Best New Tracks by Alex Young

Benji, Tairey, Hardo, Knuccleheadz, Kizzl, Bill$up, Zende & Linwood

Let's roundup the quality music that's released from some Pittsburgh artists recently.

Benji - Smile, You're Alive!

Benji's "Smile, You're Alive!" cover art by Yung Mulatto

Benji's "Smile, You're Alive!" cover art by Yung Mulatto

The godsend talent through musicianship has given us a meaningful album. Benji's listeners take away hope after they've spent time with the "Smile, You're Alive!" album. He takes risks by sharing personal, vulnerable stories that drive his confidence in himself. Feel your jaw drop when you listen to "Zola Rose," but then get in your bag when the bass line drops in the second half of the song. Additionally, appreciate the artistry throughout the project thanks to the live instrumentations like strong keys and even the cover art by the legendary Yung Mulatto.

Tairey featuring Hardo - Nothing New

This music video is everything. The coolness of it goes hard. The bop meets the trap, and Tairey and Hardo are the perfect characters. Tairey opened up for the Migos in Cleveland last May, and Hardo gears up for his new album "The Fame or Feds Story," which has a complementary "trapumentary" about growing up in the hardened Wilkinsburg neighborhood outside of the 'Burgh. Both rappers have been tested in Pittsburgh and nationally, so the duo present a refined product. "Nothing New" is that excitement you want from a fun song like this. Watch the video first and then cop the track on iTunes.


Kellz & Heem of the Knuccleheadz at the Strip District Music Fest [2016] | photo by Alex Young

Kellz & Heem of the Knuccleheadz at the Strip District Music Fest [2016] | photo by Alex Young

Two youngins ran into each other at a gas station. One was a local rapper, and the other was a local writer. As he pumped air into his tires, the rapper Jiggy of the KNUCCLEHEADZ handed an early copy of his group's "Endless" album to the writer who was pumping gas. The exchange would be atypical in a city like Atlanta where people who ask you to check out their mixtape is another way of saying hello. In Pittsburgh, that interaction is not so common. The KNUCCLEHEADZ's "Endless" album improves their hip-hop image. Heem, Jiggy, Kellz and Shady Higgler created a soundtrack for self-indulgent lifestyles. A variety of sounds are on display in the album. "No feelings" is fun, trendy and lit. The following song "Yeah You" flexes the group's classic retro gangsta rap flow that they are known for, and "X2c" changes the mood completely to a chill reggae mood. Also, production from Taylor Gang's Sledgren moves the project along. Support "Endless" on iTunes or Spotify.

Trapway Kizzl x Bill$up - Nightmares of a Chevy

Come from the trap, and you're a different breed. You can tell stories in ways others cannot begin to understand, and that's what makes trap music so interesting. The gritty risk-reward lifestyle seems anxious and glamorous at the same time. "Young nigga tryna see the top ceiling. Packs for my woes. Bags for my hoes. Pistols for my foes. You know how it goes," Kizzl raps over a crisp Bill$up production.

Zende featuring Linwood - Girlfriend (prod. YourFavoriteProducer)

"Girlfriend" explains the contemplation a man goes through before he asks a girl to be his girlfriend. Rapper Zende enjoys the pleasures of a woman even after she "met my momma, brother, sister," but she "still ain't my girlfriend," he says. Linwood, a rapper originally from Worcester, Mass. who makes his home and music career in Pittsburgh, gives Zende some motivation in his verse saying, "take it there." Linwood, along with Tairey, will open up for the Sheck Wes show at Diesel Club Lounge on the South Side come July 1. Listen to "Girlfriend" and maybe provide some advice for the young artist Zende.

Knuccleheadz - Downfall by Alex Young

Knuccleheadz with Snoop Dogg

Knuccleheadz with Snoop Dogg

The geographic benefit to rap is it tells different versions of a similar story city to city and country to country. Gangster rap especially tells the narrative of the underworld that disadvantaged communities create. The sub-genre speaks to the "by any means" hunger and hustle that is a characteristic of people raised in these neighborhoods.

Pittsburgh, Pa. has a story to tell from its hoods and Good Kelly, Heem, and Jiggy of the Knuccleheadz are proud to tell it.

"Never leave the crib without the heater on me... represent the weak and you gon' die in the flames," they say in their newest song called "Downfall."

Even though the Knuccleheadz got out of their Homewood neighborhood for some time this summer while traveling nationally with Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg on the "High Road Tour," they have not lost touch with the environment of where they come from.

Their new song communicates that they will not stop in "the game" until they get what they want. However, they must remain vigilant because people, like the opposition, pray on their downfall.

The reality is harsh when people are "living for today because tomorrow might not even hit." 

"Wild nigga from the 'Wood but I'm smooth as leather. Keep a beretta when I'm chasin' chedda," part of the Knuccleheadz raps.

For some people in suburbia perhaps unfamiliar with urban life, the Knuccleheadz supply a depiction of a work ethic that never stops despite their circumstances. Everyone has to get it how they live.

Learn from the Knuccleheadz below.

Knuccleheadz Present "Timeless" Hip-Hop by Alex Young

The Knuccleheadz of Pittsburgh's East side present a classic musical work. Residents of the 'Burgh's Homewood neighborhood, Good Kelly, Heem, and Jiggy rap a "Timeless" EP.

After reminding the crowd at Strip District Music Fest "what hip-hop really is," Knuccleheadz expand upon their retro sound to share tales of gangster life in the city.

Detailing times with their mates on the leftcide, the Crip side, money, and thumping pussy, '90s, Los Angeles G-funk and New York boom bap influences are heavily felt throughout "Timeless."

"We supply gangster shit, you wish you could walk like this," floats the hook of the song "Like This."

Along with the authentic hip-hop themes, Knuccleheadz provide a real narrative and soundtrack to the hardened Pittsburgh streets. "Gangstaz Dont Cry" and "Nice To Meet You" illustrate life in the neighborhood.

The "Timeless" extended play has the appreciation for its original rap flavor. Listen to the Knuccleheadz's latest project below.





Strip District Music Fest Daily Bread x Taylor Gang Stage with Knuccleheadz by Alex Young

Good Kelly and Heem of Knuccleheadz via Alex Young

Good Kelly and Heem of Knuccleheadz via Alex Young

The first thing I noticed upon arriving at the Daily Bread x Taylor Gang stage at Pittsburgh, Pa.'s Strip District Music Fest this past weekend was the numerous outdoor space heaters positioned in the crowd and on the stage. Temperatures were at freezing level Saturday, forcing artists, like Chevy Woods, to acknowledge once they stepped on the stage, "It's cold as fuck out here!" However, the music, as well as the artificial heaters, kept people warm as they "milly rocked" and danced to local Pittsburgh hip-hop acts throughout the night.

While Strip Music Fest featured established artists Motor Mane, DJ Afterthought, and headlining Chevy Woods, the festival was a Super Bowl of sorts for up and coming local rappers Tairey, Pk Delay, Joel Kellem, JKJ, Knuccleheadz, and more. The roster showcased the next wave of hip-hop talent primed to make names for themselves outside of The Burgh.

"This is the best show of my life," said Tairey to attendees, which included his old college roommates, fans, and social media influencers who promoted and shared the festival's highlights to their audiences.

For rap group Knuccleheadz, they hope Saturday's Strip Music Fest was a hometown kickoff to eventful 2016. Natives of Pittsburgh's Homewood neighborhood, Good Kelly, Jiggy Cee, and Heem of Knuccleheadz are on the cusp of signing a record deal with Taylor Gang Records.

Inside a McDonald's, conveniently located one parking lot over from the Daily Bread x Taylor Gang stage, the Knuccleheadz and myself got warm and fed our hunger with french fries, chicken McNuggets, and McDouble burgers. Good Kelly sat with me and explained the future of Knuccleheadz. "We're about to be big," he said. When one of his friends, Kali, became upset with the number of chicken nuggets in front of him, Kelly said, "In a year, we're about to be arguing about Corvettes, cuh."

At the show, Knuccleheadz was due on stage at 10:10 p.m., three slots away from Chevy Woods' finale performance. With friends like Chuck Global and Wreckaz Gang affiliates COOP and fly class weirdo Kyle Branson, Knuccleheadz gathered adjacent to the stage stairs, smoked weed, and talked amongst themselves about their upcoming performance.

"We're gonna remind ya'll what hip-hop really is," I heard Heem and Good Kelly say to each other.

The group definitely looked "hip-hop." Kelly and Jiggy wore heavy, blue flannels, and Heem wore black from head to toe. He had on a black trench coat, a black button-up shirt, and a pair of black Levi's denim all completed by a black bowler hat and a pair of black sunglasses. Also, the Knuccleheadz members repped the Crip flag; Jiggy waved the flag in the air, Kelly tied one as a bandana around his head, and Heem hung the blue flag from his left side back pocket, the Crip side.

Knuccleheadz's attire and lyrics promote their gang affiliation. Their "Cripn" credentials are only important because it plays into the style of their music, an ode to '90s hip-hop.

When Motor Mane called the rap group to the stage they began their set by telling the crowd, "Come closer, come closer!" I felt people push me from behind, as the crowd was now reaching out to touch the Knuccleheadz atop the stage.

The music played, and listeners heard Knuccleheadz's East Coast, G-funk, gangsta rap, and boom bap influences, which all symbolize the Golden Age of hip-hop. The rappers' crew hyped the performance with their dancing and celebrations in the background.

Perhaps a foreshadow of Knuccleheadz's forthcoming success was how effortlessly they entertained the Strip Music Fest crowd.

Now, using the festival as a barometer, Knuccleheadz looks to their lifestyle, high energy, and hip-hop flare as an appeal to mass audiences around the country.

A selection of songs by some of the artists who performed at the Strip District Music Fest is available below.

Strip District Music Fest Preview by Alex Young

Illustration by  Red Buffalo Illustration

Illustration by Red Buffalo Illustration

In Pittsburgh, Pa., it is not only football season, as the Steelers work their way to a seventh Super Bowl victory in the NFL playoffs this Sunday, but also festival season.

Tomorrow, Jan. 16, 2016, Pittsburgh's Strip District will host the second annual Strip District Music Fest, a one-day music festival showcasing rock, indie, electronic/dance, and hip-hop music from local artists.

The festival's first year, 2015, saw 9,000 attendees flood Strip District coffee shops, galleries, restaurants, clubs, and bars, shattering Josh Bakaitus', Vice President of Drusky Entertainment and creator of the festival, estimation of 1,500 to 2,000 people showing up to view 78 bands in 10 venues.

In year two, presented by Pittsburgh City Paper and Pabst Blue Ribbon, the Strip District Music Fest will feature 170 artists in 21 venues, like Lidia's Pittsburgh, 21st Street Coffee, The BeerHive, Thin Man Sandwich Shop, and Altar Bar.

At Enrico Biscotti Warehouse, folk, metal, and punk rock fans will be pleased to listen to bands such as Tabula Rasa and Creta Bouriza.

Appealing to hip-hop aficionados, the Altar Bar offers an outdoor stage, sponsored by Pittsburgh streetwear clothier Daily Bread and Wiz Khalifa's Taylor Gang label, dedicated to The Burgh's upcoming and established hip-hop talents. 

Artists like DJ Afterthought, producer and Choo Jackson's DJ, and Chevy Woods, a T.G.O.D. affiliate, headline a group of youthful rappers and other DJs. Festival goers will listen to Joel Kellem, aka Chill God, lyricist and crooner Tairey, new T.G.O.D. representatives Knuccleheadz, as well as others. The bill for the Daily Bread/Taylor Gang Beats Stage at Altar Bar is featured below.

The Strip District Music Fest was originally created as a way to draw people out of their homes in the middle of winter. Now, the festival is the event to discover and appreciate Pittsburgh's best and eclectic musical acts set in one of the city's most historic cultural sectors.

Festivities begin at 12 pm snow or shine, and admission is free, although donations can be made to the individual artists participating here.

Altar Bar

1620 Penn Ave

Pittsburgh, PA 15222


JOEL KELLEM (5:00-5:20)

DEVIN MILES (5:25-5:45)


B. MATTIE (6:15-6:45)

DJ BAMBOO (6:45-7:00)

BEEDIE (7:00-7:30)

DJ BAMBOO (7:30-7:40)

TAIREY (7:45-8:10)

DJ SPILLZ (8:10-8:50)

JKJ (8:50-9:20)

PALERMO STONE (9:20-9:50)

DJ SPILLZ (9:50-10:00)

MOTOR MANE (10:00-10:10)

KNUCCLEHEADZ (10:10-10:20)

KH (10:30-10:40)

CHEVY WOODS (10:40-11:00)