It’s a given that when performing in your hometown – the city you grew up in – you’re going to be fortunate to have friends, curious acquaintances and long-time supporters attend your local gigs. You likely won’t step onto a stage for the first time in the same shoes as 8 Mile‘s B-Rabbit – knees weak, arms heavy and a mishap with Mom’s spaghetti – to a booing crowd awaiting your failure. Your hometown, your roots, your backbone – are often your biggest fans. And that’s what Ottawa is to Philly Moves; it’s the reason they’ve sold out shows, risen to local hip-hop fame and are growing to national notoriety. They admittedly owe the nation’s capital everything they’ve got.
With that being said, the two-part rap force and their fans must acknowledge that they aren’t just ‘good for Ottawa’. They’re good, even very good, for anywhere.
In 2009, when the duo – composed of MC Tynan “Tragic” Phelan and Producer Jon “Rockwell” Desilva – naively distributed their first album to college stations across the country hoping for airplay, but received no response – they were understandably discouraged. Months later, the pair picked up the phone to inquire and unbeknownst to them, the album had been charting on both coasts since they submitted. Their national fan base, after only their first shot at laying down beats together, had grown right beneath their nose in a matter of months.
Again, last year, the two worked overtime to remind their fans to vote for them as Faces Magazine’s “Favourite Band in Ottawa”. They won. Little did they know, without any coercion or social media marketing, they had simultaneously received another people’s choice-style accolade from Metro News as “Ottawa’s Favourite Live Act”.
“This has all taken off very fast,” says Tynan “Tragic” Phelan, rubbing his forehead to show his own disbelief. “I think the reason we’ve generated so much hype is because we’re so busy. We engage fans one-on-one, we nearly burnt ourselves out performing this summer…there’s no time for people to forget us.”
Engagement is part of the hip-hop doctrine for this laid back pair – whose comedic and confident on-stage personas flaunt the reasons for their live praise – with sounds and lyrics stemming from just about everything that would appeal to any young adult looking for a beat. Being penniless, losing relationships, trying to do the right thing – you name it, they write it.
“Our sound and lyrics are very accessible; there isn’t anything in our music that would alienate anybody,” says Tragic. “It’s accessible without being simple.”
A user-friendly sort of eclecticism is infused into How To Drink Yourself Famous, the newest release from the twenty-something duo which was laid down in both Atlanta and Toronto, and drops the opening night of Ottawa’s 2012 Winterfest hip-hop showcase. Composed of Rockwell’s own instrumentation and vocals (he comes from a punk band and sound engineering background), sunny ska riffs and Pete Rock and CL Smooth-reminiscent downtown jazz hooks – as Tragic says, “12 people will have 12 different favourite songs.”
Tragic, the “heart” of the operation, and Rockwell, “the brain”, agree that with all of the shallow mainstream hip-hop nowadays – Canada’s grasp of old-school sound and messaging have led to the country becoming a golden hip-hop subculture.
“People might accuse us of being ‘emo-rappers’, but that’s what it used to be about – someone spreading an actual message,” Tragic says. “Our music definitely has pop, but it isn’t fluff.”
So, after a tireless summer of weekly gigs and a consequent three-month performing hiatus, Philly Moves returns to crash the stage this weekend at Winterfest – the ultimate comeback to pump Capital City hip-hop appreciation and celebrate the drop of their much-anticipated LP. Performing Friday with Moka Only and Pumpkinhead at Ritual Night Club, as well as Saturday alongside acclaimed Canadian rapper DL Incognito at Oliver’s pub, the Ottawa natives are excited to meet their comrades in the Canadian climb to the top.
And with Winterfest under their wing, Tragic will join his hypeman Rockwell this spring in Toronto to tackle new crowds and a daunting scene; one that is, however, laden with label reps and industry opportunities awaiting unique breeds like Philly Moves.
“We’re like goldfish – we can only grow as big as the bowl we’re in,” states Tragic. “But it doesn’t mean we won’t always be a part of the Ottawa scene.”
And while they test out the waters in the Big Smoke? We have it good too. We can celebrate their vaster success, claim “we knew them when”, and anticipate the tidal wave homecoming shows when they return to our great little pond.
For more information on Winterfest, visit http://winterfestottawa.ca/. Stay tuned for more artist profiles from in a nutshell!