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Philmore Greene balances life between Chicago’s ‘middle-class’ rap scene, fatherhood

Like many other folks during the pandemic, West Side’s Philmore Greene picked up a new trade, in his case, one that helps further his career.

West Side native Philmore Greene (right, with frequent collaborator Rashid Hadee), released his second album “The Survival Scroll” in December.
West Side native Philmore Greene (right, with frequent collaborator Rashid Hadee), released his second album “The Survival Scroll” in December.
Jamel Hewitt

Chicago rapper Philmore Greene aims to strike while the iron is hot.

The pinned tweet on his Twitter profile says, in part: “2021 will be the year I CATCH UP. “

“This is the year I catch up, meaning releasing numerous projects and being more consistent than I’ve ever been,’’ said Greene. “Some artists don’t get second and third chances to get the people’s attention — the people can be done with you. … I’ve been taking my talent for granted. I’m going to put the pedal to the metal.”

Greene’s attempt to seize the moment is kickstarted by his December 2020 release and second studio album “The Survival Scroll,” which he says is inspired by the times.

“The whole theme of 2020 was to survive,” said Greene, whose first album “Chicago: A Third World City” was released in 2018. “We lost a record number of people that can’t come back. We’re all trying to survive. ‘[The] Survival Scroll’ consists of the seven elements [health, shelter, God, food, water, love, air] that we live by.”

Greene, who grew up in West Garfield Park, loves the music of West Side rap luminaries Twista and Do or Die, but says his biggest musical influence is New York rap duo Gang Starr’s 1998, RIAA-certified gold album “Moment of Truth.”

Chicago rapper Philmore Greene found his “creative zone” during the pandemic by picking up a new trade: music engineering.
Chicago rapper Philmore Greene found his “creative zone” during the pandemic by picking up a new trade: music engineering.
Isiaka Oluewu

He prefers “Boom bap,” a hip-hop sub-genre popularized by 1980s and ’90s East Coast rappers, where bass and snare drums are heavily utilized in production.

“When I heard those scratches in the samples, I said this is the type of music I want to make,” said Greene, a Marshall High School alumnus. “I was going back and forth a lot to New York, so that could have worked on me in some type of way. I went a different route, and I think I chose the best route.”

And that “route” has allowed Greene to coin a term for what he brands his sound: “Middle-Class Rap.”

He cites the recent popularity of Buffalo, New York, rap trio Griselda (Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine, Benny the Butcher), whom Greene has previously shared the stage with in Chicago performances.

“You don’t have to be Jay-Z, but you could make a living from it,” said Greene. “You can live an everyday life, but at the same time be known and sell out shows all over the globe. Jay-Z and those guys, I would assume they’re in some sort of bubble. They can’t walk up and down the street like regular people.”

And how has Greene adjusted to the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down his way to earn?

He found his “creative zone” by picking up a new trade: music engineering.

“I could not sit in this house for months without recording — I’d drive myself crazy — so I ordered the equipment during the quarantine,” said Greene. “I’m getting more music out than I’ve ever done in my whole career. COVID was a gift and a curse, but I taught myself a trade.”

Greene’s 4-year-old daughter, Cadence (he has two older children), often accompanies her father to “dig,” meaning looking for vinyl records.

Chicago rapper Philmore Greene looks for vinyl records with his daughter, Cadence.
Chicago rapper Philmore Greene looks for vinyl records with his daughter, Cadence.
Derrick Beckwith

“I told myself I’m gonna be around this girl every day of her life, and by doing that, she’s picking up certain habits of mine,” said Greene. “She helps me engineer; she starts and stops my sessions at night. She finds the joy out of it [searching for vinyl]. I raise my daughter around the art of hip-hop and let her know who J Dilla was, and who Madlib is.

“It’s a bond no one can break. If something happens to me, my daughter’s gonna take care of those records simply because she found them with me. This is something you can pass down. Those moments, you can’t erase.”