On the heels of his 2018 debut album “To Remain,” preeminent artist and lyricist Chadwick “Niles” Phillips has risen to the top of the ranks and has quietly emerged as one of the Twin Cities’ most premier emcees.
With a style, flair, and cadence that is reminiscent of hip hop heavyweights Black Thought and Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def), Niles is simply a master of his craft and a torchbearer to the lost art of emceeing.
Capitalizing on a steady buzz, Niles has extended his reach through the release of a new single and music video that has given the artist momentum in the early part of 2021.
Released months after the sudden passing of Hollywood icon Chadwick Boseman, “Superhero” is an ode to the late actor and features a collaboration with Grammy-Award winning trumpeter and composer Nabaté Isles and Detroit soul vocalist, Beth Griffith-Manley.
“Reassure My Soul,” a song from his 2018 debut, has been repurposed and reimagined into a music video and follows the aftermath of the racial protests and pandemic of 2020.
The reception for both projects has been overwhelmingly positive, a humbling feeling for the Lansing, Michigan-born emcee.
He elaborated on the uniqueness and inspiration behind each body of work.
“’Reassure My Soul’ comes from my life philosophy. I’m an optimist and regardless of what’s going on around me, I try not to let it affect what’s going on in me,” Niles said.
“I also believe that you should not let the hell around you affect the paradise within you. To me, the highest form of currency is simply breathing. So, I connected all these thoughts and filtered them into a song and video with the intent of letting people know that they’re more blessed than they ever thought or imagined.”
Boseman’s sudden passing after a quiet bout with cancer in August 2020 left the world reeling, but the loss had a tremendous impact on Niles, who shared the same first name as the fallen actor.
“When Chadwick Boseman first hit the scene, I saw that we had the same first name, which was funny because I never knew another brother with my name before. This automatically connected me to him,” Niles recalled.
“Then I saw the movie ‘42’ when he played Jackie Robinson and other films where he played historical figures like James Brown and Thurgood Marshall. After that, I saw how he carried himself in interviews, which was very humble and non-boastful. He became like a role model to me. When he passed, it was devasting because he brought so much zeal to his art, which also brought life to the world.”
Niles’ admiration for the “Black Panther” star sparked a level of creativity that initially resulted in a verse that went viral and then transitioned into a full-length song. He discussed the creative process and how the song garnered appreciation from a certain group of listeners.
“After Chadwick Boseman passed away, I instantly wrote a verse, recorded it, and put it on video. The video ended up getting good circulation on social media. Afterward, Nabaté Isles, who is a Grammy-Award winning trumpet player, suggested we make the verse into a song.
“We knew we needed a singer, especially one that was deeply rooted in soul. So, we reached out to Beth Griffith-Manley, who is from Detroit, and the daughter of one of the Funk Brothers. She’s Detroit R&B royalty. All of us came together from a deep-rooted sympathy and also a high level of respect for Chadwick Boseman.”
He continued, “Eventually the song got around to Chadwick Boseman’s brother Derrick. We had a listening session and meeting on Zoom. He heard the song and loved it. It was very emotional. After that, he told us he’d get the family involved, so now a portion of the song’s proceeds will be going to the Chadwick Boseman Charitable Fund for the Arts.
“What’s even crazier is that Chuck D (frontman and lyricist of the legendary hip hop group Public Enemy) shouted us out on social media; so, we’ve gotten a lot of love for this song.”
In 2021, Niles hopes to increase his range not only in music but through educational and entrepreneurial endeavors.
He currently serves as an artist in residence with the Twin Cities Catalyst Music organization, where he oversees the Hip Hop, History, and the Arts program. He is also the founder of the Avant Garde, a music, arts, entertainment, and production company that curates events.
“For 2021, I’ll be working out a new project, but will continue to push my first album ‘To Remain,’” Niles said. “I believe there’s still some life in that project. In fact, I would encourage every independent artist to continue pushing their work, especially if they put their mind, heart, soul, and money into the art.
“I’m also planning to expand my program, Hip Hop, History and the Arts to reach people virtually, as well as my company the Avant Garde. The best way people can support is to become a part of the movement and culture of what we’re doing because the movement helps to fund the projects, which also promotes the arts.”
Niles’ latest single “Superhero” and album “To Remain” are available for purchase and streaming. For more info, visit Niles’ official website: www.theavantgardeis.com.
Marquis Taylor is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.