Earlier this month, Grand Agent celebrated his 40th birthday among friends and fans at Voltage Lounge in Philly. The night doubled as an album release party for the artist’s latest record AC Hip-Hop. The evening’s talent lineup included some of hip-hop’s finest, including NYC’s own Camp Lo, Last Emperor, and Philly’s own The Wurxs.
Brooklyn Radio’s Lara Gamble got to speak with GA and fellow Philly hip-hop artist Carl Madison while they were still putting the finishing touches on what would be a party for the hip-hop history books.
What’s your earliest memory of hip-hop?
Grand Agent: Oh, wow. My earliest memory of hip-hop is probably like ’82, sittin’ on the porch, one of the older dudes from my block comes up with a box, and he plays “The Message,” and that was it. It was just like, “Oh!” Cause before then, it was tapes circulating and block parties and all of that, but I think the impact of that song in that moment, I had to be like seven years old, it just captured my imagination right there. And that was it.
How did you guys meet?
GA: I actually went to school with Carl. Carl is my partner who’s producing the event with me. We went to elementary school together for a few years. I don’t think we were really friends, per se, back then. I think we were kinda young, and we ran back into each other probably in our twenties or something like that.
Carl Madison: Yeah, that’s right and throughout college. I ran back into GA and, you know, just ever since there became more familiar. I think more recently, we just really started building, and that is basically how the event came about.
When did you guys realize you wanted to make music a full-time gig?
Carl: Wow. GA?
GA: (Laughs) Well, I probably realized it at that same moment that I heard “The Message” honestly. Obviously, I didn’t go from there to here, but I think probably after high school, it was a couple years of go to college, dropout, go back to college, dropout. Somewhere in there around eighteen, nineteen, twenty, I kind of stumbled back into it.
When I was a kid, I used to write. You know, I would take instrumentals and just write to them. I was even ten or eleven. Around that time after really not finding my way with the post-secondary school game, I ended up at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. They had a program in there, let us in the studio, and again, it was the same kind of spark as when I heard “The Message.” Just from there, I kind of just started a career, you know. So, I would say a good twenty years ago.
Carl: I think, for me, to go back to answer your other question, when hip-hop first hit me was when my mom, she used to wake me up for school, and the song that she used to wake me up with was “The Message.” And so, it was always hard for me to get up when I was a young guy, you know, talking about nine or ten. But she would play “The Message,” I would get up, get ready for school and go.
And I think from there, it just kind of gripped me. But I think after high school, I kind of realized this is really kind of what I want to do. Not having GA’s status or doing what he’s doing but always knowing that I wanted to do this, and I just love it.
Did you guys both grow up in Philly?
GA: Yeah. I live in L.A. at the moment, but yeah, we both grew up in Philly.
How did the idea for the event come about?
GA: So, me and Carl had been working a little bit together last year, and we had the idea to go to Europe because I spent a lot of time in Europe kind of early on in my career. We had planned to go back just to celebrate my 40th birthday. It started creepin’ up on us, and we weren’t really getting it planned.
I was like, “We gotta do something.” It kind of just evolved out of a conversation, and I don’t know. It just kind of took on a life of its own once we started talking about it and bouncing ideas off the wall or whatever.
I reached out to Camp Lo. They were interested. And then, once I got them in place, I got a venue in place, a lot of other stuff started to just kind of be magnetized to the event. So, we got Last Emperor. We got these young guys coming up called The Wurxs. We’ve got DJ Jay Ski who’s a big DJ in Philly.
We just have a real nice event planned. It happened really organically just out of, I think, wanting to celebrate life. For me personally, just to celebrate my own accomplishments because I know that no one will do it if I don’t. So, that was kind of my thinking behind it. Yeah, I just felt like, go home to Philly, have a big party and kind of wile out a little bit.
How did you go about choosing the artists for your party?
Carl: I think it was something that me and GA kind of talked about. You know, Camp Lo and his relationship with Camp Lo and the song “Minivan” and him doing tours and things of that nature. Also, from a promoter standpoint, just trying to put something together that was going to be fun that when you saw it, something that I would pay for.
With Last Emperor and Camp Lo and GA, and then add in DJ Jay Ski, from the Skratch Makaniks, and DJ Tactics, it just made the event that impressive to me. If I saw it, I would definitely pay the money to check it out because I knew that when I walked away from it, it was going to be something that I would be satisfied with.
So, you’re trying to raise money by crowdfunding?
GA: Yeah, we’ve been doing a little gofundme, and it’s been hit or miss. Some people get it, and some people are like, “Why are they trying to raise money for a party?” So, it’s been getting mixed reactions. We have been doing great with corporate sponsors.
So, we’ve got Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum are part of it, Rockstar Energy Drink is a part of it, workoutwithtrey.com, which is like a 24-hour personal trainer service, is involved. Who else we got? Those are the three big ones.
The corporate angle has been what’s really anchoring the gofundme, and kind of what we do is we post our corporate sponsorship as part of the crowdfunding total. Every time we do that, it looks bigger and better, and people might chip in $100 or $50. We have little giveaways that go along with that. We have an exclusive mixtape, which features people from the lineup, some exclusive Camp Lo, Moka Only. So, the crowdfunding is going well.
Where is the party going to be?
GA: This is May 16 in Philadelphia at Voltage Lounge, 421 N 7th Street. It’s right next to the Electric Factory. That’s how everybody knows it. We’ve got a good lineup. The early feelers are good. People know it. So, it’s shaping up nicely.
Carl: We’re also doing open bar from 9-10pm, and ladies get in for free from 9-10pm too.
Is there anything else that you guys are working on that you want to add or promote?
GA: Definitely. I have an album called AC Hip-Hop, which is going to be a free download. We’re kind of using the night as a kind of a release party as well. That will be a free album for the life of the album.
There’s also a kind of movement I want to get out there in the world, just making the hip-hop aesthetic and sensibility more accessible I think on a wider scale than it may be now. I mean, we hear hip-hop, and we see hip-hop all over the place, but I think the people of my generation, so to speak, like the maturing hip-hop crowd, I don’t think we get our needs met in the mainstream media by what’s being called hip-hop.
I kind of want to put a banner out there for people to get behind and start to challenge the notion of what hip-hop is because I started at a crucial kind of turning point where the history of it could totally look different than the reality of what it was and is, and I think we really got to the tipping point in that regard. I think, it’s kind of up to us, the people that really, through our consumerism and our creativity, built this industry that is now not really reflecting what we had in mind. I just want to kind of turn my attention towards that and kind of make some use of my career in that way.
I think I’ve done enough of proving myself and what I can, do and I’ve done enough braggadocio and all the standard hip-hop fare, and I just kind of want to just present records and ideas in a sense that a thirty-five or forty-year-old hip-hop head can relate to in their everyday life. That’s kind of what the “AC Hip-Hop Movement” is about. That’s what the bottom, bottom line of the night will be about for me, just kind of launching that as well.
Carl: Yeah, so for me, I’m a producer/emcee, and I’m actually tying up loose ends and just finishing up this project that I’m working on. It’s guest starring Malik B. It’s a Carl Madison project, sort of how like how Raekwon and Ghost did Cuban Links, but it’s a Carl Madison project, featuring Malik B. It sort of has this Total Recall type of thing to it, so that when you actually hear the album, you get this experience of a type of dreamlike situation, but you actually get to hear the album that Carl Madison does with Malik B.
So, included on the album is, of course, Grand Agent, and we also have the remix for Grand Agent, myself and Malik B – the “Taxin Remix” that was done by DJ Evil Dee. That’ll be on there. So, we also have Chaundon, we’ve got Ethel Cee, my DJ, DJ Tactics, who’s also spinning for the GA40. We have Suzann Christine, a singer from Philadelphia, and then we also have Chill Moody from Philadelphia. The album will most likely be done towards the end of May.