Grand Hall
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Grand Hall


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"Artist of The Week - Gr& Phee"

Born in Alabama and raised in Buffalo, NY, Gr& Phee spent most of his childhood experiencing what he calls a “typical low income upbringing.” Despite this, music still found a way to permeate his household and by the time the 8th grade rolled around Gr& Phee was writing his own rhymes. He’s quick to say the lyrics were “nothing great,” but he stuck with it. Phee remembers, “I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I always could remember a song word for word even if it was brand new.” Now he not only has his own songs memorized, rather than simply the songs of others, but a heck of a title as VP of Operations at Buffalo based DeepThinka Records. Generating a buzz in a place most known for a missed field goal can be tough, though, and with the recent release of his album with Rhyson Hall, Detained @ The Border, he’s been constantly on the move trying to make things happen. This week Phee sat down with me to talk to me about the album, his travels, and how Eva Mendes finds her way into his presidential aspirations.

Adam Bernard: Earlier this year you released an album with Rhyson Hall titled Gr& Phee and Rhyson Hall are Detained @ The Border. What kind of a statement were you looking to make by naming your album this?
Gr& Phee: Detained @ The Border is the kind of work that changes what comes out after it, like a new standard for music. It’s a reality concept album and you don’t see many of those. So much stuff comes out nowadays with no message at all, let alone a positive one. The name of the album, like Hip-Hop, can be taken in many different directions than the obvious. My mission is to eliminate the negative stigma of Hip-Hop today. I know, good luck!.

Adam Bernard: The lyrical content on Detained @ The Border is especially grabbing. What messages were you looking to get across to the listener?
Gr& Phee: There are a couple messages in this album, but it’s up to the listener to decide where he wants to take them. Like “Home Skillet” featuring Eturnia, this joint is discussing the pros and cons of our home towns from an indie point of view, while “Y U Mad!?!” is an anthem for disgruntled heads who’ve had enough of BET.

Adam Bernard: You’re VP of Operations at DeepThinka Records, which is in Buffalo, New York, not exactly the epicenter of the music world. How are you going about getting your music heard while in a place that’s closer to Canada than NYC?
Gr&Phee: We just got back from the Code Brown Tour where we hit the Midwest; Minneapolis, Iowa, South Dakota. We tour at least once a year and we try to hit up all the big events like CMJ, Scribble Jam, North By Northeast, etc. Our next goal is to try to get to Europe in the next year.

Adam Bernard: It’s interesting you mention the overseas market. I’m wondering, in what ways, if any, has the nationwide slump in album sales affected your goals as an artist? Have you changed what aspects of the game you’re focusing on?
Gr& Phee: Yes and no. My goals have changed as far as I see that retail sales and royalties are not my bread and butter. Live shows are where it’s at. So I keep up with as many DJs as I can to keep my music out there without having a budget as I try to get my base higher.

Adam Bernard: OK, you’re on a label called DeepThinka Records, you released a thought provoking album, so let’s say it’s 2008 and Gr& Phee becomes president, what changes would you make as the head of the country?
Gr& Phee: I would first go get the troops and take them all to Rock The Bells. Then I would have my first lady, Eva Mendes, make Bar-B-Q for them after the show. Then I would have the entire secret service relocate to urban areas to combat police brutality. Every person in the ghetto will have private security.
- Adam Bernard -

"Artist of The Week - Rhyson Hall"

The lowdown: Rhyson (pronounced “Reason”) Hall isn’t your average hip-hop emcee. An African-American Studies major in his senior year at UB, he is one of the featured stars on local rap label DeepThinka Records. Having amassed a solid local following and with his single, “Still Raw,” heard on the college airwaves stateside and in Canada, Hall is set to release his debut album, The Restoration, this spring. With a wide-open style, Rhyson uses his smooth delivery to speak to audiences about his life, his art, and pretty much anything else he wants you to know. Hall is one of the opening act performers for a concert featuring the critically acclaimed hip-hop group Little Brother on Thursday, Feb. 2 at 9pm at the Icon. You can check out Hall’s new single and DeepThinka Records at

What inspired you to get into hip-hop? “There was a freestyle thing in the basement at [Hutchinson Central Technical] high school at the end of my junior year, and I always wrote poetry, so I figured, ‘Why not write rhymes?’ I didn’t even rap that day, but I kept on writing rhymes, and it turned into this.”

When did you seriously consider doing hip-hop for a living? “A couple of years ago in college, I decided to put out a free mixtape. I didn’t have a plan, but I wanted to see where it took me, and I definitely liked hip-hop enough to keep doing it.”

What’s your musical style like, and are there any artists that you think you sound like? “I rap about anything that goes on in my life, so I don’t keep myself in a box. I use metaphors, because I feel that sometimes people just miss the cleverness of hip-hop. I always appreciate artists like Common and Nas, who talk about what they’ve been through in life, or Jay-Z who just exudes his confidence.”

For people who may not listen to hip-hop that often, what’s going down in the Buffalo scene? “There’s always been the Baby Steps scene. Right now, the Buffalo Soldiers are having their battles once a month and it gets all the serious cats out. And, of course, there’s Deep Thinka.”

Speaking of which, tell me about your label... “They’ve been around since ’97, and I’ve been with them for the last two years. They put out free Rebel Radio compilations every spring ... Deep Thinka artists like myself, Grand Phee and Wise Mecca are in your face, but we don’t really label ourselves.”

Generally speaking, do you think of socially-conscious hip-hop as a new trend or just a phase? “I don’t think any emcee who’s labeled ‘socially conscious’ considers himself to be. I think they rap about what’s important to them. Someone who’s labeled a ‘gangster’ rapper might not really consider themselves to be a gangster.”

Which artists have you been listening to recently? What’s in your CD player? “I have MF Doom, Madvillain, Kanye’s Late Registration, I’m listening to Big L’s Lifestyles of the Poor and Dangerous, and I listen to a lot of people like Coltrane and Gladys Knight and the Pips. I just got the new Green Day album, but I’ve only heard a couple of tracks on there so far.”

Who are some of your other non-hip-hop influences? “I like a lot of alternative rock. When I was in fifth grade, I went on this trip to Canada, and that was when I first heard Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ and I thought, ‘Man, this is raw.’”

How do you balance school and a music career and manage to have something that resembles a social life? “School takes a blow [laughs], but it’s definitely tough. It makes you hone your time management skills. There are times when I don’t really get to chill with my friends, because I have to do work.”

As a Buffalo native, can you pick the best wings in Buffalo? “I have to say my Aunt Darlene, but if I had to pick a restaurant, I’d say La Nova’s. I always get the medium joints, because I don’t like them too hot.” - The Artvoice - Daniel Honigman

"Gr& Phee and Rhyson Hall"

Buffalo’s premier hip hop label Deep Thinka Records has dropped the latest from GR& and Rhyson Hall tilted Detained At The Border. Mixing mad beats and dope rhymes the conceptual piece simulates a trip over the Canadian border for a show in Toronto and the problems going down. Some of the guests dropping by to help include DJ Cutler, Vander, Natwheat, Covert, Pseudo Slang, Eternia and many other artists. GR& Phee and Hall hit their groove on the tracks “The Movement”, “Womens (The Good and The Bad)” and “Do You Have Anything 2 Declare?” Others include “The Late Show” that bounces on a nice piano coda, “Home Skillet” which deals with the state of the Buffalo and Toronto hip hop scene and “Yonge Stretch Interlude” which breaks things up with some levity. For more on GR& Phee and Rhyson Hall’s Detained At The Border go to -

"Rhyme and Rhyson"

The timeless sounds of Marvin Gaye waft through the room as Rhyson Hall cautiously measures his words before he speaks, and when his words come out they are earnest and endearing. He's sitting at his kitchen table talking about his hip-hop, his poetry and his life.

"My mother was always playing soul and jazz records while I was growing up," said Hall, a senior psychology major. "I felt that emotion. If Marvin Gaye sings something, I believe that he went through what he's singing about."

That's how Hall's record, "Rhyson Hall Is... The Sleeper, Vol. 2," sounds. It is, for the most part, an honest portrayal of moments in his life, and he abandons the caution he speaks with when he rhymes.

"I've always listened to rap, but when I started rapping, I would break artists down with their poetry styles," Hall said. "Big L was the first cat I broke down. He's got a little bit of a higher pitch voice, but when he's on a track, you pay attention, even if it's whack."

"The Sleeper" does not have many whack moments, and even those aren't Rhyson's fault. When Hall is on the mic, it's with a combination of precision and thought that many underground rappers don't touch.

"This Can't Be Life" is a surefire single, with a radio-ready hook and well-crafted lyrics, but its lack of a third verse leaves it feeling a little empty. That is really the only problem with "The Sleeper"; a lot of the tracks are too short. Hall's tank still has fuel, and the tracks end up with not much doubt that he could've said more, and it would've been just as impacting.

Hall's similes and metaphors are tight, and work together as opposed to looking for the knockout punch with each rhyme. On "Universal Magnetic," he uses both Ike and Tina Turner and AIDS to strike an eerie connection with his prowess. As a result, the sound is both conscious and clever with locally resonating lines like, "I'm from the 'Lo so I can only go up."

What's promising about this effort is that Hall is still relatively new to his craft.

"I've only been rapping for four years, but I've been doing poetry since I was in eighth grade, and writing since I was five," said Hall.

Regardless of his time on the mic, Hall's writing has the sort of hard-hitting, unfeigned feel that has to be earned through grit and experience. Growing up in a single parent home — Hall's father went to prison when he was 11 — Hall rhymes with a complex understanding of the world that comes with grasping the simple inequities in society.

"If I pick a beat, it's not going to be strictly for the underground or for the mainstream: I'm going to spit something worth hearing," Hall said. "Don't get me wrong, I'm trying to be on TV, but I'm going to keep my integrity."

"I'm not trying to say, 'don't rap about guns or drugs,' because segments of the population grow up with that, and that's real," he added.

Hall is a genuine determination to make it in hip-hop, and "The Sleeper" is an incredible start. Released on Deep Thinka Records, a locally owned and operated label, "The Sleeper" is available for only $3 on the label's Web site,, as well as by e-mailing Hall at

Hall has taken to the stage in Buffalo, Cleveland and Toronto with multiple different performances, from the accompaniment of a full band or DJ to strictly speaking his poetry without any backing.

"At first I wanted a The Roots-type band, but I've got a good show with DJ Cutler," he said. "At Buff State's poetry night, there was a full band and I went to the drummer, 'give me one of those (beats)' and then to the trumpeter, 'give me one of those,' and when it came out, it really brought me to life."

Hall's show comes to life with a poetry reading at the Black Student Union's Harlem Night on Feb. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at Harriman Hall on UB's South Campus. He'll also be performing at Black Xplosion on Feb. 26.

Whether he's dropping clever lines about his similarities to Minnesota Vikings' cornerback Antoine Winfield's hard-hitting or Barry Bonds's imposing presence, Hall is certainly a young emcee worth searching out. - Nicholas Mendola - The Spectrum

"Not A Terrorist Threat, But a Lyrical Vet"

Ever since President Bush introduced his plan to tighten border security with Mexico, or even as far back as the post-9/11 security crackdown across Canada, the government has been giving people a difficult time when it comes to crossing any border. Now, imagine if Canada adopted these harsh conservative methods. With their new concept album, Detained @ the Border, Rhyson Hall and Gr& Phee rap about what it would be like if the Peace Bridge wasn’t so peaceful and if US Anti-terror laws applied to all borders.

Appropriately launching the album with “Do You Have Anything to Declare?,” Hall and Phee entertain us with a humorous reenactment of their border woes. Contrasting these two bomb-ass MCs with a nasally, assuredly white patrolman, the song offers up a scenario all UB students are familiar with. Questions like, “Do you have anything to declare?,” “You both from the US?,” and “How long do you plan to stay here?” are followed by powerful rhythms with industrial drumbeats. The lyrical dialogue goes sour, with the officer accusing Hall and Phee of carrying guns and smuggling drugs into Canada, to which they reply “Bringing trees to Canada is like sand at a beach.”

The next border that Rhyson Hall and Gr& Phee tackle is that between making it big and working for minimum wage. Teamed up with OEN Garde, “W-2” is an easily accessible Buffalo anthem. “And to the tick-tock and you stop / everyday we a slave and we punch the clock / tock-tick and you don’t quit / I ain’t trying to be homeless or broke as shit” is the hook that is repeated in between each artist’s personal experience working as janitor, construction worker, or any job that’s less than desirable. On a similar note, “Still Raw” is an inner conflict with the rappers. Hall declares, “I should have been a statistic, but I ain’t good at math / Try and find the straight and narrow, walking a crooked path” as the back-track is scratched by a pro. Mixing battle rhythms with the chaotic scratching, it’s hard to not bounce your head to this one.

“Code Brown” ends the album on the same note it started. Harassment and racial discrimination are at the center of this song featuring Zone de Northstar, OEN Garde, and Bogustice. Though the sound is much different, it’s hard to not compare this to Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” because of the corny sounding police officer (read: “pig”) harassing the MCs. The warrior trumpets, light piano, and massive beats string the song along, which ends with a punch line from a Daily Show skit.

Detained @ the Border is full of tight tracks and genius lyrics. Each song will find you bobbing your head and absorbing the sound. The concept album is redefined, with each song being about the trials and tribulations of being on the edge. Hall and Phee’s lyrical skills are refined, making for a great album. - Victoria Burhans - The Generation

"Gr& Phee and Rhyson Hall"

Delegates from a deepening pool of hip-hop talent in Buffalo, NY (Rust Belt represent!), this young duo evokes Bizarre Ride-era Pharcyde updated with subterranean right-coast ruggedness: Their raps range from fun to fretting, but they're consistently fiery. And if that's not enough, their blazing debut, the quasi-concept album Detained At the Border, is Artifact-approved with an El Da Sensei collabo. - Kevin Polowy -


Detained @ The Border



Gr& Phee and Rhyson Hall

When Gr& Phee and Rhyson Hall are together, if cameras aren’t rolling, they should be. It’s been an arduous and uplifting, hilarious and humbling time, but the two ambassadors for the Buffalo, NY Hip Hop scene are still here, and still on the cusp of what’s fresh and groundbreaking in the world of music.

The two met in 2004 while on their former label, DeepThinka Records. Phee was the veteran emcee and staple in the Hip Hop scene, and Rhyson was the hungry newcomer, making noise in area colleges. Over the next two years, Rhys and Phee shared the stage with Little Brother, Inspectah Deck, Planet Asia, Afu Ra, Jeru The Damaja, DJ Dopey, Snoop Dogg, Elephant Man, Cassidy, Raekwon, Kool G Rap, RA the Ruggedman, DJ Architect, Sean Paul, Clipse, Kelis, Cam’ron, Ghostface, Isis, Eternia and Swollen Members.

Rhyson’s first single “Still Raw” topped the college radio charts and Phee’s single “The Gr& Buffet, reached #8. Both singles are from the album “Detained @ The Border” which took the two from San Francisco to Buffalo and all points in-between on the aptly titled “Guy on the Couch Tour.” To save money, the traveling musicians slept at the houses of show promoters, ex-girlfriends, hospitable weirdo’s and fans that came to see their show, most of whom they had just met. The trend continued on the “Code Brown Tour” where sleeping arrangements varied from a living room in Detroit, to the floor of a Weed House in the midwest. Needless to say, shit was real.

The common thread throughout both tours was this; complete strangers became instant fans by nights end. Phee’s comedic outbursts and Rhyson’s nonstop energy combined to reintroduce crowds across the country to real showmanship is. The workload doesn’t stop with just performing and recording though. Rhys & Phee were integral parts of the planning and booking of the tour, merchandise sales and local event planning for the label. In an age where an artist can’t just be an artist, they are way ahead of the curve.

Taking their talents up north, the two lived, albeit it illegally, in a soon to be rented apartment in downtown Toronto. With no furniture to speak of, they slept on the floor, waking up everyday at the crack of dawn to investigate the Toronto music scene. By the end of the month, both had jobs, and were working on albums with up and coming beatsmiths Mad Scientist and Gigz. Now back in Buffalo, the dream of escaping the Rust Belt has faded for the moment, but with their knowledge of the independent music industry, new contacts and new music, the two have high hopes for 2008.