The United States of Underground: Pennsylvania

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[Editor's Note: This is part of an ongoing series that will tour every state in the U.S. looking for underground hip-hop talent. For previous states, hit the links at the bottom of the post.]

Once you dive into Pennsylvania’s music scene, you’ll quickly notice that there are a TON of talented individuals fighting for the top spot. But, after a while, you’ll also realize everybody knows everybody and it’s more of a family-esque competition than an all-out celebrity death match. Any music fan can tell you that the market as a whole is over-saturated with repetitive songs and useless artists, but it’s good to know some of those “over-saturated” markets are actually diamonds in the rough.

Like my native city (Boston), Philly is home to an endless list of musicians who deserve to be credited much more than they are. I can’t tell you why that is, but it’s an issue that ultimately plagues hip-hop as a whole – how can underground artists get popular when all these mainstream acts drown them out? My answer: Stop being a damn sheep and expand you mind to new sounds. It always amazes me how a “fan” will complain about the radio, yet still listen to it on every drive home. In this piece below, I’ll introduce you to some of PA’s best up and coming hip-hop acts...no commitment needed, I only ask you to give them each a chance.

Rich Quick (Philadelphia, PA)

I can’t lie; when I first saw Rich Quick I definitely judged the book by its cover and that was a big mistake. Something about his thick-framed shades and the way he drops his eye to look at the camera made me a little stand-offish. What in God’s name does that have to do with his music? NOTHING...which is why when I repetitively saw him popping up in my feeds, I had to give him a chance because I knew there was a reason for the consistency. The hook in that first sentence wasn’t 100% accurate, and was more-so there simply to get you to keep reading (mission complete).

When I first came across Quick, I was actually intrigued and wanted to know what this guy was all about. I knew he was a big deal, witnessing his rapidly growing fan base and seeing the numbers grow exponentially every day - oh yeah, and he has a chain with his own face on it (instant fame). Back to the real subject – I quickly found out Rich Quick makes dynamite music and he has a personality that pairs with it perfectly. The first 500 copies of his debut album, “I’m With The DJ,” released in 2012, included 1 of 5 limited edition, hand-drawn, hip-hop-themed art cards as a testament to hip-hop’s influence on art and pop culture. It’s a rare occasion to see an underground artist get this creative with a release. I love it and I always say we need more of it – artists that love their own project so much that they have to put levels on it to satisfy their own perfections – breaking away from the pool of emcees who spit out 33 new projects a year. True, dedicated fans respect quality over quantity, simple as that.

For some reason, most independent artists think they can’t compete with major label guys without endlessly dropping new music, but that’s not true. Both Rich Quick and his music display the confidence, talent and drive of an artist who’s been in the game for 10-plus years. Being featured in Philadelphia Weekly as “Philly’s Rising Hip Hop Star” isn’t a title that’s easy to obtain (as you can see by quickly skimming the rest of this article), but Rich is more than deserving for the work he’s been putting in. Not only is it motivating to listen to his music, but being a fan of an artist who talks, builds and confides with his fans is a priceless experience. Plainly put, Rich Quick is an artist for the people – who scorches stages and leaves blood in recording booths.

Twitter: @RichMFNQuick
Most Recent Project: Sad Songz EP

Ryshon Jones (Philadelphia, PA)

Philly emcee Ryshon Jones is a beast on the mic. I could probably not even write anymore and just leave that first sentence as his whole write-up, but I’ll give him a little more than that.

Let me ask you a question: Have you ever bobbed your head to a song so hard, that it fell right off? I was at work listening to a few of Ryshon’s joints and wouldn’t you know it – head...gone. This man’s production selection is beyond on point and his lyrical ability is unprecedented. I wasn’t sure what to expect when going in, but after just a few songs I was hooked. I’m 28-years-old, not young, not old. I love old school music – everything from the vibe of the material to the calmness of the artist’s voice, even in moments of extreme emotion. Ryshon Jones took me back to those feelings, which I haven’t felt in a long time. His word selections and the physical dramatization of the lyrics he spits are unmatched. He’s an extremely talented rapper, yes. But even the simple act of him waving his hands in a certain video can show you his passion for the craft; his eyes, his facial expressions – all amassing to create an image of this powerful lyricist. Something about how that all comes together will forever impress me.

I’m not saying he is the best rapper alive, but if he doesn’t think it about himself...it’s a damn shame. After only a few videos, I saw his confidence, consistency and style were all in line with the talent he also constantly brought to the table. Firing on all cylinders and moving like a 6’4” locomotive, Ryshon Jones is capitalizing on every opportunity in the Pennsylvania music scene while simultaneously leaving his mark in every other state as he goes.

Twitter: @RyshonJones
Most Recent Project: Hope is a Dangerous Thing

Gone Wallace (Philadelphia, PA)

Man. Gone Wallace is one cool-ass dude. I was just put onto him a couple weeks ago and ran through his discography multiple times that same week. His laid-back style and calm approach to the mic are what initially drew me in, giving off a sort of “welcoming vibe” to him as a person. I personally don’t prefer the “right in your face” acts who are both full of themselves and whose content doesn’t exactly hit home on a higher level. Gone Wallace has neither of these negative traits. Just from listening to his music and watching a few videos, I had already envisioned a live show with him on a shadowy stage, relaxed on a stool...just rhyming away with the crowd staring, speechless.

As you may have noticed, Fresh Prince didn’t make it onto this list – but Gone Wallace has still got you covered. His rendition of the Fresh Prince theme song has grossed a half a million views since it dropped in 2009, and for good reasons. Gone Wallace has the ability to make you laugh and think at the same time – a trait that most up and coming artists seem to forget about. The overall end-goal of music should be to evoke emotion from the listener...any type of emotion will do. When an artist like Gone Wallace comes on, you’re overwhelmed by the feelings that flow through – as long as you’re hearing him, and not just listening.

Twitter: @GoneWallace
Most Recent Project: Cult Classic

Jay Griffy (Philadelphia, PA)

Let’s start this off with a few name drops: DJ NoPhrillz, Gillie Da Kid, Quilly Millz, Apollo The Great, Young Savage, Ricky Rude. Black Deniro, APEGANG. Do any of these names sound familiar to you? They’re all artists who’ve collaborated with aspiring Philly emcee, Jay Griffy.

Jay is basically the culmination of what happens when pure artistry meets ambition, a rapper who is musically blessed beyond his ability to consciously rhyme words. He is also gifted in songwriting and beat selection as well, ultimately leading him into the area he belongs to today. Griffy’s music, to me, was all very upbeat and extremely well put together. The sound and video quality of each track was constructed beautifully, not something seen very often from indie artists. I can tell you now, that’s the number one thing guys like me look for – the amount of attention to detail the artist gives his own work.

In 2010, Marlin Barrier, head of the Sound Barrier Experience, a live multi-faceted band in Philadelphia, heard Jay Griffy’s music. In a rare and perfect moment, Griffy got on stage with the Sound Barrier experience and it was no surprise he soon became part of the band. Soon after, Jay was named “Best New Artist” at the Philly Hip Hop Awards and that is how he actually fell onto my radar. Once I got wind, I was hooked – and I’m sure the experience will be the same for those reading this feature. His music can be heard on Shade 45, Power 99 and several other stations across the country. You may have thought radio died, which is why you’re there and he’s here. But online and satellite radio streaming is actually more popular today than any other form of music consumption, especially for independent artists.

I have the highest respect for underground emcees who learn the business, follow the guidelines and build organically. There’s nothing worse than a rapper who believes he’s entitled to fame, simply because he can rap well. Jay Griffy is a complete, all-around hip-hop artist who respects the industry, his fans and strives to make music with a purpose.

Twitter: @GriffyOnline
Most Recent Project: Loaded

Skrewtape (Pennsylvania/New Jersey)

Skrewtape makes that nitty-gritty “I don’t give a damn what you think” type of music. It’s not so much “raw” as it is point-blank-conscious. Ok, that sentence makes no sense, so let me elaborate: Skrewtape’s music masterfully merges old school sound with new school ideas. He tells you what you need to know, point blank, no beating around the bush. You may not pick up on it the first time around, but after a few spins he’ll have you searching his catalog for more verses to dissect. He has shared the stage with both industry and underground legends, as well as amassed a decent list of collaborations with even more (including fellow PA native, Mr. Green). There’s no style of hip-hop I appreciate more than that of the conscious; I like to think as I listen. I want to hear a song 10 years later and catch something I missed the first million times I listened. I can’t yet say Skrew has that longevity ability, but I can say he is quickly headed in the right direction.

After taking a look at his fan base, some interactions and how he carries himself, I was very impressed with Skrewtape’s artistic development. He knows where he is in the game, where he wants to be and what it’s going to take to get there. As long as he keeps bringing the heat he has been and continues to drop knowledge through lyrical substance, I have no doubt Skrewtape will get to the exact spot he’s been envisioning all along.

Twitter: @SKREWTAPE84
Most Recent Project: No Filter

Chill Moody (Philadelphia, PA)

This ongoing series is solely geared toward artists who don’t get much exposure...but deserve to. I plan to stick with this arrangement throughout, but found myself slightly caught up when I got to the lovely state of Pennsylvania. Initially, I was going to leave the powerhouse emcee who is Chill Moody off the P.A. list due to the high level of fame he’s accumulated over the past year alone – but, I quickly took that feeling back and realized leaving him off would be an even bigger mistake. To put it right out there, Chill Moody is RUNNING Philly’s music scene. Chill is a more than just a rapper, he is a positive advocate for empowering the urban community and beyond to strive for more than they currently have. There aren’t many artists discussing current events that need to be discussed; education, youth development, community building, racial issues, political/government scandals, etc., but he does. Chill Moody doesn’t get involved in these issues to promote himself or his music, he does it because he’s aware that he’s in a position of influential power and chooses to use that influence for the right reasons. All genres could use more individuals of this moral caliber.

One of the many branches of his tree includes the “Nice Things” brand - which instantly outgrew the small state’s audience and became a national movement. The brand incorporates all that is rapper Chill Moody, from his musical selection to his stance on important issues and beyond. I had the pleasure of seeing Chill Moody perform at the Roots Picnic this past Summer in Philly and I knew he was popular before arriving but damn did he have a lot of supporters – Nice Things shirts for days, singing along with every song. I could go on for days if I were to dive into his actual catalog, so when you finish reading,  just give “Chill Moody” a Google and bookmark it while you’re there. Musicians strive to create music that reaches out and pulls you in, it’s the end goal of any artist. Chill Moody accomplishes this and so much more, pairing lyricism with positive community empowerment. Aspiring emcees, take notes. It’s not all about you.

Twitter: @ChillMoody
Most Recent Project: RFM

[By Matt Whitlock, he does all things hip-hop. This is his Twitter.]

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