[shout]Ever since he started writing rhymes, MSU alumnus Chadwick Phillips, a hip-hop artist also known by his stage name Alias, knew he would eventually move to New York in pursuit of his dreams – getting a record deal and sharing his skills to speak to the world. That call came, out of the blue, in October 2006. That call is vital to what Phillips is doing today because it represented something he knew would eventually come – an opportunity to move to the “big city of dreams.” A friend in New York was looking for a roommate on a move from Manhattan to Queens. “There was a little crack in the door. I just had to push it open,” Phillips said.
At first, Phillips was confused and unsure whether that particular moment was the right time to make such a move. “The thought of moving to New York – it seemed impossible,” Phillips said. “But sometimes you gotta do the impossible.” On Dec. 14, 2006, Phillips packed not only for New York, but for his future, stuffing as much as possible into one large suitcase. On a day he remembers as frighteningly cold, Phillips spent a bit of the money he had on a bus ticket and stepped aboard a Greyhound set for The Big Apple. Once the ride was over, Phillips got off and began to “pray to the father.”
[impossible]From 2002 to 2006, the name Alias “commanded respect” in the greater Lansing area, especially on campus, MSU alumnus Jamaal Parker said. Parker, a good friend of Phillips and an avid hip-hop fan, witnessed many of the rap battles held on campus during those years. Many of those rap battles ended the same way – with Alias taking over. “In terms of spittin’, he was the man on campus,” Parker said. Throughout those five years, Alias could not be expected to miss a rap battle on campus. But not only was he expected to enter, he was on many occasions a sure bet to win. “He would take whatever he knew about you and use it against you. He’s a lyrical genius. To this day, I have never seen anything like the way he did it,” Parker said with conviction. But Parker is far from being the only person to take notice.
Alias came alive when Phillips was 16 years old. Just toying with rhymes and the idea of being an emcee, Phillips stopped writing not too long after he started. Like many kids during high school, Phillips wanted to concentrate on his prep sports career. But like many artists, the music drew Phillips back to the pen, pad and microphone. “I started again when I heard those old Canibus mixtapes,” he says of the inspiration. Philips cites Nas, Common and Andre 3000 as his biggest influences. Still, he says Detroiter J Dilla is the most significant. Originally from Lansing, Phillips was then living and attending high school in Minneapolis. Getting his name out to the public while developing his skills, Phillips hit graduation day. Phillips decided to come back to the Lansing area and enrolled at MSU.
As soon as he stepped on the scene, Alias began entering rap battle competitions around campus. Friends also remember nonchalant freestyle exhibitions at local parties. “I remember, one time, we had to tell him to shut up, he was freestyling so long,” education junior Alejo Sepulveda said. “It was really good though.”
“He’s just one of those rappers,” journalism senior Jahshua Smith said. Smith is a co-host on Impact 89 FM’s Cultural Vibe radio show and a fellow artist. “He’s the jack of all trades. He can rhyme, his performance is exceptional and his stage presence is great. He’s very well-rounded.”
Alias himself remembers several battles that displayed those elements. “I remember I won competitions for four years in a row. The fourth time, they switched the rules to find people to battle me. But when I battle, I challenge myself,” he said. One of those competitions was a local battle thrown by Lansing’s Power 96.5 WQHH. Throughout his time at MSU, Phillips made tracks and built a fan base. He performed sets at numerous venues, including the International Center and local clubs. He worked with producers and emcees from places like Minneapolis, New York, Lansing and Chicago, sharpening his tools to eventually prove he could use them.
Still, Phillips is Chad before he is Alias. So when graduation came before a record deal in May 2006, Phillips had other plans. “I was thinking, stay in Lansing, work, make some money while putting out music, then move to New York.” After graduation and throughout the summer, Phillips sent out resumes and looked for communications-related work. Then came October and the call that has since changed Phillips’ life.
[face]With four hours left on the bus ride to New York, Phillips said everything hit him at once. Too surreal, Phillips began praying this decision was the right one. He prayed in appreciation for everything he’d done up to that point and prayed he would get the opportunity to make his mark on history.
Finally in New York, Alias was trying to perform as much as possible in the hopes of finding a deal with a prominent independent label. “You have to be where it’s happening at to test your skills. Of course, in a bigger city there’s going to be more going down but everybody wants that spot, and competition is more competitive,” Phillips said. In the meantime, Phillips pulled out his trusty degree and found work as a production assistant.
In May 2007, Alias was just one performer in the first annual Hip-Hop Harlem Rapathon, a 24-hour “cipher” of more than 100 emcees thrown by numerous entities in an attempt to break a Guinness World Record. With all his skill and experience behind him, Alias won that contest and was then invited to perform at a show devoted to big names, where artists dream of performing. Alias entered Hot 97 FM’s 2007 Summer Jam ready to show he could handle the biggest of spotlights. He did.
After a talent search done by Hot 97 and New York-based Koch Records – home to artists such as Sheek Louch, 8 Ball and MJG and Joell Ortiz – Koch signed Phillips to a deal. Alias, for the while, has a home. “It came down to being original and meaning what you say. I would speak on what I believe and tie that into the artistry,” Phillips said.
Smith said it is great to see somebody from Lansing progress on a label such as Koch. “I’m definitely rooting for him,” Smith said. Smith and other artists like telecommunication junior Chris Yepez, aka Sacramento Knoxx, are using Alias’ progress as a model to further their steps towards stardom, but understand the road can be long.
Since the signing, Phillips feels everything on his road has moved fast, but he is quick to gather himself. “It feels great but there’s so much work to do. It’s a process,” Phillips said. “One thing I’ve learned though is to never get too caught up in the moment.”
[hip3]But not being caught up in the moment didn’t exempt Phillips from changes. While in New York, there has definitely been change in Phillips’ life beyond the obvious. “I’m changing my [artist] name to Niles,” Phillips said. He explained that the change is based on the history of the Nile River. “The Nile played such an intricate part in Africa’s history. It’s the longest running river and of African descent,” Phillips said. As an “Afro-Caribbean,” Phillips relates to the Nile River in more ways than one. “Plus, on top of that, the Nile had to do with the whole ancient Egyptian way of life and the power of that history dwells in my music,” Phillips said.
As far as Phillips’ future, Parker believes Phillips has the chance to make it big, but does see obstacles. “I think potentially he can make it. But I know that guys who are labeled in that genre usually have a hard time producing big record sales,” Parker said. The brand of music Phillips produces can be labeled as backpacker-type, conscious hip-hop, comparable to the likes of Common or Talib Kweli. But Parker is also quick to point out Phillips’ appeal. “People try to compare [Alias] to Talib and emcees like that, but his swagger is different,” Parker said. “Right now, it’s real trendy to be conscious. But he’s been doing this for a while. It’s not a gimmick. He’s opinionated on everything,” Parker said. For Smith, Phillips’ energy is what sets him apart. But Smith’s expectations are closely linked to what he’s seen. “I expect it to make waves, similar to other underground first albums,” Smith said.
Phillips, however, insists this opportunity is about more than checks. “This is way beyond money. I’m a reflection of everybody. Believe me, when I drop, I’m going to be handing out free, healthy meals – something to help their lives,” he said.
“I’m just a regular cat who loves hip-hop and who is blessed to have this opportunity – somebody you actually seen in the dorms up close and personal. I’m going to pump that essence through the music,” Phillips said. With more than 13,000 plays on his MySpace page, many are relating to Phillips and feeling that essence.
Two years after graduation, Phillips has indeed been working hard on his album, To Remain, while his fans and friends await his official debut. The album is planned to come out in the near future, and the first single is scheduled to come out this summer. Still, despite the commotion, “Life is still life – not the glamour or glitter. I still have rent I have to pay,” Phillips said.
Despite his past challenges and future obstacles, Phillips points to his faith in looking forward to establishing himself as an artist. “The main agenda for this thing is to lay my own foundation. I’m chasing immortality.”