Black Soul Summer: DJ Brotha Taaj on music, community, and the party he's throwing at Sunflower this weekend - WXPN
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Like most DJs, Boston native Brotha Taaj was aware that music could bring people together. Whether it was at a house party, Liacouras Walk — better known as The Walk to Temple students — or at local, venues Taaj used his skills as a DJ to do just that during his time at Temple University. However, it was the block parties he threw in North Philly that were his favorite way of achieving that goal. Taaj wanted to address the disrespect he saw Temple students giving to those who were born and raised in the neighborhoods in North Philly after reading an article in Philadelphia Magazine called being “White in Philly,” which talked about the white experience living an impoverished dangerous neighborhood. That didn’t sit well with him, especially when he has witnessed plenty of Temple students be very disrespectful to the people who have been living these neighborhoods for decades. According to Taaj there were some people from the neighborhoods that didn’t like Temple students — so when he started the block parties in 2011, he wanted to show them that the event was for everyone, so they didn’t have to feel excluded from their own block.

By building and nurturing relationships with DJs and local music artists, Taaj has able to work with a plethora of people in order to create the mini music festivals on North Philly streets like Carlise and Bouvier street. Though he admits that DJing is not his true passion, he does appreciate and value how it has been a good way to connect with local artists and DJs in the Philadelphia region. Brotha Taaj’s main mission is to use music to help change the energy and build more communal consciousness amongst his people and a decade later he feels even more confident with the creation of Black Soul Summer.

Years later after he graduated from Temple, Brotha Taaj  –along with his friends Melvin and Shaq — decided to bring back those good ole Temple block parties back to life by collaborating with hip hop artist Asher Roth to create the event All Love Block Party. That journey began in 2017 on 17th and Randolph Street, and then years later ended up at the new outdoor venue Sunflower Philly on 5th and Cecil B Moore. As popular as All Love was, it wasn’t until Taaj connected with DJ Na$h to bring her own popular event Interna$hional Bounce to Sunflower Philly’s Juneteenth Fest last year. That lit the fire for the creation Black Soul Summer; curator Nas Haddad said by having his events at certain venues, it introduces them to a demographic they may not have come across by themselves, which is what Taaj feels that Interna$hional Bounce did for Sunflower Philly.

After a successful event, it was time for Black Soul Summer, an ecosystem created to collaborate with other event producers to bring multiple summer special events underneath one umbrella. It started last month on June 18th for a second annual Juneteenth edition of DJ Na$h’s Interna$hional Bounce, which was an unforgettable experience. The next event — All Love Block Party — takes place this Saturday at Sunflower Philly, and with headlining DJs like DJ Damage and Feese, Matthew Law and DJ Sega it may have reminiscent of the days of Drippin Like Water, Phish Tank, and Mad Decent when it cost free ninety-nine.

On August 20th, it’s the third event Hip Hop in The Park, followed on September 17th by Hip Hop & Jazz Fest, both of which will be at the Lucien Blackwell Community Center. As Brotha Taaj prepares for an eventful Saturday, I was able to talk to him about a plethora of topics such as his block party days at Temple, creating All Love Block Party, how connecting with DJ Na$h was kicked off Black Summer Soul, and how headliners DJ Damage and Feese, Matthew Law and DJ Sega have made a huge impact during his time in Temple University.

Rahman Wortman: You’re from Boston — a place you described that doesn’t allow hip hop in venues. So I’m curious to know when was the first time Brotha Taaj got behind the turntables?

Brotha Taaj: What’s interesting about the Boston music culture there is that you got a lot of west Indian, Caribbean, and West African culture. So in those spaces there’s a lot of night life and activities like Carnival or other outdoor events. I got OGs back home who put me onto to all types of reggae, dancehall, R&B and hip-hop shit, all types of music. So, when I was coming up and my people being from Barbados, that’s what I was exposed to. But to comment on the hip-hop part, the atmosphere wasn’t welcoming to upcoming music artists to perform. Like Philly had spots for local music artists to do shows like Pubb Webb or The Blockley. I started getting into DJing when I was 18 in my freshman year at Temple. When I first got into it, my mission was to use it to bring everyone together. I had a friend name Brett who was this tall white dude from New York who was mad fly.

RW: Not to cut you off but I ‘m glad you mentioned him because I wanted to ask about Best of Both Worlds by So Far Ent. Most of your events has been consistent with collaborating with other DJs as well as upcoming music artists for over the past decade. Do you think your career started off with Best of Both Worlds by So Far Ent. in 2009?

BT: We had B-Eazyy, Fidel — who went by Sir back then — and Paris Artelli. That was the start of it. To be honest bro, when it comes to DJing there are plenty of DJs whose music knowledge runs way deeper than mine. I’m not in love with DJing, my passion has been disrupting the norm and create spaces that felt different or more welcoming for our people and all people. I learned early on that DJing was a way I could do that and make more money than doing work studying. None of this is for DJ Taaj or the event name, the event is part of a bigger mission of helping change the energy and build more communal consciousness amongst people. I try to use the skills I have been blessed with without feeling like I ever need the spotlight.

RW: The All Love Block Party makes sense coming from you, since you spent half of your time in college creating block parties. How would rank your favorite Temple block parties 2011, 2012, and 2013?

BT: They’re all similar but different in a unique way. The first one we did was just like “Wow we really doing this?!” We probably had a good two or three hundred people that day. We had vendors; it was right outside of my street on Carlise. Some of the neighbors were supportive and some didn’t want it to happen. I got a lot of pushback for it, but in the end, they were all so happy about it and so grateful for it.  We had the second one on Monument St, and we did it with this group called Campus Night Owls with my man John Duckett. They were doing all these crazy parties and shows. That one was more for Temple students because there weren’t a lot of people from the neighborhood who lived on that block. Oh my God we got so fried that day [laughs] but it was cool because from a programing perspective I paired DJs with rappers and gave them each one hour blocks. So, they kept rotating; Sylo and Fidel, Feese and YS, Me and Fonte. We kind of just kept rolling through it and it was cool and kept upgrading our experience. Then we did one on Bouveir St, and this is the one that’s crazy. We had DJ Damage, Tierra Whack who was Dizzle Dizz back then, Kody Khamar, Jade Alston, I-Know Brasco, Poo Da Dappa, Selina Carrera.

RW: You took that formula to create the 1st All Love Block Party in 2017 on 17th & Randolph. How did this annual event that Philly has come to love start?

BT: I was living in Boston from 2014 to 2016 and came to homecoming 2015 or 2016. I was with Melvin who is my partner now and my man Shaq. We were all young around 24 or 25 and I was saying that we should start a business. One of them was in between jobs and it made sense to them, I just had to move back to Philly so it can start. I quit my job, packed everything I had in two suitcases and my DJ equipment, hopped in a rental car and was down there. I had a little money saved from my old job, so I was able to survive a little bit, living with Shaq for a little bit then me and Melvin moved back in together and created the group 91 Republic that was continuing the mission of So Far Ent., and the Temple block parties, but connect local music artists from different cities.

We linked up with Asher Roth because he was trying to do something similar and at first, we were thinking of making it a college tour, but then we decided to do something hear in Philadelphia. We can empower local artists and bring local music artist from other places. That’s where the first All Love Block Party came from. We had Asher Roth, Chuck English, Michael Christmas and Marcela Cruz who both are from Boston. Chynna Rogers who came out and killed it, rest in peace. We created this free festival like event, but it felt like being in huge festival. You had vendors, food, music, kids running around, people playing games and having a good time.

RW: I noticed how you reached out to DJ Na$h to assist her with her event International Bounce. What was it about her and event that made you want to help her event?

BT: I appreciate Na$h because this work is not easy, and she was already doing it on her own in her monthly capacity. When I met her, she had this party with a DJ I was cool with. I went out to go to their event and I was caught off guard when I first Na$h because she treated like we had been friends for years. I meet a lot of people and most of them are reserved for their own personal reasons but the way she greeted was different and welcoming. Fast forward she’s doing Interna$shional Bounce every month at 700 and every party was a good time that had some thangs on there [laughs]. My business partner Melvin Powell was the director at Sunflower, and we had done All Love Block Party a couple times there which helped launched the Sunflower brand and getting there name out. But last year once we were finally getting through the pandemic and do events out there again, I felt like Sunflower’s demographic didn’t represent us, the community and culture of Philly. It wasn’t very diverse and didn’t really feel welcoming. We were already doing All Love but it’s still a mixed crowd.  I saw what Na$h was doing, Juneteenth had become a national holiday and it was on a Saturday, I thought it would be a great idea to have her event at the venue. I hit her up and she didn’t have much hesitation at all and was like “Let’s do it.” Now once you see DJs like Na$h, Bobby Flowers, that increases Sunflower Philly to attract more who may not have known about this space enjoy their time and want to come back. We can’t just have Black attendees, Black vendors, Black DJs or Black performers. We need Black organizers as well and representation on that side.

RW: By helping her did that spark the idea of Black Soul Summer?

BT: It definitely played a big role in it. It was good that we could have these two major festivals in the span of a couple of months from each other. Black Soul Summer kind of started in this year in April but the idea started last year when were planning the first Juneteenth. I need Sunflower to give me a bunch of dates so I can book them and bring folks like Na$h, Bobby Flowers, Stock Up Selekta XXX who can bring quality events. I’ve been doing this work a long time from different angles, so I do have a heightened understand of the intricacies of event production. The logistics like project planning and management, budgeting, maximizing your resources. Picking the right people to be involved so that you can have something people are going to be excited about. Black Soul was a system created to collaborate with other event producers to bring multiple summer special events underneath one umbrella. We led with Na$h and Tame Artz because there was already a working relationship there and they wanted to do their events for free which lined up with All Love Block Party.

Through our power of collaboration, we can utilize vendor and resource pool. We fundraise as a collective so instead of each one of us getting our little money here and there we’re bringing it as a pool which helps from a sponsorship perspective. We could all hit them up individually and get something but now they must come to one space and can have their whole summer mapped in Philadelphia. Four free community festivals and other quality ticketed events in between. That can make them feel more comfortable giving a bigger chunk to one entity instead of going all over the places looking for something to hit. Hip-hop in The Park is more element to hip-hop base and try to get real boom back with it while making it current as well. We’re going to have some great names for that event. Hip-hop and jazz is going to have more instruments, bands style. Both events are going to be at the Lucien Blackwell Community Center out in West Philly on 47th and Aspen. We’ll be working with the Mill Creek Community Partnership, MCCP. This will be their second hip-hop and jazz festival. We created Black Soul Summer to reclaim Black outdoor events spaces.

RW: This lineup is fire. Mathew Law, DJ Aura, DJ Sega, Selekta XXX, who I just found about at the Recording Academy Philadelphia Member Celebration event, and she was DJing and I went up to her and told her that I thought her set was dope so I got a little excited to see her on the lineup. Also, some dope local music artist such as Queen Jo, The Bul Bey, Seraiah Nicole, Kingsley Ibenche, and Rae Dianz. That lineup feels like Temple campus with you hosting, DJ Hvnlee who started DJing on Temple’s campus and having DJ Damage with It’s Feese as the headliner. You mentioned earlier how DJ Damage, Matthew Law and DJ Sega had the parties and events on lock during your time at Temple. What type of influence did these three DJs have on you?

BT: Damage taught me how to DJ. It was my freshman year and he sought me out. I was young from Boston running my big ass mouth and making a lot of noise creating my own space, throwing parties that people enjoyed. I can’t remember how he contacted me, I think it was by a friend who connected us, and he came up to me and was like “Yo I heard you a DJ, let me show you some stuff.” No bullshit, he came up to my door and I had this little controller and he looked at it and was not impressed. [laughs] He was coming from turntables and actually scratching so he sees it and starts laughing. So, he’s like “Let me get busy on this shit real quick,” and bro he starts doing shit I didn’t even know you could do. He was just scratching and cutting up all this crazy stuff and I’m just impressed as hell at his skills. He showed me early on how to practice, count beats, mixing and getting out of songs and he was a really good teacher because I learned all of that real quick.

I got connect with Feese because the director of the “4 Wings” video was my one of best friends in college Kingspy. They were super influential in my beginnings, they were always on Temple’s campus and Damage was always playing at those spots in the city; Shampoo, 27, and Pinnacle. And with Feese always keeping the party hyped, so they were both excited to do a collaboration together instead of Damage just doing a set. Feese was telling me how they haven’t performed together in over five years so this will be their first time in a long time so I’m looking forward to that. Damage had his own club music style which to me felt like a mixture of Philly and Jersey club, but Sega style felt more Philly mixed with Baltimore. Sega would have people losing themselves at parties because of the music he was playing. Matt was always in the cut bar spot playing a lot of B-cuts and get it poppin. This is almost like my thank you to those guys because of their consistency and how they all played a significant part during my time at Temple.

All Love Block Party takes place Friday, July 17th from noon to 8 p.m. at Sunflower Philly; the event is free with RSVP, and you can do that here.

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