Interview: Ground Up, playing Altar Bar Wed., Dec. 18
Posted by Rory D. Webb on Tue, Dec 17, 2013 at 3:04 PM
Rising from Philadelphia’s thriving hip-hop scene, trio Ground Up has been making waves with a series of independent mixtape and EP releases. On Wednesday, December 18, they hit the stage at Pittsburgh’s Altar Bar for a performance that’s certain to impress.
Tell us about this upcoming show, at Altar Bar on December 18.
Azar: We’re doing a one-stop show with Hi-Rez in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has always been a really good market for us, and we always get a lot of love out there.
Malakai: This is probably our fourth or fifth time performing in Pittsburgh, actually.
That’s right, I recall you guys performing at the Shadow Lounge about a year ago. Do you remember when or what venue some of your earlier shows here were?
Malakai: We used to play at a place called the P. Café, I’m not sure if it’s still open. Probably back in, like, 2009, we used to come out to Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh was probably one of our first major stops outside of Philadelphia.
Azar: We’ve had a lot of good times there, man. We all have our respective friends that went to the University of Pittsburgh as well. We did a couple of shows at the P. Café, and, like, the owner was mad cool. It would just always be a good time, because we knew a lot of people and they would always make sure that we had a good time. We spent a lot of time on Semple Street getting fucked up.
We’re all sports fans; what do you guys think of Pittsburgh and Philly as cross-state rivals?
Malakai: Well, I grew up in Baltimore and then moved to Philadelphia. So, as far as football is concerned, I absolutely can’t stand the fucking Steelers.
Azar: And I got a sensitive subject with the Steelers, my girl is actually a huge Steelers fan. And I’m a ride-or-die Eagles fan. I can’t stand Steeler Nation. So, I’m a hater, you guys got the rings (laughs).
Is there anything about Wednesday’s performance that will be unique from your past shows here?
Azar: Yeah, man, we got a little surprise for the show coming up. We’re gonna be rocking with a drummer alongside of us for one of the first times ever. So, that adds a whole new dimension to our live show and really gives us a lot more opportunity to get the crowd engaged and have a lot more fun with everything.
And your producer Bij Lincs handles the DJing duties?
Azar: Yeah, Bij is DJing, and he’s on the keys as well from time to time. He’s our DJ and beatmaker, always. So, he’s gonna be rocking the tables with the live drummer as well.
Earlier this year you guys collaborated on a song with Pittsburgh rapper Beedie. Have any other Pittsburgh artists caught you guys’ attention?
Azar: Obviously we all got a lot of inspiration from watching Wiz grow into the artist that he is. I think a lot of rappers could say that. But us in particular, I know that we were listening to Wiz way back when, back when “Pittsburgh Sound” was dropping. So that was really cool to see a guy like Wiz’s progression. Also, Beedie’s got a real dope movement. And Devin Miles, who we’re gonna hopefully have a track with in the near future, he’s really talented. And of course, man, Mac Miller. You’ve gotta give him all the respect in the world for what he’s done.
Your Promiseland EP was came out just a couple months ago. Are there any new releases or upcoming projects you’re working on?
Malakai: We recently released a clothing line of our own, called MDCCXI. As far as music, we’re planning to release our new project around the middle of next year. You can download all of our music on groundupsounds.com for free.
Anyone who saw Ground Up at the TLA last weekend probably got to hear their newest track that’s dropping today…well they got to hear some of it. The rapper G-Eazy wasn’t in town that night, or else he’d have come on stage and spit his verse along with Azar and Malakai.
Everyone in both camps is pumped about this track. The two teams met up on the road last winter and toured until the spring, and it was clear by the end of the tour that a collaboration would produce something special.
Support Ground Up & G-Eazy and buy “Breakfast” CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE
Big ups to Dub Caesar, Broad St. Music Group and Foxtail Fest for having us out.
Photos by @ihhPHILA
Next time you walk into a Lacoste retail shop or hand your car keys over to a valet service in center city Philly, you might just be buying a polo or getting your whip parked by the manager of the hottest hip hop act in the city.
Ground Up manager Jon Zecchino
Frank Santella and Jon Zecchino have been managing Ground Up since the earliest days in the 1711 house. Like any pair, they share many of the same responsibilities, such as booking, creative management and promotion, but they also have unique skill sets and distinct personalities. Santella, who grew up with Azar and Bij Lincs, is described by Jon as being the “people guy”, whereas Zecchino, a former Temple student who met Malakai and Azar on the first day of freshman orientation back in ’08, is the self-described “technical guy”. “It’s not like I never talk to people or Frank never takes care of technical details or equipment issues,” explains Zecchino on a normal Monday night as he sits at the kitchen table in Ground Up Headquarters, “but if someone needs to design the lights or sound for a show it’s probably going to be me, and if someone needs to handle a long-term relationship via phone and email, it’s probably going to be Frank. But overtime both of us have had to play many roles.”
Ground Up manager Frank Santella
One thing about these two guys that’s stuck out to me over the years is the fact that no matter what is going on, in the world, in their personal lives, in anything, they never stray from the task at hand. These guys wake up and fall asleep Ground Up day in day out. They hardly even say hello anymore when they see each other, just “what’s next”. The fact is, these guys share a full-time job where they’re their own bosses, they trained themselves, and “tomorrow” is their only benefits package.
I asked them how people usually react when they explain that they manage hip hop artists. They both said the same thing, “you usually get one of two responses: they’re either totally interested or they have absolutely no clue what that means and shrug it off without paying much attention. Some people just don’t know, but we just care about our rappers, our artists. We’re interested in whoever’s interested in them. That’s our job.”