Coming of age in Lansing, Michigan, Chadwick “Niles” Phillips initially took to visual artistry, but he always remembers music being at the center of his universe.
His father, legendary jazz and classical bassist Sam Gill, recorded and performed with the likes of Art Blakey, Randy Weston, and Thelonius Monk among other greats.
It was through the world of music that the young Phillips found “solace, healing, and empowerment.” By the time he was 16, Phillips was becoming a rapper of some renown around his hometown.
Yet despite all that Lansing meant to him, Phillips always felt like he had a second home in the Twin Cities. He has family here. In fact, he graduated from Park Center High School before matriculating back to greater Lansing and Michigan State University, where he continued to mature as an artist.
New York, New York… Big City of Dreams
After graduation in East Lansing, Phillips made his way to New York City to pursue a career in hip hop. It didn’t take long before he made his mark.
“I won the Hot 97 talent search in 2006,” says Phillips, “So now I’m hanging out with New York radio icons like Miss Jones and DJ Envy.” His big win also gave him the chance to record his first single on the Koch Records label.
Another victory soon followed at the Harlem Rap-a-thon, and before he knew it Phillips was opening for the likes of KRS-One, Raekwon, and Talib Kweli among others. He didn’t limit himself to the stage or the studio either, scoring production gigs with BET, CBS, MTV, New York City Fashion Week, and major motion pictures at Walt Disney and Sony studios.
Notwithstanding the successes and experience he’d garnered in music, art, television, film, and business, he always sensed that there was something missing.
“I knew I wanted to create my own legacy in music,” says Phillips, “I wanted to do things the way that I wanted to do them.” So, he made his escape from New York and returned to his second home—The Twin Cities.
From the Big Apple back to the Minneapple
The Twin Cities proved to be the perfect location for what Phillips was looking to create. “There is so much musical history here, so much talent that continues to emerge. It’s almost unreal.”
His first order of business was to establish the Poet’s Groove, an open mic experience that soon became a staple on the local scene. “It was always poppin’,” recalls Phillips.
In 2014, Phillips founded The Avant Garde, an expansive production company rooted deeply in Black art, aesthetics, and performance, with an eye toward the nuanced and the eclectic.
“Just consider some of the legends of the culture. Those who created something that was revolutionary,” muses Phillips. “Phyllis Wheatley, Ma Rainey, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis. This is the torch that we carry. The type of space we are trying to cultivate. To showcase the depth and breadth of who we are as artists, as people.”
The Avant Garde continued to produce events centered on this ethos, but the world came to an abrupt stop when Covid arrived in early 2020. That didn’t hinder Phillips, however, who responded with Quarantine Soul, a virtual performance project that highlighted artists from around the world.
Then, as the world began to push past the pandemic wall, Phillips started to rekindle a dream of his. “It had long been a vision of mine to produce a music festival,” he recalled, “Montreux Jazz Festival. The Essence Festival. South by Southwest. These are cultural touchstones.”
It was always Phillips’ intention to bring multiple genres together under one umbrella. “Soul and R&B, Hip Hop, Jazz, Spoken Word and Poetry, Reggae, Afrobeats. Different lanes, but still part of the same road.”
That’s when fate stepped in.
On the One!
In 2022, Phillips received a call from Faith Jackson, racial equity coordinator for the city of Bloomington. Jackson was looking to partner with the Avant Garde to launch a large and impactful community event that recognizes and celebrates the increasing diversity of Minnesota’s fourth-largest city.
The On the One Music Festival was born.
The inaugural event took place over three Friday nights last summer and featured some of the area’s top talents, including Jamecia Bennett, Ashley Dubose, Bree Turner, and the International Reggae All Stars.
“As everyone knows the one is a musical term,” notes Phillips. “Makes you think of James Brown or Prince. But for the purposes of this music festival, it means more. It’s about unity. Harmony across cultures. It’s about all of us together, as one. That’s why I chose the name.”
The 2023 edition of On the One will make a special nod to the neo-soul movement, which emerged in the mid-to-late 1990s. “It was during my teen years when this new sound came about,” reminisces Phillips. “Artists like D’Angelo, Maxwell, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott. That whole scene was so influential to me.”
DuBose will return this year along with fellow powerhouse vocalist Jamela Pettiford, who together will headline and respectively pay tribute to neo-soul queens Badu and Scott.
Among the other dozen-plus artists on the bill are Obi Original, who just came off a tour with Alicia Keys, and critically acclaimed singer and multi-instrumentalist Allie McIntosh, whose mentors include Robin Thicke and Stevie Mackie.
The 2023 On the One Music Festival is Saturday, August 26, 12- 8 p.m., at the Normandale Lake Bandshell, located at 5901 West 84th Street in Bloomington. On the One is a free, all-ages event. For more info, go to Facebook/On the One Festival.