Monday, November 9, 2009

Tu Phace: Too Fresh, Too Philly, Too Funky

In order to understand Tu Phace you have to understand Philadelphia.

Philadelphia is a hard scrabbled town of working class people where relationships are their currency and everyone works for a living. There is no fast money and nothing comes easy. Barney’s doesn’t live here. Cristal took a jet to New York while Jameson took a bus to Philly.

As he explains it (the entire interview is available below) “Philly’s the shit because it’s one of the hardest cities I’ve ever been to. Philly is one of the hardest to make it. People might think it’s New York but I would say it’s Philly. The reason for that is Philly, we have a tough love, hateration policy, where we’re very unimpressed by everything.” He goes on to explain that “It’s hard to win Philadelphians over.” But rest assured they will.

Understand Tu Phace has not synergized hip hop. He’s reinvented it. Gone are empty lyrics of the floss-or-fall variety, a simplistic view of life oft propagated by musicians, where one is either balling out of control or being oppressed by institutionalized societal woes backed a crooning siren song.

Rather Tu Phace speaks about life in a way that life is, a lot of grey area. But as opposed to being hipster-ish about it, wearing black, and dropping out, rather Phace offers a dance tune to those who wish to party, and a roadmap for those who wish to listen.

In the instance club hit “Flash” produced by Ritz Reynolds, a guy Phace describes as “His brother from another mother … Just a talented young dude” that he connects to, is incredible in it’s versatility. “Flash” has a very catchy dance-able beat, but the lyrics are insightful and illuminating. Phace describes the aboriginal nature of fame, namely that the camera’s flash can steal one’s soul. Yet, instead of eschewing fame or excoriating those who pursue it, he actively courts it with his energetic hook “Let me see you smile for the flash.”

He goes on to describe a young woman who had attained fame and how it turned on her with the lyrics “Now everyone can’t stand her. / Smile your on candid camera. The ones who loved / her now say fuck her / cause they don’t understand her. / Pulled the plug on her fast. / Funny they never last. / Once a star, / now burning ash. / She was murdered by the flash.” He continues in his third verse, instead of cursing the flash, he gives anyone seeking the flash context. He doesn’t attempt to marginalize fame but rather says “We all know it don’t last. When its all said and done you’ve got to dream about the past,” telling the listener that fame is fleeting so simply enjoy it and then let it go.

In an autobiographical track “La Di Da” Tu Phace continues to describe himself as the unique guy that he is, “They don’t understand my taste. But Phace can spit um’ an eight and give ‘um the shakes.” Phace goes on to call for “an audio revolution” and Ritz Reynolds is happy to assist him. To write this article and simply praise Phace would be like mentioning Apple and only speaking about Steve Jobs. Steve Wozniak, the engineer behind Apple’s birth, is analogous to Ritz Reynolds. Without his beats, Phace’s fine line of truth, lyrical skill, and commercial viability would be damn near impossible. Ritz is to Phace what Kanye is to Jay-Z, simply necessary.

As for in person, Tu Phace is first and foremost hard to get to. His crew have a wall of love surrounding each other so that each are impervious. They have a openness that must be born of childhood friendship. The friendship of DJ Sammy Slice, Tu Phace, and DJ Cool Hand Luke allows for the safety to create what he’s created.

As for Phace himself, he is a balanced guy beyond his 25 years of age or his oddly non-imposing 6’ 6’’ lanky frame. He dresses in a b-boy prep hybrid and has an easy, friendly, mensch-vibe that is all his own. Tu Phace has far from won over all Philadelphians. But ironically, it’s because he hasn’t tried.

Phace has just inked a deal with Sony, 3 days before this article was written. I ambushed Phace at Silk City, a diner/bar lifted right out of the imagination of Quentin Tarantino. It is an eclectic, yet non-conflicting mix of blue collar kids, blue-collar wannabes, black scenesters, thug-lite, and retail store girls looking for a fun night out. I asked him why more people didn’t know about him at the weekly dance party he MCs.

Out of the ten I asked only two had heard of him and only one said he was good, but admitted that she worked with him and was in no position to truly offer her opinion. (Note: there is a bit of hate in the air among some patrons.)

He replied that he has actively broken from the build-a-mini-label model exemplified by Ludacris and Cash Money Records. Rather Phace says “I’m very protective of the things I do. And I feel it deserves it’s proper campaign.” He goes on to explain that he hasn’t followed a mixed tape model “because I feel my shit is worth something. … I want to write things that are gonna stick around for a while. I want to write good songs that you’re gonna listen to 10, 20, 30, 40 years down the line. So I put a price on it.” That concept has paid off. If available I would buy the CD today, as I find myself humming the songs on the train and elsewhere.

Tu Phace is an original. He is commercially viable, original, and a middle finger to Nas’ statement that hip-hop is dead. At this time in hip-hop I believe it can be safely assumed that not hip-hop, but gangster rap, the king of commercial rap, is dead. But a new kind of commercially viable soulful black music is being born. Tu Phace is of the latter variety. Gangster rap is dead. Long live hip-hop. And God bless those who make it.

To Hear the Entire Interview Click Below:  

Part 1 of 2:

Part 2 of 2:

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