From Bebop to Hip Hop: The son of a Jazz Legend makes his mark on hip hop and the lives of young people.
In our continuing series on artists making a difference, we dropped in on Niles to talk about his life and legacy in music, working as a youth educator and the release of his new album.
GAC first connected with Niles in 2007, during the early days of his career as a breakout sensation at the Rapathon for Haitian Earthquake relief held at the former Hip Hop Culture Center in Harlem. A monumental event that continues to hold the world record for the longest continuous rap, featuring over 100 emerging emcees, rapping nonstop for 24 hours with no cursing or foul language.
Niles aka Chadwick Phillips was selected Best Performer at the 2007 Rapathon which led to gigs at Hot 97’s Summer Jam in 2007 and 2008, opening up for Talib Kweli, the turntable battle featuring DJ Premier vs. DJ Scratch in the summer of 2008, Raekwon of Wu Tang Clan and more. During those same years, he made ends meet working at BET News, CBS, MTV, NY Fashion Week and as production assistant for major movie releases “Julie and Julia” and “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”.
Edutainment Emcee for JPMorgan Chase Sponsored Financial Literacy Program
It was his freestyle genius and college pedigree that led to his outstanding work as an Edutainment emcee for the GAC Hip Hop Financial Literacy Workshops sponsored by JPMorgan Chase Foundation in 2008. The freestyles Niles performed, derived from GAC financial literacy workshop booklets, were a hit with youth participants, leaving them engaged and open to learning from Chase bank representatives.
This breakthrough GAC program is currently seeking a new financial institution sponsor. Find out more.
Walking in the Footsteps of a Jazz Legend
Niles is the living embodiment of bebop to hip hop. Like his father, the legendary jazz musician, Sam Gill, who studied bass and piano receiving degrees from Juilliard and Manhattan Schools of Music, Niles also went on to pursue higher education, graduating from Michigan State University in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in Communications. It makes perfect sense that Niles would return to his father’s hometown of New York City, the birthplace of hip hop music to pursue a career in music, film and education.
His father, Sam Gill, has appeared with jazz greats such as Max Roach, J.J. Johnson, Phineas Newborn, Paul Bley and Thelonius Monk. He has recorded with the likes of Randy Weston, Art Blakey and Max Roach, and is listed in the International Who’s Who in Music, and the Who’s Who Among Black Americans and Blacks in Classical Music.
In 1955, Downbeat Magazine ranked Sam Gill above jazz icons such as Milt Hinton and Paul Chambers, etching Sam’s name into history as one of the “New Star’s” in jazz. Sam Gill was a member of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra for 48 years, making him the longest tenured African American in a United States symphony orchestra, capping off a rich and highly influential career.
Niles relocates from New York City to The Twin Cities
Upon returning to the Midwest and moving to Minneapolis, Niles has hosted the legendary “Poet’s Groove” open mic in Minneapolis for two and half years, along with other high profile events throughout the Twin Cities. After that, he founded the music, arts, and entertainment company, The Avant Garde, a group that continues to host incredible concerts, socials and events throughout the Twin Cities.
Niles continues to pursue his passions as a hip hop artist, director, producer, actor, host, songwriter, motivational speaker and teacher. The creation of his educational curriculum Hip-Hop, History and The Arts has allowed him to make his mark with young people at-risk and others inspired to learn.
“Hip-Hop, History and The Arts” is a curriculum that presents hip hop in a positive light, with emphasis on youth empowerment, the importance of education, knowledge of history and artists development. It is a space where students study past history and the significant events that have had an impact on each new generation of artists.
“The Next Move” is an album that was created in partnership with the High School for Recording Arts and Rock The Cause. It is a 13 song LP fully produced by the students of HSRA. This was the first project released out of the HHA program It is available right now worldwide digitally. Click on album to download.
“My Generation” is a 7 song music EP that was created in partnership with FAIR School Downtown and IPR (Institute of Production and Recording). Within this project the students speak about their generation and how the music that they create can improve relationships amongst all people regardless of race, color or creed.
Mini-Doc : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xjv3l4iZiWs
“Past & Present” is a 6 song music EP that was created in partnership with FAIR School Downtown and IdeaWorks Studios (Powderhorn Park). The concept has to do with paying homage to the generations of before while creating a new great legacy for the generations to follow.
The deep passion that fills his lyrics makes it easy for listeners to connect with his vibe and enlightened message. Niles is a historian of hip hop culture who is big on paying homage and respect to the ones who paved the way for him.
GAC: 2017 was another breakout year for Niles, opening up for Rakim, Raekwon, Slick Rick, Mosdef and Jay Electronica. How did you come to opening up for these big name artists touring through the Twin Cities?
Niles: Presenting concerts throughout the Twin Cities through my company, The Avant Garde. My performances at events and the releasing of songs caught the attention of venues and promoters who were bringing in these major artists.
They contacted me to be an opening performance act with some of them asking me to host as well as perform. For the Rakim concert, I performed as well as put the production of performing artists and DJ’s together. For Yassin Bey (Mos Def), I hosted and performed. For the Raekwon and Slick Rick concerts, I was an opening act for.
GAC: What were the opening experiences like?
Niles: All of the experiences have their own special place. Rakim is the most influential hip hop artist ever and is world renowned unanimously with that title. So to produce that concert was the ultimate high for me. It was a packed sold-out night and he rocked it super-live.
Niles: The Yasiin Bey concert was a dream come true. He did his songs from his classic album “Black On Both Sides” along with new songs as well. Hosting that concert and performing in it was extremely dope. That was a packed show and everyone showed so much love.
The Slick Rick concert was dope because it brought out so many old school heads. To get their respect meant a lot to me because I see my elders as people who came from generations who paved the way. So to get props from those people meant a lot to me.
The Raekwon concert was so next level. I’m the biggest Wu-Tang fan ever, so it was a dream come true to. I got to build with all of these artists after the shows as well. They all were down to Earth and gave me some great advice on the industry, plus they gave me props on my music. That meant a lot.
GAC: Tell us about your new album, “To Remain”, the music project The Avant Garde will be releasing this year.
Niles: This is an album that was created to bring inspiration and empowerment. It also reflects the mind of an artist who is highly intentional with making art that is everlasting. From top to bottom, the album is incredible with beats that are potent, rich, eclectic and classic with endless variety. The content of the album from song to song is very relevant to the times of society. Niles effortlessly navigates through different styles of flow from song to song. This album is the epitome of original and definitely a breath of fresh air. Definitely a project to be highly anticipated.
Chadwick “Niles” Phillips was born and raised in Lansing, Michigan. He is the CEO and founder of The Avant Garde LLC, which is a music, arts, and entertainment company.
Here’s a taste of what’s coming.