Last month, Little Rock’s Epiphany took one of the biggest stages in Arkansas in a show with one of the biggest names in the music industry (T.I.) and about 7,000 of you at Barnhill Arena.
A few weeks later, he was back in Fayetteville on a much smaller stage, playing to closer to 75 people at the Smoke and Barrel, but regardless of the attendance or the venue, Epiphany is putting in his time and is on his way to becoming one of Arkansas’ most promising artists.
Born in New Jersey and raised in Pine Bluff, Epiphany calls Little Rock home now, and has been making waves in a hip-hop scene that’s been emerging down there for a while. Now he’s starting to turn heads both in Fayetteville and across the country. You can click below to hear “5 Dollas”, or you can check out more of Epiphany’s music here or here.
We sat down with Epiphany at Common Grounds last week, and he was nice enough to answer some questions for us.
Fayetteville Flyer: What have you been listening to lately?
Epiphany: Right now, I’ve been listening to this underground cat I love that’s been around a little bit, Drake. I listen to a little bit of B.o.B.I’ve also been listening to a lot of 80’s soul music, that’s kind of what I was raised on, so I always go back and play that.
Besides that, people in my own camp. On long trips is when I get a chance to listen to my music, so I’ve been listening to a lot of people I get CD’s from and I throw them in there and check them out or whatnot.
I was listening to TI a lot, and then we opened for him, and then I’d had enough. Not because it wasn’t a good show, but you know, I listened to so much that I was like “that’s my TI. I’ve reached my quota,” you know what I’m saying?
It’s moreso that I have something that comes across my path, and I listen to it and if I like it, I listen to it again, but there’s not too much that I have set that I listen to, because then I get caught not getting to hear new music.
FF: Tell me about opening up for TI?
Piph: It was real cool. It was funny how I got it. Pretty much my whole tactic was once I saw it, I saw it on a blog, and automatically I was hitting up everyone I knew in Fayetteville, and do they know anything about it, and it got back to the people at the U of A who were planning the show, and I shot them an email and some links, and they approved it, and then they got to TI’s camp, and they approved it.
Opening was cool, and by the time we performed it was about 4/5 full in Barnhill Arena, and the crowd was real responsive, and I think it went over a lot better because we were the only opener.
But we hit them with good music, we came with the band, so all six of us came down. We had about a 45 minute set, interacted with the crowd a little bit, talked to ‘em a little bit, Gina did her thing, Six-String Sean, the whole band was on point, so it was just a good show. We got to holler at them a little bit after the show, and got to holler at the booking agent to see if we could get some shows set up.
Everybody told us they enjoyed the show, and we were surprised, because sometimes I heard with the openers, they don’t feel them as much. We enjoyed it, got the response we wanted. I think the crowd got what they wanted. Only thing that was missing was if TI had been performing, and they stated rooting for us, but that woulda been like, impossible. (Laughs)
FF: You have a few different incarnations of the band. Tell me about your live show.
Piph: Yeah. It’s kind of like several different versions of Epiphany. When I make my music, I just make it, and then I see what it is later on. Through various responses I get a feel for like what people prefer to hear.
I’ll just hop up on the stage by myself. Just give me my cd and throw it in there and we’re cool. That’s kind of how the did the show at the Smoke and Barrel.
Kind of a more normal show is myself and Gina Gee. People almost consider us a duo now. It’s kind of a revamp of what I traditionally do so it’s like my traditional songs, and Gina is singing a hook by somebody else, or parts where it didn’t even have a hook, we revamp it and make it for her, or add or write different elements and she writes a different element to add a singing verse. It kind of adds like a whole different dymanic from a traditional MC performance. Thanks kind of the Epiphany and Gina Gee show.
And then there was an experiment gone right with the band, Epiphany and One Night Stand. There was another band that was also on the Conduit label, Sugar City and an artist named Maria V that were getting a lot of love in Little Rock, and when they hit the stage everyone would run up there and show them love, and I just had a competitive instinct and so from now on, whenever I hit the stage I wanted to make it hard for whoever follows me.
So I decided to try an experiment with a band, and so I called my homeboy who’s a bassist, and at the time he was playing in a band, and he brought along his squad, and at first it was cool, because not too many people were doing it.
It started as a straight one to one translation of my tracks with the band, so it was kind of like if I have a song called Can’t Tell, it was Can’t Tell here and the exact same there. But as time wen’t on, everybody enjoyed it and we got good feedback.
At first they were kind of like mercenaries, and everybody kind of showed up, and whatever whatever whatever, and after a while we realized we actually had something good. We realized we could add some musicality to it, so the members of the band like OT, Jonah, Frank, Six String and sometimes Lucas when Six String’s outta pocket, they stated to like the whole musicality of it, so it wasn’t just a one to one translation of the song. They would have chord progressions and changes, and implementing popular beats into it, and just make it a more dynamic experience, and make it a complete experience of it’s own.
Now, we hop on stage, everybody has their own distinct personality, and like, it’s cool to see what comes out of us. We always play around with certain elements. It’s all rehearsed, but a lot of elements are free-style impromptu.
I can’t get as raw as I can just over the synthetic sounds and some of the hip hop beats, so the raw more intense show is over the tracks, but the more musically inclined show, even though we gets down you know with the band, I like it because it’s two different ways to express myself.
It’s cool because like other than perhaps 607, I probably hit some of the most diverse crowds ever. I can do shows in front of politicians, or hop into, a hole in the wall club and open for R&B cats, open for TI or whatever, I do a lot with a jazz band Rodney Block, and it all works. It’s not us forcing to get that show. We kind of do our thing, and they come to us.
At the end of the day, it’s good music, and if it’s good music and I’m not faking or fronting, or putting up a facade, then I’ll go for it.
FF: Tell me about how you put your instrumentation together for your solo stuff?
It’s kind of like a scientific art. I absorb, and observe everybody, and I’ll bite your style (laughs) you know what I mean?
I learn and see what other people are doing successfully, and I’ll say, OK, that’s what they’re doing. When I saw a TI show I’ll just watch it, i’ll observe him, and i’ll say this is what he’s doing right here, this is how he flip this.
At the same time, I’ll say, well you did this, and that sucked, I won’t ever do that (laughs).
A large part is looking at it like a living beast, the same show almost doesn’t hit the same crowd the same way. Like the same songs that I may do for a college crowd may not be received the same way that maybe a First Friday’s crowd or a predominantly hood crowd, so I choose different songs and I line them up.
Another large part is on that intro track. However you set that intro, it kind of catches their attention, and you can kind of pace it after that. At the TI show, we opened up with a crack-a-bottle beat, cause that would be good on colleges, so we opened up with that to automatically grab their attention.
I think thinks like that are what make our shows successful. That and the fact I always tell people after a while you know your songs. I’ve rapped those so long that I know the verses forward and backwards, so it’s not about rapping those songs on point, it’s more so the transitions. You don’t stop, and say next song, stop, next song, it’s more about blending the songs together. And if I introduce it right, it has a completely different effect.
FF: Tell me a little bit about your mix tapes.
Piph: Well the birth of the Conduit mix-tapes actually started out by accident if you will. I had a show at a UAPB homecoming a while back and my labelmate/friend, Goines, suggested that we have some product to move while there. So we just compiled all of our unreleased songs at the time on CD, threw a lil name on it (Make It or Take It Vol I.), and sold them thangs for $1. They sold so easily that we just reupped, and kept moving them. At the time a club called NiteLife in Little Rock was open, and I use to hit it up every weekend (as well as some other spots). It got our name out there realy heavy and then the next time we followed up w/ a $5 CD. And so it goes…Now I just released my mix-tape, Low-Tide.
FF: It seems like there are a lot of cool things going on in the music scene in Little Rock right now. What are some things going on down there you are excited about?
Piph: Simply good music and progression. We’ve been bubbling for a second or three, but we really have some real dope, unknown musicians around this way. Of course my heart stays in hip-hop, but there’s a wealth of dope folks in other genres and I feel the crowds are intermingling more than ever. The last Arkansas Times Showcase illustrated just that.
FF: Tell me what you hope to accomplish with your music.
Piph: Household name is in the equation, but not the necessity. In the end, I’d much rather have the Epiphany/Conduit/IAmTheLife stamp be like the Harley Davidson of hip-hop. A niche within a niche. The game’s so large now that I can eat rather well off of such while maintaining my artistic integrity. I just love creating and entertaining, man. Right now, the primary focus is through the music.
Click below to hear “5 Dollas” by Epiphany