Catching up with 3xpo
At Ethik, we are blessed to be able to work alongside creatives who are pushing the culture forward every day. Recently, we sat down with Philadelphia producer and Ethik Fam member 3xpo to talk about overcoming obstacles, Hiddem Gems and the local hip-hop scene.
Ethik: What is your overall back story with production and your musical career? How did you end up with the name 3xpo?
3xpo : I started producing when I was 12 years old and I pretty much grew up in a recording studio. I say that because my dad co-owned a recording studio. My pops is crazy on the piano, like really nice. He was a music director at a church in Jersey, so I saw him play every Sunday and he was always in the studio doing all kinds of music. I was the little kid running around, climbing up the walls, driving everyone crazy.
When I was 12 I became interested in making my own music. My boy had a girlfriend that lived in the same town as the studio and we’d ride our bikes and hang out there that whole summer. Eventually, I’d end up leaving them to go hang in the studio. Rich was the engineer and producer than ran the sessions and he started showing me the basics- how to loop samples and record on the mic. The first beat I ever made was from a recording I chopped up of my friends girl laughing. I can still remember it! When I was 16, I started producing for a rapper that was 10 years older than me. I started making beats for him and promoting shows.
Wait, when you were 16?
Yeah, I was making beats, DJing, booking shows, and even started my own record label at 16 years old. I still had A LOT to learn but it really all just took off from there.
The name 3xpo came from when I was in middle school and was just looking for cool words in the dictionary. I found Expo, and I was, “Yep, that’s it”. I also like what it meant, the definition is “works of art for public display”, so it just made sense.
I started DJing at house parties in high school. I’d throw these “club parties” when my parents went away. Eventually they caught on. They kind of became cool with it after a while since they knew I was into spinning they started to realize that I was practicing.
I got heavy into the underground hip-hop scene. I was doing all kinds of shows, working with different artists. I met Skrewtape and we started working on an album. Miskeen Originals built me a production space at their headquarters in Camden where I’d work out of for about a year. That was a wild era. Through a crazy turn of events I got the opportunity to work with an NGO based out of Nashville. I moved out there and started working with them- producing records and writing music for their organization. I made soundtracks and was kind of scoring for their videos.
I moved back to Philly in 2014 and a lot of dope stuff was going on in the Hip Hop scene. I jumped right in and ended up linking with Sensi Starr. Shoutout to JO The Last Man! Skrew was already on the team and I made a few tracks with him, produced some tracks on Ren Thomas ‘I Been Nice’ album, and rocked shit with the whole crew. From 2016-2018 we did a lot of dope shows, opened up for some of my favorite artists. During that time I was working on the compilation ‘Sensi Starr Smoke Sessions Volume II’ that we just dropped this past September. I produced on every track and was the executive producer for the project.
You have been up to a ton of stuff lately, from your work at Watts, Hidden Gems, and Tiny Room for Elephants. What would you like to talk about first?
Let’s talk about Watts first. So right around the time I was finishing the Sensi album, I was leaving the studio late one night and got hit by a car on Girard across the street from Warehouse on Watts. It was bad. I had to have 3 surgeries and I’ve got 21 screws and 3 plates in my leg. I had 11 fractures in my face and my brain was bleeding. I was in the ICU for 36 hours and actually woke up in the hospital. I don’t remember any of that. Luckily three bystanders called 911. Thank god they did and the ambulance came. I was in the hospital from July 18th through mid August.
You are super lucky that you had a great support system.
Yeah, definitely. I was living on the 3rd Floor in West Philadelphia so I ended up having to go stay at my dads place and Meg (3xpo’s Girlfriend) stayed with me throughout the whole time. If it wasn’t for Meg, my family, all of my good friends and homies in the music community I wouldn’t have been in such a good situation.
What are your general thoughts about the Philadelphia producer community, even though you are much more than a Philly producer?
I think Philly is fucking dope. There are so many hidden gems. Before Hidden Gems, (a monthly producer showcase 3xpo hosts with Jabair and Love City Dj’s) I knew a lot of dope producers, but now I know so many more. It is so cool seeing people come out to play their music and going, “oh shit, where have you been doing this at?”.
I feel like there are producers all over the place who come out to the event from Macqithaq at Drexel, to itsnothingspecial and Krispy’s in South Philadelphia. There are dudes everywhere!
Totally. Through the hip-hop and dj communities I knew a lot of dope producers. Hidden Gems is the first time I have seen so many of them come together and collaborate. There are a lot of styles and genres and guys that cross genres. I think that Philly is a home base for some really dope music and I am happy to put a spotlight on some of these producers.
Can you give an elevator pitch for Hidden Gems for those who may not know about the event?
Hidden gems is a producer open aux, plain and simple. Show up and play your beats. Come out and flex. If you have new stuff you have been working on that you want to hear on a funktion one sound system, come through and hear your song knock. We also branched out from the physical event and also started a podcast. Between me, Jabair and Love City, besides from them being crazy talented, we have all put in a ton of work as producers and Djs. All of us have dope music friends in the industry that I’m honored to say have not only been joining us as guests on the podcast, but with guest performances and featured DJ sets to open up the event.
Hidden Gems has definitely evolved into a community and it is continuing to grow. We are going to launch a compilation soon, and the idea is that every track must feature at least two producers. It could be ten producers. We just want to stir the pot up a little bit and see what happens.
With Hidden Gems we are just going to keep pushing forward, elevating and inspiring each other to make some really dope shit. My main goal is to make the best music possible and to have everyone excited to put in work and have fun with it.
You gotta talk about the Tiny Room for Elephants festival at Cherry Street Pier. Not only did you close out Saturday night, but you performed in a way that was completely different from the other acts as you performed off of the Push.
I linked up with Killiam Shakespeare to do a set together and we were the final act on Saturday night. Tiny Room for Elephants is the dopest event that has been going on in Philadelphia for the last few years. The goal is to make a room out of a room and bring together a bunch of different artists for a three day festival. This year it was at Cherry Street Pier. The event revolves around some of the city’s best and upcoming musicians performing in a space that some of the city’s best visual artists put together with paint, and murals- just amazing art everywhere. It’s really an experience.
Last year I did a beat set during the creation process, as entertainment while the artists were painting and shaping the room. This year there were a lot of homies on the bill, like Jabair, who performed a set that was mostly all original production. I got together with Killiam Shakespeare, a crazy talented band that can just jam and improvise in a live setting and they’ve done so with DJ Jazzy Jeff and a lot of dope artists. I went in on the Push and chopped up samples live, while Killiam performed on drums, keys and guitar. I also played some 808s, effects and other elements- piecing together a soundscape for them to play off of.
It was fun man, we closed out the show and killed it. Everyone had a great time and it was dope to be there with so many cool artists. It was great to be involved with something that really represents Philly. I love what they’re doing with TRFE. I know they are already making big plans for next year!
We totally brushed over watts...
I know haha, so around the time I linked up with Sensi and really started to go in with production we were doing some awesome shows. I opened up for Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, the Farside, GZA, Dj Premier and Mobb Deep about half a year before Prodigy passed away. Around that time, about 2 years ago I was really looking for a studio. I was living all over the city. I wanted to find a studio I could call home and freely work without having to worry abou neighbors when I’m bumping it too loud at 3 in the morning.
So I had been on the lookout for a while. I was working in the Roots Room, which was one of the studios that Larry Gold built. It’s a great space, great sound, and great people running it. However, it wasn’t my home base where I could go in and rock whenever I wanted. I saw that my buddy Ccelli was posting pictures of a studio that he was at. I saw the percussive instruments and the live room on his snap chat and I was like, “Yo, where’s that at?”. He told me it was Watts and I reached out saying that they should contact me if they are ever looking for an engineer. About 5-6 months later he told me that they were looking for an intern. I talked to Max and gave him my background. He was like, “Well, you’re a little overqualified to be an intern, but come in anyway.”
So I came in and learned the set up. I started bringing in my own clients and recording here. They started sending clients, we started working together, and soon enough I became a partner. We all just really clicked and dug the music that we were collectively producing. I really think that what is happening in Watts Studio and at Warehouse on Watts is one of those things that we are going to be able to look back on as a big part of a special time and era in Philly.
It’s been fun man, and I’m really excited for what’s to come. Just gotta keep going, keep creating and making music. Blending styles and pushing the envelope. It’s been a lot of years and a lot of work and there really isn’t another option. I don’t see myself doing anything else and being fulfilled. I am beyond grateful for what I have been able to do, and I know there is so much ahead of me as well.
A huge thank you to 3xpo for his time! Be sure to check him out on all major streaming platforms and on instagram @producedby3xpo