, Ramses kind of walked into the office and asked them, “Hey, you know that idea that we proposed where it doesn’t have to be us? And it doesn’t have to cost. We’ll do it for free if it is us. But someone needs to be on the microphone talking about what’s going on in the street. And these leaders who are out here with us with these bullhorns, they need their voices to be heard by more than a couple hundred people that can hear the bullhorn.” And their response to us, after months of leading us on, was, “You know what, guys? We don’t want to do a Black show.”

And the reason that hit so hard is because they had so many other options of things they could have said. They could have said, “We don’t want to do a political show.”

AllHipHop: Right, right.

Q. Ward: “We don’t want to do something that’s divisive.” They could have backed out of that in a way that was graceful and something that we would’ve been forced to accept. But when you tell these two brothers with Black children…

These two Black men who work on your hip-hop radio station, where all the money you make is on the back of Black culture, Black music, mostly black artists, that you don’t want to do a Black show, it’s unacceptable.

AllHipHop: Yeah.

Q. Ward: And in that moment, Civic Cipher wasn’t quite born, but the spark that lit the fire happened because okay, now we can’t work here anymore. Once you say that to us, we can’t come back to work on Tuesday like, “Oh, hey checking in with,” I’m not going to say the station. And in that moment, Ramses was in that meeting without me. He made the decision for both of us that we would no longer work at that station. And essentially, in that moment, we felt like no longer working radio. I’ll let Ramses kind of take it from here.

Ramses Ja: Yeah, so like he said, it was just born out of the protest. We felt like we needed to bring a different facet to people’s minds for Black folks. We’re not just rappers and not just singers and dancers and fashion people. We also have real stories. We have to bury our children, mothers cry, we go to funerals, these sorts of things. We experience a lot of injustice, and these things were largely absent from the hip-hop broadcasting space. And yeah, like Q said, when they said that to me, I was like, “Well, that’s that.” And we’re kind of joined at the hip on a lot of stuff, so I was like, “All right, well that’s it for us.” We resigned. We wrote the letter to the city, the resignation to the city of Phoenix where we were broadcasting, and the city supported us. They shared the stories and then it made the trades and other news outlets shared it.

And then, program directors around the country started reaching out saying, “Hey, what was that show you were talking about? Would you like to do that show over here?” And then we had to come up with a name and everything. So we didn’t plan on it turning into a show. It just ended up becoming what it is now. And now, we’re nationally syndicated. We partnered with iHeartMedia. We’ve partnered with Radio Pacifica. We just got our 31st station yesterday in Kansas City, so we’re definitely growing and have experienced a lot of growth in the past couple years.

AllHipHop: Nice, nice. Now let’s just get down to it. You guys made headlines because you own the trademark for White Lives Matter, which made headlines recently because Kanye West was making an attempt to sell the shirts-

That said the phrase on them. First and foremost, what are your thoughts on his use of it? And secondly, what prompted you to make the reveal that you own the trademark?

Q. Ward: First, on his use of it, and as you could imagine, this is a question that we’re getting asked a lot. “Lives Matter,” and everything that doesn’t say Black Lives Matter was created, was born from opposing Black Lives Matter. That was the only intent for All Lives Matter, for Blue Lives Matter, and especially for White Lives Matter. The response that you get from our community is not saying that those lives don’t matter.

Ramses Ja: It’s an affirmation.

Q. Ward: It’s an affirmation that ours do because clearly, to all of you, they don’t. We’re being snuffed out and murdered with impunity on video. So we’re just simply saying, “Hey, you guys. We just want to know and tell our people that it’s okay for us to exist.”

We’re not challenging that for everybody else, and neither is society. White Lives Matter never has to be reaffirmed in this country, right?

Ramses Ja: It’s a given.

Q. Ward: So every time we hear “Lives Matter” and the first word wasn’t Black or isn’t Black, we know that whoever is saying it’s only saying it as an opposition, as an antithesis to Black Lives Matter. And people try to add scrutiny to things that happen with BLM, the organization. That is an entirely separate conversation. The sentence “Black Lives Matter” should not be controversial.

It should not be met with challenge because what is your point in that space? We watched this brother be murdered on camera. And in so many cases, we’ve watched it where the murderer, who we see, gets not even laid off, gets suspended with pay and then reassigned to a different agency. His use of it … He could have manipulated us. He could have spent it a bunch of different ways. Except in the photo, he was locked arms with someone. I won’t say her name because quite frankly, I’m not a fan. But we know how she thinks. We know what she represents.

So we know what you meant. You and the people, your fans, and kind of zealot following can try to spin it in any way that he wants. But it was very, very clear what was meant there. He was either trolling, which is what a lot of people are saying. Which if that’s the case, you’re disgusting. “Let me make a bunch of my people feel awful for attention.” Or he actually doesn’t know any better. But you guys are calling him a genius though, so which is?

AllHipHop: Right.

Q. Ward: So in regards to how we feel about his use of it … if I didn’t make how I felt very clear in that long answer to your short question … just like a lot of people that I know and care about, I was caught off guard. A lot of people say I shouldn’t have been. Hurt, upset. But had to just be still for a second because people tend to have justifications and explanations for this dude’s thoughts, as if they’ve sat down with him and got this firsthand from him. And these are people who have never met the man in their lives.

AllHipHop: Exactly. Yeah. How did it end up in your care? Did you make any steps legally or was it known once they tried to go to production? I know they had the shirts made ahead of time.

Ramses Ja: Yeah, so basically what happened was we didn’t have any connection with anything that was going on in that gentleman’s world. What we were doing was just doing our normal radio show. One of our listeners had the trademark for that. And the way trademarks work is you have the exclusive right to produce and sell, in this case it’s clothing, with this phrase, slogan, whatever. This person owned that trademark and was a fan of our show. This person, who wishes to remain anonymous, reached out to us and said, “Hey, I’m probably not the best person to determine what happens with this trademark, but you guys are doing good work. You guys stand for Black people. You stand for Brown people. You’re educating. You seem like good folks with good temperament. I would like to give this trademark to you because you’re in a better position to decide how that should benefit Black and Brown communities.”

And so we took that responsibility very seriously. We had to think about it for a long time and weigh the pros and cons because people might get the wrong idea. They might think we’re trying to do what Kanye West was doing, and that’s not what we were trying to do. But ultimately, we felt like this is kind of what we signed up for in doing Civic Cipher, and this is kind of par for the course. If people are asking for us to help them, then this is what we’re able to do. And this felt like kind of an honor. We’re men and so far be it from us to cower away from this moment in our lives. Yes, there were lawyers involved and there was a pretty lengthy process. And the way it ended up coming out was we were in Los Angeles recently to go visit one of our radio OGs, Big Boy. And we got an email from our trademark lawyer about five minutes before the interview started. Maybe five, six minutes.

Q. Ward: As we’re in the parking garage.

Ramses Ja: Yeah. So when we went up, that’s the first thing that we told him. “Yo, guess what? You’re never going to believe this, but we just got the trademark assignment for White Lives Matter. Here it is. Look at our name. Civic Cipher, LLC is right there.” And he’s like, “Oh my god. We have to talk about that on the radio,” so the rest is history. And once the cat’s out of the bag, then it becomes like, “Well, now everyone knows.” And again, this is what we signed up for, so it wasn’t anything we shied away from. It feels very special to be able to push back against the narrative that was being written by that individual for some time. And it was very hurtful, obviously, to us. I want to take a moment to acknowledge our Jewish brothers and sisters, some of the hurt that they’ve experienced as well. It feels good to kind of have some points on the board and be the decider when it comes to this thing.

AllHipHop: Yeah. So speaking of which, do you know what your plans are, and if so, what are they?

Ramses Ja: Well, we were asked to protect it and we were asked to move very slowly and very deliberately, to be very measured. We were asked a few things. We were asked that if we ever do transfer it to donate half of the money to certain organizations. So if and when that time comes, when we are having those conversations, we have our orders, if you will. And we will honor the individual that brought this whole thing to us. We’ll honor their wishes as best we can.

But for now, the one thing that they wanted above all else was to allow us a little bit of breathing room as a people, so that we don’t have to walk down the street and see somebody wearing a really hurtful phrase in the name of fashion because they’re huge fans of an individual who is probably not really in the best place mentally right now, and is actively harming his own people. At present, there are no plans. We’re just kind of doing what we need to do to protect it. We have some lawyers involved. They’re expensive, so if anybody wants to donate to our show and help us pay for these lawyers, we certainly take that into account. We do our show for free. We don’t get paid for it. But yeah, anybody wants to help out, we’re at and we’re going to do our best to do right by everyone.

AllHipHop: Okay! Now adjacent to that is All Lives Matter. We had a brief, off-camera conversation about that, and that’s another phrase that you’re actively pursuing. Is that correct?

Ramses Ja: Yeah. So basically, the same person that came to us filed a trademark in our name for All Lives Matter. And the way these application things works is, again, they take a while. But at the time, when the application was submitted, there was a lapse in a trademark or something like that, so it was available. I’m not sure exactly how the story goes because I didn’t do it. But the long and the short of it is there’s a very good chance that that may come back as well. Very strong chance. And then, effectively, we’ll be sitting on those two.

The Blue Lives Matter one is owned by another individual and they have the right to make Blue Lives Matter clothes. But in terms of clothing that says White Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, the classification that we have for our trademark grants Civic Cipher, LLC the exclusive right to sell, for profit, articles of clothing and offer entertainment. I think those are the two categories that we have for anything with the term or the phrase White Lives Matter or All Lives Matter. So we’ll see about that second one, but there’s a good chance that that’ll come back, too. It’s just a matter of time.

AllHipHop: What’s the biggest misconception about you guys owning these marks?

Q. Ward: It’s hard to say yet. This just came across a lot of people’s phones, laptops, tablets, and screens yesterday.

As you could imagine, the DMs are very active right now. And it’s interesting because Ramses is kind of avoiding strangers, people who we don’t recognize in the DMs. I’m avoiding people that we know. Because what I learned throughout our last president’s term and Mr. West, a lot of people that I know and care about go out of their way to justify and defend those people, and that’s way harder for me to reconcile than strangers, some stranger who thinks extremely different from me. The people who have met my children reaching out to me to defend our former president who … Let me tell you. My children are half Mexican. You know what I’m saying? And you know, and you’ve held my kids, you know what I mean? You’ve met their mother.

You’re reaching out to me to tell me the good that I should see in this guy? There’s a kind of zealot following for both of these men who kind of represent some pretty outlandish things. But in this era, where people think that it’s cool and equitable to seem intelligent, to seem like deep free thinkers, there’s this real conspiracy-like rhetoric that a lot of our people are subscribing to in the name of enlightenment, and trying to come across as more educated than the rest of us.

And some of this stuff is just straightforwardly evil. You don’t need a degree or have to have spent any time studying any ideology that’s different than, “Hey. That person did or said something that hurt somebody that and care about and you’ve never met them. So it’s kind of strange to be defending them to the person that and care about.”

AllHipHop: Right.

Q. Ward: I just met you today. If someone says something that offended you, there’s no version of me who’s going to call you like, “Hey, man. You really need to look at this the deeper way. Because what he really meant with the peripheral around the back way when he came through history is … ” That would be insane! If someone did or said something that offended you and your family, that’s where we start. Not trying to justify it and speak on that person’s behalf. I don’t really know what people think yet, right? People who are in my daily life I’ve spoken to, of course. And they, as you could imagine, really support what we’re trying to do. Other than that, there’s just a lot of scrolling because-

Ramses Ja: It’s just noise.

AllHipHop: Yeah.

Q. Ward: We had no idea that this was happening. So once it happened, “Okay, this is ours to deal with. Let’s see how this plays.” So now that it’s out there, there’s a lot of reconciling that has to happen in our personal and professional lives as well. This is something that’s massive. And we’re here for it, man. We got to be able to look at our babies in the face and them know that we stood for something right, so that’s where we start the conversation.

AllHipHop: Well I salute you both, man. I think it’s great to have those trademarks in good hands so that if you do use them, we do know that somehow or another, it will be responsibly. Also, I’ll just say it. I’m glad that Kanye and his crew aren’t using it. I’ll be real with that. And unfortunately, there’s a bunch of homeless people now that seem to have it walking around because they gave them to homeless people, which is not necessarily responsible either.

Q. Ward: Yeah.

AllHipHop: Right? Because shoot, they are some of the most unprotected people in our society.

Q. Ward: I mean, best case scenario, no one does anything with it. You know what I mean? That’s the best outcome for us.

Ramses Ja: Yeah, we’re okay with that. We’re totally fine with that.

AllHipHop: Right. Well, good. Good. So anything else you want to tell people?

Ramses Ja: Yeah. I think I want to just echo what you’re saying. There’s a lot of things that could happen in the future and we’re going to do our best to make the decision that creates the most good in terms of the ripple effect. I’m not going to pretend like we didn’t hear about Takeoff this morning, and I’ve been thinking about Offset because of his distance from Quavo and Takeoff. I’m not going to act like we don’t have other problems in our communities that we need to deal with that might be more immediate, in terms of their urgency, that we need to address. Something that we talk about quite a bit is police brutality. We talk about political representation or disenfranchisement. We talk about gerrymandering. We talk about protecting the Black vote to protecting the Black voice.

Q. Ward: We talk about gun violence.

Ramses Ja: All of that, yeah. And so at the end of the day, we want to do something that creates the most good. And if that means being true to this trademark, then we will do that. If we feel like we can do better by reassigning this trademark somewhere else and taking some whatever money is involved and donating that to the right organizations to bolster their efforts to make sure the Black people have a better tomorrow, then that may be the play. But either way, we are going to be very deliberate. We promised the person that put us in this position that we were going to do that.

Our hearts are in the right place and we are going to do our very best to do right by everyone. If you want to know more about who we are as men, more about our show, more about what we stand for, anything like that, you can, again, check out Or follow us on any social media @civiccipher, or you can follow me. I’m @ramsesja and Q is @iamqward. We are welcome to reasonable advice when we can get it. But at the end of the day, we recognize the responsibility and the decision rests with us, so we’re going to do our best.

AllHipHop: Don’t let me hear that the KKK made you an offer you couldn’t refuse.

Q. Ward: No chance.

Ramses Ja: Yeah, that’s different. That’s very different.

Q. Ward: I mean that in a very literal way. I’m glad this is being recorded.