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Def Poetry Jam returns to its Philly roots at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

clockwise from left: Ursula Rucker, Vanessa German, Bonafide Rojas, Sonia Sanchez | photos courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

In season one, episode four of the popular early-2000s spoken word HBO series Def Poetry Jam, celebrated poet laureate and Black Arts movement co-founder Amiri Baraka performs an excerpt from his poem “Why Is We Americans.” Filmed in the wake of 9/11 against a hellish political backdrop of war, nationalist paranoia, the Patriot Act and artistic censorship (in the form of Clear Channel’s infamous list of banned songs post-9/11), Baraka’s performance is crackling with fire and righteous indignation. Continue reading →

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A Philly DJ Roundtable: Exploring the state of the art of party rocking in 2019

DJ Lean Wit It
DJ Lean Wit It | photo by Dvvinci | courtesy of the artist

From the reggae sound systems of Jamaica in the 70s, to England’s illegal pirate radio stations of the 1960s and beyond, the history of global DJ culture is impossibly rich and complex. In music circles around the world, Philadelphia is recognized as a breeding ground for some of the world’s best DJs. Having to bridge the gap between technical skill, taste and a deep knowledge of the music one plays, the art of being a (good) DJ in this city no simple task. Club culture in this city is built upon a foundation of decades of history and tradition.

In the wake of the cultural and economic boom of the disco-era (led by Philadelphia International Records), the essence of modern DJing as we know it began to take shape. Spurred on by a few key technical innovations — most notably, the creation of extended, “remixed” versions of popular R&B / soul cuts, the 12” vinyl single, and the practice of creating a seamless flow of music by mixing two records together on two turntables and a mixer — the disco-era initiated a gradual shift of focus away from bands and concerts, toward DJs and clubs, and effectively changed the way we experience music. Continue reading →

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Keeping the spirit of hip-hop production legend Nujabes alive with Shing02

Nujabes (top) ft Shing02 | via Last.fm

On February 26th, 2010, Japanese hip-hop producer / DJ Jun Seba (more commonly known as Nujabes) was critically injured in a car accident on the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway. After being transported to the hospital, Nujabes could not be revived and passed away at the age of 36.

Known for his prolific output of elegant, jazz-inflected compositions, Nujabes was well on his way to becoming a legend in hip-hop culture before his untimely death made him a tragic story. In the nine years since his passing, Nujabes has come to be recognized amongst the pantheon of hip-hop greats. His sound, rooted in sampling, is characterized by jazzy piano chords and melodies which would often toe the emotional line between sunny optimism and deep, nostalgic longing. Considered to be one of the forefathers of the niche instrumental hip-hop subgenre “Lo-Fi,” Nujabes’ thoughtful, dreamy style has influenced countless kids to take up making beats in their bedrooms. Continue reading →

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20 Years of Grandiose Hip-Hop: How Things Fall Apart taught The Roots to balance art, commerce, and deeply personal perspectives

The Roots, circa 1999

“We had given most of our adult lives to that point to the band. What if success never came to us, or never came in the form we expected? – Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

As a teenager growing up in Philadelphia in the mid-to-late 90s, radio was a really big deal. Guided by that old algorithm of the human spirit, a handful of radio shows and the DJs and personalities that captained them fed and diversified my ever-growing musical appetite, from J. Michael Harrison’s electric Jazz fusions on Temple’s The Bridge, to the quirky Indie Rock of the Sarah and Laurie Show from Princeton’s WPRB. I’d bounce off my bedroom walls to sounds of mainstream Alternative Rock on Y-100 and fall asleep to the ambient soundscapes of John Diliberto’s Echoes and Chuck Van Zyl’s Star’s End on WXPN.

Like many kids, I’d often call into radio stations and request whatever songs I wanted to hear. Unlike most kids, the budding archivist in me would compel me to press record on my combination radio / cassette deck each time one of my request calls made it on air or my name was shouted out by a show’s host. By the time I graduated high school and I had filled up a tape of my radio mentions and shout outs.

One night, a new song by Philadelphia’s own The Roots had come across the airwaves and floored me. Slick and modern, the song fused lovelorn verses from Black Thought and a pre-fame / pre-Ruff Ryders Eve with a killer hook sung by Erykah Badu (and written by Jill Scott). Two bars into the song’s final chorus, the plodding, straight-forward drum beat that Questlove had held lockstep for the entire song transformed into something altogether different. Continue reading →

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Skeme Richards dropped a limited edition DJ mix for Neighborhood Ramen

via Bandcamp

“Japan has always been one of my most favorite places to travel to for many reasons, but food has always been on the top of the list, and especially ramen! Just like the variations of broths used in the bowls, records of all types fill my crates, and the two things that bring people together more than anything else is music and food.” – Skeme Richards

Philly based DJ and record collector Skeme Richards (Nostalgia King) has taken his deep knowledge of global funk, soul, and disco to the four corners of the Earth, traveling and bringing his cosmopolitan sound to audiences in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. As part of his travel regimen, Skeme routinely tours throughout Japan and is an enthusiastic of champion Japanese music and culture.

Honoring the deep cultural exchange that lives in his work, Richards has partnered with Dr. Bruce Campbell (aka DJ Junior) ‘s Record Breakin’ Music and South Philly’s recently opened Neighborhood Ramen restaurant. The result of this collaboration is Neighborhood Ramen, a limited edition CD complete with a special bundle pack that includes Nostalgia King signature chopsticks and a pack of Miso, Shio, Tonkotsu or Original ramen. Continue reading →

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Bring Da Ruckus: Wu-Tang Clan takes its roof-raising celebration of the groundbreaking 36 Chambers to Franklin Music Hall

Wu-Tang Clan | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

“Hip Hop is often treated as a collapse or retreat from the ‘high’ African American culture of Jazz, a bastard kind of offspring lacking the musicality, sophistication, complexity, even the spirituality ir morality of its besuited forebear. But if you think of the music of the African slave diaspora as a music of re-reference then it’s possible to suggest that Hip Hop is, in fact, its highest, most realised form…..the most re-referential music ever made” – Will Ashon

In his latest book, Chamber Music: Wu-Tang And America (in 36 Pieces), English scholar Will Ashon lays out a detailed exegesis of the Wu-Tang Clan’s aesthetic and philosophy in 36 interrelated chapters. Using the group’s debut album Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) as a launching point, Ashon digs deep into the story of how an impossibly dense web of influences combined to birth the Wu-Tang. Positing the group as the standard bearers of hip-hop’s obsession with reference and recontextualization, Ashon argues that it is the group’s (and hip-hop in general’s) hybridized nature that lies at the core of what makes them one of the most wholly unique phenomena that American popular culture has ever produced.

Formed in Staten Island in the wake of hip-hop’s initial flowering out from The Bronx and into New York’s surrounding boroughs, the Wu-Tang Clan expanded on hip-hop’s voracious appetite for cultural sampling. Melding together spiritual lessons from the 5% Nation of Islam, classic Bronx-style rap routines, beats sourced heavily from Stax-style southern soul records, as well as a wealth of visual and sonic cues taken from Golden Age Hong Kong action cinema, the group would craft a singular mythology out of this chaotic mix of desperate cultural touchstones.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the release of 36 Chambers and the group has embarked on a tour of North America to celebrate. After years of infighting, internal lawsuits, canceled shows and attempted reunions, it seems as though the Clan has healed, pulled themselves together and are ready to receive their just due appreciation. On January 24th, all 7 surviving members — RZA, GZA, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Ghostface Killah, Method Man and Raekwon — along with Cappadonna, Masta Killah and Young Dirty Bastard (performing his father Ol Dirty Bastard’s verses) brought the first show of the tour to Franklin Music Hall in Philadelphia. Continue reading →

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The creative community finds a new hub at CCP’s Spring Garden Records

Aviance performs at the Spring Garden Records launch party | photo courtesy of the label

Spring Garden Records is an ambitious new project by Community College of Philadelphia launched at the tail end of 2018. A collaboration between the school’s Music department and department of Strategic Initiatives, Spring Garden Records is a record label where students, staff and community members produce, record and release their music in-house.

Music department head Paul “Starkey” Geissinger is a renowned composer and electronic musician who serves as director of Spring Garden Records. Geissinger has been spearheading the program’s launch for the past few months and envisions the project as an incubator for the city’s musical talent.

“I wanted to create a musical hub for creativity in the city, something I think we are missing,” he says. “CCP is a great place to do it, since we have a sound recording and music technology program, and most of our students are Philly residents who plan to stay and work in Philly upon graduation.” Continue reading →

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2 Raw For The Streets: How Big Star pioneered the hip-hop DVD era in 2000s Philly

Big Star & Eddie Morris | photo courtesy of Michael “Big Star” Starling

“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 →

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Meek Mill flexes his increased social consciousness on Championship

Meek Mill | photo via facebook.com/MeekMill

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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Heroes Matter: Remembering Stan Lee with King Britt, Camp Candle, Kindred, and more from the Philadelphia music scene

Embed from Getty Images
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 →