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Ethel Cee: Philly's Lyrical Piranha

With short biting tracks, Philly's latest is killing the scene.

By Michael Tillery November 13, 2012, 01:22 PM EST

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I was on a friend's Facebook page and a video by this charged Philadelphia emcee caught my mind. “ONE FIFTY” is a track seemingly introducing Ethel Cee and Dumhi to those outside the city.

In the vid, Ethel Cee is spitting her versatility in a way that seduces your musical sensibilities of what hip-hop is and can be. Her refined talent is not arrogant but more articulates, "Hey you. You're just now finding out who I am?"

Her producer, Haj of Dumhi, experiments with talented beats expanding your tastes as the flow of Ethel Cee fires your mind to wander off within the sound of her voice and soar to the passion behind her lyrical thoughts. SEVEN THIRTY is seven tracks of one of the best EP's you'll hear this year. Talented hip-hop is on the return. Philly is once again doing its part.

You ran in the same circles, so collaborating was probably a little easier. Can you articulate the process of developing SEVEN THIRTY?

Ethel Cee: We all kind of had an idea we were going to put out a project at some point. It felt inevitable. Don't think we really sat down and planned it as if it was gonna be ten songs or seven songs. It happened organically. He makes beats. I would hear stuff he worked on and say “Oh, that's interesting. What's going on with that? Can I have that?”

Haj: About a year and a half ago, you were like (Haj looks to Ethel Cee), I think I'm gonna try and do a real quick Valentines Day EP. Show me some beats. She picked a couple but nothing happened (Ethel Cee cracks up).

Ethel Cee: No way (she's still laughing)! That was your idea.

When I listened to SEVEN THIRTY, of course “ONE FIFTY” sparked my interest, but as I got into the rest of your stuff, I realized the intelligent diversity in your style. “ONE FIFTY” is literally 1:50. Is condensed music a trend?

Ethel Cee: We started seeing a lot of condensed music in the 2000's. Dilla. Stones Throw. Madlib. That whole camp. If you look at their collage of work, their songs are 1:12, 2:30. I have a playlist of those mentioned and I don't think there is a song longer than three minutes. I don't mind that. It's not even about the track itself. It's about a whole project. I remember when projects might be 28 tracks. It's a sign of the times. Attention spans. People can't stay still. Quality vs. quantity. I can get good lyrics in 1:50 vs. falling off subject matter and not being as good in four minutes. There's definitely a place for the epic longer tracks like Bitches Brew. It just has to be orchestrated in a way so that the listener stays interested. It has to be special.

Haj: I cringe when I hear someone begin a third verse on a track. I dig good loops. I don't want to hear a wack loop. I'd rather cut that in half. A track like “ONE FIFTY”, we hope people say that's something I want to listen to again instead of getting tired of it and skipping ahead to the next track. I try to do everything good from start to finish. It creates a roller coaster of ups and downs. I'd rather do a 40-minute collage. Keep it moving and keep it interesting.

The title to track three, “Coke and Yoga” is an interesting combination of words. There's gotta be a story. It seems like there is a struggle going on within the song.

Ethel Cee: “Coke and Yoga” is one of the songs I'm most proud of. It's a song I've wanted to do for years and years. One day I knew I would find a beat that goes along with this story. “Coke and Yoga” was easy to write because it's autobiographical. I'm not ashamed to say years ago I did coke and it was around the same time I discovered yoga. It was strange to have these two things exist in the same person. Drugs didn't take care of my mind, well being and my body and on the other hand I was trying to take care of my mind, well being and my body. One day I did a stretch and whatever coke was left over from the night before dripped into my throat. I freaked out. I accidentally did a little bump in the middle of yoga class (we crack up). In the hook where I said, "Hey LA,".—that was a shout out to those who could understand how those two diametrically opposed things could be in the same sentence. The coke had to go and I was glad to quit cold turkey.

Haj: It's not a pro drug song. It's more about pointing out the contradictions. It was just an illustration of the contradictions we have in different ways in our lives.

More from Ethel Cee:

Dirty Samples Ep

Bring the Pain

 

More from Dumhi.com:

The Jungle Ep

Philly Cousins (Video) w/ Reef the Lost Cauze

 

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Michael Tillery has contributed to the New York Times, The Nation, SLAM, Sacramento Magazine and hosts a radio show on Chuck D's RAPstation.com. Find him on twitter at @michaeltillery.

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