Joie Kathos | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
The High Key Portrait Series: Joie Kathos
“High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.
Philly’s Joie Kathos has had a busy year. In June, she performed at Delaware’s Firefly Festival; back in March she was showcased on both the iStandard Beat Battle and in Washington DC’s SheROCKS event. She’s got her hands in several ongoing projects, having released singles for Comin Home With Me (CHWM) on iTunes late last year. And come September, she’ll open up at the Electric Factory for Young M.A.
The Philly native’s star is on the rise, but her head seems to be planted squarely right here at home, in a city that’s imbued her with a deep cultural tradition going back to her parents’ love for arts and music. In this interview, she recalls childhood memories attending local concerts with her father, and all of the music that continues to fuel her own creative energy. She’s inspired and informed by hip hop touchstones like The Roots and KRS-One, and one of her personal heroes, Bahamadia, invited the young rapper to perform at her #KOLLAGE tribute show at Johnny Brenda’s last year. “We sat in the studio and talked and she was droppin’ jewels,” Kathos reminisces about the collaboration. “I’m grateful for her.”
As she describes CHWM, she evokes more cherished memories of ‘90s music media culture. “Remember back in like the ‘90s when they used to release singles on CD, and then there would be like the ‘radio edit,’ and three different house mixes.. I just wanna keep it true to that.” You’ll be quickly laughed off and contradicted, though, should you try to point that she couldn’t possibly “remember the ‘90s” because she’s only 25: “I’ve always been into music. My start in music was way back when, when I was a baby! My mom sang, and she danced, and my uncle sang, and I was just around it. So I’m a little bit ahead of my time, a little bit old-school too.”
The Key: What part of Philly are you from?
Joie Kathos: West Philly. Overbrook/Wynnefield.
TK: Where did you go to high school, and what do you remember most?
JK: I went to [Philadelphia High School for the] Creative and Performing Arts. AKA “CAPA.” Dance Major. High School was very very fun. I was able to get a head start in finding my artistry very young, as an entertainer and performer. While I was there I was also taking acting classes, on weekends, and modeling and doing other things. But I think CAPA is a great school here in Philly because it nurtures a lot of the talent that’s here. And it’s still a public school.
To be honest, it changed every year. I felt like every year of high school I grew more mature, less naive, and I experienced more. Overall I can safely say I experienced every single emotion while being in high school, in that environment. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. But overall it was more positive. I remember feeling very confident, empowered, inspire, motivated. You know, not just because I was in Philly, but art is really heavily embraced here, so for me it seems to be a normality, and it has been for me, for my whole life.
TK: How did you first get connected to the music scene in Philadelphia?
JK: I think just performing at different venues, at first as a dancer, and then being around and then going to open mics. Before I kinda started performing and became this public figure — “Joie Kathos” — I was just doing open mics and poetry slams. My dad would take me to every event that was happening here in the city that had anything to do with music. I think my first real performance, like introduction to the game, was the Hip Hop Awards? No, it was the Urban Celebrity Back-To-School concert. That was the first show that I did at the TLA. And then I was introduced to the rest of the performers here in the city.
TK: Where did you play your first show ever?
JK: My first time ever on a show was at The Painted Bride, when I was like three years old. I said the opening prayer for the show. And then I had a little monologue, closing speech at the end.
TK: How did that come about?
JK: My mentor at the time, she had a dance school. And I was too young at the time to officially be in the company, but I had a lotta stage presence, so she found a way to put me in the show.
TK: Do you remember that? How did it feel?
JK: Yeah. It was scary! Literally, like my mom was the stage manager from the show. So backstage, she was yelling out the cues — ‘we’re at five, we’re at ten!’ And five minutes come up, and I’m like running up to my mom in tears, ‘I can’t do it, I’m so nervous!’ And she’s like ‘alright one minute til the curtain’s open!,’ I’m like ‘I’m not goin’ out, I’m not goin’ out..’ And then they’re at five, four, three, two, one, and I took the mic and I just walked out..
TK: How about as “Joie Kathos,” that was the TLA show?
JK: Yeah, 2012.
TK: Was that your first time debuting original material? How did that feel?
JK: It felt good. I normally don’t get nervous for the act of performing, but I was definitely concerned about how everybody would perceive me, because what we were doing for that show was a lot different than the other acts on the bill.
TK: Which Philly music venue is your favorite to play?
JK: District N9ne. It’s right off of 8th and Callowhill. I didn’t even know it was there. But the sound quality and like, the lights and the space is really dope. ‘Cause like, it has the feel of a restaurant kinda area with the VIP lounges, as well as a concert. But it’s not too big; it’s not too small.
TK: Who’s your favorite Philadelphia artist, or which Philly artist influenced you most?
JK: I would definitely have to say Chill Moody. My reasons: 1) He’s from West Philly. 2) He’s a hip hop artist, just like me, and an actual lyricist. And 3) He’s very aware of what being a hip hop ambassador is. Like, he got that title, and ever since I’ve been put on his radar, I found myself leaning toward a lot of the things he does. Not because I’m trying to emulate him, but you know a lot of artists are very concerned with, you know ‘I’m on, I gotta get a hit single, I gotta do this or that,’ but Chill is really focused on making quality music, and trying to get real hip hop back into the scene, and trying to have a real representation of Philly artists. So he’s definitely one of my favorites from the city.
TK: What do you love most about the Philly arts scene, and what if anything do you find most frustrating?
JK: What I love about Philly is that it’s so family/small-town feeling, energy-wise. Even though it’s one of the major metropolitan cities, it’s not hard for you to find your own niche, and your own thing, and find people that are gonna support it. Because I think a lotta Philadelphians like stuff that’s new and different and fun. But that’s also like a downfall too — because Philly likes stuff that’s new, they forget all the things that are happening here for artists. And you know, a lotta Philly artists don’t know about other Philly artists, which I think is kinda whack. That’s the bad thing about it. I don’t think Philly artists support each other enough. We have been recently, but like, we would make leaps and strides if we all stuck together.
TK: What neighborhoods have you lived in? Which did you love and which did you wanna leave?
JK: I’ve lived in West Philly — Overbrook and Wynnefield. I’ve lived in North Philly, off of Cheltenham. I think my favorite part of the city is West Philadelphia. Because you can pretty much get to any other part of the city from West Philly in like 25 to 30 minutes. And like that part of town is like all Fairmount Park, where I’m from, it’s like all Parkside, Fairmount, Belmont. So like we have a lotta greenery, but we also could still have that city vibe. And it’s a lotta good music in West Philly.
TK: What’s your preferred means for getting around town?
JK: Preferred? I would prefer to be chauffeured in a limousine with an amazing-looking driver.. [laughs] I’m jokin’ with you. No, I prefer to drive, only because I’m really busy. I like taking public transportation, I grew up taking SEPTA since I was like 8 or 9. And I found a lot of inspiration and you know, just people-watching. You never know who you’re gonna run into. But, to be realistic right now, I’m driving these days.
TK: How have you seen the city change, and has it been for the better or worse?
JK: Philly has definitely changed for the better. Everyone’s just so ambitious, and they’re more friendly. [laughs] Philly had a really bad stigma for a while, we’re just mean. We’re tough cookies. But I think people are realizing that, you know, it’s a rough city, we have kind of a bad rep, but I think that’s also what makes us good, because that’s why we’re tough cookies, because we’re from the city.