All eyes on Philly: City's hip hop scene poised for a national comeback?
Local luminaries and up-and-comers join for a meeting of the minds at Sole Control sneakers to talk about Philly's pivotal position in the music industry.
Seventeenth century literary circles had salons, the modern-day hip hop scene has meet and greets. At least that was the concept behind Batcave Studio's industry networking night at Sole Control sneaker shop in the Piazza Friday, according to founder and partner Biz Porter.
"Hip hop is about togetherness," he said. "The culture is in the community." The event came at a time when Philadelphia's community is uniquely positioned on the national stage, with homegrown artist Meek Mill's "Dreamchasers 2" mixtape garnering 2.5 million downloads in 24 hours earlier this month and heavyweight Jay-Z coming to town last week to announce a locally-staged Labor Day festival.
"I think Philly is at a great moment," said Shayna Sheri of "The Mogul Minute" radio show. "People have been watching Philly. Now doors are opening and people are pushing a little more."
"That there is someone representing Philly on a national level makes people even hungrier – 'I was beside Meek Mill in videos, I can do that,'" said performer Sonjia "CoCo" Brown. "That's great for us. Jay-Z coming here, that's great for us. Artists are hungry, that's why they're here today. Let's get together and support each other."
"Now that Philly has the light shining on us, we got to take it advantage of it as a city," said local legend Gillie da Kid, who hopes to be included on Jay-Z's lineup but hasn't yet gotten the call.
Long known as what Porter calls "king of opening acts," what more does Philly's hip hop scene have to accomplish to take center stage? "We've always been a musical city, but we've always been lacking executive power," he said. "Talent is just half the fight. The other half is having someone with executive power to connect the dots and get it out."
Porter said Batcave is trying to fill that void by bringing artists together, guiding them through the industry and facilitating the exchange of ideas. "We need everybody to step off their pedestal and network. We need Comcast to do business with us, we need to be at the Kimmel Center. Until corporations and the media get on our side, it's going to remain a hood thing."
Some expressed reservations about the Jay-z "Budweiser Made in America" festival's significance in the city's hip hop history. "It's two-sided because on the one hand, it's always great to have the music scene in Philadelphia and the scene in general improve," said artist and writer Akin B. Ware.
"On the other side, it is polemical because an event in Philadelphia should involve artists in Philadelphia. ... That's the source of a lot of artists' ambivalence. They're going to come to Philadelphia, corral off the street and charge $100 to go where people are used to going for free. Some of that money needs to go back to supporting local entertainment and there need to be Philly artists up on the stage."
1. Scorp da Boy – It's no surprise this rapper moonlights as a tattoo artist – his head is fully inked with rolling waves. He also has a pet cotton-top Tamarin monkey. His girlfriend, Anime Moe, is another of the city's young talents. And did we mention he spits fire?
2. Toots Santiago – The Batcave Studios promoter has the stamina of the Energizer Bunny, straddles English and Spanish in her own raps, makes sure everyone's having a good time while keeping them in line and does it all in six-inch heels.
3. David "Professor Pooch" Spangenberg – A recording artist whose song that made it all the way to Columbia Records in the late 1960s – without any attribution – this former Art Institute professor and legal adviser sporting a Rick Rubin-esque beard helps young talent navigate the industry without getting ripped off.
4. Alexa Gold – This earthy singer-songwriter blew the crowd of boys spitting hardcore bars in front of the store away when she belted out a soulful melody, leaving only stunned silence in her wake.