hip hop

Opaline - a night of iridescence by Maxwell Young

Opaline is an intersectional program of art, music, and food curated by Briona Butler aka Surrealistma.  It returns February 1.

The inaugural Opaline on December 1, 2018 photographed by Maxwell Young.

The inaugural Opaline on December 1, 2018 photographed by Maxwell Young.

Washington, D.C.—A feeling, or mood if you will, Opaline first manifested on the Instagram pages.  A tumblr-like onslaught of black excellence and beauty, opulence, and iconic hip hop and R&B figures became hard to ignore: Quintessential Kelis—her signature green epitomized in a pair of fierce sunglasses and a subtle ombré.  Tupac and his mother Afeni.  Hyper-sexualized fruits.  Avant-garde fashion.  Iridescent crystals.  Cozy Diddy.  And a young Mos Def freestyling in a New York park all conveyed potent levels of nostalgia.

This sentiment was transmuted at Dwell DC, an artsy, knick-knack-filled clubhouse tucked away in the Northeast quadrant of the District.  Performances by MARTYHEEMCHERRY, Nappy Nappa, Lulu Sunflower, and Pangelica as well as DJs Moses and Greenss buoyed the first monthly events in December and January.  At the last Opaline on New Year’s, I watched Dreamcast and Nappy Nappa run through their collaborative track, “Dolphin Squeek,” a glitchy bop that appears on Dreamcast’s most recent offering, The Lost Tapes vol. 2.  A bowl of black eyed peas and collard greens—a dish supposedly bringing good fortune in 2019 catered by Green from Within—added a savory element to the night while Sir E.U filtered through his library on the turntables.

“It’s important for me to create spaces for us to be together and cool it,” Butler told me over brunch at The Diner in Adams Morgan.  “For me, music is a very spiritual healing tool.”

Butler is no stranger to orchestrating music programming in Washington, D.C., and growing up as a military brat in Southeast and Northeast, D.C. as well a PG County, Maryland, she has a vast experience of what the DMV’s art community can cultivate.  During 2017 and 2016, Butler was integral to the Glow End Theory series presented by CMPVTR CLVB that focused on reinvigorating the divine feminine, featuring artists like Alex Vaughn, Odd Mojo, and DJ Little Bacon Bear.  She noted that the inspiration behind her desire to create intersectional events was derived from Sanaa Fest, a party series founded by D.C.-based artist Yaya Bey in 2015 that provided a tolerant environment to showcase creatives in the DMV and New York. 

Butler reminisced about one of the parties in which Afrovelvet, no foreigner to InTheRough pages, had a fashion show and the iconic female duo Oshun performed.  “I feel like the Sanaa Fest changed the course of my life.  That was a seed that made me want to be off what I’m off.  I have mad respect for Yaya.”

Opaline, however, is solely the brainchild of Butler.  The genesis of the idea came as a way to amplify the voice of her childhood best friend, Babby, who’s angelic crooning has enchanted guests over the first two shows.  The Baltimore-based singer’s impromptu a-cappella  set on New Year’s hushed the entire audience, centering the room in a moment of serenity.

Only two parties underway, “a night of iridescence” as Butler refers to Opaline is still in its infancy, but the optimism around the movement is evident.  Already it has engendered a feeling of comfort with familiar faces returning to engage with the series.  Butler doesn’t see Opaline as just a party, though, rather as a multi-media brand.  Her Opaline mixes on SoundCloud convert the visual aesthetic of the program into a sonic palette while highlighting rising talents in the community.  Greenss’ assistance with the audio mixing in the inaugural set is a nice segue into his own offering of tracks in mix 01.

The third Opaline will be held at The Village Cafe on Friday, February 1 with performances by Bobbi Rush, Nate G, Sir E.U, Naygod, Hoeteps, and Free.GG along with an art installation by Rap Rumi. Stay tuned for the next Opaline mix.

Friday, February 1

The Village Cafe

1272 5th St NE

Washington, D.C. 20002

Mars Jackson on Wax by Alex Young

Mars Jackson with his “Good Days Never Last Forever” vinyl record | Photographs by Alex Young

Mars Jackson with his “Good Days Never Last Forever” vinyl record | Photographs by Alex Young

"It took seven years just to get something like this," Mars Jackson said as he held his forthcoming translucent, orange vinyl record, "Good Days Never Last Forever." He's finally ready to release an official album. 

Currently, Mars and his label, Misra Records, rollout "Good Days Never Last Forever" (GDNLF). He joined Misra in 2016 as their first-ever hip-hop signee. The first single, "Heart Dance," from the album gained traction in Australia first as a credit to Misra's distribution methods. To end January 2018, the single hit all streaming platforms and the rapper premiered its music video at the "Down & Derby" skate party. A Yung Mulatto illustration covers the "Heart Dance" song art.

"A label believed in me every step of the way. There weren't any nos. I learned how to expand myself as an artist during this," Mars said. "I don't like being put in a box. I make good music. It's wonderful to be a fan of all genres."

Mars said GDNLF is "complete to show what kind of artist I am and just not one dimensional." Mars played the album for InTheRough in the comfort of his apartment back in September 2017. The lyrics encourage with lines like "we can live forever." The project is dreamy while acknowledging realistic aspects of life in the album title. 

During the album's recording, he wasn't "looking for a sound. We were having fun." Confident vocals show how Mars was "not being scared to use my voice," he said. Cool references throughout GDNLF like "JR Smith with my shirt off" or "That's So Raven" keep the tone uplifting. Instrumentation shines. "Good Days Never Last Forever" releases this summer.

This was different for me like this whole process. Doing mixtapes and just throwing songs out there compared to actually telling yourself you can sell music it’s totally different. You have to go through some things first before you even have the cojones to say, ‘Yeah, you’re going to buy my music.’
Photograph by Jordan Armstrong

Photograph by Jordan Armstrong

A lot of outside input and feedback went into "Good Days Never Last Forever" and it relies on a local Pittsburgh cast's support. "Nice [Rec] took me under his wing and trusted me over his production," Mars said. The producer Nice Rec has "worked with the best" and has credits on albums like Wiz Khalifa's "O.N.I.F.C.," along with executive production on Mars' "Good Days Never Last Forever." Musician Benji "kills" his feature on the song called "Simple" on the album, and rapper Choo Jackson also features on the record. "Keep it local. If it's local, it means a lot," Mars said.

To that end, Ryan Brown of lifestyle label farESH Brand creative directed the project. "He saw the vision," Mars said of Brown. Additionally, graphic artists and photographers Brian of Frequently Fly, Generic Pieces, Keep Pittsburgh Dope, and Paizley helped create the album cover and insert booklet. "Pittsburgh everything," Mars called it.

"Anything that happens in Pittsburgh I see. I'm just a fly on the wall," Mars said. The 31-year-old New York born and Pittsburgh raised resident has been in the rap game for a while and a key part of Pittsburgh's creative scene. He told a story about Daily Bread clothiers utilizing Mac Miller and A$AP mob during their 2009 rise for brand promo, and then sitting in watching the filming of a Hardo and Jimmy Wopo rap video years later. "They were trap'd out."

In the inner city, we make stuff pop and then you get bigger companies who look to see what’s going on in the scene and use some of the blueprints.

Although don Mars still views himself as a "local artist" and people still "see me as their peer," he said. Overall, "it's always good to give people the love tap," explaining his encouragement for Steel City residents.

Mars will join local talents Benji and singer Sierra Sellers for a performance on Feb. 16 at the Club Cafe venue. Get tickets for the 10:20 p.m. show here. Also, Mars needs a tour DJ for shows like his April date in New Jersey. Email him at knowmarsinfo@gmail.com if you have interest and qualifications.

Before Mars releases "Good Days Never Last Forever," he wants people to know that "they've never heard me like this."

Club Cafe

54 S 12th Street

Pittsburgh, PA 15203

*UPDATE* Enjoy Mars Jackson's "Good Days Never Last Forever"

Watch This Cool Skateboarding Video Part by Rage Club by Alex Young

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"Welcome to the Club" by Cleveland based clothing company Rage Club at its core is an entertaining video with parts of skateboarding. It's much more though because the skaters' antics and dedication to hitting tricks, paired with the crazy tracklist that DJ TOPGUN lined up is hype. The footage by Thomas Netkowicz shows the Club skaters in California, Ohio, and Pennsylvania skating city-scape terrain.

Authentic youth and skate culture stack up here. The kids aren't wearing Thrasher Magazine shirts for nothing. Zay Jones tries to jump a 21-step staircase six times. He keeps injuring himself and keeps going, "legendary." There's crazy, painful looking fails throughout "Welcome to the Club," but credit the degree of tricks. Everything is tight when the beats drop and skaters like Cris Lesh, Kevin Perez, Jalen Willis, and more land tricks. TOPGUN, the creator of Rage Club, features in the part along with pieces of Club clothing, such as a long-sleeve, hat, and "FDT" shirt.

Photo by  @_philms

Photo by @_philms

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Additionally, the entire project has relevance in Pittsburgh because the video has parts filmed in the city and it debuted at One Up Skate Shop on East Carson Street last Saturday, Nov. 4, and DJ TOPGUN is active in the 'Burgh's hip-hop scene. He's brought Cleveland artists, like Shawn K, to rock out here in the 412. Rapper Choo Jackson attended the "Welcome to the Club" debut.

Watch and follow the Club. Tracklist at 16:03.

NVSV Directs Library Collaborative Tour & Breaks Down Life, Music, and a Beat by Alex Young

Know Pittsburgh Hip-Hop and the New Studio Making It

NVSV in Library Collaborative's green screen room | photograph by Alex Young

NVSV in Library Collaborative's green screen room | photograph by Alex Young

While talking about the benefits of signing a record deal, the rapper NVSV's (NASA) manager, Chanice Lazarre, popped her head in his yellow and blue studio-office to ask, "do you want to do a show at Diesel," the club on Pittsburgh's South Side. The 24-year-old music producer and rapper said yes as he appreciates the exposure.

Through that show and others, and credit to his management at Library Collaborative's independent record label, NVSV has cemented himself as a contributing member of the 'Burgh's local hip-hop scene by taking opportunities to perform. He performed a trap hip-hop show in Butler, Pa. and performed at James Street Gastropub on the North Side last weekend.

NVSV's music features "a lot of personal experience, lessons, and self-reflection. I want people to see what I'm living through," he said.

A post shared by InTheRough (@intheroughstyle) on

At Library Collaborative, "we have artists on the label right now. I am one of them. Then there's Juice, L K Hae, he's like an alternative rock type act, and Tremoravia, he's like a hard rock guy," NVSV said. SMTATOE, a guitarist and pianist, as well as the rapper Vapo Reeves benefit from the label's resources. The diversity of the Library's in-house artists is the best resource. "We definitely have a catalog or library of musicians from different backgrounds," he said.  If "I need these [piano] keys, I can go around the corner and be like, 'Smitty [SMTATOE], can you play these keys for me?' And Smitty is damn near a classically trained pianist."

"Everyone is feeding off everyone else's process, so you end up learning a lot about how all the artists here approach what they do," SMTATOE said. "I've learned a lot from just trying new approaches I wouldn't have tried."

NVSV's appreciation for eclectic styles of music came from his childhood while he grew up in Baltimore. "I listened to a lot of everything... There was a lot of house music and a lot of gospel music. With my mom, I grew up Christian. I went to Catholic schools," he said.

Listeners of NVSV can draw comparisons to Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco. He said he relates to Chicago music the most, and that the listener needs to accept what they're not accustomed to.  "I don't get too caught up in the braggadocios [raps]," NVSV said.

Importantly, NVSV saw education as his way out of the 'hood. Music "was a hobby" of his while he matriculated through school. "When all of my friends are going to the zone school, and they see me going to school with a suit and tie on, I knew education would always be my way out of the city," NVSV said.

It wasn't until NVSV attended The Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 2011 when he understood the profitability of making music. "I encountered a lot of people who were artistic in their respect," he said. One of the owners of Library Collaborative, Shane Johnson, attended The Art Institute and that's how NVSV learned about the studio.


After graduation in 2015 with a degree in Industrial Design, NVSV, officially Aaron Adkinson, took a job with Invent Help where he did 3D printing. He'd head straight to the Library after his nine to five shift, and he'd stay there until three in the morning producing all the beats he'd rap over (he produces under the moniker SWGLTUUF). "The owners saw the drive of the musicians they had here. It's just a dedication to that craft that made the owners go forward and start a record label," NVSV said.

The Library Collaborative opened its doors as a full-service multi-media recording studio in Pittsburgh's South Hills on October 13, 2017. They have rooms for recording live instrumentation with guitars and drums, a full environment green screen, a projector room, and more. Artists on the label, like NVSV and SMTATOE, help run the studio's operations and manage clients.

Further, the Library focuses on "making sure the quality of all of our work is up to par, all of it is seen and respected as such," Juice said. Raising the bar of "the music itself but also in the events that the scene provides."

Right now, Pittsburgh is doing well because the art scene is flourishing. Me as an artist, I feel like this place as a sanctuary for artists to come to is going to be on the up and up. I’m not trying to run away from Pittsburgh anytime soon.

Although the city thrives creatively, people, especially rappers like Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller, tend to go elsewhere to make names for themselves and come back to visit home when convenient. NVSV wants to be part of the crop of people who stay in the 'Burgh and be the "poster children" for the community. "We need to become the promoters. We're in touch with the culture" he said.

NVSV said he is "hopeful for the future" in Pittsburgh. "By playing, creating and working hard we can inspire the same people that inspire us," Juice said.

ITR: Whenever you were little, who were you listening to?

NVSV: Growing up I listened to a lot of everything. I'm from Baltimore, so there was a lot of house music and a lot of gospel music. With my mom, I grew up Christian. I went to Catholic schools. My mom kept me in private schools because she didn't want me to fall into that crowd which was a crowd I'm familiar with 'cause I grew up in the 'hood. When all of my friends are going to the zone school, and they see me going to school with a suit and tie on, I knew education would always be my way out of the city. When I see people I grew up with pursuing music as their ticket out, I understand that. You do need to get out and school is not for everybody, but I knew that was my way. As far as music, during that transition, I was susceptible to everything. What I listened to really was Jay Z, Lupe, and Kanye. Ludacris too. Ludacris was the first CD I bought. Fuckin' "Chicken and Beer." As of now, we have so many vinyl records here and so many other forms of music that I wasn't aware of before. It's just opened my ear.

ITR: Talk about the artistic freedom you have here at Library Collaborative or the tools that are here and not elsewhere.

NVSV: The perspective of other musicians. I can sit here and twiddle at a beat for hours and I'm like, 'I need these keys.' I can go around the corner and be like, 'Smitty (SMTATOE), can you play these keys for me?' And Smitty is damn near a classically trained pianist. [laughs] I don't have to sample. I can sit here with someone and we bond over music and they express what they're feeling over what I did. It's Library Collaborative because there's a lot of collaboration going on. We don't turn down an opportunity to collaborate. All the projects we've released under the label, every artist that's ever worked here is on each one of those projects. I know a song that I perform called "Entropy" that people love. It was from my last album called "Mystic." It was just a cool song to me and not anything serious. It's me and L K Hae and I just asked him to throw me some guitar lines on it. People love that song and I wasn't expecting them to feel that way towards it. That's a testament to his talent.

ITR: Do you know Geechi P?

NVSV: Yeah.

ITR: He loves that song, "Entropy." We like "Swim At Own Risk" on your "Bamboo" project. What do you like to speak on in your music?

NVSV: It's funny you said that. That song was an inspiration. I've always been NVSV (NASA) and I got it from a college friend. She used to call me NEVA SOBA because every time she saw me I always had a blunt in my ear. I turned that into NVSV since 2012. When I first got here to the studio, I was doing a lot of my own stuff and it was my first time seeing a guitarist and a live drummer. It was new to me so I wanted to do something with that so I created a band called EVRTH (earth). We dismembered, but I wanted to do something different. This genre was neo-soul, Fugees-esque. 'Swim At Your Own Risk' is inspired by a song called 'Oceans' that EVRTH performed. It was written as a double entendre for women as a body of water and as a life force for the world. My writing process is a lot of personal experience, lessons, and self-reflection. I don't get too caught up in the braggadocios. I want people to see what I'm living through.

ITR: What has Pittsburgh meant to you? Were you involved in the creative community in Baltimore before you left to notice a difference or similarity between the two cities?

NVSV: A little bit but it's different when you're doing that as a child to when you're an adult. In Baltimore, I attended the Baltimore School for the Arts until I got kicked out [laughs]. I've always been artistically inclined. So, in Baltimore in 2009, they started cutting art programs. I knew people who didn't have art in school. I'm fortunate to go to private schools so we have art. It was something I felt like I was wasting while I was there and I could have done more with. In Pittsburgh, the Art Institute was my first choice. People are like, 'you chose to come here?' Yeah because I wanted to be an industrial designer and they had Industrial Design. The only other Art Institute that had that was in Orlando so I knew I'd be on the beach all day and I would've failed. It was strategic planning coming to Pittsburgh. When I got here, it was a lot of diversity. I never looked at people as different races because growing up in the inner-city all you see is one race. I remember telling people here I thought white people were exclusive to teachers. [laughs] You know? I didn't think they did anything else in the world. Coming here to Pittsburgh was one of my first times seeing an inter-racial relationship. That opened my eyes to a lot more. They're mixing here and I knew that they've always been mixing. My mom wanted me to go to an H.B.C.U. and I told her that the world isn't black [laughs] and she gave me shit for it. You can't win in a world with all black thinking because that's not what the world is.

ITR: Is Pittsburgh a place you continue to see yourself?

NVSV: Right now, Pittsburgh is doing well because the art scene is flourishing. Me as an artist, I feel like this place as a sanctuary for artists to come to is going to be on the up and up. I'm not trying to run away from Pittsburgh anytime soon. They're going to be poster children and I feel like we are in a position to do that. You guys also. I see you guys everywhere. Reviving Real just to name a couple. I'll be here for a little bit. If I do go anywhere, it'll be overseas. My end goal is to be in Africa. I do music differently from why other people do music. Of course for the money, but what I want to do with my money is different from other people. I still have that industrial design background in mind. Once I do make these millions on millions, my plan is to buy land and start a self-sufficient community, hopefully, a city one day. I have blueprints and shit already. I want to build a city inside of a mountain. I have some architecture friends. I just need to meet some engineers. That's another thing I can attribute to Pittsburgh, meeting people from different fields of studies. I can definitely say thank you to Keep Pittsburgh Dope and them. Just for rubbing shoulders with aeronautics guys like last time I was at Creatives Drink. I met this guy who designed airplanes. We're just being drunk together. It's an experience you can't get anywhere else, and if you can get it somewhere else it needs to be publicized. It's the new age fraternal system or partnerships for life.

ITR: Do you feel like you can achieve your artistic goals in Pittsburgh? Do you think the city moves fast enough? Things happen here but people don't see trends quick enough.

NVSV: Right now, no. But I'm hopeful for the future. It's a big city small town type aspect, but it's like, you ever see the movies with the high school football star of the small town and he doesn't make it to the league? But he goes on to own the local car dealership. [laughs] That's the hero though. That's what Pittsburgh is. They want that local star to come up, but they want him to come up and stay here.

ITR: How do we keep people here? When you look at Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller, they came up here and left. But, when you look at these Jimmy Wopo interviews, he's talking about keeping the attention in the city. How can people like yourself keep the community here so that attention stays here?

NVSV: We need to become the promoters. Right now, there's a monopoly on that with Drusky Entertainment and Opus One. I won't even call them promoters. They tell you who is coming to town and they tell you to sell these tickets. They don't promote anything themselves because it's up to the artist to do it. When I'm telling people about 24hrs and people are like, 'who the fuck is that' I'm like 'bro you have no idea.' Then 24 is hitting me up like, 'bro this shit's not sold out.' 'I don't know what you want me to do. I sold these 50 tickets they gave me.' I feel like promoting isn't here in the city. We need a promotion agency to bring these popular acts and that's why they are skipping over Pittsburgh.

More from NVSV:

+ "You have to remember people are sponges."

+ Check out the collaboration with Chicago rapper Qari.

+ "Art is all about risk."

+ "I like when producers drop albums because you can see what they want to hear."

+ "Producing for people is hard when they tell you 'make a beat like this.'"

+ "I love Pittsburgh for what it's given me."

[NVSV & Library Collaborative Video Tracklist in Order: "Déteste (Here's To You Instrumental)" by Yung Mulatto, "UDN2K" by Saani Mac, "No Lil Pups" by Pk Delay, "FlyClassWeirdo (Intro)" by R.D.P., and "Drop" by SWGLTUUF. 'Burgh Noise, of course.]

GLD x Taylor Gang House Party and Pop-Up Shop by Alex Young

A post shared by •• GLD •• (@shopgld) on

Local Pittsburgh legend Dan Folger has seen his stock rise since being Wiz Khalifa's photographer and visual director to diamond and gold dealer. Now, he's enjoying his success and furthering his GLD brand in the process.

Folger joins Wiz for a Taylor Gang x GLD pop-up shop located on the South Side's East Carson Street. They offer apparel and jewelry with TGOD and Pirates themes coming in strong through the Pittsburgh P's pendants. The experience is timely as Wiz visits his hometown for his performance at Thrival music festival on Saturday.

Last night, Shop GLD and the Taylor Gang hosted a house party at the pop-up shop. Gang was there with a handful of guests, like trapstar Jimmy Wopo and party master Flack who was on-hand to catch the moment. During the turn up, Wiz and Wopo debuted the track they made together that's juiced by Sledgren production. The shit rides and the night ended with police stepping through a shattered glass door. It got too lit in the 'Burgh, but that's what the culture needs. Catch pieces on Folger's Snapchat (danfolger).

Visit the shop up through October 1 and get tickets for Wiz at Thrival here. Be ready for that Wiz x Wopo track to shake the city up.

Shop GLD x Taylor Gang Pop-Up Shop

1015 East Carson St

Pittsburgh, PA 15203