The music is a capturing of moments that preserve a half entity made whole again. Rarely, they are masterfully forged together with a precious metal. As a work that enables the soul of a man’s heavenly mindset to project beyond the hell he composes in. With Detroit’s Wisemen debuting their third MC, Phillie, with Welcome to the Detroit Zoo, we have an album that is incredible upon immediate listen, amazing in its enjoyed study and will only find its challenge by other classics. Phillie is pure R&B, whether it’s Rhymes & Beats or Rhythm & Blues with a charisma, via one of the genre’s most unique voices, that engages, a sincerity that penetrates his many topics and a wide range of techniques that only the best MCs develop. Fueled by Bronze Nazareth’s scoring, Welcome is a complete survey of Phillie’s reality.
SUNEZ: Something you did on “Brick Cell Therapy” with Hell Razah. After his ill verse, you had two amazing verses afterwards. Both of your verses have two distinct pitches, of the slightest difference making it seem almost like two different people. Then there is an ill technique that, like 2Pac used to do dynamically, you also achieve charismatically. A technique few can do where you chase and catch the bar on the end of your lines with a speeding up and ultimate emphatic inflection.
PHILLIE: [laughs] You caught that.
SUNEZ: A lot of people don’t get how dope that sounds if you get it right and few can do it.
PHILLIE: Man..damn bro. You gotta lotta insight man. I appreciate that. You really listened to it. You got me pegged.
Hip Hop music rarely chronicles the depth of the raw gift we may note as Soul, pimped through waviness and sold as swag. In this predicament, we assume niggery nature packaged well at best. But there is a craft developed here and an inspiring humanity necessary to share the hells so forced upon us all and reaveal the powerful possibility of life Phillie ultimately promotes.
Phillie makes the simplicity of sincerity complex with perfected inflection and dynamic punctuation as the playful “Bird Call” (“..to capture that booty/I mean that beauty/it’s my duty to please you cutie…“ ) or the wise conversational tone switches of emphasis on “Madagascar” following the beautifully anthemic chorus by Venus Sky.
SUNEZ: “Bird Call” is just a lotta fun. You yelling out “oooweee” [laughs]
PHILLIE: People keep calling me about it for that ring tone. I actually had a lot of fun doing that song, me and Salute. We was in the studio that day drinking. We was having fun and we heard the track. I was going through some beats and thought, ‘let me see if I can do something with that.’ We was all there. Kevlaar, June, Illah. Beace was even with us. I just laid it down and getting some comedic shit out of me. You could see the word play that I was talking about—the humor thing. I open with the line, “I love soul food, corn bread and peas/Fergie look nice with black eyed peas on the side of my southern fried steak/it’s a bonafide plate.” [laughs] And I’m glad that you recognized the humor in that. That’s what I want people to do. A let-your-hair-down track not going into the commercial circuit but doing what we doing in our lane and still having fun. As you see it’s not a bunch of wack lines or crazy, bodacious beat that’s trying to sound like other artists out. It’s just the same thing we do having fun that night.
Welcome is a LP filled with the incredible subtlety of techniques like noticing the mastery of Isiah Thomas setting up the assist or a beautiful woman who has prepared her walk for one’s gaze with the perfect bounce. With a raspy voice that can go deep as on “Paramount” or a steadily rising intensity of the incredible “Phelonious” peaking with endless quotables like, “the youth refuse to hear the knowledge/Thought for Food was given but you threw it in the garbage…this rap shit is unbalanced/without malice or content, I’m exempt from me paying my taxes/ I read that a rich man can never enter the kingdom/it took my incarceration to measure my freedom…won’t make you famous but I’ll make you history…,” there is little Phillie doesn’t do.
A young veteran debuting, Phillie is a master of vocal fluctuation. He doesn’t rap on songs, he shares his ideas dynamically as on “Lion King” (with Sun Tzu Cadre’s producer/MC Jessiah Allah with the thematic hook of the LP) where he seems to be on bar with the break, the inquisitive flute and the quirking vocal sample all at once. These are fluctuations that make use of pauses, double timing of verses and Bronze’s production. With Bronze beats, there is the wrong assumption of mere boom bap boom consistency but there is constant isolation and highlighting of Phillie’s vocals at every moment where his voice is the only music needed. These countless fluctuations are noticed as the delivery of a man filled with Soul spilling. In Soul speak, Phillie’s living delivery are the wails and held notes of the Donny’s and Marvin’s. The best Hip Hop music is the story of the triumphant Blues of the Original man and is the Wisemen works are dominating the decade with their perfecting relayance of it. Phillie is emblematic of this and his songs about women from aforementioned “Bird Call” through to the tales of a deteriorated woman on “Power of Pressure” or the “Love Ballad” are immediate treasures that reveal the realness. Whether the gang ode of “Gangland,” or the aspirations of “Fox Theatre” Phillie like 2pac, affords no hypocrisy but an understanding of the gross contradictions in this society. Upon inspection there is revelation to be exposed not exploitation in the zoo Phillie strives to thrive in and uplift.
SUNEZ: Tell me about “Love Ballad.”
PHILLIE: Ohhh Wow! That’s crazy. That song is actually a metaphor to my baby momma. I want to go into it but when you hear that hook. That’s an ode to her. I was going through some stuff. If you notice I gotta couple of songs where I’m talking about women relationships, about four of them. I was going through some stuff. That one [“Love Ballad”] is actually dedicated to her. That’s like a guy’s wish list. The life I always envisioned but at the same time we ain’t…she moving, I’m moving. We can’t get that connect. It’s crazy. When I did that song, I definitely get emotional. Everything I say on that song is some real shit. I want everything to be one piece but it’s still two. Word.
PHILLIE: See, that’s easy. When we grew up there were a lot of gangs in the area. I had to actually get involved with one, GDN (Gangsta Disciples Nation), back when I was like 13, 14, 15. I was growing up in a rough area. Our flag’s was blue but I mean this was some teenage shit. Back then you basically had to run with a crew or you was getting jumped. You got jumped most of the time it was by a gang all translating in you joining a gang. And you try to get one of them. It was a bad thing going on back then. I wanted to do a tribute to all them gangstas cuz I gotta lotta family in them. They still gang bangin and a lot of them on different sides of the fence. I wanted to give them something and let them know, ‘we see them all and we all one nation.’ I wanted to give a shoutout to all the gangs out there and try to give them a positive spin. It’s almost impossible to do that but at the same time I acknowledge all gangs. I acknowledge all y’all cats and I grew up around all that. This is Detroit. I’m from Southwest. I grew up around nothing but Hispanics, Latin Counts and shit like that. It was something I had to do as part of my childhood…you hear the lyrics, let’s try to change this and move forward cuz I got love for all of them. Bloods, Crips, Counts. I’m cool with them all. I’m not claiming a color or none of that. I’m for all of y’all cuz they always showed me love.
SUNEZ: And then “Fox Theatre”?
PHILLIE: That song is an ode. That’s one of my biggest venues. Always wanted to do the Fox so that song is one of my aspirations and what it would be if we did it. And the Fox got so much history and the biggest names have been there. It’s a nice little elegant place and if you ever get the chance to go there you’re gonna enjoy it to the fullest. It’s a landmark.
The production by Bronze Nazareth is today’s most under-appreciated health supplement. It has become necessary to the life of this Hip Hop music today but is neglected for more weaker and debilitating aural pharmaceuticals. You hear the Soul wailing you need on “Love Ballad” but the isolations for Phillie over a break stuttering its way with a perfect thud and crisped snare is craftwork. Ray vocals leading the piano undercurrent used as a bassline director and a high hat that drumrolls to a stop on “For Wisdom” may not be heralded for the perfection it is. No Hip Hop fiend with Soul ears cannot love the use Bronze gets of the crates here. It cannot be dismissed as a patented formula merely because it is so well done. Bronze has a great ear for pacing the tempos of a track and Phillie’s exceptional dexterity may often hide the abilities. And that lone Kevlaar 7 add on production, “Soldier’s Union,” must be mentioned as an addictively cinematic horn that leaves 3 great verses from Bronze, Kevlaar and Phillie as somber bars illuminated. The unison of comedian Katt Williams “Tiger” skit placed at all the right moments emphasize Phillie’s thematic intentions. Intentions that are about developing the confidence and humanity to get out of this zoo life. In that, every range of issues are drawn upon in retrospection…
SUNEZ: Bronze Nazareth on the beats.
PHILLIE: Bronze I say he one of the best. Bronze got such a repertoire of beats. It wasn’t nothing that he made specifically for me. I just carefully went through them and picked them. I just knew what was for me. Like I say Bronze got an array of beats and I’m not kidding. He’s done albums—60 Second Assassin, 67 Mob, Timbo King. He done did whole albums for guys. He make all different types. He do b-boy beats, samples. So I went through and I carefully chose the ones that I felt like that was for me, that fit me. It took a while to pick each and all of those beats. Some of the beats he would throw at me. He knew that it was Phillie and sure enough they were.
SUNEZ: Why the theme of the album? The metaphor of the trapped tiger in a zoo. The metaphor as you as a Detroit Tiger in these streets filled with animals.
PHILLIE: I tried to give people a vision for people like you. You’ve ain’t never been here. This is like a zoo. Everything I’m speaking is metaphorically speaking. I always felt like a King of this shit like I was supposed to be on a whole other level. But when you come here you got different habitats man. And when you get caught in ‘em you caught in ‘em. You got your gorilla types, you got your snakes. You got your runners, your cheetahs. For almost each main animal you can find in the zoo there’s some personality like that here in Detroit. And just like a zoo, we’re all caged into our own environment. Most of us can never break out of the environment that we are in. That’s why I gotta song called “Madagascar” where I say “if you wanna live right, you gotta hit the green light/ain’t no stopping me” At some point you gotta break free. The tiger references, you got this real tiger in a fake ass habitat. It don’t match. You as an elite. There’s a lot of us good guys. We as elites, we know there’s something better for us than this. A lot of us been trapped to conform to our own confines. Now I done got out of a lot and my dudes praised me for that. I’ve been all over the country and its like I get out to these places it’s like I’m a celebrity. Then I get back home and it’s like I get back in my cage. It’s back in the cage. It’s back to your habitat, everybody’s segregated. You got your gorillas in one cage, your lions in one cage, snakes in one cage. You got your hustlers, the weasel types, it’s so many types of guys here in Detroit that’s where I got that concept from. I always felt like a tiger, like I was too big to be held in a cage. I always felt like I was too big to be held in this little ghetto I’m from—these number streets. And it’s small but it’s effective. Killed a lot of dreams here or it could make some. It’s an in between and many get stuck in it and there’s a downside and not too many cats rise up from where I’m from. It’s a handful of guys that rise up from where I’m from. I mean totally make it. Some guys become professional men, teachers, shit like that, construction workers but then you got guys that don’t make it. From where we’re from they don’t make it. They always confine to their cages, to their habitat to what they know. Here’s the whole trick of it, Welcome to the Detroit Zoo. A lot of times you get these animals and you leave them in the habitat for so long they content with it. You got guys here and they content everyday with chilling, getting up in the morning and smoking a blunt, fucking with some bitches and having a little fun. That’s it. No progress made, no nothing. This is what’s been given to them on a daily basis and that’s all they know and they don’t want nothing else. Remember in “Madagascar,” one guy was like ‘what you talking ‘bout?! We put it down here. We good. We straight.’ See I’m like that lion. I got to get the fuck up outta here. I gotta get out. And there’s a couple of us that feel like that. I’m gon drop a name here my man Swisherelli. That’s my partner in rhyme. We started out together. We went our separate ways before but me and him getting together and doing a collabo now. A lot of the fans gon see what they could of have if we never split. That’s the whole Detroit Zoo. That lion and tiger feeling they too big to be confined in these cages and you gotta break free. And some of these guys in Detroit, they content with it-what’s here right now. They won’t tell you that but they actions show it. Everybody in their own habitat in their own cages and they cool in their own confinement. They cool to get their meals at 12 o’clock and then 3 o’clock for dinner. They cool with the hand me ups. Fuck that shit.
Phillie sees what he lives and can wax his heart out. When the mere learnings of his life become topics, the overt classics of Welcome..are apparent. An album filled with memorable verse features from the Wisemen’s Kevlaar 7, Illah Dayz, June Mega & Salute along with Boldy James, 5 Star and a young Foreign, “Detroit Gambino,” with the thugged out Wing Chun black tiger punch drumroll is an immediate standout where Phillie has one of his classic verses (“..it’s the greater/ Wu Wisemen administrator/ vindicator/ espionage reciprocator/ favor for a favor/ all agreements on paper/ y’all lucky I changed or I’d empty my chamber on ya…”) while Bronze (“pen science for clients”) and June Mega (“all access Mega on ya chest/ God bless/ progress/ the gaudy metal…”) drop quotables.
SUNEZ: Now if someone thinks Phillie can’t rhyme I play them “Jaguar Paw?”
PHILLIE: “Jaguar Paw.” That’s actually my favorite song on the album.
SUNEZ: And Foreign’s verse is great on there.
PHILLIE: Well, let me give you the rundown on my little guy. He’s 20 years old. When he recorded that verse he was about 19. He’s one of my little guys. He liked my movement and he looked up to me. That actually was his first time in the studio. When he recorded that verse, he had been kicking rhymes to me in my crib for months. He had never been in the studio. That was his first time going. I relaxed him and all. We smoked, we chilled. We let his girl come with him to support him and give him that edge. He’s one of these guys, young, and he’s dope. That’s not even the best you’re gonna hear from him. He was T-Money but now he go by the name of Foreign. That was a raw name for him and I did that on purpose so that people would know he was a raw MC. On the “Riot Musik” song off the I Exist mixtape as T-Money. Now he getting polished. He’s Foreign and coming out under the Wisemen imprint.
I remember when we recorded the verse. He was a bit nervous but he from the streets. He’s definitely raw, straight from the streets. I say we had to finesse him for a minute. He laid the verse and we went back to it about a month later. At the time when we did it we were gonna cut it but then Bronze said, ‘wait, man. Listen to it. I like it.’ So I hear it again and he sayin, ‘smoke a whole ozone don’t care about pollution…” and I went crazy right there. I remember when he was recording it but I don’t remember what he was saying. So when it got to that point I just went nuts in the studio. ‘We keeping that!’ Whatever you gotta do to fix that up, doctor it up cuz Bronze is good at that. You can lay an imperfect verse and he can chop it to make it look like you didn’t make a mistake. That’s how good he is. After I heard that line, we kept it and that’s how he ended up on the album. He got his own crew called Great Lakes Mob so be on the lookout for him.
SUNEZ: Tell me about “Detroit Gambino”
PHILLIE: I was hangin downtown with one of my homeboys. He had a studio downtown on Washington Boulevard not far from Cobo Hall. We up there one night in a big suite up there. Downstairs was this bar and one day we go and have drinks at this bar. And we hanging out with some of the people there. We notice all these black and white pictures around of all these gangsters. So I ask, ‘what’s the history on these pictures?’ ‘That’s the Purple Gang.’ Who’s that? ‘Some of the most notorious mobsters based out of Detroit.’ Then she tells me some of the history and goes as far as to say a lot of them people are up in this building right now. Wow, ok. So we end up meeting a couple of these guys. They were older guys and you could tell they were gangsters for real. One was Italian, another was Irish and I couldn’t remember their names. So I started peeping other organizations around Michigan, sort of speak. I then discovered YBI, Young Boys Incorporated and it was not far from where I grew up…There’s a lot of mafia history in Michigan and when Bronze first picked us up we ran our crew like a mob. We had our places. Bronze was the boss and we were built like a mob. We a crime family but we’re not criminals. Then playing with the wordplay and having the ability and opportunity to bring imagination to a canvas on that song. I used the history of the mafia that was in Michigan and Detroit and put it together and made that track.
A zoo is a hellish spectacle of excitement. Those whom benefit from the animals they’ve never seen get to see them in display. They will eat, drink, fight, fuck and roar in your midst finally…safely. In Detroit, the gates are not visible bars until Phillie drops them. With these bars they see what has been closed off while our people see ourselves. The horror, the love, hate and the introspection for solution–the nature of humanity in the heart of made animals seen through one artist’s palette, an tiger escaping via Hip Hop. With natural gifts developed by work, Phillie, with Bronze’s directing hand, has put together another arguable Wisemen classic.
PHILLIE: I can express myself. A lotta times if you hear that. I want the world to hear that. Bronze didn’t want to change nothing. You can hear my highs and my lows, when I’m happy and when I’m sad. It’s just how it comes out especially when I’m saying it on that mic. Usually a lotta times I get in that booth and it’s lights out. I close my eyes and I’m drifting. I basically let my passions and emotions take me where I’m going. I have no problem with keeping it real with people like that. We artists and the stuff we say we really mean it. A lot of us ain’t on the commercial bandwagon doing this just to make a song. Some of us are actually putting our lives into this.
Check the Interview Prelude with Phillie for his Welcome to the Detroit Zoo debut LP: https://premierehiphop.com/2012/10/26/phillieoso-interview-prelude-to-phillies-debut-welcome-to-the-detroit-zoo/