When her stunning 15-minute visual album Whack World was released earlier this year, the world took notice of Tierra Whack. The Philly-born 20 something effortlessly blends traditional songwriting chops with Eminem’s syllable-bending technical prowess and Missy Elliot’s bizarre surrealist aesthetic. Despite what some may think, Tierra did not appear out of nowhere. Since 2012, she had been making a name and building her skills in Philly’s underground rap scene. We’ve compiled a beginner’s guide to one of the music world’s brightest creative lights. Continue reading →
In an interview with writer Bill Kopp, Tenor saxophone legend Sonny Rollins recalled a conversation with Joe Glaser, the notorious, now-deceased manager of Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday:“ You know, Sonny, I have been in the boxing business, and the music business is worse.” For context, Glaser’s career in boxing involved fixing fights and an alleged connection with Al Capone’s vicious organized crime family, The Chicago Outfit. In short, the music business is rife with pitfalls, heartbreak, and outright scams. You’d be hard pressed to find a musician at any level who would disagree with the spirit of Glaser’s assessment. That being said, if the music business is hard, the business of jazz must be damn near impossible.
Over the past few decades, fundamental shifts in the pop cultural landscape have only served to further marginalize jazz and the musicians who play it. As rock emerged in the 60s as the gravitational center of American pop music, the opportunities available to make a living playing this vibrant, challenging music have been decreasing ever since. In recent years, the tide has turned back with lay-audiences developing a taste for modern players like Kamasi Washington, Esperanza Spalding, Robert Glasper, thus re-opening doors for brilliant players young and old to do what once seemed impossible, make a living in jazz.
Taking up the mission of educating musicians, a broad coalition of area jazz organizations — including the Philadelphia Jazz Project, Temple public radio station WRTI, and more — will launch the first annual Jazz Industry Day on September 13th, 2018. Continue reading →
When rapper / actress / activist Queen Latifah burst onto the scene with her debut single “Ladies First,” the impact of the song created a ripple effect that continues to reverberate through the genre today. Backed up by U.K.-born expat Monie Love, “Ladies First” was an opening shot of a hungry young MC and a declaration of sorts. From her very first introduction to the scene, Latifah set off on a mission to inspire women to assertively step to the forefront in a largely male-dominated culture. Although hip-hop has had a wealth of gifted women MCs that came before her (MC Sha-Rock of the Funky Four +1, Sequence, Roxanne Shante, MC Lyte etc.), Latifah’s sharp technique, regal air and message that focused on black women’s empowerment set her apart from her peers. Songs like “U.N.I.T.Y.”, “Just Another Day” and “Latifah’s Had It Up 2 Here” saw Latifah carving out a distinctive space centered around her blackness, femininity and deep sense of community consciousness. Continue reading →
“The blues is simply a recalling of experience, a lot of it negative but some of it positive, and to try to transmit that you know to actually tell people what it is. So, actually, the blues is a form of storytelling. It’s a kind of narrative song, expressing the past and even what you hope to be the future or you hope not to be the future, one of those two things.” – Amiri Baraka
“This is a letter filled with tears, to all my human peers.” -Kaang
“No Longer”, the latest single from Men on the Moon’s groovy, soulful The Intro EP opens with a dream-life vibraphone loop. Lead MC Kaang (of the duo No Headliner & the Infinite Hi-Fi collective) enters with a heavy, swaying vocal, setting a weary, dramatic atmosphere. “Sacrifice…some say it’s the only way,” Kaang croons before Producer Cool Hand Duke’s heavy, swinging drums jump in, undergirding the song’s first verse while bright shards of trumpet jutting in and out of the mix. Kaang floats in and around the music, his slick wordplay revealing a deeper sense of power and insight. The song’s tense mix of effortless cool and steely determination is embodied in the line “oxygen is precious when yo’ lungs decompressin’.” Continue reading →
“To….protect my area, my turf. Right here, where I live…”
In a scene from Jungle, the unheralded 1969 documentary film on street gangs in North Philadelphia, a young man is asked why he gang wars (note: the phrase “gang war” was essentially used as a compound verb in Philly and some oldheads still use it as such), and this sentiment is repeated by his comrades all members of the Oxford Street gang. The young men shyly recount their experiences in the gang while stray tags pepper the bright, white wall behind them. Throughout the 60s and 70s, thousands of Philadelphia youth were thought to be involved in gangs. Marred by fights and stabbings, the city’s gang culture was simultaneously vicious and creatively rich, as evidenced by scenes in Jungle were members of the 12th & Oxford gang can be seen strolling on the block performing a call and response rhyme routine that prefigures rap and hip-hop as we would later know it. In 1971, a young man named Cornelius Hosey was killed in a gang-related altercation and the local news wrongfully identified the victim as North Philly graffiti writer Cornbread. Catalyzed by this mix up, the real Cornbread (born Darryl McCray) went on an ambitious tear throughout the city, throwing his tag up on every clean surface he could find, determined to reclaim space and prove that he was in fact, very much alive. Continue reading →
For as long as I have been alive, Hip Hop has had a home in the city of Philadelphia. Some of my earliest experiences with this music and culture would become inextricably linked to my understanding of my own personal identity and my place within the broader community. Following its initiation in the early 70s, Hip Hop quickly flowered outward from its homebase in The Bronx, moving into urban centers throughout the nation, taking root and intermingling with each city’s local slang / vernacular, music, dance and visual art cultures.
Long acknowledged as one of the original flashpoints for Graffiti culture, Philadelphia Hip Hop’s heart has always been intertwined with the streets. The first generation of Philly youth touched by this cultural revolution would immediately hit the ground running, developing their own unique local scene and quickly producing a number of MCs and DJs (Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Cool C, 3X Dope, Schoolly D, Lady B etc.) that would reach great creative heights and commercial success. Aside from the commercial victories of a handful of acts, Philadelphia’s formative Hip Hop scene remained largely unheralded, birthing a new class of solo acts, groups and crews who would never attain more than local notoriety. Continue reading →
“Cutting and pasting is the essence of what hip-hop culture is all about for me. It’s about drawing from what’s around you, and subverting it and decontextualizing it.”
– DJ Shadow
There are few cliches in popular culture that get bandied about more than the term “renaissance man.” While the phrase may work as part of an easy promotional tagline, it does little to help us understand the complex ways in which individuals relate to and process culture. New York born cultural polyglot Bobbito Garcia is often referred to as a renaissance man, but a look into his backstory reveals much more. Known around the world as a DJ and label owner (the legendary 90’s indie rap outfit Fondle Em’ Records), writer, sneaker collector and Basketball historian, filmmaker and co-host of the greatest radio show in hip hop history (Columbia University WKCR’s Stretch & Bobbito Show), Garcia’s name rings bells in a variety of seemingly disparate corners of the music, art and entertainment worlds. In a time of corporate multiculturalism and cheap eclecticism, Garcia’s multifaceted career is the product of Hip Hop’s exploratory spirit and nearly 5 decades of New York street culture.
With his latest film, Rock Rubber 45s, Garcia takes us through an autobiographical trip his highly diverse life and career. Continue reading →
“I’m an adult now…..I listen to podcasts…..I don’t go out much….I’m stacking up my cash, cuz I got shit to doooooo…..”
This lighthearted and cheeky chorus animates West Philly MC The Bul Bey’s newest single “Alignment” with a palpable sense of purpose, optimism and personal growth. An elegant summer anthem that is lighthearted and self-assured. Over a swinging drum groove and dreamily modulating keys produced by DJ Miflyn, Bey rides the rhythm with skill and presence, switching flows and bouncing in and out of double-time patterns. The track’s Sing-songy delivery and fun spirit contrasts beautifully with Bey’s lyrical meditations on self-actualization and personal maturity. Continue reading →
“When you hear about slavery, that was 400 years. 400 years? That sounds like a choice!”
During a heated exchange that followed Kanye West’s surprising (and downright idiotic) proclamation that African Americans’ role in (or inability to break out of) chattel slavery was in fact “a choice,” TMZ reporter and Hip Hop podcaster Van Lathan scolded Kanye for this toxic and irresponsible statement. “Kanye, you’re entitled to your opinion, you’re entitled to believe whatever you want, but there are facts and real-life consequences to everything you just said. And while you are making music and being an artist and living the life that you’ve earned by being a genius, the rest of us in society have to deal with the marginalization that comes from the 400 years of slavery that you said, for our people, was a choice! Frankly, I’m disappointed, I’m appalled and brother…I am unbelievably hurt by the fact that you have morphed into something that, to me, is not real.”
When weighed against other hot topics that captured our instantaneous 24-hour news and entertainment cycle, this moment between Lathan and West is significant on a few levels. On one level, this confrontation represented an ideological collision between the working class and the rich/famous celebrity cult that Kanye has centered in both his artistic and social life. It can be argued that Kanye’s calculation that slavery was ultimately “a choice” for African Americans is a logical conclusion of the type of quasi-spiritual “law of attraction” self-help doctrine that many Hollywood celebrities traffic in (popularized by Rhonda Byrne’s “The Secret”). If you only believe in yourself more and think positively, you too can be rich, famous, successful, not a slave. This confrontation between Lathan and West was also significant because it created a brief space for open discussions on the systemic nature of racism. Lathan’s response to West concisely identified racism as an all-encompassing system of social, economic, political and legal oppression that exists as a historical continuum stretching from the past to the present day and NOT a mere set of prejudices and attitudes that play out on the individual/interpersonal level.
For the most part, the general public processed this discussion much in the way that we process any significant event that happens in the public sphere: through an endless stream of tweets and memes, on our favorite daytime talk shows and podcasts. Hate him or love him, the public ate it all up and it became clear (to me at least) that Kanye was and has been sacrificing himself on the altar of fame and his own personal mythology. To the man who once packaged himself as a starry-eyed college kid who just wanted to get on, all press is now good press, and it doesn’t matter if the world around him is moved by affection or outrage.
Many dismissed Kanye’s statements (coupled with his fervent support of Donald Trump) as a publicity stunt or a cry for attention. This may be true, but a close listen to his latest album, YE, and considering his past as an artistic and public figure, it becomes increasingly difficult to write Kanye’s public and artistic choices off as mere stunts designed to sell records. His eighth album to date, YE is graphic, joyous, and a horrifying glimpse into the mind of Kanye West. If the inspiration for his haunting and lovelorn classic 808’s & Heartbreaks were the women in his life and the love he couldn’t give/keep, YE’s muse, the album’s raison d’etre, is Kanye West himself, his own heart, mind and the celebrity that threatens to tear him apart. Continue reading →
In the early 2000s, DJ / composer / author Kid Koala (birth name Eric San) established himself as one of the most unique voices in hiphop’s Turntablism movement. Growing out of the fiercely competitive DJ Battle scene, the sub-sub-genre blossomed into a musical style of his own where DJs stepped back into the spotlight, using their turntables as instruments to explore the farthest limits of sound. Koala’s debut Carpral Tunnel Syndrome (Ninja Tune) is a masterful collision of breakbeats, quirky samples and mind-bending scratches that has been hailed as a landmark of the genre. Continue reading →