Verbatum Jones Brings the Communal Joy #everybodyeats to Philly

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Verbatum Jones | photo courtesy of the artist
Verbatum Jones | photo courtesy of the artist

The most characteristic part of a Verbatum Jones gig is the urgent, family-like happiness he throws into the ether. During a concert at Milkboy supporting Halfro, an intensely fun live hip-hop act and some of Jones’s biggest supporters, the 23-year-old emcee turned what could’ve been a throwaway opening slot into a moment-defining wash of positivity. Like a young pastor winning over a new congregation, he enraptured everybody within his limitless enthusiasm. He even got the audience to sing back a whole Mos Def cover – perhaps the highest sign of audience captivation, when you can play another artist’s song with no hesitation from anybody.

The emotionally-hardwired desire to create this sort of communal atmosphere is part of what inspired Verb, born Garry Dorsainvil, to create “Everybody Eats,” a concert/potluck dinner series where the only cost of admission is one dish or drink. The one this Saturday, March 22nd, at a warehouse space in Chinatown North, is the first in Philadelphia (after successful runs in Queens).

“I’m a big fan of music that makes you want to move while you’re eating. That’s how I learned to party, it’s what my cousins taught me. You go, dress nice, say ‘what’s up’ to everybody, great music playing all night…normally, you never paid,” he explains. “A big part of ‘Everybody Eats’ is tailored around that experience from childhood,”

The child of deeply religious Haitian immigrants, Verb recognizes the fundamental, even spiritual links between humans who share the need to eat and dance; “Everybody Eats” is a catch-all for the kinds of experiences and emotions that Verb’s music encompasses, which is why it’s also evolved into a song and a mantra (and, as things go in the 21st century, a hashtag). Rooted in Haitian tradition and expanding into the eclectic tapestry of young Philadelphia, “Everybody Eats” is idealistic and inclusive in all the ways that young community-building art has to be.

“My aunt lived in a very modest shack, and on my first trip to Haiti…she would cook a lot of food when we visited, and we feasted like kings. As she was cooking, and all this music was playing, people would just walk in and introduce themselves from off the block,” he recounts, adding “This was just after the earthquake, and there were a lot of reasons to be sad.” Good times clearly persist in spite of hardship, and it’s hard not to see Verb’s infectious magnetism as an outgrowth of this desire for transcendence.

The cosmic forces behind “Everbody Eats” also guide his artistic trajectory. Having only started rapping a few years ago (after years of being a poet), his initiation at Temple University’s Freestyle Fridays planted seeds that evolved over the release of two EPs – 2011’s (.verb) and this year’s .winter (both of which featured production from Parkhouse Studio’s Kenneth Sullivan). Both releases, available for stream and download from his official website, are rooted in an ethereal sound that echoes of his most obvious influences – human condition-minded emcees from the 90s like The Fugees and Mos Def.

Both releases have thematic elements, much more obvious in .winter. The first EP’s “Three Blind Mice” is an example of Verb trying to find his voice amidst a loose mirroring of elements from Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox. He was able to deepen those things on .winter, in large part because sophomore releases have a stronger intentionality anyway.

“That song was basically about not knowing where you’re headed. I had verses about college, church, girls…it was very surface level. But on ‘Way Up’ (track 2 on .winter), it goes a lot deeper into those ideas. I’m working, grinding, stressed-out, it’s never ending.” he explains.

The albums also reflect his maturation as a young man just trying to find his purpose in the world. “What I like about .winter is that it has a theme of sunrise to it. Things are dark, but they do get better.” His upcoming project, tentatively called Hope, will further this narrative.

It might be callous to call Verb the Mos Def to Halfro’s The Roots, even if he sees what he’s doing as part of a real local movement, but the Soulquarian influence is clearly not lost on young and pensive hip-hop artists in Philadelphia. “Everybody Eats” certainly echoes the wholesome desire for something personal to resonate universally that guided the rise of hip-hop and neo-soul in the late 90s and justified Philadelphia’s place in hip-hop history. It might be a simple message, but sometimes the strongest messages are the clearest ones.

Verbatum Jones’ Everybody Eats takes place at 1215 Vine Street on Saturday, March 22 at 8 p.m.