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Unlocked: A conversation with Curly Castro, your friendly neighborhood rebel

Castro

Curly Castro is one of my favorite people to interview. We can be chatting about his music and then wind up on a long tangent about Cold War history, or the character dynamics of Wu-Tang Clan, or mass media consolidation. He’s a super insightful character, in addition to being a thought provoking Philadelphia rapper. His new album Fidel is out this week on Man Bites Dog Records, and he celebrates with a show tonight in his native Brooklyn at The Legion. Last week, we sat down talked about the progression the new record took from Castro’s 2011 debut Winston’s Appeal, a certain storied laundromat at 6th and Girard and how his outlook parallels both Marilyn Manson and Johnny Cash. Read more below.

The Key: One thing I like a lot about Fidel is the move from a first person narrative to more satirical, theatrical elements. Like “Starch” and “Colored Water Fountain” – they feel like sketches set to music, with an underlying message. How did this element come to be?

Curly Castro: Well, most of the songs especially on this one were dictated by the beat. I don’t know if its an epiphany or anything but certain things come to mind when I’m listening to a beat. So with “Colored Water Fountain,” that came about because I wanted to sing on my record. I don’t write many songs, I mostly write raps, but I wanted to try it. And so I don’t know what came about, but I started doing the Louis Armstrong voice – that’s me doing that! And once I started doing that voice, the words came for the song. I said allright, what’s the most, like you said, satirical way to get my point across? To symbolize how there are some white extremeists that have very staunch racial views, but they love black culture somehow. So it’s like, okay, come on down to my restaurant, you can have all the black food you want, you can dive in all you want, and then at the end I pull the rug out.

TK: “You’ve all been poisoned…”

CC: Yeah. The song made me think of a juke joint, the song made me think of the Cotton Club. And the dichotomy of the Cotton Club is that some of us were the main performers, but we had to come in through the back door. You could talk to people, they could be fans and come see you on stage, but if they want to see you after, you got to leave out the back and they leave out the front. So I was also thinking of a restaurant like that, but turning Jim Crow and segregation in its tail – making it the Colored Water Fountain. Like Tavern on the Green, there’s the opulunce to it.

TK: And what about “Starch”?

CC: Well, there’s this infamous laundromat at 6th and Girard. It seems like its open all the time, there’s this weird light emanating, there’s not many attendants after 10:00, and there’s all types of seedy activity that goes on there. They sell DVDs there, behind the glass. So I thought what if I was at laundromat one night, what could happen. But then I thought I want it to be a story, I want it to be circular. So I got Boogie Mandela on there, who’s doing really nice things in the city these days. And I got the legendary Has-Lo on there. When people hear it, hopefully they get its not too deep. But I think that those stories would be told best in that vein. And also, there’s the underlying issues – even with “Starch,” it’s about gentrification, enablers being all jacked up. And people in personal space. And people with germophobia. Continue reading →

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Unlocked: Watch Curly Castro perform at the Occupy Philly rally in the “They Call Me Castro” video

CastroPhilly rapper Curly Castro is the subject of this week’s Unlocked, what with his new release Fidel burning up headphones and stages this week in Philly (last night at Kung Fu Necktie) and Brooklyn (tomorrow night at The Legion). The album, as we discussed in yesterday’s review, is very socially conscious and somewhat provocative, but not without purpose. Castro’s goal is to get people to open their ears and their minds, which means that time he played the Occupy Philly rally must have been the perfect audience for him. Scenes from his performance last October are intercut with dramatic performance shots in this music video for “They Call Me Castro,” the opening track on Fidel. Check it out below.

Fidel is the featured album in this edition of Unlocked; hear the spotlighted single “Coal” in Monday’s post, read yesterday’s album review and check back later in the week for interviews, a playlist and more.

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Unlocked: Read The Key’s review of Fidel by Curly Castro

curlycastro-fidelPhilly rapper Curly Castro isn’t trying to be shocking for shock value, he’s not provocative without substance – he wants to make you think.

Yes, the emcee born Kinte McDaniel took his stage name from the Cuban leader widely regarded as a despot in the United States. By calling his sophomore album Fidel, he pushes that parallel more to the front – something that, depending on what political era the listener grew up during, what part of the country they were raised in, and so forth, might be read as a massively controversial statement.

But there’s another thing that the record’s title does – it humanizes its polarizing namesake by using his first name, the familiar form of address. When I interviewed the emcee, he discussed this very conscious decision – he’s a human being, as we all are human beings, and the new album is a reflection of the journey of humanity from pre-post-racial America to the world today. It’s a world where problems persist, but are addressed in a lively manner through Curly Castro’s funky / jazzy / cinematic hip-hop tapestries.

The moniker is the subject of the opening song, “Call Me Castro” – it’s about him reading up on revolutionary figures and shaping his own character accordingly. “When I finally knew the deal than I turned Bobby Seale,” he raps, a nod to the co-founder of the Black Panther party. “I settled some scores and now I’m ten points up.” Continue reading →

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Unlocked: Download “Coal” from Curly Castro’s new Fidel

Philly rapper Curly Castro had a great lyric on his 2011 debut: “This is for the heavy-handed, the heavy readers / Not those elitists, just truth seekers.” It kind of sums up the outlook of an emcee who doesn’t shy away from artistic curveballs. On Castro’s latest offering, Fidel – out this week on Man Bites Dog Records – he mixes satire and parable to convey his lyrical concerns about racial and social injustice, while structuring the release in a highly personal sequence. His last album, Winston’s Appeal, was more of a direct first-person narrative; this one is an allegory, arranged in a way that Castro says is meant to mirror the arc of The Autobiography of Malcom X.

We’ll dig into Fidel this week on Unlocked, The Key’s regular series spotlighting new and significant releases from Philadelphia area-artists. Tomorrow, I’ll review the album. Later in the week, we’ll have a video and an interview. Today, it’s a free download of the track “Coal,” a track with a loungey, David Lynch soundtrack vibe that’s basically Castro’s hard-hitting nursery rhyme. “I grew up the opposite,” he explains on the first verse. “Didn’t grow up Cosby.” Download the track below, and check back all week for more on Castro and Fidel in Unlocked.

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Curly Castro releases “The Zero’s Yours,” preps his Man Bites Dog Records debut Fidel

Curly Castro (right), backing up Zilla Rocca at The Key's Tuesday Tune-Out

Yesterday we got the first taste of the new music Philly MC Curly Castro is cooking up. A one-off song, “The Zero’s Yours” was released as a free download – it is deep, dubby and contemplative. Stream it or download it below. Castro’s full-length, Fidel, is coming out on Virginia-based Man Bites Dog Records next month.

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Watch a new music video for The Wrecking Crew’s “Scallops” (Zilla Rocca plays The Key’s Tuesday Tune-Out on 1/15)

A sweet cinematic music video appeared from The Wrecking Crew today – that’s Philly rappers Zilla Rocca, Has-Lo and Curly Castro, assembled in force to pay homage to the Wu-Tang Clan with their Wu-Tang Pulp project. The clip for “Scallops” plays out like a supernatural heist film; Has is a would-be hit-man being interrogated by a group of intense assassins; Castro is the member of his crew whose telepathic powers save the day, while Zilla drives the getaway car out of the Celebre’s Pizza parking lot. Watch it below, and catch Zilla Rocca next Tuesday the 15th of January when he plays The Key’s Tuesday Tune-Out at PhilaMOCA. Information on the show can be found here.

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Watch Zilla Rocca and Curly Castro discuss Wu-Tang Pulp and the state of hiphop with Rhymestreet.com

On the heels of releasing their long-awaited Wu-Tang Pulp project, Philly rappers Zilla Rocca and Curly Castro of The Wrecking Crew sat down with the folks at Rhymestreet.com to talk about the method behind the album’s madness, share some thoughts on the state of hip-hop, and perform for the cameras at The Arts Garage. Check out the video below.

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Zilla Rocca talks reinterpreting Wu-Tang Clan with the Wrecking Crew

We’ve been hearing about this project for a couple years now – Wu-Tang Pulp, an homage to hip-hop legends Wu-Tang Clan featuring Philly MCs Curly Castro, Has-Lo and Zilla Rocca. Individual teaser tracks have popped up here and there, and this week the entire collection surfaced as a name-your-own-price download.

But what is it, exactly? A covers record? Those don’t look like Wu-Tang song-titles. They don’t sound like familiar Wu-Tang beats. Are they deep cuts and rarities? Are they never-released jams? Might The Wrecking Crew be be such fans / obsessives that they’re into a whole other depth of Wu obscuro nerdery? Note the “Pulp” in the album title – these are comic book loving dudes, after all. Continue reading →

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Download a new song from The Wrecking Crew’s homage to Wu-Tang featuring Ethel Cee, Curly Castro and Has-Lo


The musical adventures of The Wrecking Crew (including some of Philly’s most notable hip-hoppers Zilla Rocca, Curly Castro, Has-Lo and Small Professor) continues with this funky new jam from Wu-Tang Pulp, their homage to Wu-Tang. “Pain Bringer” Ethel Cee adds some serious flavor to the mix with Has-Lo and Curly Castro. Download it below. You can grab some more tracks from the Wu-Tang Pulp project here.

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Goodnight Lights hosts tonight’s XPN2 Philly Local Show, plays Johnny Brenda’s on Saturday

Philadelphia indie-rock five-piece Goodnight Lights will sit in as guest DJs on tonight’s installment of the XPN2 Philly Local show. The band is gearing up to release its latest full-length, As Far as the Moon, and will feature selections from the album in its DJ set, as well as a playlist of some of their favorite fellow South Jersey musicmakers like In Grenada and It’s A King Thing. We’ll also get the details on their album release show, happening this Saturday night, June 16, at Johnny Brenda’s.

Listen in at 88.5 HD-2 or XPN2.org during the 8 p.m. hour of tonight’s Philly Local Show to catch Goodnight Lights’ set; you can also tune in early to catch Pet Milk’s Key Studio Session during the 7:00 hour, and stick around for the 9:00 hour, when we’ll showcase new music from Young Gliss, Everyone Everywhere, Curly Castro and the BITBY Tape Club compilation.