“We’re from different parts of the city,” says MC Young Savage. “And we all go hard.” The 18-year-old Southwest Philadelphia native’s talking about the hip-hop artists performing at the Arts Garage the Sunday before Halloween. Many of the MCs are 18 or younger, and they represent the city’s emerging hip-hop generation.
By the time Savage graduated from John Bartram High School last June, he’d dropped three mixtapes. He hovers between swag and street, summoning the good vibes of Kendrick Lamar and the rampage of Waka Flocka Flame. The first single from his upcoming Savage World 3 , “Work Em,” has been booming across local airwaves and the video’s gotten almost 75,000 views.
“When I first heard the beat, I was just bouncing hard to it,” recalls Savage, who headlines the Halloween concert. “I kept saying ‘Work ’em work ’em work ’em’ and started whipping my arm as fast as I could. Everybody was like ‘Yo, what are you doing?’ It’s a tease to the competition. I make ’em all work. You go into Bally Fitness and listen to it, you gonna come out a bodybuilder. I’m gettin’ my team hyped up.”
Savage’s team, the Inner City Hustlers, was founded in the early 1990s by West Philly MC Jimmy DaSaint. The crew was climbing the ranks, but tragedy struck in 1995 when four members were murdered in a Mantua rowhouse. Then, in 1999, the same year ICH’s Oschino and Sparks signed with Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records, DeSaint says he was busted selling drugs to an undercover FBI agent.
He spent 10 years in prison, but he didn’t fuck around. He wrote books—including Black Scarface, co-written with Los Angeles drug boss Rick Ross. When he got out, he started building up the next ICH generation.
“It’s a different music scene now in Philly,” says DaSaint. “I’m vibing with youth who aren’t talking guns and crack. They’re out to enjoy their lives. It’s not just hardcore street rap anymore.”
DaSaint manages Savage and other ICH members, like HH-Spady, but he’s also a mentor. “We on so much real life shit sometimes I forget I’m Savage’s manager. I’m like, ‘Yo, you gotta respect your parents, don’t worry about girls today, and get on your job.’”
While DaSaint was locked up, hip-hop changed. Twitter, blogs and YouTube happened, ushering in an era of collaboration between crews. Networks replaced beefs, and though competition’s fierce, it’s all about elevating the local scene.
One online hub is AllFlamerz.com, a website created in 2009 by 23-year-old Mack Woods. Named after Philly star Meek Mill’s Flamerz tapes, Woods posts videos, mixtapes and MP3s by local emcees like Mont Brown and Gillie Da Kid.
“There were no non-mainstream Philly hip-hop sites,” says Woods. “I’d go to blogs and there’d be no Philly rap—not even Freeway and Young Chris! I wanted to prove everyone wrong and I’m accomplishing that.”
Confirmation came when Mack recently got a call from Black Cab Sessions, a London-based website that’s produced videos with artists like Brian Wilson and Fleet Foxes performing in the back of a taxicab. They found AllFlamerz.com while researching Philly artists to include in their film, Black Cab Sessions USA.
“They showed up with the black cab and all these cameras ... I was blown away,” confesses Woods, who organized sessions with Freeway and Tone Trump. “Somebody told them there wasn’t a hip-hop scene here, and I said ‘No, you gotta come hang with me.’”
The Halloween concert’s co-presented by AllFlamerz and DaSaint Entertainment, which work together to organize events for the young rappers.
“He makes sure everybody knows what to do,” Woods says about DaSaint. “The last generation lacked someone to show them the right way to go about things. They’d just battle each other with all this negativity. We’re creating a different environment, teaching artists to collaborate. It’s all about unity.”
There’s also We Run the Streets, which produces videos predominantly featuring Philly emcees. Making a run at managing artists, their first signing was with 16-year-old Dizzle. Also performing at the Halloween show, she’s a student at the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush.
“One day I was in North Philly and I saw this crowd of men with a big camera, so I went over to rap,” she remembers. “I didn’t know who they were, but I went for it. Later that night, I found out it was We Run the Streets. I’d seen Meek Mill and other rappers on their videos, and I’ve been with them ever since.”
Dizzle’s young, but her music’s inspired by the early 1990s thump of Pharcyde and MC Lyte with a dash of Boogie Down Productions bombast. Her debut, No Features, drops in December.
The new generation’s very aware that rapping isn’t just about rapping. They’ve seen the worst of the culture, from the douchebaggery of Kanye West to the bloody trail that followed Tupac’s last days, and they to want move beyond that.
“Rappers don’t realize how much power they have,” says Savage. “Khalifa got everybody dying their hair, and Lil Wayne got everybody tatting theyselves. With so much power, they should do something positive, show kids how to live. Put the guns down and be a role model.”
Time for a big Bang breakthrough?