An upbeat, breezy Germantown hip-hop trio puts on a tremendous live show.
Transcribing interviews is a meticulous exercise even when they follow the standard format. But in the case of WrittenHouse—a tightly knit crew quick with the in-joke—it’s nearly impossible. The guys talk over one another, crack jokes that make no sense without proper context, make countless references to something that happened earlier, and seize a word or words and make it the night’s catch phrase (on this night: “DO BETTER!” and “BROWNED!”). On tape, the thing must’ve sounded like an absolute train wreck. In person, it was a ball.
WrittenHouse are producers Chris Conway, Kush Shalimar and emcee Charlie K (with hypeman Somerville Sleeves thrown in for good measure during live shows)—four friends who have known each other for close to a decade or more, and, by natural extension, have an affable, easygoing relationship with one another. (Imagine your family at Thanksgiving, provided they actually get along.)
Their positivity together as friends bleeds out in their work as a group: a breezy, jazzy A Tribe Called Quest- inspired pastiche that’s best displayed on their newest mixtape Sunshine Philadelphia Vol. 2 , which is highly listenable and remarkably upbeat for Philadelphia-based hip-hop, which can often veer toward the gritty.
The unique tact of the group speaks to the way they came together: as seasoned vets who’d studied hip-hop and formed WrittenHouse with a game plan.
Charlie K found major label success early in his career. It was everything it was supposed to be, but left him wanting.
“In the studio it would be cats drinking, poppin’ bottles, champagne, girls; recording a song and leavin’ straight from the studio to Emerald City or whatever club, walkin’ over to the DJ, hand him some money to play a song, lil’ groupies in the club, and we’d take pictures with ’em, take ’em to the hotel. But the thing was: I didn’t like the music,” he says.
He began stepping out on the label, rhyming on the side over beats produced by Kush, and basking in the freedom of expressing himself without the ever- watching eye of label overlords who’d nitpick his words and take away their meaning.
“They wanted party music. They wanted commercial. They would give me the beats and I would write the songs and they’d say, ‘No, I don’t like this. This one’s too conscious. This one’s too wordy. But I like this one because it’s got a party feel, so rewrite it with party lyrics.’ And they’d give it back.”
The label deal eventually fell apart as most label deals eventually do, and in addition to his work with Kush, Charlie began rapping over beats produced by Conway.
Conway is a tech-savvy Internet fiend (he can talk Blu-ray downloads till he’s blue in the face) and Temple grad, who, through his work on the street team at Okay Player—the 10-plus years and going strong hip-hop site and message board created by the Roots—was able to attend loads of free shows. “Mos Def, the Roots, Talib Kweli, the Spitkicker tour with KRS-One and De La Soul,” he ticks them off.
At the same time, Conway began immersing himself in production on his laptop, coming home inspired from, say, a Dilated Peoples show, and staying up all night making beats—sometimes as many as 40 per week.
“If they used some sample from an obscure saxophone player, I would download his whole discography and just go through it like, ‘Okay, I’ll just take bits and pieces,’” says Conway. “Not what they used, but bits and pieces of his other dope stuff and just start knockin’ it out.”
Conway noticed the hip-hop shows he actually enjoyed seldom suffered the ills of the hip-hop shows he didn’t—the late start times, the long, momentum-killing pauses between songs.
“The part in every hip-hop show I hate: ‘DJ, put it on track two! Nah. Nah. Track two. That’s track four!’ And then you’d stand there and wait for them to get it right. With these guys, it’s always hittin’ hittin’ hittin’,” Conway laughs.
“I hate ‘rapping-over-a-CD’ shows. And if the CD skips? Forget about it,” Kush laughs.
“The worst!” Charlie K laughs.
Always laughing, these three.
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