From Alias to Niles

[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.”

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Yo Soy Latino

The 2008 Latin Xplosion started off just as it has in years past – with Reggaeton blaring from the enormous speakers on the MSU Auditorium stage and Latin Xplosion-themed banners hanging from the walls near flags and Greek banners. The members of MSU’s Latin community excitedly greeted each other with the smacking of dress shoes and high-heeled stilettos on the wooden floor in the background. The MSU Latin community’s talent show, held annually since 1996, was similar to past shows in a lot of ways, but for the last couple of years, the sense of Latin Xplosion’s importance has heightened.
Latin Xplosion committee members have tried to make this show as comfortable and familiar as it has been in the past without being repetitious. Communication junior Crystal Stoll’s performance resonated with many Latin-Americans. In particular, she affected those Latin-Americans who don’t feel they are accepted as “Latin enough.” The half-Argentinean’s forceful Spanglish (intermingled combination of English and Spanish words and phrases) poem was about a lack of acceptance and the stereotypical misconceptions from Americans and Latinos alike. Stoll was out to announce, “Yo soy Latina,” and that she was not bound by any definition. The poem was a common type of performance about a real, ever-changing topic.
[latin12]Latin X, as it is often called, has been the event to showcase and exhibit the different aspects of Latino culture, especially Latin-American culture. On Friday, Feb. 8, these types of showcases were still the main premise. Yet, it has become slightly evident that Latin Xplosion and its importance have indeed shifted.
In the beginning, Latin X was an opportunity for people, especially Latinos, to perform their talents for other MSU students, according to MSU alumnus and past Latin Xplosion committee member Ricardo Leon. The Latin MSU crowd looked at Latin X as merely their own talent show, where Latinos would gather to cheer on their fellow Latin Spartans as they danced and sang and recited poems about Chicano history and civil rights, among other topics. But as the years passed and the show became more popular with the masses, more opinions on Latino-related issues were stated. The issues themselves got stronger. This year was no different, as one of the most debated national issues took the stage.
“It’s become more important to support each other,” said Daniel Soza, College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) student service assistant. “Studies are showing that there is an increasing anti-Mexican [sentiment in America].” This year, the theme for Latin X was “Amor Latino,” translated in English meaning, Latin Love. But love is one of the last things that Latino Americans – not only Mexican Americans – are feeling from their own American society.
Many people believe this to be caused by the illegal immigration debates, in addition to what many people point to as negative portrayals of Latinos in the media. Family and child development senior Frederick Combs has attended Latin X for years. Of Dominican Republic lineage, he feels the showcase of Latinos in the media is usually pretty wrong and obscure. “When you see Latinos in the media, it’s always the same thing. We’re either drug dealers or [gangsters],” he said. It is these same issues that have many Latino Americans across the nation feeling stereotyped and labeled “foreign” in their own country. But the issue goes deeper.
Since 1996, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) has produced the Brownout Report, which “examines the nation’s major English-language television networks’ coverage of Latinos and Latino-related issues…” Those networks usually include ABC, NBC and CBS. The annual reports consistently have the same results: Latinos are not being represented enough. The 2005 Brownout Report stated that Latinos “remained virtually invisible and marginalized on the network evening news.” In 2006, the report stated that out of more than 12,500 reports, less than one percent of them were “exclusively” about Latinos.
[ricardo]Another problem in the media was that the networks tend not to show enough Latin perspective. The report shows that in 2005, Latinos were used as sources in only 1.7 percent of an estimated 12,495 stories. Unfortunately, the report also says Latinos were not even used as sources in stories related to Latinos. In fact, the report states that, “Of 105 stories, one-third did not cite a single source.”
Third, the examinations also found that when Latinos were portrayed, they were portrayed stereotypically with a foreign sentiment. In most cases, Latino-related stories were either about immigration (in 2004, one out of every three stories was about illegal immigration) or gang-related crime where, in most cases, Latinos were the perpetrators and not the victims.
Combs has noticed the abundance of negativity in Latino characters. To Combs, popular television series and movies have been no exception. “You see it as soon as you turn on the TV with shows like CSI: Miami. Even on shows with positive roles, for every one good trait there are three bad,” said Combs. Telecommunication junior William Deramus agrees with Combs. “Representation [of Latinos] is usually bad,” he said. “Even when I went to New York, all they talked about was the Latin Kings.”
However, the Brownout Report does acknowledge the problem isn’t about the accuracy of the story. Instead, the problem lies in the accuracy of representation. “Stories on illegal immigration or Latino gangs may not be inaccurate, but this becomes unfair when it compromises an overabundance of coverage.”
According to the Brownout Report, statistics showed that with more than 30 million people watching the news every night, the networks “failed to reflect” Latinos and thus the ever-changing American society.
So at MSU, many members of the Latin community are finding that Latin Xplosion can be used as a tool not only to exhibit the differences between the Latin cultures, but to celebrate them as well. “With this whole immigration issue, all [Latinos are] being bundled together,” Leon said. “It comes back to making sure Latin X is diverse. Too much of one culture and Latin X loses its purpose.”
Combs also has a problem with the lack of exposure to different Latino cultures at the university. “You see two main nationalities: Mexican and Puerto Rican. People are not exposed to a lot out here,” Combs said. “When I first got here, people didn’t know a lot about Dominicans. I’m sure it is the same for other types of Latinos.”
[aspects] Throughout the show, calls to different ethnicities -“Where the Boricuas at?”- and performances that ranged from dietetics senior Melissa Gutierrez’s Mariachi singing and Dirty Politix’s hip-hop rapping to Sigma Lambda Gamma’s Greek stepping helped highlight the blending of differences that not only make up Latin X, but make up Latin-American culture.
“I think Latin X has become a pretty fair representation of Latin Americans,” Deramus explained. “There’s so many different aspects. You can see a hip-hop act as well as a traditional piece.”
Another aspect of Latin Xplosion’s importance is to show Latinos are Americans too and, more importantly, to represent Latino-American culture fairly. Daniel Soza believes there should be more events like Latin Xplosion because it produces a better exchange of culture and ideas. Interdisciplinary studies and health studies senior Wanyi Lueng, an active member in the Asian and Asian-American communities, was one such person who came to do more than support. “I don’t know much about Latin culture, so I came to learn as well,” she said.
To show her talent, Stoll stepped up to the bright red Christmas lights that lined the stage, in her shiny and just as bright black dress, ready to speak into the microphone. With a piece of paper in her slightly trembling left hand, Stoll forcefully yelled about what it means, in her view, to be a Latina. With an “anglo father and a Latin mama” she asked dramatically, “Am I still brown?”
Look at my skin for its texture and grace
Don’t look at my skin, just seeing a race.

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