Renaissance by definition is both “a new period of growth or activity” and “interest in something that has not been popular in a long time.”
For a man to participate in this authentically, he has to go through his own process of rebirth. Michigan native Chadwick “Niles” Phillips relocated to New York and landed a major label recording deal before settling down in Minnesota. I spoke with Niles about his Hip-Hop, History and the Arts curriculum, the widely popular Avant Garde series, and his upbringing.
AS: How would you describe your work?
CP: I’m someone who’s blessed to be able to express myself in a lot of different avenues in art. I’m a hip-hop artist to the core. Hip-hop is where I started off and branched into acting.
AS: You’re originally from the Midwest but have experienced living in a few different cities. What’s the story behind your moves?
CP: I was born in Lansing, Mich. Lansing is a small city near Michigan State University. Living there you get a little bit of every region. You could say Lansing is a smaller version of Chicago. It’s about an hour away from Detroit, so you get those influences. I have seven siblings and things weren’t the easiest growing up. We came up living in and out of the Homeless Rescue Mission. My mother was always strong throughout it all. I wanted to please her so I focused on good grades.
My story is a regular upbringing of a young man of color. You know, having dreams of going to the NBA and being in the music industry, but I was always part of a few programs for exceptional youth from the inner city. I started off doing sports and went to State as a track runner in high school at Park Center (High School in Brooklyn Park, Minn.) in the 100 meter dash and 4×100 meter dash. I ended up graduating from Michigan State University with a B.A. in Communications.
AS: You had a major label recording deal. A lot of people aspire to be in that position. What was it like?
CP: I won a talent search with Hot 97 through KOCH Records to have multi-platinum producer, Boola from Roc-A-Fella, produce a track of mine. Before I won the talent search I was just getting my name known by going to different open mics and getting a lot of love. I ended up opening for Raekwon in Staten Island, the DJ Scratch Summer show, Summer Jam and more. I worked in film at BET. I worked at CBS as a broadcast associate and on Fashion Week. On the flip side, I had to deal with life.
AS: What brought you to Minnesota?
CP: The price of New York City is super high. KOCH pushed the single but after that I went back to being independent. On the surface there was pretty nice prestige from the deal, but in the end it came down to finances. My sister and aunts were in Minnesota. I ain’t gonna front, leaving that life behind was painful when everything seemed in order. How it seemed and the actual are two different things. It was a humbling experience. It showed me what life is really about as a man. I ended up working in special education at W. Harry Davis Academy and Phyllis Wheatley. Here I am, I just performed at the Summer Jam Festival twice with DJ Envy in the Giants Stadium driveway. It’s bitter sweet and New York was like a dream.
I started working as a paraprofessional from there, teaching afterschool at Sojourner Truth Academy. I taught at a 4-H youth program at the University of Minnesota, Green Central, North Central University, and a youth summer program at Watershed High School in acting and creative writing. High School for Recording Arts brought me in as an advisor for two years working with 30 students to carry them through credits towards graduation. I ran performance for the Pick Me Up school-wide concert every two weeks. From there I had to step out on faith as an independent contractor with my curriculum Hip-Hop, History and the Arts. That’s where everything took a life of its own.
AS: What is the Avant Garde and what should people expect?
CP: The Avant Garde is something I always had an affinity for – to create an atmosphere of people being motivated to be on a natural high. It is a unique alternative. On the other side of the “turn up” crowd there are people very interested in things outside of that diaspora – people who love neo-soul; Erykah Badu, Mos Def, D’angelo, etc. I thought, if I have the opportunity to create this it will pay homage to the Bebop Era and the Cotton Club. We’re creating a platform for people who are living alternative to mainstream culture while also brining it to the masses. My father came up influenced by Bebop era and worked around Thelonious Monk and has a doctorate in music from Juilliard. Conversations I had with my dad move me into bringing artistic and cultural aspects to the worlds of the arts.
The next Avant Garde takes place Saturday, May 23 at Como Dockside Lakeside Pavilion, 1360 Lexington Parkway N., St. Paul. Doors open at 6 p.m. and it is an all ages event. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door with performances by Proper T, Cassandra Telae, Kortland Jeray and Aleesha Clomon. Tickets are available at www.ticketfly.com, Avenue Eatery, Amsterdam Bar & Hall and Electric Fetus.