“According to the odds or statistics, I should be in a mental ward. But I weathered the storm and by the grace of God, I survived.” – Michael “Big Star” Starling.
Born in Norristown Pa, the youngest of 3 siblings, Michael Starling was a loner. An active, imaginative kid, he spent his days busy with sports and fed his curiosity on a steady diet of classic kung fu flicks, Blaxploitation movies and hip-hop. It was this early love of sports, film and music that would provide an escape from the chaos that reigned in his household — and would lead him to launch 2 Raw For The Streets, an underground video series that documented the burgeoning Philadelphia hip-hop community. Continue reading →
In a recent New York Times op-ed, South Philly-born, North Philly-raised rapper Meek Mill laid out a harrowing first-person account of how he has been railroaded by a lying cop and a judge with a grudge. Reading through this sad and horrific account, a broader question begs to be asked: if this could happen to a rich and famous Black Man, how many others have had their lives swallowed up by an unfathomably cruel and racist justice system?
Since his dramatic helicopter-led release from prison before game five of the Sixers vs. Heat playoff series, Meek has (metaphorically) hit the ground running. Dropping new music, spearheading several charitable efforts in the city, and refashioning himself as an advocate for criminal justice reform. Earlier in the year, his song “Dreams and Nightmares (Intro)” served as the official soundtrack of the Philadelphia Eagles storied Super Bowl run. As he sat in a cell, the streets were filled with his music while the people organized mass rallies demanding he be freed. Meek Mill had become the spiritual symbol of a city’s ambition and determination, but more importantly, his celebrity and (most of) his music would come to represent something bigger. Continue reading →
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On Monday morning in Los Angeles, Stan Lee was rushed from his home by ambulance, where he would later be pronounced dead at 95 years old.
The co-founder of Marvel Comics, Lee (along with his collaborators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko) created a number of beloved characters such as Spiderman, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, The X-Men, The Avengers and more, leaving behind an indelible mark on the pop cultural landscape. These characters and the stories told through them were more than just a means of escape, they were in many ways, a moral and sociopolitical reflection of our world that challenged us to make it better.
In the wake of a worldwide outpouring of grief and gratitude expressed for Lee, we asked members of our city’s music community to share their thoughts on a man whose vision expanded the limits of our collective imagination. Continue reading →
Speaking with The Key last year on the heels of their Carnegie Hall debut and a successful run at SXSW, Jeffrey McNeill — aka rapper / producer Thee Phantom — shed light on his early days in hip-hop culture and his first experiments in forging the curious fusion of rap and European classical that he has become known for. “My brother and I had a B-Boy routine where our walk out music was Darth Vader’s ‘Imperial March’,” he says. “I had that orchestral hip-hop thing from the beginning and didn’t even realize it. ’86 / 87, I mixed Beastie Boys’ ‘Paul Revere’ and Beethoven’s 5th Symphony that year when the single came out. I used my brother’s double tape deck to fuse the two together. It was just what I heard in my head.”
After years of touring with his Ill Harmonic Orchestra, McNeill and company began working on a set of songs that would become Maniac Maestro, a full length that stands as a culmination of decades of intense work and dedicated genre-bending. Continue reading →
As the summer of 2018 slowly recedes into the rear view of our collective memory, an important step has been taken by the City of Philadelphia toward the protection of summer fun and a time-honored cultural tradition. A ride around the city during the warmer months will reveal a seemingly endless number of closed off streets complete with music blaring, barbecue filling the air, and children playing in mobile inflatable Bouncy Houses, all telltale signs of one of Philly’s favorite past times: the block party. For decades, block parties have stood as a integral part of Philadelphia’s music and social culture, strengthening communal bonds among neighbors as well as serving as a training ground for many of the city’s world-class DJs.
Earlier this year, the city announced that there would be tighter restrictions on the process by which residents would receive permit approval to close down their streets for block parties. This new policy would have required residents to get pre-approval from their local police district before receiving final approval from the Streets Department. Some residents even claimed that some police departments promised to block all future permits.
Faced with the looming threat of block party applications being impeded by added bureaucratic red tape, Philly residents took to the phone lines and social media demanding that the process be streamlined. Last week, the City announced that this policy would in fact be reversed, making it easier for residents to apply for block party permits. In a statement from the Streets Department and Police Department: “Applicants will now have one less step in the approval process as they no longer need to visit their local Police District to submit an application in-person or by mail. The Departments will now manage this step of the process internally, saving residents extra time and added process.” Continue reading →
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 →