Interview: MH the Verb and Arthouse95

MH the Verb is a busy guy. Between his DJ residency in New York City and community involvement in educating artists on financial independence, MH has evolved from being a solo artist into a multi-hyphenate that includes educator, activist, band member art curator in no particular order.

His curating though, has come to full fruition via his Philly-based collective, Arthouse95. Working closely alongside musician GR Stone and engineer Cylon, MH and company’s main goal is to weave together a community that encompasses growth, change and progression through art and multimedia. Their first project, “The Owl EP” bridges together hip-hop’s golden era tradition with new-age electronic soul to make a sound that resonates sonically and lyrically.

For every lesson learned, MH has five more to internalize and interpret. By way of open platform with people from all walks and creeds, Arthouse95 portrays collaboration in the most effective way possible and it shows in their music, from artwork to production. Check out our interview with MH below and peep the full project.

The 5th Element Mag: For our readers who aren’t familiar with the particulars, can you introduce yourself and let us know what you do?

MH the Verb:My name is MH the Verb. I am a DJ/MC/producer based out of Philadelphia. Right now, I’m eating a bagel. Last night, I made beats all night. Thursday night, our band rocked a show at Underground Arts (in Philadelphia) and then all this week I’ll be doing financial presentations to artists.

5th: Can you tell us more about your band, ArtHouse95?

MH: Arthouse95 really just evolved into me really wanting to work with musicians to make a complete sound in the same way I would DJ. I wanted create a vibe that would be a lot more organic, in terms of putting together different instrumentations based off of the studio productions I was doing. (Almost) kind of re-interpreting that music with a jam aspect to keep improvisational levels high.

What we’re doing now really is mixing the elements of electronic music with different variations of jazz, funk and soul. A lot of it is creating a new sound that’s embracing in a lot of different artists, but including visuals into that. Live painting, live dancing, live projections, anything like that to incorporate with the instrumentation.

5th: How is being in a band different than DJing?

MH:  I was always a big fan of the Roots and I remember I watching all these bands in college, being amazed by the organic nature of the band. When I was growing up, I was always working with other musician. I’m not trained in anything so it was always dope to see different people who knew music in different ways.

5th: How does Arthouse95 weave visuals into its performances?

MH: We’re trying to create a community here. We’re trying to harness that and create a space, mindset and idea where people can feel welcome to come and collaborate openly. The artist Alexandra Amenta came to our show and did a live painting which became the artwork for the “Owl EP”.

We want our events to be a whole collaborative interactive art exhibit. We’ll have different artists setting up installations within the space and turn into a whole art gallery. And we’ll have live musicians, MCs, DJs and dancers. When you walk into that space, we’re taking it and reimagined it and redesigned it and now as a person who’s entering the space, you can interact with it and everyone and get a piece of them.

5th: Your last album was called “The Balloon Guide”, what’s the story behind that title?

MH: The whole concept is around this idea – the Balloon Up theory – which is kind of based off of the movie “Up”. It’s like if you’re given a balloon, then you’re just holding one balloon. But the more balloons people give you, the more of a chance you have to actually fly and soar. Everybody you meet, you’re exchanging these balloons, you’re sharing their concepts, ideas, their times. They’re sharing what makes them unique, what gives them drive. You build and feed off of that and incorporate that into your experience and message. The aspect of storytelling doesn’t always have to come from within, it can come from the outside. It can come from the communal, explaining how the process effects many versus just yourself. I think there’s a power in that.

5th: What kind of balloons were you trying to give out through the work on “Owl EP”?

MH: There’s a lot of movements and things that are going on in the world, that unfortunately right now aren’t being spoken about in mainstream hip-hop. And it’s not being put out there in a way for people to grasp onto.

There’s different messages within songs like “World Tribe” and “She Prefers Jazz,” where she talks about how we perceive wealth and success, race and culture. In the song “Better Way,” I initially wrote that as a poem that I was writing about my relationship with my brother who is in the Navy. I wanted to do something that could tell my story with my brother not in a judgmental way, I just want to tell what’s going on.

5th: How did you select the songs for the EP?

MH: We picked those three songs mostly because they were three different songs from three different producers who are working on the Arthouse95 project. This is an EP to enhance and build on the influences of golden era of hip-hop – Native Tongues, A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Little Brother – we want to be the next design and architect in that family tree.

MH Live photo by Crystal Engel

5th: It’s pretty clear your music touches upon social and political issues, do you feel like hip-hop is becoming a lot more political recently?

MH: I think there’s a movement out there that started with the election of President Obama and the way it’s almost been a gateway for people to bring about change. Look at how social media has brought people together and is feeding into this new widespread of intelligence. I was watching “How High” the other day and its funny to just see the shifts over the years: You have a movie like “How High” back then and today, you have something like “Dope”. It’s funny to see how what is considered cool can change so drastically.

Now it’s cool to be political, it’s become more acceptable to talk about these subjects. Unfortunately, not everyone embraces that and we want to be on that level where we’re injecting intellect and awareness into our music. There’s so many songs that can be written on topics that just aren’t talked about.

5th: Hip-hop isn’t new to being political or socially aware, I feel like it just became stagnant at some point after the mid-90s, and all of a sudden that consciousness is seeing a rejuvenation.

MH: To me, Kendrick Lamar is king in that regard. There’s a lot of artists out there doing positive things out there but they don’t have to be so in-your-face about it. I think Anderson Paak is doing great things creatively, but there’s still a level of social awareness in what he does. Terrace Martin is doing dope stuff and then you’ll always have your Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman. There’s a ton out there and it always doesn’t have to be in-your-face, it just has to be creative. You look at Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper, the stuff they’re doing is great, but it’s still also different.

Nina Tabios

Nina Smoove aka Champagne Ninang. Certified hooligan. $F Bay Area born and bred.

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