Genre Bender, Blender
PDA struts to the beat of a different drummer with crossover Hip Hop, Rap and Rock.
BY GARY HIZER
Whose face is that on the cover?
Study it; memorize it now for you’ll know it well by the end of the year. It belongs to PDA, the latest heir apparent to Tulsa’s Hip Hop throne.
He is a study in contrasts: humble in person, yet boastful on stage; a bittersweet mix of youthful exuberance and world-weary caution; an artist who is quick to help others, but out to prove he needs no one else.
He has proven himself to the Hip Hop community while mesmerizing rock kids and has thrown out the rule book, only to write his own and step forward with the consummate Hip Hop opus.
Even his name tells a tale. PDA: Public Display of Afflection (He defines afflection as the struggle between love and hate). It’s written all over his music, all over his lyrics: The classic battle between good and evil.
You can try to get to know him, but understand you’ll only see what he decides to reveal. You may very well learn more about him from his lyrics than anything he chooses to tell you; yet through it all, you know this kid is the real deal. He may be young, but he’s got game like no other and will make a name, not only for himself, but perhaps for others in Tulsa’s Hip Hop community as well.
To sit down with P.D.A. and talk about his background, it doesn’t sound much different than that of many other kids growing up at the time. Born in Tulsa as Anthony Jenkins, he was uprooted and moved a lot during his early years, relocating to Shreveport, LA, and then bouncing around the California area before his Mom moved them back to Cleveland, OK at the age of 3.
Recalling his youth in Cleveland, the complexity of PDA’s character begins to reveal itself, a balance of innocence and bitterness and a picture of a young kid coming to grips with the real world.
“Cleveland was awesome – racist as hell. Me and my brother were the only black kids — well, half black kids — that were there at all. Really the only ones of any other race in Cleveland – and it was just so awesome living there because everybody loved to tell us what we were” laughs PDA.
“But we, me and my brother, didn’t even know what race was when we were little, you know? So when people would drive by and be like: ‘Stupid Ni… blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!’ We didn’t even know what it meant. My mom would get all pissed off, but we were all, like, ‘Oh, Hey!’ (waving). The kids were awesome, though. We never went without friends. It was just, like, parents and the older kids and stuff like that. …But yeah, that place was awesome.”
Growing up in a small town and learning about racism and unacceptance isn’t uncommon. Nevertheless, you feel the effects as a child. Even if you don’t fully understand, you know that somehow you’re, well, different.
By the time he was 9, the family returned to Tulsa: again, nothing earth-shattering or unusual. In fact, to hear PDA tell it, his childhood was downright normal. What he fails to really mention, however, is his involvement in musical theater. The average teenager doesn’t just take up with the local opera company. PDA, on the other hand, joined the Tulsa Youth Opera as a young teen and went on to perform in a number of off Broadway productions, including Aida and Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.
That’s where PDA’s road diverged and he developed a love of performing. Appearing in front of an audience, especially one as large as 1,500, would intimidate some individuals. Not PDA — he reveled in it and thus began his love affair with the stage.
PDA’s name started popping up more frequently this year, leading many people to think that he’s a newcomer to the local scene, but that’s not the case. “I’ve been performing since I was 16 – I’m 22 now…” he responds, when asked how long he’s been at it. Once he got into the game, he dove in headlong, putting out his first CD, the home recorded effort Prologue, nearly five years ago at age 17.
That first disc, as rudimentary as it was, showed a kid with initiative and promise. PDA readily admits “It was my first time ever to do anything and I didn’t know much about — well, anything. I didn’t know much about how to record. I didn’t know much about how to make beats. All I knew was that I found one system that worked. I got a computer and computer mic … it was that simple.”
Being uneducated in recording equipment and techniques as well as mixing and mastering, PDA readily admits that “it sounded like shit.” He also concedes, however, that considering his lack of knowledge or experience at the time “…it was good for what it was. Even back then, when I would play shows when I was 16, 17, some of the people were actually: ‘Man, this is really good. It’s different'” says PDA.
There’s that word again. Different. Sort of a back-handed compliment, but a validation nonetheless. It’s also a term that PDA could identify with and began to wear as a badge of honor. “I always got ‘different'” he says. “Which is always pretty much what I’m aiming for, so…”
That initial, home-recorded foray into the world of music production laid the foundation for things to come. In hindsight, considering all of the creative details surrounding the project, from the title and concept down to the packaging (PDA printed, folded, stuffed, and shrink-wrapped the sleeves himself, not wanting to use standard jewel cases), the CD was the first indication that this was an artist bound and determined to do things his way (and all the way)–or not at all.
The next step in PDA’s ascent into the music business came via a stop at Big Wolf Entertainment (BWE), where he was retained to create beats for other artists.
During that time he learned his way around a recording studio and how to use all of the latest programming software. He also made the most of his access to the recording studio and began work on what would be his second disc, the ill-fated Act I: The Next Concept.
Eventually, PDA left Big Wolf to strike out on his own and when he did, the recordings for Act I got caught up in legalities.
The departure from BWE wasn’t completely amicable when he explains it this way: “I started to progress with the second album, but I never realized it because, umm — it had some of the artists that were on (the Big Wolf) label, (whom it) had signed . . .
“After I left, (BWE) didn’t want me to put those artists on the album, so I was just like… you know; I’m not even going to worry about it. I’ll just start working on another album.”
Time lost, but experienced gained, though the associated tracks (rumored to be nearly 25 in total) never officially got to see the light of day. However, it allowed PDA to develop his recording knowledge and helped him build connections within the local music community.
If you’re a local Hip Hop fan, chances are, even if you haven’t heard a PDA song, you’ve heard his work. Over the past three years he’s become THE go-to guy in Tulsa, providing beats for a number of area hip hop artists.
“I’ve done about 300 beats in the last year and I either gave away or sold all 300 of them” says PDA. In fact, when including his time at BWE, he estimates that he’s created over 1,000 beats for other artists.
While it may seem crazy to spread your work so thin and risk over saturation, there is a method to PDA’s madness. “I do that just so that way, if anyone ever asks, (the answer is) ‘Well, PDA made that…'” he says. “And if it helps get (my) name in their head, even if they’ve never heard my music (they’ll think) ‘well, that was an alright beat’, you know?”
PDA’s work with other local artists extends to production as well, as he has recently collaborated with artists like Philippian, Cazualty, CoCo Jones, Ja’Quay and Kawnar, to name just a few. Perhaps the artist PDA has been most closely associated with over the past couple of years, though, is his friend and protégé, Trip C.
When Trip’s name comes up, it elicits a grin and an immediate response: “Yeah — Trip’s my (expletive) boy!”
Trip C, widely known for his over the top and comedic X-rated rapping, is a close friend with whom PDA has worked extensively, ultimately hoping to land him a deal with Psychopathic Records.
Over the past couple of years, Trip’s status has risen tremendously, undoubtedly due in no small part to PDA’s input and assistance, and he’s even landed opening slots for extreme rappers like Tech 9 and Twizted on their local tour stops.
While PDA continues to support his friend (the two are currently working on material for Trip’s next CD), he also realizes that now it’s time to step out and push his own project.
Once it was time to get down to work on his new CD, PDA was certain of one thing: it was time to get focused and knock it out. By his own estimations, he spent nearly a year creating Prologue and closer to 18 months recording Act I.
With those previous projects PDA acknowledges that the amount of time spent working on the album took away from the overall flow and exposed some inconsistencies as his writing progressed over the course of the recording sessions. This time he was determined to do it quicker and create a more cohesive record.
“With this one, I was like ‘Man, I’m just going to sit down, 3 months, and get it all done as soon as possible.’ So that way…” he continues, “it all has the same feel, I’m still vibin’ on the same level, the same plane.”
“This one, it just worked out a lot better than the other two”, he concludes. “Like, the other two were real choppy…”
For PDA, the wait between albums, combined with the compressed recording process, also allowed him to focus more lyrically. As an artist who admittedly writes from his own experiences, he was able to draw from the period between albums and “squish them together and make it seem more structured, more planned.”
Now don’t begin to think that the efforts to remain focused and create a more consistent album resulted in a group of tracks that all sound the same; that’s definitely not the case.
The resulting CD, Act II: A Different Victim, displays a variety of styles that could fit multiple formats. From house and dance to pop, Hip Hop, R&B, and old school funk, the music is all over the board. The disc even sports samples from Rob Zombie (“Lame”) and a very Beatle-esque tune (“Dwell on the Past”) as well as a very straight-forward ballad (“Good Night, Sweet Girl”) with only piano and vocals. Lyrically, however, the songs all link in a manner that ties the entire album together as one cohesive work.
When constructing the new disc, PDA not only made use of his expanded production talents, but also his growing network of associates and friends. While he assumed complete control of the writing and production duties, he also made room for featured appearances by other local artists like Big Hank, Coco Jones, and Infamous, among others.
Clocking in at 17 tracks and nearly 75 minutes, Act II is something of a mini-epic, but it works. When discussing the record with Matt “Lip” Stevens, who is helping release the CD, he admitted to initially questioning the length.
“When we first met, I asked how many songs and he said 17. I was like, 17? Why so many? Any of those you want to cut? Any of those filler?” says Matt. “Because most people, when you say ‘Which ones are filler?’ they kind of hem-haw around, you know? But he’s like ‘No, they’re all there for a reason’ and after listening to it, I understand why.”
While much attention has been paid to PDA’s work in the recording studio (and rightly so), that’s only one aspect of his artistic genius. This young man truly comes alive on stage.
If you’ve seen him at out a show (and you probably have), you likely didn’t even notice or recognize him, except that there was a tall guy milling around back stage or hovering around the perimeter of the room. When he hits the stage, however, the switch is flipped. He commands the attention of everyone in the room and you feel as if he’ll come right off the stage and collar you if you don’t give it to him.
He’s a Hip Hop artist through and through, but his appeal transcends genres. He has an on-stage intensity that’s palpable, that makes everyone respond. Even the rock kids who normally wouldn’t give a rapper a second glance stop for PDA and credit him as the real deal.
Over the past year PDA has thrown a new wrinkle into his show by performing with a live drummer. It’s a move that adds another dimension to the performance and makes it feel even more spontaneous.
Initially, when Chris Cramberg, the drummer from Optimistic To A Fault and an acquaintance with whom Jenkins had attended high school, approached PDA about performing with a band, he balked at the idea.
“I didn’t need a band because, being a producer, I make all my own music, I am kind of selfish…” says PDA. “I don’t want to actually have someone else play my music. I’d rather just hear it because I made it.”
“But I was like ‘it would be kinda cool to have a drummer — to do, like, drums over the tracks'” PDA continues. “And he was like ‘Yeah, I think that would be a pretty cool idea’.”
After that initial conversation the two decided to try it out and clicked immediately. After barely a couple weeks of practice they played their first live show, which wasn’t without its trials.
PDA admits that the live arrangement sounded terrible at first, but they quickly learned how to place the monitors and drums in order to optimize their sound and they’ve been playing together ever since.
Cramberg is now an integral part of PDA’s live show. In fact, according to PDA, “Sometimes I refuse to do shows without him, because I don’t want to be just another rapper and I think, with the drummer, it makes me — it’s just a little bit more…”
At this stage in his career, PDA flaunts his uniqueness. It’s something he strives for, whether it’s in his lyrics or musical direction, performing with a drummer, or even in the way he dresses. (He admittedly dresses preppy or rock for the Hip Hop shows and Hip Hop for the rock shows, specifically to make a statement and be different.)
Local clubgoers know PDA, but the more sedentary radio listeners have only recently come to take notice of PDA’s talents, especially as local station KJMM (KJamz, 105.3FM) picked up the first single, “Addicted”, and added it to their rotation. Soon enough, word was spreading and PDA had spread to three markets: Tulsa, OKC, and Lawton.
“Yeah, I was getting played in Oklahoma City”, says PDA. “I was getting played on 12 different radio stations around the Midwest because Terry Monday (Program Director for KJamz, part of the Perry Broadcasting organization) hooked it up and it was in rotation…”
“Addicted” wasn’t just added to an arbitrary “playlist”, either. This was serious airtime, mixed into the regular rotation with the national acts and getting two and three spins a day.
Next (for Tulsa, at least), PDA landed on local rock station KMYZ (The Edge, Z104.5FM) by way of the Homegroan show. As local rock fans know, Homegroan host Jay Pitts jumped on the track “Get Together” and publicly praised PDA not only for his recorded tracks, but also for his live show.
The real surprise for PDA wasn’t that he got the spins so much as which tracks The Edge jumped on. After creating edits of 11 tracks that he thought could fit on radio in various formats, PDA presented the whole batch for consideration and let it roll.
“I told Amber and Jay ‘Hey, just pick whichever ones you guys think would be best.’ I told them which ones I was pushing, but I was like: ‘whatever you think would be a good idea.’ …then they played the most Hip Hop track I had on the whole album.”
Not only did PDA get a positive response on Sunday night’s Homegroan show, the track also landed on “The 9 o’clock cockfight”, a weeknight call in show that posts two new songs against each other and allows listeners to call in and vote for their favorite.
The Homegroan connection with rock listeners was no fluke. Not only did PDA get prime-time spins on the rock station, he actually won the listener vote his first two nights on the air (beating out AFI and +44 before losing to The Fray). The wheels were in motion people were starting to take notice.
While winning the Spot Awards was a great way to cap off the year, it’s far from the peak of PDA’s ascent. Granted, it’s a great honor, and for many people the pinnacle of a local performing career. For PDA, however, it only signals the beginning – it’s merely the opening shot in the PDA show.
Act II: A Different Victim will drop next month and the release party is scheduled for Saturday, February 10 at The Otherside. Plans are currently being set in motion for PDA to perform with a full band (Stepping out on a limb and expanding his live show even further) and you can expect plenty of special guests to make appearances in order to recreate the new tracks as closely as possible and truly bring them to life.
Experimental Hip Hop/rockers Vito Ninefingers will open the show and admission will be $10. More details will be forthcoming and Urban Tulsa Weekly will have additional information as the date draws nearer.
The Next Stage
If 2006 was PDA’s grand entrance, 2007 will be his coming out party. Not only will the new CD finally be released, but a joint arrangement between PDA’s own Square Soft label and Fat Lip Records (as an imprint of Yeah Siam) will not only put the disc in local stores, but land it graduated regional distribution and electronic distribution on national outlets like iTunes.
And with more shows in the works and PDA planning on expanding his regional fan base, Act II: A Different Victim could start making an impact outside of Green Country by this spring.
Why should we expect PDA to see success outside of the circle he’s already established himself in? Besides his determination and “Can’t lose” attitude?
The first reason is something that was mentioned earlier: he’s able to cross genre boundaries and win over nearly any audience. Hip Hop audiences, rock audiences, even emo, screamo and hardcore kids stop and pay notice when PDA takes the stage. It’s something that Stevens explained best when I asked him why he picked up PDA as one of his first releases for his Fat Lip imprint.
PDA is what Stevens considers a cross-over artist, able to appeal to a broad spectrum of listeners. As Matt explains it “…He’s Hip Hop (in) format, but he can go to a rock club and the crowd digs him, he wins them over.
“That’s what music, to me, is all about: crossing racial, cultural boundaries, religious boundaries. Music is inspiration for life so when I see any artist cross those boundaries, especially more than one boundary, it gets my attention.”
Second is the potential of the new record itself. A Different Victim isn’t an average Hip Hop album by any means. Musically it mixes styles and genres to fit into multiple formats. “Addicted” belongs on pop and urban radio. “Bounce It Off” will fit in at dance clubs anywhere and “Dollar Bill”, if it gets any exposure, will end up in strip clubs, right next to Ying Yang Twins, without a second thought.
More than airplay and format, though, is the subject matter. Behind the big beats and huge hooks are lyrics that address not only love and lust, but assimilation, self-esteem, distrust and abusive relationships. It’s not so much a concept album as a morality play, the timeless struggle between good and evil, and PDA doesn’t try to always make himself out as the good guy. In fact, he’s just as likely (or more so) to play the role of devil as angel.
That’s not to say that the album is without its faults. The lyrics, on occasion, still skirt clichés and often resort to cursing or over-the-top braggadocio, perhaps in the name of “street cred”. It’s obvious, however, that PDA’s got greater ambitions and a vision beyond these pitfalls.
This time around, you’d be wise to chalk those few short-comings up to youthful exuberance and a desire to prove he can do it all. Considering this is PDA’s first major release, though, that can be forgiven.
Put a couple more years and the maturity that comes with them under his belt and Act III should see the latest prodigy become the new master. All good leaders have followers, so it will be no surprise to see him bring a few protégés and peers along for the ride. This time next year, however, no one will be surprised to see him leading the pack.
Remember that face. And find him before he finds you.