MH The Verb and GR Stone present ArtHouse95 with Owl EP
MH The Verb | Courtesy of the artist – Photo by Crystal Engel

Marcus Harris (aka MH The Verb) is a Philadelphia based rapper/producer/DJ and the front man for ArtHouse 95, a band and occasional multimedia arts collective that features his production partner/multi­-instrumentalist GR Stone and producer/engineer George “Cylon” Casseus along with a fluid membership that is made up of a network creatives stretching alongside the I­-95 highway.

Sitting in the basement of Harris’ Fishtown home (which doubles as a production studio where the crew write songs and produce beats) Stone explains the concept behind the ArtHouse95 movement.

“95 symbolically represents I­-95. We have a strong connection with artists from New York, down to Philly, D.C. all up and down that spine that runs down the East Coast,” he says.

GR Stone | Courtesy of the artst

GR Stone | Courtesy of the artst

Harris and Stone met while both were attending the University of Pittsburgh. Harris, a hip hophead majoring in Urban Studies & Planning, and Stone, a music major, teamed up to start writing music and tenuring in local bands.

“When I went to Pitt I started working with musicians in different bands and that’s how we met around the organization of live instrumentation and organic sounds in hip hop,” Harris explains.

In the years following graduation the duo went their separate ways, with Harris eventually landing in New York and Stone in Philly. While in New York, Harris created T​he Balloon Guide – a ​quirky and inventive rap album that weaves together disparate strands of boom­ bap, hip hop and soul with a keen pop sense of songcraft.

During this time Harris realized that he wanted to do more.

“I kinda felt alone and I wasn’t always sure that I was in the right space to balance the life I wanted as a musician and the life I wanted to live as a person.”

Eventually, he decided to move back to Philly, reconnect with Stone and focus on building the kind of musical community that would eventually birth the ArtHouse95 collective.

“We never lost touch and we always did stuff together. As of maybe 8 months to a year ago, he’s been back in Philly and we’ve done a lot of music since then,” says Stone.

Reflecting the loose, communal character of the collective, ArtHouse95’s creative process is inherently collaborative, with Harris and Stone writing together and bouncing ideas off of one another while also bringing in input from their broad extended family of musicians, vocalists, visual artists and producers.

Sometimes that creative unit is large, with semi­-open recording sessions in which many creatives are brought in to lay down ideas over pre­-recorded beats, and sometimes the music is the result of the core duo of Harris and Stone.

“It’s come to fruition a lot more lately, since we’ve been living in the same city. We used to meet up in a city to play a show and record all day and get a bunch of shit down like that. I think that our best work comes from just him and I sitting here together,” says Stone.

Arthouse95’s Owl E​P ​is the result of this multi­-faceted creative process. The EP’s sound is a lush, jazzy affair in which atmospheric keys and samples provide a perfect soundbed for Harris’ introspective, conversational raps.

Tracks like “She Prefers Jazz” find Harris delivering slick bars in a free­form, impressionistic style while a breezy flute motif floats away on top. The dreamy and soulful “Better Way” is the centerpiece of the EP and its strongest track. Over a rich, lifting piano chord progression and a textured J­ Dilla­-referencing drum groove, Harris lays down confessional verses about friendships and love stretched by geographical distance while Stone contributes a somber, bittersweet vocal hook.

Artsy but fun and rooted in post­-Kanye College Dropout hip hop, Arthouse95’s Owl EP i​s a solid effort that reflects the collective’s smart, quirky style and collaborative spirit.

When asked to elaborate on the mission and future of the ArtHouse95 movement, Harris is equal parts ambitious and optimistic.

“W​e hope our sounds and visuals inspire people to join in and appreciate the world around them. Art is a reflection of the way people live, and we live in the ArtHouse, and this is just our culture.”

GR Stone and MH the Verb perform at World Cafe Live on Friday, June 3rd; tickets and information can be found here.

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