Written by: Rahman Wortman
Recently hip hop artist Young MA sparked up a conversation with a tweet about how the lack of R&B causes today’s music to be unbalanced. And with music mogul/icon Diddy promoting on Instagram that the revival of his hit television series Making The Band is going to bring R&B back it’s easy to see how unappreciated R&B music has become. It’s making a comeback with the help of the new generation of R&B acts like SiR, Ari Lenox, Lucky Daye, Summer Walker, Arin Ray, Snoh Alalegra and many more but it’s not balanced with rap music that same way it was in the ’90s. Back in the days rhythm and blues music used to dominate pop charts alongside hip hop but once trap music and alternative R&B started to become popular very quickly traditional R&B had to take a back seat. You can make an argument that the music industry took a hit with the traditional sound of R&B fading away, but the night scene definitely took a couple of hits with it being gone because it took away the interaction part that comes with going out to a party. Once the music started to change DJs started taking R&B out of their sets and the night scene no longer looked as fun as it once did back in the day. It clearly missed good R&B music and that void in Philly was something DJ HBK and DJ AMH planned to fill with their event U+Me+R&B.
There are three things that make the bond between these two DJ’s strong as pure vibranium coming straight out of Wakanda. They both made names for themselves as dope DJs in college, DJ HBK at West Chester University and DJ AMH at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. They’re both members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated and they both have a strong love for R&B music. R&B parties are becoming quite popular throughout the country, something AMH learned when he went to Los Angeles and attended one for the first time. When he came back he and HBK thought there should be no reason why they couldn’t pull one off in their hometown of Philadelphia. By collaborating with their good friends at 6ix8ight, Nas and Jaime, these four gentlemen have created an quarterly party called U+Me+RnB, an event that has the ability to bring nostalgia to the ears of those who grew up on timeless R&B music and provide the right atmosphere to make it comfortable for everyone in attendance to interact with one another throughout the night. “Sweet Love” will take us back to watching our mothers cleaning up the house on a Saturday morning when you were young. Joints like “Candy,” or “Before I Let You Go,” the Frankie Beverly and Maze version, will make everyone forget that they’re strangers and get in formation to do the Electric Slide. Last Sunday these two gentlemen provided their city with another great experience by celebrating U+Me+RnB’s 4 year anniversary. Before the two prepared to celebrate, I sat with both DJ HBK and DJ AMH to talk about their humble beginnings, how they created U+Me+R&B by collaborating with 6ix8ight and why paying homage to a genre they grew up listening to means so much them.
Rahman: Where are you two from?
AMH: I’m from West.
HBK: I was born in the city, but I’m actually from outside of it in Abington.
Rahman: When did you guys get into DJ’ing?
AMH: I don’t know if we both started in school, I know I did my junior year in college, but I don’t think I got serious about it until I came back home and started scratching. I do remember that one of the reasons I got into it was because there wasn’t a lot of good DJ’s on campus, so I started off just doing little house or apartment parties here and there until someone suggested that I do something for homecoming. You know every school has like a big building that they throw parties in and that’s kind of how he and I hooked up because I used to do homecomings every in ours. I started doing them and that’s where it just kind of took off.
HBK: For me, I started off doing wedding and bar mitzvahs when I was seventeen. From there I went from doing low-level house parties to be the dude who controls the aux cord to now being able to control crowds of a hundred people.
Rahman: Who were your influences growing up?
HBK: Women [laughs] honestly just making women happy. Not too many people I looked and said: “I wanna be like this person!” If someone was having a good time based on what I did then that was all the influence I needed.
AMH: For me, it’s probably the same, again I started when I was in school so there weren’t many influences around me. Once I came home from the summer is when I realized that there were people who were pros at doing this. DJ Damage was one of them for me, he was the first one I looked at and saw the shit he was doing was like “Damn, that’s what I’m trying to be on.”
HBK: When I started I didn’t seek out anybody who was DJ’ing who could teach me how to do this. grow up wanting to DJ because I saw someone else doing it. I think those influences came from people who I’ve met throughout my career Aktive, YBE, like he said Damage. There are so many people I’ve come across who’ve had some type of influence in my career.
Rahman: You two made names for yourselves as DJ’s in college do you guys have a party from your college years?
AMH & HBK: [laugh]
AMH: I think for me it’s a homecoming, and we have this thing on Greek Week called Spring Fling. A lot of people come through there.
HBK: Like he said homecoming is always crazy because it brings everybody back together. West Chester is a PWI but our homecomings look like an HBCU. It doesn’t usually happen now but we used to have parties in the Kappa mansion, it was like a house with boarded floors. It was wild, we would have parties with two hundred people. When I got into DJ’ing I got see guys like DJ RL and YBE Supa do their thing because a lot of DJ’s would come up to West Chester to spin. Those are the parties that stand out.
Rahman: You both are members of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity incorporated. Would you two say that the fraternity is how you two linked up or do you think you would’ve crossed paths because of DJ’ing?
AMH: Yeah because we didn’t know each other before that. We were cool as Kappas but then we saw that we also both DJ’ed. We both do different stuff but what brought us together because we both wanted to do more parties that we wanted to do, and R&B was one of them.
Rahman: Some DJ’s specialize in a certain genre, for instance, DJ Damage is known for club music and DJ Lean Wit It is known for dancehall, world, and bachata. Is there a certain genre that you two specialize in?
HBK: For me, I wouldn’t say there’s one particular genre. I know when to get into spaces where if I do too much of one thing I get into a funk. I’m contracted with The Phillies right now and I started off doing bar mitzvahs so that’s playing a lot of top ’40s and doing too much of that can make you stagnant. Playing too much hip hop can make you stagnant. I like to be well rounded to be ready for anything at any time.
AMH: For me, I’m good with anything but I’ve grown more into Carribean parties and playing a lot of world music. But hip hop is gonna always be my thing. I don’t really have a specific genre either, whatever it is going to be solid.[laughs]
Rahman: Since graduating you two have contributed to Philly’s night scene along with others such as DJ Lean Wit It, DJ Hvnlee, Matthew Law, Killsing, Nashirah, DJ Sylo, Kingspy, and Brotha Taaj. How would you two describe this generation’s DJ community?
AMH: I’d say that it’s a lot more friendly than it was before. Based on what I’ve been told from older DJ’s that I know it was a lot more competitive and cutthroat. Not saying that we aren’t competitive but I just feel like now everybody has become a DJ and we live in two different eras whereas before I don’t think there were a lot of them so it was easy to just be for yourself. Now there are way more and if you’re friends with a lot of DJ’s you got to show love and support.
HBK: I think we’re also just living in friendlier times, we’re a lot more PC in today’s world and I think the DJ community has been affected by that as well. I’ll say that Philadelphia has a very very rich DJ scene, even with the people you just named there specific DJ scenes that you can go to for different events. I like to pride myself on being able to maneuver through a lot of those but also I feel like everybody is also a lot more inclusive than I think they were back in the day. Listening to how some of the ol heads talk and you hear how they talk to you or around us I’m like “Damn ol head I would never think to say that other people or the next generation.”
Rahman: What is 6ix8ight and how did you two become a part of it?
AMH: So it’s interesting because we’re not really a part of 6ix8ight. 6ix8ight is our friends Nas and Jaime and they throw a lot of events in the city. They reach out to a lot of people and we were one of the DJs they reached out. Don’t get me wrong we all look at each other like fam but I don’t want to take their credit, 6ix8ight is them.
DJHBK: I first noticed them when AMH and I were doing something at Parkside and I got introduced to Nas that day. I ended up doing this event for him and from there they had one of the biggest parties called Animal House. The premise behind that is pretty much was it was located at a really nice venue and it was B.Y.O.B. AT the time that was unheard of, instead of paying for drinks or buying bottles just come with your own and have fun. Bring whatever it is that you want to drink and come to have a good time. That kind of changed a lot of things and the party grew from 70 people to at one point 600 people. It’s just been that type of situation and from there they just kept putting together more parties like Peer Pressure, Exhale, and Reminisce. We kind of just built a relationship because we fit into their party style.
Rahman: One of those popular parties that really stuck out was the R&B party called U+Me+RnB. How did this party come about?
AMH: [laughs] So first off, there’s a lot of speculation about how it started. This is from my point of view, I was in LA one time and went to an R&B party out there. I come back home and we flirted with the idea of doing R&B party and I knew HBK would be the only one who would get it. There wasn’t a lot of R&B being played around the time and HBK was like “Let’s do it” and I’m like “Bet.” We’re on this DJ tip and we know 6ix8ight and here’s where it gets cloudy because I don’t know if we were all talking together with them. The idea of the name U+Me+RnB is Nas, but the concept of a strictly R&B party came from us.
HBK: It kind of came from the fact that there was no R&B being played anymore. Like people weren’t dedicating sets to R&B anymore. Like you remember back in the day when you used to have that last 45-minute slow jam set? That went away, so coming from a college background we as DJ’s looking at each other like why did that go away? The idea came from a need that no longer existed.
Rahman: Why do you guys think R&B sets disappeared?
HBK: People don’t dance the same, and they don’t come out really wanting to dance. Back when we were in college that’s what we came to do, once the lights were off you danced to slow jams with the girl you’ve been looking at throughout the party. Once we came back from college we were like “Damn, the party scene doesn’t even have that.” It really was about filling a need.
AMH: Another thing is that everybody else was just playing rap for 4 hours, and there was barely any Carribean music. We used to play R&B music at a lot of cookouts, especially at our annual summer cookout Pretty Nasty and see how people were reacting. We were like “Alright let’s just do this at a party all night.” There’s was no formula, 6ix8ight was on board and we did it together.
HBK: It was a collaborative effort. They had plugs to venues and knew how to get in touch with different spots in the city that we may not know about. Like me and AMH are usually booked throughout the week so there’s not a lot of time to dedicate to finding different venues. It helps to have that family situation already set up and that you have people that you trust and work that honorable with, that together will always make something beautiful.
Rahman: Why does R&B work so well that DJ’s can entertain a crowd for 4 hours straight?
AMH: Because it’s timeless, classic and it brings a nostalgic feel to it. Plus the R&B out now is different than what we grew up on because there’s a lot of rap in it now. It’s more rap-singing out than there is real singing and because of that R&B took a back seat for a while. It wasn’t that it was gone but with all these different genres taking over people forgot about it and I think that’s why it works so well.
HBK: And I think too that there are so many good songs. We came from a generation that had good singers and we were knowledgable about greats before us like Whitney Houston who don’t really have space anymore for their music to get played as much. I was having a conversation two days ago about how music is powerful because of the memories you made with them. I can remember a Dru Hill album I had in 6th grade, walking down the street singing my little heart out not knowing what the hell I’m saying. “Pony,” “Nice and Slow,” there are so many different R&B songs out there that are iconic that you have memories attached to. So at a party setting where you have so many other people that have that same memory and feeling is powerful.
AMH: It’s like you create a moment and a connection. You may not know the person across the room but they sing the same song as hard as you are. Come on man.
HBK: Nothing can measure up to that.
AMH: Also there has not been any fight or drama at an r&b party since we’ve started this.
HBK: And we’re on year four.
Rahman: Yeah you got sicko to fight at an R&B party. [laughs] Do you guys have a favorite U+Me+R&B moment?
AMH: The Troc was crazy.
Rahman: I remember that night, you fucked me up and played Anita Baker.
AMH: [laughs] We were in our bag that night.
HBK: People came ready to party. It’s us but it’s also the crowd too. The Troc was just one of those nights where everything aligned.
AMH: Don’t get me wrong I love rap music, but the problem with rap music is that everybody wants to be cool, even the chicks. You try to go up to them and say “How you doing?” and they like “Uh uh get out of my face.” The music makes it difficult to interact with women and like you said when you go out to a party that’s the main thing I want to do.
Rahman: You guys are celebrating 4 years of U+Me+RnB this Sunday. What do you guys have in store for a special celebration?
HBK: Well we’ve done this party several times and have been blessed to see success over the past years. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t consider it our party anymore, but the city’s parties because people who have nothing to do with us promote the party for us. It’s gotten that much of a following, it’s been with us for so long that kinship has grown. So it falls on us to make sure it’s a different experience and to tweak something. Work on the transitions and play a song we haven’t played in the past 4 years.
AMH: Yeah we definitely have people who tell us that we play the same songs some time and that we need to switch it up.
HBK: We hear y’all! [laughs] It’s hard because you’ll have people who will be like “You played this and this last time,” but if we didn’t play those songs you’ll have people go crazy and be like “How could you not play that song?” We hear the critiques and we do try to get to everything because R&B itself has a huge cult following, but we also don’t want to short change anyone who’s coming out for the first time. We don’t want to isolate somebody from experience just because two people may have already had it before. It’s really all about trying to find that fine balance.
Rahman: Is there a certain decade of R&B that you two want to touch more that you haven’t done in past U+Me+R&B’s?
AMH: I don’t know where it came from but it’s gotten me more into funk probably 3 U+Me+RnB’s ago. I had never done that, I just remember one day I’m just going into songs and I’m like “Damn I forgot about all of these records.” I went into crates and started playing some funk and was shocked to see how crazy the crowd reacted. I didn’t think the crowd would appreciate it and that’s why I wouldn’t play it, but now I go crazy when it comes to ’70s and ’80s. Like I want to pull out joints from the late ’80s where people may not know the song but they remember hearing it somewhere because it brings them back to that time.
HBK: For me, I feel like there’s R&B from the ’60s that we’ve never touched. I also hear a lot that we don’t touch on the newer stuff that’s out. Now for me it’s all about the nostalgic memories R&B gives but at the same time there’s a lot of R&B out now that doesn’t get a lot of attention. That’s something I do want to focus on. Giving attention to different decades of R&B is a lot harder than most people think.
Rahman: Do you guys have a favorite decade of R&B?
HBK: ’90s, I’m an 80’s baby so I’m definitely going to have said the 90’s. That’s what I remember, my cousins introduced me to 90’s music. There’s always that one song that you forgot but your mind and your body know.
AMH: The 90’s man, I was born exactly in 1990 so a lot of the songs came when I was growing up. I’ll listen to the oldies station and because the oldies are becoming the 90’s I’ll hear songs and be like “How do I know every single lyric?” You won’t remember the exact title or the artist but the feeling a song gives you doesn’t go away and that’s beautiful.
Rahman: Where do you two see U+Me+R&B in the next 5 years?
HBK: On the moon. [laughs] Nah but we want to be everywhere. While it is Philadelphia based we don’t see why it can’t be in other cities. We had one in DC and they showed so much love to us. My goal would be for us to have it nationwide and from that point, you see merch and different people traveling just to come to our event. Just to be able to continue to pay homage to the artists who helped create memories in our lives.
AMH: I would love to have it how Dusepalooza sold out the Barclay Center. I’m not even trying to wait that long, I would love to have it like that or just do it at a festival like The Roots Picnic or Made In America.