Community is at the core of Hip Hop.
From the block parties that birthed the culture to the forums in all corners of the internet, community is part of the foundation of the music we love. This is a guiding philosophy of PhilityDrummond. Originally from NYC, the producer and Executive Director of Today’s Future Sound has travelled the world spreading this message. With a background in psychology and the expansion of his programme of education and healing through beats, we spoke with the beat maker and teacher on a recent trip to London.
What is Today's Future Sound?
Today's Future Sound is a non-profit organisation based in Oakland, CA that uses Hip Hop production and culture as a culturally responsive mental and education tool. We aim to engage youth in a meaningful, interesting way using Hip Hop culture. We foster creative skill sets and tools to help them learn and grow in a positive way. For youth that have been exposed to trauma we also use beats to help them process it and focus on learning in a positive way. We really try to help their positive developmental trajectory.
You guys have worked in six continents, which is crazy. What some of the similarities you have you found teaching in different countries?
Yeah we have worked everywhere but Antarctica ha-ha! But I think the similarities are that youth are hungry for something that's actually interesting to them and isn't just being talked at. There's a hunger for something hands on, fun and relates to the stuff they do outside of school. I think the hands on factor and immediacy of music making and technology is really engaging. You know the buttons light up and you’re making beats and then at the end you have a tangible product that's cool. They get to engage with culture. Also there's the relationship with the instructors who are all practitioners of the culture. We are all beat makers or DJs or audio engineers so we have a bit of credibility with students and they enjoy interacting with that. I also think folks enjoy interacting with people from other cultures. It satisfies their curiosity on many levels and with Hip Hop being the dominant American cultural export that gives us an entry way to reach these students.
I think that interaction between cultures is so important, and has become so much more so with social media, so to take into a real form is very cool. It also helps fill this generation gap Hip Hop is experiencing. How have you adapted to the changing landscape of Hip Hop?
You have to adapt to what the kids are interested in. That's always been our MO. You may not be the biggest trap fan say, but that's not what it’s about. It's about the youth, it's about making what they want to make. We also teach the history of Hip Hop culture alongside to expose them to the cultural context and open their minds to new genres. But you have to meet the kids where they at. If they wanna make trap, you make trap. If they wanna make house, you make house. I tell folks we are based in Hip Hop but the main thing is to meet them where they are. That's premise of doing anything when relating to someone. You gotta meet them in their element. Find their passion and tap into that.
You also run session for adults. What's the biggest difference between working with adults versus children?
It depends on the ages involved. If they are primary school aged kids they tend to be less inhibited? Grown-ups tend to be more inhibited but when you get to adolescence there's a kind of divide there. There are kids that are very inhibited because they really care what their peers think and they are very anxious. Or on the other end they are just stoked to have something immediately accessible. But with adults there can be inhibition due to social constructs. They are 'fully socialized' and they have learnt to subdue their creativity or their ability to dive into something they aren't proficient in already. Kids are still developing their niche skills and their identity. This is why the sessions can be really beneficial for adults. It's really freeing across the age spectrum but for adults specifically they can do this thing they thought they weren't good at. There was one woman we worked with who said she was always told she had no rhythm. That she wasn't musical and she tried it and she found it a lot of fun! The same can be true for kids but in an 'initial discovery' kind of way.
So with adults you’re unlocking something lost and kids you’re helping them discover a new part of themselves?
I don't think is necessarily as binary as that. When we teach people we are trying to increase their self-esteem regardless of their age. For kids and adults alike beat making increases self-esteem and you are showing them a new pathway or opportunity that they didn't necessarily know they had. When we work with adults it's not always businesses or companies, many times it will be educators or front line staff who may not even know what Hip Hop culture is or have preconceived notions of it. So on top of the actual music creation it can be an amazing discovery experience for adults.
I also noticed that the program doesn't just focus on making beats but also looks at geography and cultural studies alongside it. How's that been received?
So our curriculum is all inclusive of everything. Part of that is because Hip Hop itself has different elements. The five elements right? With Hip Hop you can remix identities and ideas. When sampling you play with so many different cultural sources and that's a great way to discover new things and research cultures. It’s fun but also a natural learning experience. We have kids sample a pre-1980 song and it really helps them learn about a new era and genres they may not listen to. Through that they talk to their families, or whoever they are close to, and discover this music that's relevant to their ethnic, geographical or religious heritage. When they find the song we sample it and in the process they learn about themselves, their peers learn about them and they are able to remix part of their identity. It helps them to tap into their heritage but also fits into their current situation. They can share and own that identity but in a way that's more contemporary and relevant. Everyone can do that no matter where they are from and be proud of their roots, which I think is healthy part of identity formation. It naturally occurs when working with Hip Hop.
You are also a great proponent of beat making as a therapeutic exercise. Can you explain what you mean by that or your theory behind it?
So I've developed this theory of the Therapeutic Beat-making Model (or TBM) and what it says is there is three main domains of how and why beat making can be used as a therapeutic modality.
The first is the inter-personal domain. You can engage people immediately with the technology available these days. It's visual, you can touch it and you can hear it. It’s immediately engaging. That immediacy also helps to foster rapport and sustain it. We know that the no.1 factor for positive therapeutic work is the relationship. That's really common sense when you think about it. Why the hell are you gonna tell anyone anything if you don't trust them?
The second domain is the expressive domain. This encompasses both catharsis through music and the release you feel having those feelings acknowledged. As opposed to destructive behaviour you’re expressing them through beats. Also there's the neuro-physiological aspect of regulation through music. So we know our brain waves actually change when we listen to music and especially repetitive beats that can put us in a trance like state. Our brain waves literally change from focused concentration beta waves to relaxed alpha waves. When you listen to repetitive beats you experience feelings of euphoria and calmness. Unless it’s really chaotic, arousing music like heavy metal or crazy drum and bass, music tends to calm and centre us. So when you put that in a group context people sync up and head nod right? There's a sense of unity, oneness and therefore safety. When you have been through some shit, the tendency is to feel alone and misunderstood. Beats can help create that connection. Humans are social creatures. We need to belong and music is a really powerful way to do so.
Lastly we have the sense of self domain. How close are you to your ideal sense of self? When we master tasks or create good things we feel good and our self-esteem increases. But also tied to that is the idea of self-efficacy or how you affect the world. A lot of people don’t have a lot of agency in the world for a variety of reasons. Beats can give people something that they have a sense of mastery in and impact on the world. They can produce something tangible they can take pride in.
So tell us a little about yourself musically. First off, why PhilthyDrummond?
Ha-ha! So it started as PhillipDrummond (and still is sometimes) was given to me by an MC friend in high school. He was like 'Man you should call yourself PhillipDrummond' and I was kinda like 'that’s pretty funny!’ It's kind of interesting when you think of it. Philip Drummond was this rich white guy who lived on the upper east side of Manhattan in the show Different Strokes. In the show this guy adopts two African-American kids. I come from the same place and it's kind of me acknowledging my privilege but also there's this sense of adopting a culture that's not naturally mine? Like I'm a visitor in the culture but I am acknowledging that. I only really thought of this connection after though. At first it was just a funny reference that heads would notice.
Your sound is quite classic but there seems to be a lot of cosmic elements to it. Where does your inspiration come from?
I think that's certainly an element of my music and perhaps an inclination that I have? If you listen to my wider body of work it's not all like that, like I think I have pretty good range. I think the cosmic elements come from using reverb and delay. As well that I compose in a minor key and like to create space. It's almost like film scoring and telling a story. I try to make my beats have change ups and this kind of non-verbal narration. I just like space haha.
Who would you say your biggest influences are?
Oh wow I mean there's so many because I listen to so much music! I think Geoff Barrow from Portishead was a big influence. I loved Portishead growing up. I also listened to Endtroducing by DJ Shadow constantly too. DJ Premier and Rza from Wu Tang as well. Also DJ Muggs from Cypress Hill who is so slept on. I was listening to things like Daft Punk and English big beat when I was high school too. I think the biggest inspiration though has been Jay Swift who produced for The Pharcyde. I think Bizarre Ride is the most consistently well produced album ever made. So there's a wide range of stuff that influenced me early on but now it's more Soundcloud music and stuff from my peers and people in the beat scene. I grew up with my Dad playing classical and learning classical piano so it's hard to say really. Verse Murphy from Sacred Hoops that totally changed how I viewed sampling. In like 97/98 he was making these multi part beats and sampling some crazy things.
As well as making music and running TFS, you also work as a speaker. How did that come about and why is it so important to what you do?
It's really just another function of professionally advocating for the use of Hip Hop as an educational tool. I really want educational, health and front line folks to understand the value of Hip Hop and why we need it. It's a way to get the word out, that this model can be immediately applicable and beneficial. If you affect the youth you help them and they deserve happy, healthy lives right? It's also interactive. I do beat making at every speaking event so people can really understand what we do. Hopefully I can open the theory up to as many different people as possible.
We have seen beat culture and lo-fi, grow exponentially over the last few years. Why do you think that is from a cultural perspective? Like is it a reaction to something?
Yeah for sure. With the internet, social media and the growth of technology we have so much automation that does stuff for us that it creates certain disconnectedness? I was chairing a Red Bull panel one time and they asked why tape was making resurgence and I think this is a big reason. It's a return to a lack of automation and you can do it yourself. I think people are looking for an alternative to trap which is very 'perfect' in its production and echoes that sense of digital automation and perfection. Overall I think the beat scene and lo-fi is a good way for seemingly disparate individuals and scenes to be a community. To feel part of a larger whole that 'gets' it. Through technology we have become more disconnected in some ways so the scene helps bring everyone together in a real way. In the complex, infinite world of the internet I think there's a great joy in creating things by hand, so to speak, and sharing that with other like-minded people.
So recently Today's Future Sound ran a beat battle and night in Peckham. How do you think the night went?
I think the night went pretty well! The quality of the competitors was really high and the winner, Groove Killer, had some dope music. I liked that he was doing it all on the SP too. It's really all about getting everyone together in a room and that's what I wanted to see. People connecting and creating a great community is the main goal so it was dope to see that happen man.
You mentioned community a lot on the night as well. Why is that so important in the beat scene?
Because it's a subculture. It's a movement based on passion and Hip Hop is based in community. It strengthens the understanding and connection among the people involved. We live in quite a disconnected society these days, so to have a real world 'tribe' to connect with and feel empowered by is really important. It's all about being able to connect and support each other right?
So what's next for you and Today's Future Sound?
We are gonna keep doing what we do! Advocating for the community and youth applications of Hip Hop! We are travelling round Europe for that exact reason. We have been to Denmark, Spain and France as well as the UK. Also coming up we are doing the first beat battle ever held in El Salvador which is gonna be dope and in May we are gonna be hitting Israel. Back in the US we have been branching out into street beat making. Getting people literally off the street to make beats in the Bay Area. We are making a beat tape from that initiative too. We are just trying to keep the movement growing and building!
Excellent! Thanks for chatting to us! Where can we follow you and Today's Future Sound?
No problem! You can follow me on Insta, Twitter and FB @philtydrummond and Today’s Future Sound on all those platforms as well as YouTube and Bandcamp! For all our main news and events hit up our website, https://todaysfuturesound.org/
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