“Jahlil Beats. Holla at me!”
If you didn’t hear those words kick off a song last year, you didn’t listen to rap music. There was no escaping it—the club, the car, the street—especially in Philadelphia.
We heard it right before Philly’s biggest young rapper, Meek Mill, charged into the beat—“Look, I be ridin’ through my old hood, but I’m in my new whip/ Same old attitude, but I’m on that new shit”—on “Ima Boss,” his breakthrough hit with Maybach Music boss Rick Ross.
It’s the catchphrase of the song’s producer, who places it at the beginning of his tracks. Recorded six years ago, the voice belongs to Jahlil Beats’ niece, who was 3-years-old at the time. Jahlil Beats (born Orlando Tucker) is the 23-year-old from Chester, Pa., who produced “Ima Boss.” On Oct. 16, 2011, Orlando Tweeted a picture of himself standing next to Jay-Z at the New York headquarters of Jay’s entertainment company, Roc Nation. He had just been signed.
Soon after, another banger from Meek’s Dreamchasers, “House Party,” began booming—the club, the car, the street. But while “Ima Boss” was menacing and hard—built for rappers to boast about bossing a city—“House Party” was playful and irresistibly danceable—designed for rappers to cut loose after a grueling week of street work. It was produced by the Beat Bully, aka Tone Beats. Born Anthony Tucker, he’s Orlando’s 20-year-old brother. Among other offers, he’s currently considering a deal with Maybach.
“Our pop made beats, so it was only right we got into music,” says Anthony. “He gave our cousin this program called FL Studio, so then Jahlil and I picked up on it. I started messing with it when I was 13.”
Their father’s production career never launched, but the music environment they grew up in rubbed off. “He helped my career every step of the way,” Orlando says on the phone from Los Angeles, where he’s working on Meek’s official debut album. “Pop started me out and I made my first beat when I was 11.”
As Chester High School students, the Tucker brothers gave beats to friends to rhyme over (Orlando also MCs). Orlando’s first big production was “I’m So Fly” on Meek’s Flamerz 2 (2009) mixtape. “That put me on the map,” he says. “Then, I originally made “Ima Boss” for Young Jeezy. I played it for Meek first, and the rest is history.”
He made it in under 30 minutes.
His sound’s often compared to 20-year-old Virginia producer Lex Luger, whose work with Waka Flocka Flame, Jay-Z and Ross earned him the spotlight this year. “Luger makes hardcore street music, and that’s what me and Meek did,” Orlando says about the comparison. “But he’s a trap producer, and I have more diverse styles. He has a lot of orchestra sounds, I use a lot of synths, and his 808s is different than mine.”
Now you can hear “Jahlil Beats. Holla at me!” open songs by Soulja Boy, Fabolous, Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, Lil Kim and, most recently, 50 Cent’s “Put Your Hands Up.”
“It’s been a dream come true,” Orlando says about his recent success. “I’m humbled, and motivated to work harder and go to higher levels. I’m working right now.”
“People don’t believe me,” says Anthony, “but I’ve only produced like three or four songs.” In addition to a few records on Dreamchasers—he made “House Party” in four minutes—he’s worked for Bow Wow and 76er Louis Williams.
He recently produced “Stay Schemin,” a collab between Ross, Drake and French Montana for Ross’ Rich Forever mixtape. Early last week, Common rapped over it as part of his ongoing beef with Drake. “No comment,” says Anthony. A few days later, Gucci Mane spit over “House Party,” but Anthony hadn’t heard it yet.
Like his big brother, Anthony composes his own beats rather than use samples. “It takes away royalties,” he says, “and if I wanna make a hit record, I’m not gonna sample. I’d rather play the sample melody myself, and then switch it up, add my own twist.”
“I’m determined,” Anthony says about a career in the music industry. “Last year I wasn’t taking music seriously, but now my shit’s blowing up. Some dudes’ sounds get old fast, but I’m gonna keep making these beats and stay consistent. Soon I wanna move to L.A. or Miami, get a nice house and have a million in the bank for my son.”
Who’s hot in Philly hip-hop right now? That’s the perilous question we asked ourselves at the beginning of a long journey. It’s impossible to answer. Or, more to the point, impossible to answer succinctly. The list is lonnnnnng. So we’ve broken it down.
The Internet exploded at the close of 2011 with rumors that Planets were uniting for a new studio album. While talks are underway, nothing’s confirmed. “I’m down, no doubt,” says Irving about another reunion. “Planets was the best time of my life, but a gift and a curse. As a musician, I wanna spread my wings and not always be stuck as ‘that Digable Planets dude.’ I wanna try new things and experiment.”
Perhaps change will come this year, as several female rappers are gaining momentum. Harlemite Azealia Banks’ “212” displays the 20-year old’s impressive range and skill, and White Girl Mob leader Kreayshawn definitely has more than the “Gucci Gucci” meme hidden up the sleeve of her baggy Fred Flintstone jacket. Will these ladies threaten Nicki Minaj’s queen-status in 2012? Maybe. The only thing that could hold ’em back are the dick-centric rap fans and critics who guard the gates.
In hip-hop, many of today’s rappers are putting out three or four or 40 releases a year. They’re shooting and editing their own videos. They’re their own publicity firm. They’re booking their own shows. They’re working smarter and harder than ever before, and doing it independently. And perhaps no Philly hip-hop act exemplifies this DIY spirit more than young upstarts Ground Up. They’re their own insulated, independent music universe.
Books are mostly how he makes his living, but the heart of Bookman’s street vendor operation, located just outside 52nd Street Station at 52nd and Market, is hip-hop. Most days, he’s bumpin’ beats from his tabletop rig—a CD player and speakers powered by a car battery. And those in the know know Bookman’s the man when it comes to getting your hands on the latest, greatest mixtape to hit the streets. Albums are nice, but underground mixtapes (they’re CDs, but the classic nomenclature sticks) have been the life-blood of hip-hop for ages.
“People always ask why I ain’t got a girlfriend,” says Young Chris during a break from working in a Northern Liberties studio. “I tell ’em, ‘Yo, rap’s my girlfriend.’” The North Philly-born rapper’s been devoted to the game since the early 2000s, when his Young Gunz duo with MC Neef Buck was signed by Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records, and their first single, “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop,” was nominated for a Grammy in 2003.
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