This Hip Hop is Soul music too. You can meet your brothers through a waxed verse and understand others and self through these Arts of others. The science of it all traces to mirror neurons through cerebrum lobes but so it’s sold to feed, the Soul just the need the grit, the style and the flowing on and on. Detroit’s Wisemen, dominating an era where the lesser are crowned, have offered one of the great MC stylists and soul lyricists to date with Phillie. An MC who has the rare ability to project the sincerity of his nature directly on a song and the ever developing skill to display varying vocal pitches of emphasis, clever wordplay and the epitome of charisma in insightful portraits of verse. With his debut, Welcome to Detroit Zoo, set to drop, we will have an album based off an impassioned theme of humanity delivered through gritty realness, stylist MC supremacy and more of Bronze Nazareth’s incredible beat cinema. Before building on his opening masterwork, Phillie shared his understanding with us…
SUNEZ: Long time I’ve done this, I guess I’ve taken the right to be critical of shit. At best, it gives contrast to the Wisemen work that continues to be stellar.
PHILLIE: [laughs] I mean, but you know what, on some real shit sometimes that’s what’s needed. It’s not hating because you not feeling it. A lot of people want to be that you hating. If you going along with the program you alright. But if you say something against that you hating. And I don’t be feeling not of that too, my brother.
SUNEZ: Wisemen, Wu-affiliated through Bronze Nazareth are to me the next great generation of Wu–and just Hip Hop. However, for you, there is a diversity to your sound through your history up to this debut that goes beyond the cliché expectations of the Wu sound.
PHILLIE: 36 Chambers, I wasn’t into all that. I remember getting into Wu-Tang when ODB came out. No, I’m gonna go as far as when Method Man came out. I spit my first bars, my first verse off of Method Man’s “Bring the Pain” instrumental. It was like certain members like ODB, Method Man, Ghost. Them guys had a different flare to me. They lasted a lot longer than them other guys. You don’t hear Inspectah Deck and them other guys like Masta Killa. And I know Masta Killa, my man is one of the realest out of the whole crew. I don’t know it’s like, what are we doing? Are we making music for us or are we making music to grow? Cuz evolution. Everything has evolution.
PHILLIE: Man, that’s the sound that I actually fell in love growing up. I’m saying the first album that I actually liked as a whole was that Nas – It Was Written. And that was like one of the coldest albums. Then from that point on I adopted that Mobb Deep. That Infamous. That’s in my top four. Wu-Tang was it for me when Rae and Ghost made their feature on that album [“Right Back At You”]. I was like, ‘them niggas is tight.’ That’s about the time Cuban Linx came out, right after that. I was like they got something I could now bump. That’s when I started getting into the whole Wu thing. And I say that’s my comfort zone because in my heart and my soul that is the soul where I came from. And they still here making that type of music. I could always feel right at home when I do it.
But me as an artist I be feeling the need to reach those other fans. The ones who say it’s wack. I’m one of those who don’t get mad when niggas say, ‘that Wisemen joint is wack.’ I be, ‘what you like?’ I make that. I’m an artist. This is what I do. I’ll make that. I’m not gonna change my lyricism but I’m gonna make it off a beat that you gon be like, ‘damn, you was saying that same as that other shit but the beat is different.’ It’s just now you’re going to appeal off of it cuz the beat is different. I’ma always love the zone that I’m in because the fans that I got right now–we got so much love. We getting ready to do a tour in Colombia next month. Then we gotta joint that we doing in Europe, then Japan. It’s like some whole other stuff. It’s my comfort zone and when I get on stage doing that type of stuff that’s where I feel at home at. But at the same time I feel the need to test them other voices that ain’t feeling. That’s all.
Wu always gonna be my comfort zone. That is home base to me. I say a lot of things but I don’t want people to ever get it twisted that this ain’t my home. Everybody that I grew up with they know that this is where Phillie at but they get worn at the stuff I’m making. Well, ‘you doing that type of music but you ain’t giving nothing to us. You ain’t giving us nothing. You feeding the masses, your fans and all that, out of the state and out of the country but you not giving us nothing right here at home.’ And that’s where I kind of draw the line because this is where I’m from. This is where I’m at. They want something. And they like baby birds, they hungry for worms and can’t feed themselves. I gotta bring it to them.
SUNEZ: There is an immediate appeal in your abilities that is extremely rare for any MC.
PHILLIE: Bronze and them always call me the Method Man of the crew cuz I could always come with anything. I could come with some straight chamber music and then you’ll hear me on a club track and I sound totally at home on that as I did on that chamber music. I’m that type. Only thing I get frustrated with is the box that people put me in. Just because that’s what they are used to hearing me on. They don’t know that I’m capable of other dimensions. I mean I can do it all. I’m really on them top guys’ level. I just choose my Wisemen. That’s my loyalty. I feel at home there. I do a track and it’s like I could say what I feel and I know they’re gonna feel it. And these other crowds are in a whole different mode going to the club. They smoking and drinking in the ride riding out. They not trying to hear that. They trying to get as hype as they can. So eventually a nigga gotta cross that line. Feel me? But don’t ever get this wrong. That you gotta compromise your lyricism. It’s never the lyricism. I done heard the tight lyricist cats on them Southern type beats and they sound good and they can pass through with what’s going on now. It’s just the fact that sometimes you gotta make that type of song. Give them something. At least give them something so you can say that you did. I gave y’all this and that. If they not feeling it then, the hell with them. That’s how I feel.
PHILLIE: As a group Wisemen, we all come from different places and even different backgrounds. Most of it us is pretty much connected. We all grew up somewhat poverty stricken but at the same time we all come from different areas. For me, man, I don’t know what it was like for other cats but the area I’m from it was always so much pressure. From where I’m from there are so many talented guys where I’m from. I mean guys that should be out here and I grew up around that circle as one of the elite guys coming out. As a youngster about fifteen [years old], I was picked with a couple of other guys where I’m from. We were supposed to have been like national guys, out there like Lil’ Wayne and them. When I was fifteen those guys weren’t even in my league. It’s crazy cuz we were supposed to have business with these guys to where we were supposed to fight for supremacy, battle and some shit. It never happened but just to know that I was in that realm there’s a lot of stuff I grew up on.
Bronze and Kevlaar grew up in Grand Rapids. They’re Detroit. Illah Dayz grew up in the projects here. Salute grew up in the projects in 196 and Canfield. It was different for us all but where I’m from it was different cuz of the pressure. We always heard the elite guys in the industry and got wind to everything that was going on where I was from. And there was a certain urgency to always be an elite. It was always taught to always be an elite in our little ciphers. So one thing I did was I found myself. Like you hear Bronze and K [Kevlaar], them guys are lyrical. They will blow dictionaries off the wall. They are just wow. I figured I could never be as lyrical as these guys so what did man was I honed in on my wordplay. Alotta Detroit cats from Eminem on down, Royce da 5 9, we always relied on wordplay. More so than lyricism where that will get more overlooked than wordplay. Wordplay is like the number one thing. It’s like nowadays it’s swag and all that but the foundation was wordplay. Even more so than metaphors. If your wordplay was definitely in there you was good. And there was so many great guys when I came up you had to keep up. So I owe a lot to that, the way that I am now to the guys I grew up with.
SUNEZ: How do you practice that?
PHILLIE: That’s a good question. Wow, I’ve never been asked that. It’s about knowing your realm, knowing what you can and can’t do. Now lyricism is a different thing than wordplay. Like Em got wordplay and lyricism all combined so he worked out to be probably the best to come out of Detroit next to Royce Da 5’9. Wordplay you gotta have a sense of humor. That’s one thing. You gotta have a knack for coming with comical lyrics. Something that’s gonna make somebody laugh. Then you start to mix in with this and that like with a tv show then you start to notice that it starts to become a metaphor. Most of the time if you good at wordplay, your metaphor game is usually above average. That’s like Lil’ Wayne. He’s what we call metaphorific. He may not have a whole lot of substance. He may not have a whole lot of content. But trust me when you hear him, what he bring to the game as far as metaphors and wordplay, it’s unmatched. I look at him and say, ‘wow, how did he get to this level?’ I can only have respect for the guy cuz I’m like, ‘he so cold.’ So the one thing I’d say in working on wordplay is you gotta have a sense of humor when it come to writing your lyrics down. Not necessarily always serious. It’s a playful thing. You playing with these words, trying to see what ways you can flip them. When you get into this experiment mode where you start to flip words here and there and then you start to see what works and don’t work. You start to become experienced with that in flipping words which translates to wordplay. You playing with these words and can manipulate them anyway you can. Because like I said your sense of humor will allow you to do that.
SUNEZ: There are so many Phillie moments but I personally marked Bronze Nazareth’s “Worship” as that moment where Phillie is at a peak worthy of a solo LP.
PHILLIE: See, that’s what you don’t know. And it’s the real important thing. There was never anything that we decided. Y’all decided this. Y’all noticed my growth since “Faith Doctrine.” Since the time of “Rare Breed” on up. Y’all said it was time for Phillie to come with an album. Bronze really got–man, I can’t speak highly enough about the brother. He the greatest. Just on record: He the greatest. He definitely know how to hone an artist. Keep him in his element. So when you hear that the fans basically decided it was time for Phillie to come with a solo project. And it was going down if you noticed it trickled down. Kevlaar was the most anticipated and demanded at that point. The fans decided it was time for him to come after the Wisemen album. We wouldn’t have came with a 2nd album hadn’t the fans requested we do so. We was about to come with the solo albums before Children of a Lesser God but the request was so deep for another Wisemen album we did another one. Then Kevlaar 7 was hot. They wanted to hear Kev. Then like you said I had [the verse on]“Worship” and the features I did off Children of a Lesser God. Then the feature I did with Ras Kass and Roc from Heltah Skeltah (“Still No!“). Then I did “Love Burns” with Prodigal Sunn and 60 Second Assassin. After that point, I got a lot of email and messages and what not. And Bronze did too and we was like it’s time. I don’t think that I had decided to say let’s do a solo. I guess it was more of a masses thing, a people thing. They wanted and it was time to hear it. I know we had to push it back a few times but I believe it’s going to be worth it. There was some things that had to write and I wanted to give people the best product as far as what they anticipated. I didn’t wanna stray from anything I thought people may have seen from my previous work.
SUNEZ: Your work on this debut Welcome to the Detroit Zoo is naturally real, non-preachy in its positivity that comes through it and the theme is incredible.
PHILLIE: You know cuz you from the hood ya’self just like me. We don’t even like–you don’t even like a cat that’ll come in the hood and he ain’t from the hood and he tryin to represent all that hood shit. And you here and I’m here and we trying to get out this muthafucka but you trying to glorify this shit. Cuz you ain’t from here. See, that’s what a lot of them don’t understand. We may talk about this in these lyrics but I was only painting a picture about where I was from. This whole album is just painting a picture of how I grew up, things that happened in my life, things like that. It was nothing that we tried to do. It was nothing you tried to do. You was hood just cuz you were. I’m hood cuz I can’t help it. This is where I come from. This is what I am and I grew into that. I don’t wanna be this though, you feel me? I be trying to get away from this. So when I see the cat that comes to the hood and he wanna be here and he think this is cool, go home chillin and smoking blunts all day and getting high. To me that’s a sucker to me because I’m trying to get out of here and you trying to get in here. I’m trying to get where you at and you neglecting your place in life. This is who we are and we don’t wanna be this. We really don’t want to be it so a lot of my lyrics reflect me going through this but at the same time you hear me saying, ‘I ain’t trying to do this. I’m trying to do better than this.’
Indeed there’s better in the squalor we struggle through. Stay tuned for more of Phillie’s breakdown of his stellar debut forthcoming, Welcome to the Detroit Zoo…