Whether it's Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes singing "The Love I Lost," the Delfonics singing "La La Means I Love You" or Musiq Soulchild singing "The Answer is Yes," the sound and spirit are unmistakable, and now, coming from the city's seemingly bottomless wellspring of talent are the Rev. Larry "Who I Am" Dixon and Cobbina "Chances R" Frempong, two talented "inspirational hip hop" artists collectively known as Society Park, who are making their contribution to "The Sound of Philadelphia."
Formed in 1999, Society Park has performed with acclaimed artists such as Alicia Keys, Roy Ayers, The Roots, Jill Scott and Mos Def, showcasing their creative brand of "inspirational hip-hop." During a lively and informative visit to the Philadelphia Tribune, Dixon, an Olney High School grad, and Frempong, who lived in Virginia, Washington, D.C., Ghana, West Africa and Canada before finally settling in Philadelphia, talked about their music, their motivation and their faith.
"We call it that because Society Park began as a group of MCs that wanted to make positive hip-hop, but then, as we began to embark upon creating music, all of us at the same time, began to grow and develop in our faith — in Christianity," said Dixon, an intense young man who grew up in the Logan section of the city and is now an associate minister at the New Hope Baptist Church in South Philadelphia.
"So we were already making positive hip-hop, then those positive messages began to be influenced and inspired by the principles of Christianity and how Christ affected and influenced and changed our lives. We made the transition into that. But along with that, we don't just make like gospel hip-hop. We infuse Christian principles with everyday situations and circumstances and issues."
"We say 'inspirational hip-hop' so that the listener knows the intention of what the music is about," said the exotic and exuberant Frempong, whose father is from Ghana, West Africa and mother is a Philly native. "We've done a lot of regular, what the Christian world would call 'secular' [music], and we would be on the stage with regular hip-hop artists. I think once the listener gets a chance to hear the music, we've had a lot of people say, 'Well, it's not really gospel hip-hop, it's like - inspirational.' As a collective, we felt that best described us, because it's not just regular hip-hop, but it's not directly gospel hip-hop either, which is simply, 'This is the Bible,' and they just put that over hip-hop music. I feel like what Society Park is, is pretty much commentaries. Commentary for the present time, but through a biblical world view is the best way that I can describe it. You know, they have that band that says 'What would Jesus do?'"
Dixon expanded on his partners point adding "That pretty much is like, 'What would Jesus do about education? What would Jesus do about the state of the Black family? What would Jesus do about civil service? What would Jesus do as far as improving your environment?' Things of that nature."
Both Frempong and Dixon write and deliver their own lyrics, which have a definite urban edge, and the duo has performed at Welcome America! and Odunde, and have also entertained the protestors of the Occupy Philadelphia movement at City Hall. They are currently promoting their second album titled "The New Hope."
One of Society Park's most effective vehicles for spreading their message is their spontaneous "Pull Over" performances, which are reminiscent of the time when "busking" (improvisational street dancing) was common in the City of Brotherly Love.
"The concept behind the Pull Over is an impromptu hip-hop performance," Frempong explained. "Currently, we just do them in Philadelphia, but what we do is, we pull up to a corner, typically a high-traffic corner, like a Broad & Olney, where people are gathered. So we pull up with the car, we have microphones and a studio set up - we have speakers and stands. We set up, and we do a performance - anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cops shut us down - whichever comes first. It's designed to engage the community. After the shock and awe is over, our prayer is that they're listening to what we're saying and we can correspond with them right there, and look to build relationships with the community."
So in the tradition of the socially conscious commentaries of Gamble & Huff, including "Love Train," "Family Reunion," "For the Love of Money" and "Give the People What They Want," the creative combo of Society Park also have a "message in the music," and are keenly attuned to The Sound of Philadelphia.
"I think of soul! I think of Gamble and Huff, right there on Broad Street," said Frempong, with Dixon adding, "I think of Billy Paul, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the Delfonics and Patti La Belle. Even up to like current (artists) - Jill Scott and Musiq, "Bilal, The Roots..."
"Yeah, The Roots, if you're gonna keep it hip hop," said Frempong. "I think there's a certain sound that comes out of Philly of just - soul. You can dance to it, but when you listen to it, there's still something that's being said, and it satisfies. I was just thinking about all the music [of] Teddy Pendergrass and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, all those different songs where it's still something that you can enjoy, but there was a message."
"The New Hope" is available on online outlets including itunes, amazon.com, and cdbaby.com. For complete information visit www.societypark.com.