Everyone has a release. Something that a person does, no matter how big or small that distracts them from reality. Some people do drugs, some people bite their nails. Mine’s has always been music. Since I was little, nothing could bother me when the headphones were on and the tape was in the deck. My favorite artist was dropping an album? That day was like Christmas. 3 o’clock couldn’t come fast enough so I could run down to Beat Street and pick up Nas’ new joint. It was a form of escapism. A way to float above the harsh realities most of us grew up facing. It seems like today most artists are in it for the money and the notoriety. Do recording artists still get butterflies in their stomach when they hear a great beat or some hot lyrics? I’m not sure. But thanks to guys like Philly’s own Steve McKie, music purists like myself have some hope for the future.
At a glance, you can tell Steve doesn’t live a lavish lifestyle. A T-shirt, jeans, sneakers and Phillies cap tell a simultaneous tale of humble beginnings and major accomplishments. Having produced tracks for Kindred The Family Soul, Bilal, Jill Scott and Jasmine Sullivan to name a few, Steve is becoming one of the most well known producers on the Philly music scene. A visit to his quaint studio just off of 48th and Spruce street helped to confirm his reputation of modesty and dedication to his craft. His musical den is full of things that one might expect to find in a recording studio. Guitars hanging from the wall, pictures of people he knows and has worked with (My favorite is a blown up Rolling Stone cover with practically every artist who ever lived). Stacks of vinyl further explain his influences. Everything from The Beatles and Chopin to The Beatnuts and The Jungle Brothers , line the walls.
“It’s funny cause coming up in the neighborhood I stayed in I always felt like if I wasn’t doing what they felt was cool, like playing ball or on the corner, I felt like I was selling out if I was walking down the street with my drum bag”.
It’s a shame that in our communities we try to bring our youth down that have artistic aspirations. Sad that our creativity isn’t viewed as an interest, but instead for most it’s a way out. Steve says he “saw things in the street that he didn’t want to be a part of”, so some of these very things may have helped mold him into who he is. Though he says it was always inside of him, surprisingly he doesn’t come from a very musical family. But even though there weren’t any musicians in his household, the passion and love was evident.
“ My mom, dad, grand mom, they were all into music. They would always play records so it was always around me. I guess at some point I just locked in. So I guess it’s weird that I picked drums as my instrument, it’s just something that came”
Those same drums helped Steve become a fixture in Bilal’s magnificent stage show. Here’s a clip of one of their performances:
Steve Mckie Live view link.
Having just come off a European tour, he reflects on how they were received.
“This time around was different because the album we just recorded had a more aggressive, more alternative sound to it. Not your typical “ Soul Sista” record. But our shows have so many elements in it. It’s not the typical thing your used to from Bilal. That’s the crazy thing about performing. I see how Earth, Wind, & Fire felt when people wanna hear specific songs. Like, we don’t wanna play the same shit. But people pay their money to see you so……”
But the support overseas is definitely different than that in the states.
“People respect Bilal for his work in the past like “ Soul Sista” and “Fast Lane”, but he is more respected for his live show. So they know what to expect. But they also appreciate music more in general than in the states. You can go over to Europe and see Whodini in concert, all types of groups. Here it’s more of “ what’s hot”, and people don’t really come out to shows like that anymore”.
You can tell Steve’s ear for music is different from most. His experiences have led him to embrace many genres, which permeates throughout most of his projects.
“Cat I used to play with told me once “ If your getting into producing and making music, it’s important to keep an open ear and listen to all types so you can put different elements in your stuff and be well rounded”. There was a time when I only listened to Hip-Hop or R&B. But when I started listening to Jazz, Latin, Rock and Alternative it started making sense and that stuck with me.”
Being in a band, live instrumentation is a major part of his sound, and Steve feels music today is getting back to its roots.
“I think music is coming back to where it started from. You never heard of the old bands getting together and making something electronically. It was guys in a room. One on drums, one on keyboards, one on guitar etc. and they just record. I feel if you have both aspects, fuse the live part with the electronic part, then you can build on something. Some people don’t understand that”.
Music is no longer being appreciated as an art form. Artists don’t seem to grasp the social and cultural effects these sounds have on the masses. To be good at it, I think, as in anything else, you must know your audience. But also know that your audience is always changing. Music has always been a reflection of society. And just like society it is forever transforming. Steve Mckie followed the blueprint of those that came before him, but more importantly, he RECOGNIZED those that came before him. Hopefully we begin to embrace history in our music as we do strings and keys.