Friday, May 27, 2011

Sied Chahrour: Strict Flow to Slimmie Hendrix

Sied Chahrour - Pittsburgh Slim

He started out as Sied Chahrour, became Pittsburgh Slim, and now is Slimmie Hendrix. No matter what name you know him by, he was among the first local rappers to sign with a major label, Def Jam (late 2007), a few months after Wiz Khalifa hooked up with Warner Brothers. (Note - that's to best of Old Mon's knowledge; give us a yell if someone preceded them.)

Chahrour (he's half Algerian, half Mexican) was born and raised in the Greenfield, and starting getting into music when he entered Allderdice High in 1993 (he graduated in 1997).

Slim got his start playing guitar in rock bands (he was a fan of Nirvana, Jesus Lizard and Sonic Youth) while on the dual track of rapping. Charour struck gold when he became part of the underground rap crew Strict Flow in 1996, along Masai Turner (Formula 412), Chad Glick (former manager of Wiz Khalifa, ID Labs Management), and Eric Dan (co-owner of ID Labs).

The group signed with indie label Raw Shack in 1999, and released "People On Lock." Their debut album, "Homegrown," sold over 6,000 copies, a big number for a Pittsburgh hip hop group during the City's rap stone ages.

Strict Flow opened local stages for visiting national acts like Nelly, Jurassic 5, Usher, Nas, The Roots, Ludacris, Ja Rule and 50 Cent as they rapped their way to becoming the urban alpha dog of Pittsburgh promoters. They released a second album, "Without Further Ado," in 2003. That would be the final hurrah, though - the band broke up after the album release.

Within a couple of years, Chahrour was ready for greener pastures and he headed west - way west, to LA. He spent a couple of years with a day job of waiting on tables, while working to establish himself in the very competitive West Coast urban music scene. But it was basically good times and good vibes as he took to LA, both personally and professionally, with side trips to NYC.

Sied had a mind worm - "I like girls who kiss girls" (hey, it was LA) - and created a song around that line. He hooked up with old Jay-Z producer David "Ski Beatz" Willis, got Penthouse girl Krista Ayne to slink around an "American Pie" inspired clip, and one of 2007's hottest YouTube viral vids, "Girls Kiss Girls," was born.

DJ Bonics of KISS-FM broke the song; he knew Sied from his Strict Flow days, and gave the well-hooked tune a few spins at night. The request line backed up with calls for Slim, and "Girls Kiss Girls" hit the station's rotation. Eventually the catchy tune spread to the big national broadcasters, and Pittsburgh Slim (the name was inspired by Jay-Z songs "So Ghetto" and "Kingdom Come," where he dropped lines about Iceberg Slim) was on the map.

By his count, he had 11 different record deals offered to him, three from majors. But he wanted more than a one-shot contract, waited the process out, and finally after an interview with Jay-Z, Def Jam Records gave him that deal. He got a five-album agreement, and released his solo, seven-track debut "Tastemaker" in December 2007.

All that work about securing a long-term deal ended up for naught; Pittsburgh Slim and Def Jam parted ways in 2008 without so much as a second release after the guy who brought him aboard, Jay-Z, left the label. Chahrour left, too, of his own volition. He felt that Jay-Z's team had a plan and vision for him, but the label itself didn't. So Slim has been on the indie trail since.

Def Jam held on to him just long enough to quiet his buzz; Slim runs the very real risk that "Girls Kiss Girls" was enough of a novelty song, like "The Rapper" was to the Jaggerz, to throw up a roadblock as he heads down the road.

As an independent, he released the single/vid "My Bitch is Crazy," from "The Bleeding" movie soundtrack and sold it through iTunes. Ditto for his mixtape "Nolita Nights," which was released in August, 2009. Both featured the rock/rap, dirty synth, electro sound associated with clubby house music, a great dance format for Slim's good-time party sound but not so popular on radio stations.

Just this year, Slim joined Snowballers Entertainment, a new record label founded by noted music video director Ray Kay. The two should have a synergy; Slim's work has translated well to vid formats, and Kay knows how to build a successful vid brick by brick. They've just released his first Snowballers single, "Stuntman," and recently finished shooting the vid, which should be out soon.

To mark his new beginning, Chahrour dropped the Pittsburgh Slim nom d' art and became Slimmie Hendrix. We'll see how this marriage works.

"First Date" - Pittsburgh Slim from "Tastemaker"

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Formula 412

Formula 412

Pittsburgh's hip-hop scene has been largely a local phenomena until blowing up recently, and in the long run that's probably been a good if often frustrating fact of life for the region's urban music scene. It never developed into a single genre, but sent offshoots in several directions; gangsta, party, social, and fusion, a smorgasbord of sound that stimulated rather than stifled local artists.

Several Pittsburgh acts have gotten varying degrees of national love - Wiz Khalifa, Sied Chahrour, Mac Miller, Jasiri X - and another isn't far behind that pack: Formula 412.

The crew has been duly recognized in City circles; they've won five Pittsburgh Hip-Hop awards, including 2011's "Best Group" honor. Last month, they released the album "Reality Show," and it had quite a lead-in for a hip-hop release. The usually staid Pittsburgh City Council proclaimed April 12th (yah, 4-12; who sez Council doesn't bother with the details?) as "Formula 412 Day."

It fit; all the band members are Pittsburgh bred and raised. The crew consists of: Masai Turner – vocals, songwriter, MC (Strict Flow), Byron “Nasty Nash” – guitar (Sporadic), Akil Esoon – keyboards (BEAM), “Bigg Cliff” Foster – bass (Sho’Nuff), and Dennis Garner Jr. – drums (various gospel groups).

The band formed in 2006. The players had all crossed paths on stages across the local urban circuit and were looking to put together their own unique beat, having backgrounds in rap, R&B, jazz and gospel. That's part of the reason for their name - "Formula" is from the mixing of their various styles, while the 412 (area code) reps where they come from.

The band’s music is undeniably hip-hop, but instead of the usual bass & drum-heavy rhythm thump, they use guitar riffs, jazz/rock drumming and the keyboards to create a more eclectic sound, ranging from funk to rock. It's not Run DMC/Aerosmith (think Roots), but the fusion carves out a niche Formula 412 doesn't share with many urban acts.

Their songs range anywhere from autobiographic to socially conscious to life's observations as themes; they're not just instrumentally new-school, but topically, too.

If there's one thing that all Pittsburgh groups, no matter what genre, share as a storyline, it's that nothing ever comes easy. The crew isn't represented by a major label, and all the back room chores - production, marketing & sales, bookings - are handled by the band and friends.

The good thing is that artistic control of the product is guaranteed; the downside is that there are only 24 hours in a day, and expenses can eat through a day job paycheck in a New York minute.

Formula 412 knows the business drill, though. They primed the pump for "Reality Show" by releasing a pair of tracks on vid beforehand: "Step to the Rear," shot on a PAT bus rolling through the City, and "Got to Give," filmed at the old USX Carrie Furnace site.

The crew has gotten their music to the public by utilizing the 21st century template of iTunes, Amazon, and other digital outlets. Of course, they have their own web page, smart phone app and Twitter account.

They've managed to get their show on the road, too, performing recently as the opening act for groups like Method Man, 50 Cent, N.E.R.D and Busta Rhymes. The group will kick off the College Music Journal Conference in New York this fall (they're heavy into college tours). And on June 9th at 7:30, they'll play on the Dollar Bank Stage in Point State Park as part of the Three Rivers Art Festival.

Wiz is there, Slim has been there; Mac is on his way and Jasiri is kicking on the door. Now Formula 412 is on the verge of adding their name to Pittsburgh's national crews.

Formula 412 - "Step To the Rear"

Sunday, May 8, 2011

BNY Jazz, Citiparks Series

Jazz at Highland Park, image from Pittsburgh Citiparks

Hey, as long as we're clearing the deck of summer music fests, it's about time to post the BYN jazz series for the year. Mellon used to sponsor the events; BYN has stepped up nicely since the merger.

BYN partners with Pittsburgh Citiparks, the Cultural District and Manchester Craftsmen Guild to stage the shows, along with providing educational initiatives and scholarships.

It's a good synergy for jazz and the region, and again shows the strong link between Pittsburgh music and the corporate/non-profit world. It's one of the things that's unique to the town and helps make the 'Burgh the 'Burgh. The schedule:

May 10th:
Tony Campbell & Lee Robinson at the Backstage Bar, 5PM.
May 17th:
Dwayne Dolphin & Alton Merrell at the Backstage Bar, 5PM
May 24th:
James Moore & Clare Ascani at the Backstage Bar, 5PM
May 31st:
Carolyn Perteete & Shawnee Lake at the Backstage Bar, 5PM
June 11th:
Mark Lucas at Riverview Park, 7PM
June 18th:
Dwayne Dolphin at Riverview Park, 7PM
June 25th:
Al Dowe and Etta Cox at Riverview Park, 7PM
July 2nd:
Clare Ascani at Riverview Park, 7PM
July 9th:
Max Leake at Riverview Park, 7PM
July 16th:
Spider Rondinell at Riverview Park, 7PM
July 23rd:
Resonance Steel Drum Jazz at Riverview Park, 7PM
July 30th:
Kevin Howard and Serious Inquiry at Riverview Park, 7PM
August 6th:
Sean Jones at Riverview Park, 7PM
August 7th:
Boilermaker Jazz Band at Highland Park, 7PM
August 13th:
Mike Tomaro at Riverview Park, 7PM
August 14th:
Alton Merrell and Friends at Highlan Park, 7PM
August 20th:
Salsamba Latin Jazz Group at Riverview Park, 7PM
August 21st:
21st Century Swing Band at Highland Park, 7PM
August 27th:
Roger Humphries and RH Factor at Riverview Park, 7PM
August 28th:
The Poogie Bell Band at Highland Park, 7PM
September 10th:
Tarbaby and Oliver Lake at City of Asylum, 7:30PM
September 23/24th:
Bob Mintzer Big Band at MCG Jazz Hall, 8PM
October 1st:
Pat Metheny and Larry Grenadier at MCG Jazz Hall, 7PM
October 1st:
Tribute to Joe Negri at Carnegie Library (Carnegie), 8PM
October 15th:
Fourplay at MCG Jazz Hall, 7PM
October 29/30th:
Alon Yavnai/Israeli Jazz and World Rhythms at MCG Jazz Hall, 8PM, 2:30PM
November 11th:
Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band at MCG Jazz Hall, 7PM
November 19th:
Tribute to Grover Washington at MCG Jazz Hall, 7PM
December 3/4th:
Billy Taylor Tribute at MCG Jazz Hall, 8PM, 2:30PM
December 9th:
Take 6 Christmas at MCG Jazz Hall, 7PM

And for the other end of the spectrum, the City also sponsors the Bach, Beethoven and Brunch Classical Music Series at Mellon Park on Fifth and Shady Avenues in the East End. The shows run every Sunday from 10:30AM to noon. The schedule:

June 19th - Edgewood Symphony Orchestra
June 26th - Freya String Quartet
July 03rd - Carnegie Brass
July 10th - Cincopation
July 17th - Aeolian Winds of Pittsburgh
July 24th - River City Brass
July 31st - Eastern Watershed Klexmer Quartet
Aug. 07th - Keystone Wind Ensemble
Aug. 14th - East Winds Symphonic Band

Roger Humphries "Song For My Father"

Arts Festival Lineup

Image from the Pittsburgh Arts Council

Hey, with all the rain fallin', you just know that the Three Rivers' Arts Festival is right around the corner. And locals know that means more than funnel cakes and pottery; the Festival brings in an eclectic mix of national bands to rock the Point. This year's schedule is no different. Here's the scheduled acts:

The Blind Boys of Alabama; Friday, 7:30, June 3rd.

The Tom Tom Club; Saturday, 7:30, June 4th.

Pittsburgh Symphony; Sunday, 6:00, June 5th.

James McMurtry/Jonny Burke; Monday, 7:30, June 6th.

The Baseball Project/J. Roddy Walston; Tuesday, 7:30, June 7th.

Tea Leaf Green; Wednesday, 7:30, June 8th.

Formula 412; Thursday, 7:30, June 9th.

Brandi Carlile; Friday, 7:30, June 10th.

Ricky Skaggs; Saturday, 7:30, June 11th.

Buckwheat Zydeco; Sunday, 7:30, June 12th.

All the shows are free concerts. The acts perform on the Dollar Bank Stage in Point State Park. This year's featured Pittsburgh artists are the PSO, playing on Sunday, June 6th and making their first 3RAF appearance since 1977, along with genre-bending hip-hop crew Formula 412, who will play Thursday, June 9th. And that pair just about covers the gamut of Pittsburgh music.

Old Mon has seen and heard some folk stirring a backsplash about the booked bands being dated and not particularly cutting edge. Well, get over it; it's a good mix for the Festival crowd. If you want to see Lady Gaga or the Ozfest, you have the wrong venue (although a little more local flavor wouldn't be a bad thing.)

Formula 412 - "Gotta Give"

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Allegheny County Summer Concert Series

South Park Amphitheater

The Allegheny County 2011 Summer Concert Series includes five-time Grammy Award winner Mary Chapin Carpenter, the critically acclaimed soul singer Martin Sexton, Country Top 40 artist Brett Eldredge, Irish folk band the High Kings, Top 40 superstars Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, as well as Donnie Iris. The schedule...

At Hartwood Acres:

June 5 - Josh Ritter with David Wax Museum (7:30 p.m.)
June 12 - Pittsburgh Opera (7:30 p.m.)
June 19 - Open Sky Microphone Night hosted by Joy Ike (7:30 p.m.)
June 26 - CCAC Alumni present Ruthie Foster (7:30 p.m.)
July 3 - Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (8:15 p.m.)
July 17 - Mary Chapin Carpenter (7:30 p.m.)
July 22-24 - 17th Annual Pittsburgh Blues Festival (Fri. 4:00-10:30 p.m., Sat. & Sun. 1:30-10:30 p.m.
July 31 - The High Kings (7:30 p.m.)
Aug. 7 - Grace Potter & the Nocturnals (7:30 p.m.)
Aug. 14 - BNY Mellon Jazz presents Joe Lovano (7:30 p.m.)
Aug. 18 - Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (7:30 p.m.)
Aug. 28 - Duquesne University Tamburitzans (7:30 p.m.)
Sept. 4 - 12th Annual Allegheny County Musical Festival featuring Rusted Root (5:00 p.m.)

At South Park Amphitheater:

June 3 - Joe Zelek Band (7:30 p.m.)
June 10 - The Billy Price Band with Olga Watkins (7:30 p.m.)
June 17 - Hometown Music Fest featuring Love Bettie, Lohio, Meeting of Important People, and City Dwelling Nature Seekers (6:30 p.m.)
June 24 - Jimmy Adler Band (7:30 p.m.)
July 2 - Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (8:00 p.m.)
July 8 - Pittsburgh CLO presents “A Gleeful Evening” featuring the CLO Mini Stars and Gene Kelly Award winners (7:30 p.m.)
July 15 - Brett Eldredge with Sydney Hutchko (7:30 p.m.)
July 22 - Maia Sharp & Moveable Feast (7:30 p.m.)
July 29 - BNY Mellon Jazz presents The John Patitucci Trio (7:30 p.m.)
Aug. 5 - Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears (7:30 p.m.)
Aug. 12 - Martin Sexton with Laura Shay (7:30 p.m.)
Aug. 19 - Pure Gold (7:30 p.m.)
Aug. 26 - Donnie Iris & the Cruisers (7:30 p.m.)

Jimmy Adler "Wee Wee Hours"