Often, Philadelphia citizens wear the underdog identity as a badge of honor. I mean, look at the Eagle’s 2018 championship win — why wouldn’t we? As far as music, it’s no question that the city has an overabundance of expert-level emcees, but over the years there have been murmurs of disdain labeling Philly as a crab bucket town. A place where an artist, particularly in the underground hip-hop community, would be hard-pressed to find genuine support and collaborative spirit from their peers. But with most sweeping statements, that is far from the truth. And honestly, no one is deading the city’s self-deprecating disadvantageous narrative like Dell-P and his monthly event WordSmith Experience.
If Dell-P’s name rings bells, it’s because he’s been a mainstay in the Philly underground for some time now. He’s known not just for his immaculate bars, but his kind and genuine spirit as well. He’s loved and loved deeply by his collaborators, local tastemakers, and community leaders alike. If you scroll through his Instagram, you’ll find an endless feed of freestyle videos, flicks with household-name rappers, and mentions of the “Hustler of the Year” Awards. But on this same page, you can find screenshots of Zoom calls where he lectured a group of Maryland high schoolers and photos following a performance at a Free Library of Philadelphia branch. It’s clear that Dell-P does what he does out of an intimate passion for hip-hop artistry and hip-hop culture as a whole.
A few years back, a head would be unburdened to find an underground rap showcase or open mic on any given night. While The Fire is still holding strong, places like The M Room, Connie’s Ric Rac, and the old Black and Nobel’s on Broad and Erie which were home bases for the scene, are long gone. Thankfully CrateDiggaz, a record store on south 4th Street, is mainlining lifeblood into the community with its regular programming. For Dell-P, it was a no-brainer to hold his Hip-Hop showcase at the space.
“First and foremost it’s about the bars for me,” says Dell-P when asked why he launched WordSmith Experience. “It’s about the content, not how many followers you got, who you know, or what’s trending. I want people, who have positive content and who are really out here trying to make something happen. So whatever platform I do have, I want to give it to the other artists – it’s about, paying it forward. The city needed a lyrics, lounge.”
The monthly WordSmith Experience is a humble and intimate event. There is minimal seating, no bar, a few novelty arcade games, but most importantly a room for people who are there for the love of the craft. Here, fans and friends casually cluster in a semi-circle, flanking the performers who sometimes wind up only inches away from the onlookers. There’s no stage, no barrier, and the crowd is just as much a part of the show as the rappers.
Dell-P usually tends to book folks he’s worked with in the past and overall fire spitters who he admires and respects for their skills. There’s so much love and familiarity in the space that it can be hard to tell who’s there to perform and who’s just there to show love. At one point in the evening, during the May 12 show, a supporter or friend (one can’t actually tell the difference, if there even is one) walked up to Dell-P during an interview and thanked him for putting together such an amazing event that was sorely needed in the scene.
As the night unfolded with a plethora of emcees who inexplicably managed to progressively be better than the last, Dell-P performed a few tracks with Lucci Loner. Between songs, Dell-P recounted a tender exchange of words between the pair. “When my mother died, Lucci said ‘We sharing mine.’” This small glimpse into the pairs’ personal lives further cements the amount of love and adoration that can be found in Philly’s rap world and debunks any deceptive portrayal of Philly not supporting Philly.
“So these are a lot of the artists that I’ve had on the albums, or people I’ve been on lineups with together. I got to show respect – I never hesitated to let another emcee, know that he or she is dope,” says Dell-P. “It just made sense for me to do my own event, because a lot of these events in the city want you to pay an arm and a leg for like five minutes. Nah, I gotta put the artist first.”
Hailing from New York, Miggs Sonny was one of the artists featured on the May edition of WordSmith Experience who’s known Dell-P for a while and shares his deep reverence for the craft.
“This is a real, real MC who is not a gimmick. It’s not a fluke,” says Miggs Sonny of the WordSmith Experience founder. “He’s not trying to cater to anybody and is very authentic, and the love he is getting is very authentic.” That’s what, you know, gravitated me toward him and anybody else like that because that’s how I feel and that’s what I represent in my music and the community that I build for myself.”
The WordSmith Experience is for the rap nerd. Yeah, it can get a little heady, but why shouldn’t it? Artists need the space to fully flex their skills and truly get in their bag without all the pretense. The event is always very warm and welcoming, but don’t think there will be anything less than pure wordsmithing excellence.