Left to right: Bij Lincs, Al Azar, Malakai McDowell. Source: www.groundupsounds.com

Q + A with the fellas…

Ground Up Edition

In late summer I met up with Ground Up at one of their favorite local haunts — Fishtown’s Loco Pez.

But alas, it’s everyone’s favorite taco spot.

We headed across the street to the less crowded outdoor patio of another favorite of theirs, and mines, Cedar Point Bar and Kitchen.

Two thirds of Ground Up, Al Azar, 25, and Bij Lincs, 25, discussed the then upcoming, though now recently released album “Seventeen Eleven.”

Their longtime friend and brand director Dean Nanai, 26, chimed in on their new clothing line “MDCCXI.”

All between mouthfuls of Cedar Point’s chicken and waffles.

Us eating din din.

Ground Up member Malakai McDowell was unable to partake that evening due to boss like activities. JK, don’t quote me on that. Frankie, their manager informed me he was unable to attend that evening due to unforeseen scheduling conflicts. Triste.


Last time JUMP featured Ground Up it was the year 2012.

Is this the same Ground Up as then?

Azar — Yes and no. We’ve all grown as people and musicians. Our music has evolved.

We have evolved.

I think our outlooks on the world have become more mature. Our perspectives have changed on certain things and I think our music reflects that.

But with that being said, at heart we’re all the same good-willed happy people we got into this game as.

We’re just a little older, a little wiser, a little hungrier.

What makes you hungrier?

Azar — The experience.

Being the places that we’ve been. Opening up for the artists that we’ve opened up for. Headlining the shows we’ve headlined.

We’ve tasted some very high achievements and some things I’ve never thought we could do.

Getting only glimpses of these things we’ve always dreamed about and not living them every day is still something we’re working toward.

Bij — Even though we’ve been featured in the 2012 issue, there’s still a lot of Philadelphians who don’t know about us.

Let’s let the rest of Philadelphia know we exist.

Whether a new version of us, or old version, they’re still going to see our history and how we’ve made ourselves in this city.

Most memorable moment since?

Bij — The hometown shows we do.

Those hometown shows are hard to forget. Even though we’ve done so many so far. Those are the greatest moments because those are our truest fans.

Azar — The last two springs we’ve been on tours that stretched from Florida to California.

We’ve been so many places because of music.

Last spring we went to the place where Kennedy was shot. We’re going to the Grand Canyon this fall.

Just things like that.

The times on the road are always some of my most memorable.

You are prolific artists to say the least. How many musical projects has it been?

Azar — This would make it lucky number 13 in the fall with “Seventeen Eleven.”

Crazy.

Bij — We’ve been working very hard to get to this moment where we can confidently not call it a mixtape.

I think we’ve been working on something.

And I think people are definitely going to notice the difference between our previous releases.

Azar — Also we released 12 of our last projects within a five to six year span.

We’re putting the brakes on the amount of music released and focusing on what gets released and the quality of the music.

We’re awaiting your latest release this fall, “Seventeen Eleven”. What’s the significance of the title?

Azar — 1711 is the street address of the house where we first started making music together.

It’s in North Philadelphia — Montgomery Avenue; right off of Temple’s campus.

It’s not necessarily where we all met, but it’s where Ground Up basically came to fruition. We all became best friends and brothers under that roof.

Having all of that creativity and drive under one roof, was so inspirational.

As an artist to feed off of all of our friends’ excitement… it was just a magical time.

What should we expect from this album?

Azar — The album is going to be a nostalgic, but progressive glimpse of that life that we were living at the time.

Bij — It also represents what we’ve been working on for the past seven or eight years.

1711 started a long time ago, but 1711 is something we’ve been building from the time we first started.

It was the house we all grew up in, met each other, started working.

“Seventeen Eleven” is finally something we can proudly show.

I would much rather release something called “Seventeen Eleven” now.

Azar — It’s our most mature and complete body of work. We took our time with it.

For the first time we had that luxury where we felt like we put out enough of music and content where our fans were willing to be patient with us.

You know people have short attention spans.

::laughs::

Having listened to your recent single, “Right Now,” the production is distinctly different from your previous work.

Bij Production wise “Seventeen Eleven” is very different.

There’s a new dynamic people are going to hear out of my production.

I want people to see where I’m at right now. I want them to see where we’re at and how we’re working together differently.

There’s also a couple songs where I’m singing on the chorus and doing backing vocals.

I think that’s going to be something new people haven’t heard from me yet.

Usually my voice is in the music.

It’s not really in the lyrics.

How do you manage to keep the creative juices flowing? Stay inspired?

Azar — We take a lot of pride in the fact that my neighbor is my merchandiser. My roommate’s my producer.

My best friends are my managers and they live down the street. That all helps.

Bij 1711 was a very good business formula for us.

Even though we don’t live there anymore, we still do everything the same as we did at 1711.

We still all live together. We still have the beat studio, the recording studio. All of those elements.

A lot of friends coming in and out all day. Nothing’s changed in that regard. It’s all about everyone working together to help and support each other.

In that same vein, how does Ground Up stay grounded?

Azar It’s not easy always.

But it’s not hard when you’re surrounded by your best friends every day.

Every day we wake up we work on music. If we’re not working on music…

Bij — We’re watching “Naked and Afraid”.

Azar — ::laughs::

Yeah that’s true.

Bij — But at the same time we’re working on a flyer. We’re walking on Reggaeton.

We’re always continuously working.

Dean — ::laughs::

Yeah, we were just working on a cigarette lighter before we got here for the new “Seventeen Eleven” fan box.

Azar — ::laughs::

We stay grounded by being with good people.

I call my mom every day.

Or try to.

And we work very hard. We’re not often distracted by things that aren’t the mission.

How important is the visual aspect of your art?

Azar — I can’t underestimate how important it is.

Particularly in 2015 it may be more important to our fans than our actual music to be quite frank.

That hurts as a lyricist to say that.

We’re in such an image driven world right now where shock value and shock videos can make you famous over night because of it.

You can’t ignore the power of the visual aspects of this game we’re playing. We try very hard not to ignore or neglect it.

It’s why we’ve made countless videos that haven’t seen the light of day because we take so much pride in our visual aesthetic.

We’ve taken losses on money because it doesn’t meet the standard we’ve set for ourselves. The whole package is what is going to get us to the promise land.

Bij — At the same time sometimes you can’t think about it too much, the visual stuff.

You just have to be yourself almost and really embrace who you are to make something interesting that people will want to also be as well. I feel like we do that very well.

The merch is also a big part of the Ground Up experience?

Dean I like to think we’re a pretty fashion-forward group as a whole.

Bij — ::nods in agreement::

Dean — It’s always been something we’ve been in to.

For example “MDCCXI” is our clothing line.

It’s the Roman numerals for 1711.

It goes hand in hand with the image Ground Up has. It started off as Ground Up Gear, which was the brand merchandise.

We’re also working on a “Seventeen Eleven” box, which we’ll be dropping a month before the album.

The last three projects we dropped, we dropped a box with it and it comes with a t-shirt, a lighter… basically items related to the album that we handpicked.

For example this box actually has a house blueprint that we drew up of 1711 and a personal letter to the fan on the back of it.

Things we give to the fans as a special thank you.

As Philadelphia grown hip hop artists, this is an important question — Your thoughts on Drake vs Meek?

Azar I want Meek and I want the city to succeed in any situation.

::laughs::

But… I think Meek would even tell you he made a couple of not well thought out of decisions. I think they’re both great artists.

I mean Drake is one of the most important artists of our generation. He’s had more #1 singles than The Beatles.

Can’t say anything bad about either of those guys. We look up to them both.

Bij — ::laughs::

I think they’re both really good artists and I’m still going to listen to both. They both make music I like.

Classy gentleman, classy.

Originally published in Fall 2015 issue of Jump Magazine, p. 12.

You can cop a copy at any place in the ‘illadelph that looks like it serves cold press coffee or craft beer.

Ground Up performed at Made in America in September and ended their fall tour in Philadelphia at Union Transfer last month.

Their album 1711 can be bought on iTunes.

Streamed on Spotify and Soundcloud.

Twitter: @TheRealGroundUp @MDCCXICLOTH