Beat Diaspora: Beats, Buses, Bricks

an omnivorous take on music of the beat-based variety and the urban spaces that nurture it

Sunday, October 19, 2008

West Philly: Welcome to the Neighborhood

I always tell myself I'm a creature of the northeast corridor, roaming the rails and I-95 between D.C., Baltimore, Boston, and New York. With considerable satisfaction, I've rounded out the megalopolis by settling down for the time being in Philadelphia. West Philadelphia, to be precise, home to both my employer, the University of Pennsylvania (where I work for the Institute for Urban Research) and a sprawling, teeming, struggling slice of nearly 200,000 people among Philadelphia's 1.5 million. It's a relationship fraught with tension, as to be more precise, I live in the University City District, the district-within-a-section created as a Penn initiative ten years ago to make the area around the university more attractive to live in for students, faculty, staff, and visitors. To what extent they've succeeded, and perhaps left the rest of West Philly behind, is a subject of great debate that I will dive into another time. To be even more precise that the UCD, however, I live in West Powelton, a tiny neighborhood whose name doesn't even register with most Philadelphians. But in this city of neighborhoods, it means something here.

Nothing says welcome to the neighborhood like a block party, and I was treated to two of them in the span of a couple short weeks.

The CDC block party's highlight was clearly the local steppers bringing it in full force. I've gotta say I was partial to the neighborhood squad, but then I've got reason to be biased, they keep their gear in a garage around the corner from my house.

The brassy attitudes of the West Powelton Steppers, from the "PHI - LLY" chants (& their "izz-I" variations) to the "What they gon' do? NOTHING." call outs definitely won the day.

A more traditional block party cropped up just the other weekend as a register to vote b-boy battle.

Local crew Freaks of the Beat, hailing from Penn itself, held it down for most of the evening.

But a collective pass-the-hat effort eventually yielded a decent cash prize for whichever young'un -- all kids about 13 and under -- could bust out the best moves. I wish my camera hadn't run out of batteries by the time it really got underway, but boy could those kids move, 'specially when the DJ put on that club music. Bass travels effortlesly up I-95.

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