James Gardin (formerly known as P.H.I.L.T.H.Y.) has used his music to fuel dance floors, radiowaves, and varied social causes. But before opening for national acts (The Pack, Grieves, Cool Kids), teaching music to children in South Africa and using his lyrics to champion cultural unity and HIV/AIDS awareness, James Gardin had to learn to create for himself.
Gardin was born in Germany to two parents in the Army before moving to Arizona at four years old, and settling into Lansing, Mich. at ten years old. He got involved with music early through church choir, guitar lessons from a mentor, and his first raps as part of an anti-drug song competition. After failing a fifth grade test to play violin at school, he took matters into his own hands and dug into books to learn how to play sheet music. “I didn’t understand music in their systematic way, but today, I don’t approach music with rules set to it anyway,” he remembers. “I’m glad I learned it for myself.”
Gardin’s interest in hip-hop rekindled after seeing Eminem’s film “8 Mile,” and he joined a group with two other emcees. He invested in a home studio and took audio production classes. Inspired by the success of Kanye West’s The College Dropout, he decided to be himself more in his music by changed speaking about his faith more and cutting profanity. After his first solo mixtape entitled Young Black Hope, he released his debut Save Us All in August 2008. Fans were impressed by the authenticity, and he became a go-to opener when national acts like The Pack, Cool Kids and Grieves would perform in town. His solo success reached its apex the next year with Love Songs For Losers & Ballads For Ballers, an EP with Los Angeles producer Jansport J that garnered over 5,000 downloads and was featured on various blogs, including 2DopeBoyz. He also began to donate performances and workshops to initiatives such as Michigan State University multicultural organization MRULE, youth art programs, and more.
Shortly after Love Songs’ release, Gardin went to South Africa for three months, where he volunteered and spearheaded a music/arts program at a center for children affected by HIV/AIDS. When he returned to the States, he teamed up with fellow BLAT! Pack member The Amature for “Whatupdoe From BLAT!,” an EP that featured the two rhyming over instrumentals from a recent Blue Scholars EP (complete with a blessing and vocal drop from Blue Scholars themselves). In 2011, Gardin headlined his own successful City Limits tour, maintained a weekly leak series and fan appreciation project entitled “Coolest Dude In Sunday School,” and performed on several dates of Rhymesayers artist Grieves’ Together/Apart tour. In 2012, he is heating the blogosphere with his EP “A Little Light For You,” and with his album “The Living Daylights” coming soon, Gardinis just getting started.
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First row of photos by Thomas Xu for 81disasters. Second row of photos by Jake McGeorge. Third row of photos by Aaron “Boogie” Bell except the last photo, which was taken by Kathleen Gomula. Last group of photos by Jacqueline Douches.