Hey Thee Phantom, thanks for being a part of our series! Introduce yourself – who is Thee Phantom?
Thee Phantom is the combination of all my childhood inspirations. Hip-Hop, Classical Music, Comic Books, Sports & of course my favorite Broadway musical, Phantom of the Opera. I am a Composer/MC/Producer who combines the raw energy and passion of Hip-Hop, with the beautiful melodies of live orchestral accompaniment.
We love that you describe yourself as “part b-boy, part Beethoven.” What inspired you to combine hip-hop and and live orchestration?
Thanks to my Mother (Linda McNeill) I took flute and piano lessons as a child and sang in the church choir. My father had a sizable record collection and I can remember spending hours in the living room, on the floor listening to record after record. I started writing lyrics to my own songs by the age of 6. Mostly Pop and R&B. My father played Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight for me at age 8 and two weeks later, I wrote my first rhyme.
When Hip-Hop began, it was mostly break beats and hard drums. With the little bit of training that I had, I heard it blending seamlessly with classical music in my head. Especially the rhythmic pulsing of Beethoven, Vivaldi and Mozart. At age 12, I decided to mix Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with the Beastie Boys’ Paul Revere. I had no idea what I created, but I knew that I was able to come close to getting the sounds out of my head and onto a cassette tape. I took it to my best friends house and played it for him. He laughed at it, ejected the tape and flung it across the room. At that moment, I became married to the idea that it was going to work.
You’re kicking off your College Tour with a SOLD OUT show at the University of Texas on September 30th. Describe what your live performance is like.
It’s first and foremost a Hip-Hop show. I MC, my wife also rhymes and sings. We have a DJ that provides the backbeat and the orchestra plays over the drum track that he provides. For some of our larger shows, we’ve also had break dancers. What’s unique about our performance is that the audience gets to see the actual instruments playing the music that they hear on the radio, alongside Hip-Hop versions of Mozart, Beethoven, Vivaldi and a few other of Classical Music’s greatest composers. All of our original songs are created with the idea of being performed live with orchestral accompaniment and you can see that unfolding on stage.
We read that you wrote your first rhyme when you were 8 and at age 12 you made your first beat by mixing instrumentals from the Beastie Boys’ “Paul Revere” with Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony.” (so rad!) How did you fall in love with music at such a young age?
My Mother provided me with those music lessons in an effort to keep me off the street. We were poor and lived in an impoverished North Philadelphia neighborhood and trouble was always literally right around the corner. Music and comic books became transformative outlets for me. I would lose myself and let my imagination run wild, with thoughts of being the next Michael Jackson or Prince. I also dreamed of one day performing at Carnegie Hall.
That childhood introduction to music would later wind up saving my life as a teenager. Coming from a friends Graduation/Going Away party at1am., a friend and I were waiting for the bus on one of those North Philly street corners. We were approached by a man with a shotgun, demanding money who apparently thought that we were neighborhood drug dealers. The only thing that saved us, was that he recognized me from performing at house parties in the neighborhood.
While you’re in Austin, you’ll be giving two lectures on hip-hop and music business at the University of Texas. What advice would you give an artist who’s trying to break into the business?
Don’t be afraid to fail! I’ve received 1,000 No’s for every Yes that I’ve gotten. It took me three Kickstarter’s to raise enough money to rent out Carnegie Hall and Produce my own event. You don’t have to follow the trend or the “traditional” paths to be able to make a sustainable living from music. If you believe in what you do and put it out there, fans will find you.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I hear and see music in everything. It’s a gift and a curse actually. Lol. I can be in the middle of a conversation and the turn of a phrase will remind me of lyrics to a song I heard and just like that I’m off into the recesses of my mind.
Give us a breakdown of Thee Phantom & The Illharmonic Orchestra – how many artists are in the group? What’s your secret to touring with a large group?
We’ve performed with an ensemble as large as 25 musicians. Through traveling and the wonders of the Internet, I’ve been able to develop relationships with musicians from all the world. My wife, DJ and I, sometimes travel to destinations and pick up musicians along the way. I’ll partner ahead of time, send sheet music and practice when we arrive. In Tokyo, we performed with a 10 piece Japanese orchestra, with only the cellist able to speak English. Music is truly a universal language.
Thanks so much for chatting with us, is there anything else you’d like to add?
I will be releasing my next album, “Maniac Maestro” this Fall. In addition to my ReverbNation page, fans can also check out my website:http://www.theephantom.hiphop
Listen to Thee Phantom: