A slang term, originated in Philadelphia and extending into the suburbs of the Delaware Valley and southern New Jersey, to describe any person, places or things whose appropriate word could not be recalled by the brain at that particular time.
(For example: Bob, I'mma get one of those jawns from that Spanish jawn, who lives by the jawn in Germantown. )
The Jawn:Philly's Unsigned Talent, 2001-2007:
A dope book, written by Damon C. Williams, which acts as an anthology for Philly's underground music, arts and entertainment industry.
When I first saw links about The Jawn being passed around Facebook, I was more than a little intrigued. It is a very well known fact that the city of Brotherly Love is home to one of the most vibrant and well-documented musical heritages, producing such legendary artists as Patti LaBelle, Chubby Checker, John Coltrane, Will "Fresh Prince" Smith (and DJ Jazzy Jeff) and the whole Philly Sound movement (courtesy of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff).
As such, it totally made sense that a book be written to highlight the city's thriving underground scene, which continues to churn out future legends such as Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, Meek Mills, Kindred and the Family Soul, among many, many others.
While The Jawn is Williams' first published book, he is no stranger to the city's music and art scene. A native Philadelphian and former journalist for the Philadelphia Daily News, Williams has spent nearly a decade interviewing hundreds of artists, whose work have contributed greatly to the local urban culture. It's part of the reason why The Jawn serves as a important anthology as it not only features many of his published articles and interviews but also exposes the world to the unsigned and/or underground hype still brewing in the city.
Check out Damon C. Williams interview below:
Charing Ball (Me): First can you provide a little bio/background information including your professional experience and your experience on the underground scene. Also is this book self-published?
Damon C. Williams: I’m a native Philadelphian, born and reared in Tasker Projects in South Philly, but raised and had my formative years in West Philly on 39th Street (The Bottom). I come from an activist background, and I remember rallies at the [editor's note: Philadelphia Daily News/Inquirer] paper for what was seen as racist portrayals of my people. But instead of rallying and picketing outside, I wanted to effect change at the paper, from the inside out. With that in mind, after a few years at La Salle University I transferred to Temple, where I majored in Print Journalism. I was hired as an editorial assistant in my junior year.
During my early years at the paper, I noticed that the features department covered every type of music – jazz, pop and even classical – but there was no real coverage of underground hip-hop. Writers Jenice Armstrong and Tonya Pendleton covered mainstream urban music, but they never touched the underground. Being a fan of the underground, I pestered editor-in-chief Michael Days for more than a year to cover local hip-hop, and he finally relented towards the end of 2000, and I started covering local hip-hop in 2001. I had an inside track to the underground scene, one because I was a fan, and two, I spoke their language; I was in the same age bracket and understood their plight an desire to be put on and heard.
This book is a self-published effort, financed by my family and myself. As such, it will look a little gritty, like the coverage itself.
Me: How long have you been working on The Jawn and more importantly, what is it about the underground music and art scene in Philadelphia, which you feel will appeal to readers globally?
Williams: “The Jawn” is actually the third book that I worked on, but the first to see print. One other book is done, while my novel is about halfway completed. I have been working on this project for a little over a year, compiling the stories and weeding out the one that didn’t quite make the cut. Everyone knows, historically, how important a city like Philadelphia is, but when it comes to urban music, Philly, I would say, would be third, behind Motown and Renaissance Harlem. The Sound of Philadelphia really put Philly on the map. But outside of being heralded as a prime DJ breeding ground, Philly hasn’t quite received the dap its deserved for its lyricists, especially the local, unsigned ones.
Also, other regions, specifically LA and NY, have outlets such as The Source and XXL, looking out for certain artists; I just wanted some light to shine on our region as well.
And Philly’s sound is very unique; you can tell by how many times artists such as Aul Purpis, Tat Money, Baby Blak and Grand Agent, to name a few, frequently perform overseas. So the love for Philly’s sound is definitely on an international level. This book will resonate with fans both here and overseas.
Me: I understand that The Jawn focuses mostly on the hip-hop scene but also features other artists from different genres and disciplines. How did you determine who and what to include in the book?
Williams: The formula was pretty basic: I only wanted to focus on the entertainers, or cultural contributors, that weren’t signed to a major label, with a heavy bend towards the local hip-hop artists. That framework is skewered a little bit with the inclusions of interviews with Jazzy Jeff, EST and Colby Colb, since these are established, national acts. But they’ve done enough in the underground realm to warrant inclusion in this book. And there were a lot of interviews left out, particularly interviews with major-label artists, such as Dame Dash, Ginuwine, Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel, Ice Cube and many others. The same reason why I started the columns is the same reason why I included or excluded certain entertainers from this effort. This is strictly for the underground artists and underground contributors.
Me: How many artists are actually featured in The Jawn and is there one particularly interview - or maybe two interviews - in the book, which stands out to you the most?
Williams: There are more than 100 artists featured in “The Jawn,” and I have a list of those included on my blog. While I remember each and every one, two stick out the most: My cover story on the Prophets of the Ghetto, and my other cover story on female hip-hop artists. The POG story was significant, because it was the very first feature cover story on local, underground hip-hop, and it was a multi-faceted piece that included several interviews and photo shoots. And since POG were friends of mine and we shared a certain kinship, I really wanted to see that story happen. In fact, that whole process of the POG sessions is included in my second book, “Soul In Ink.”
Same thing went for the “Ladies First” feature, which included Hedonis Da Amazon, Nicky Banks and a few others. That was special because I always thought that Philly had some of the nicest femcees, and I wanted to do my part in making sure they received their proper coverage as well. But all of the write-ups were special to me.
Me: The Jawn is full of great articles and interviews but why no pictures or a forward?
Williams: I didn’t want to include a forward because the compilation really speaks for itself; I thought a forward would take away from the book and tell the reader what to think. Pictures proved problematic because I didn’t have pictures on everyone in the book, and the Daily News, I assumed, weren’t going to release pictures its photo staff had taken. But that may change if/when there’s a volume 2. But for this one, I wanted it to be real basic, gritty and straight up, like your favorite demo tape or mixtape
Me: In your blog post about The Jawn, you wrote: "I don't think the mainstream newspapers in Philadelphia will ever again open its doors to local, neighborhood artists, which should only heighten the appreciation for those fast, furious and glorious times." Why do you believe that is the case and what do you hope The Jawn will contribute to keeping those memories alive?
Williams: Well, I came to that conclusion after factoring in a number of things. One being that I had to really convince my editors to cover local hip-hop, and at first and for a long time, the city desk and photo editor were against it. I also had to do it on my own time, so to speak, so it really took some determination on my part and trust on the paper’s part to make it happen. My job at the paper was first an editorial assistant, then features reporter, then city beat reporter. Most of my hip-hop coverage was done ‘off hours.’ But in today’s business climate within the Daily News and within the newspaper industry on a whole, there just won’t be any ink or space dedicated to local hip-hop, and that’s a shame. I really do believe that we won’t see anything like that era again.
That’s what makes a collection such as “The Jawn” so vital. As a reference source, people can always look back and reflect about an era that once was, and with this, their works will never be forgotten. The artists will know that there is one source that has documented their music and their plight.
Me: I know that you are just beginning to get The Jawn out there but could we expect a The Jawn Part II in the future?
Williams: There are articles/interviews that I have omitted, and there are a few artists that I always wanted to have a sit-down with, but the respective schedules just didn’t allow it. With that in mind, if I ever did a Volume 2, it would include those omitted interviews, along with pictures. There might be room for a “where are they now?” type of section in Volume 2, but I am a far ways away from making that determination. For now, I just want people to know that The Jawn is out and that their favorite underground emcee is most likely included in it. Other than that, the majority of my focus will be on my next projects, “Soul In Ink: The Memoirs of a Journalist,” and “The Devil’s Symphony.”
Thank you and stay tuned!
The Jawn: Philly's Unsigned Talent, 2001-2007 is available through Amazon, CreateSpace and GoodReads. Also check out The Jawn's Facebook Fan Page here.