Interview by Ron Worthy
Over the past few weeks, an exciting new artist came to our attention. PHZ-Sicks (pronounced like ‘Physics,’ our favorite subject in school), an artist hailing from the DMV or D.C., Maryland and Virginia Metropolitan Area. Having grown up in the Capital Hill section of our nation’s capital, I had only known of a few MC’s to have come from the area but not many to really gain the national recognition many may have deserved. The truth of the matter is that D.C. Metro has always been known for its percussive and mostly local Go-Go scene.
Groups like Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, Rare Essence, The Junkyard Band, and E.U. have been fixtures on the scene since the late 60s. So, since I could remember, it has always been Go-Go first, classic soul and funk (including slow james) and then hip hop. In fact, since its (arguable) hey-dey, most Go-Go bands would simply cover popular hip hop hits and add extended intros and call and response to songs in order to keep the constant Go-Go groove going. A great example of this was Rare Essence’s Do You Know What Time It Is?, a hit by rapper Kool Moe Dee. This song would go on to be a regional classic and also propelled Kool Moe Dee as a rapper with a buit in fan base among teens at the time, myself included.
At the time, there were loads of local rapper who tried to make a name for themselves. In the mid 80s, D.C. Scorpio came onto the scene with his local hit, Stone Cold Hustler, which depicted the life and times of a crack cocaine dealer. At the time, D.C. was known as the nation’s murder capital based on the number of murders committed per capita. As such, popular monickers like “Dodge City”, “Death Capital” and “Department of Corrections” became popular amongst residents and those near the area. The Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown even got into the rapping game with his local hit Run Joe, a Caribbean infused tale of a drug dealer running from the police. The chorus “Run Joe, the police is at the door” reminds me of a very bad time in the City and the conditions that made mobility extremely difficult to achieve. That said, other rappers did make some local noise, like Vinny D, who’s $55 Motel, which was produced by former Rare Essence member BJ Jackson, was a local smash and sounded very similar to British accented rappers like Slick Rick and Dana Dane.
Around that time, several Go-Go bands started to feature a lead rapper in addition to the talker, who would typically lead the band. In addition to front men like Sugar Bear (E.U.), Little Benny (Little Benny and the Masters) and James Funk (Rare Essence), a new generation of rappers leapt onto the scene. One in particular, Fat Rodney, achieved significant praise for his flow and freestlying ability. Although he was later killed, he and a whole cadre of new rappers changed the D.C. rap game forever.
Once I moved on to college, I rarely heard much about the D.C. hip hop scene but was still happy to hear Go-Go influenced tracks like Doug E. Fresh’s I’m Getting Ready, Salt N Pepa‘s My Mic Sounds Nice and Shake Your Thing (with E.U.) and of course E.U.’s Da Butt at pretty much every party during school. When I moved back to D.C. in the late 1990’s prior to moving to New York for graduate school, I remember nights at the Kaffa House on U. Street listening to Toni Blackman and the Freestyle Union tear it down or listening to Live Society mixtapes feeling like the scene actually had a shot. Little did I know that we were only a few years from the big time.
Fast forward to 2008, and I started hearing about this cat named Wale. It seemed like I had seem him waaaay before I had actually heard his music. Signed to Rick Ross‘s Maybach Music Group, Wale has distinguished himself amongst his peers and seems a lot more comfortable today than when I saw him perform at the BET Awards a few years back. While I have a load of respect for his accomplishments, I must admit that his style has taken some time to grow on me. That said, my mom LOVES Wale’s That Way featuring Jeremih and Rick Ross. On a recent trip to visit, she turned up the radio as soon as she heard the CurtisMayfield Give Me Your Love sample. Since I had not heard the song before, I was excited since I thought it was Curtis so I yelled “I love Curtis!” She was like “Who?” While I wanted to look at her and say “Et Tu Mama? Et tu?” I just let it go. LOL. (for the record, I actually dug the song too)
Anyway, it seems that D.C. hip hop has grown significantly through the years and is set to really explode, which is a great thing. This is why we were really excited when we learned of PHZ-Sicks. Despite a challenging to pronounce name, his message is very clear and positive. As soon as we saw the video to his song Success/Failure (see below), we knew we had to chat with him. As you will see from our exchange, this young man has his head on straight and is headed for a very solid future. Please check him out.
1) We grew up in DC so we know it can be pretty tough for new rappers to emerge from that scene. Please give us some insight into your scene, what it’s like, some of the other rappers in the scene and some of the challenges you have faced being from an area where only a few have emerged as stars.
The DMV scene has grown since I’ve been in. I’ll say from 09 to now, we have constantly been making our mark from being a local sound to moving out of the area and being recognized by others. I feel that DC is a tough area to make it in. The radio isn’t keen on playing you, if you don’t have a cosign from an already established artist or personality in the area, some people won’t check you out, but in time, creativity, and talent, those obstacles you can overcome. I remember a time where Fat Trel would perform at XO’s open mic at PURE and nobody was showing love. Then one night, he shut the club down. It’s one of those moments when you know someone has hit their stride and I saw the stardom in him. Since then, his buzz keeps getting bigger and bigger and this is from an artist where nobody was even paying attention to when he performed.
The scene has been spreading from dope artist such as The Diamond District, Phil Ade, Lyriciss, Nando, and a few others to name a few. I just did a show in Brooklyn on Saturday and just the mention of being from the DMV, a lot of love was shown. As far as how the scene has been for me, it has its challenges mostly being from the less representative state in the DMV: Virginia. The best venues are in DC and Maryland. Living in an area where there isn’t many venues to showcase your music, where everybody is a rapper and making a mockery of the art, it’s hard for the area. I did most of my work in DC and Maryland and as time has gone, opportunities have opened in Northern VA. It will take time but I know it will get there, but as much as I love my area, no artist should feel that they have confined to where they representative. Being in the digital age has its advantages. If you can get it popping somewhere else, make your mark. Make your mark any place that wants you to do great and have your music grow. It’s the only way you can get better and you can become great.
2) We love the positivity in the video for the Success/Failure. Can you speak a bit about the inspiration behind the song and the video?
The idea for the video came way before I even wrote the song. I’m a lover of film so I visualize everything that I do. The inspiration came from the film, (500) Days of Summer and from there I wrote the words, Success/Failure. I knew I wanted to mimic the Reality/Expectation scene in the movie, the same way in the video. From there, I went through my writing process, found the right beat, and I knew had something great on my hand. Originally, Scolla wasn’t suppose to be on the song. He was in the studio at the time and we just got done working on “The Love Scene II.” I sung the chorus and he loved it and wanted to do the chorus. He added some harmonies and he did the chorus way more justice than I would have been able to. The video was a huge trial and error. It was my first official video and it was ambitious. It was also the first video, I co-directed. I went through a few directors and finally my homies at The Sweatshop came through. We dealt with nature killing the shoot, trying to shoot while a major marathon was happening, and relying on unreliable people. We took every every negative turn and what you see is the product you get. I feel I had to go through all of that, cause if I didn’t I would have taken the process of making something visually great for granted.
3) What comes first. The beat or the rhymes?
The rhymes come first. Although I do grab beats way ahead of time to formulate a similar sound throughout the project, I usually write whenever I’m inspired. Success/Failure, for example, had the chorus written before I heard the beat and same goes for the first verse, which was written weeks later. The rest was written to the beat, but the whole concept and what I wanted to do came from the inspiration of life and later alter to bring soul from the written word to the ear once its laid on the beat.
4) Where do you see yourself as an artist in 5 years? as a man?
Five years from now, I would have hoped to make my mark as an artist in this industry, but what I want to do in my life and five years from now surpasses music. I want to do more in film, at least which the point in being a producer and do some more directing. I really want to bring some images and visuals that’s not usually seen on TV or the silver screen, especially people of color. Give back to my community, philanthropy around the nation and world and hopefully made some beautiful strides in the personal life (laugh).
5) Do you like Go-Go? If so, who are your favorite groups? If not, how?
I’m not huge on Go-Go. I know I’m in the minority. I came up to the DMV around the time I was seven and my mom being military, really wasn’t playing it. Old school Go-Go (E.U., Rare Essence), I love, but other than that, I really haven’t kept up with it. My love for Hip Hop though didn’t have the Go-Go sound too far from me. The use of Go-Go in Hip Hop, you can firmly here in Salt-n-Pepa, Kid-N-Play, um, another hyphenated duo hip hop group (laugh). LL’s Rock the Bells samples Trouble Funk and we know the impact that song has. Although I’m not huge on it, I can’t deny the artistry and musicianship that Go-Go has brought to music and the area.
6) Being from the DMV, you have to have a favorite crab cake spot. Where is it?
Blacksalt for me. You can’t go wrong with an establishment that uses legit Maryland crabs.
7) If we were to come to your hood, where should we hang out?
Not much to do in Woodbridge, minus Potomac Mills and eat. We would definitely have to head out of the area.
8) Tell us about how your album is/has come together? Who are the main players? What’s your favorite track so far and why?
The whole The Laws of PHZ-Sicks session was great looking back at it. I found the right production in Hudson Mohawke, Thelonious Dre, Epik Da Dawn, and others that gave the project, it’s complete sound. The record process is huge for me. Im such much of a perfectionist that its hard for me to get out of my head while Im there. Im making sure that my vocal and flow is right, that the beat sounds sonically grand, if not, Ill change things according to how I want it, but I like having my hands in to everything when Im in the studio even if Im being hard as hell on myself. With that, it helps to have good people in the studio with you. Wise, who engineered the whole mixtape, kept things light and fun. When I recorded Point Em Out with Scolla and Seanny Greggs, it was a blast. So much of a blast that that footage turned into a music video. Im really looking forward to getting back in the studio and putting it out in to the world. The studio is great but nothing is better than being able to perform and touch the people that are feeling your music. In the next few weeks, I will embark on working on two projects. I already can’t wait for the rest of the world to hear it. It will be a great thing and I look forward to the World’s ear listening to “Good Day, Greater Tomorrow” and “The Moment.”
Check out these videos from PHZ Sicks:
PHZ Sicks – Success/Failures
PHZ Sicks – The Laws of PHZ Sicks