Music Feature

The Sounds of Science

by Ryan O'Connell
Getting to know the Philly rapper Khemist

“I don’t know what’s next,” the rapper says. “Something’s next, though. I’m not sure what though.”

The rapper is from North Philadelphia and is currently home for the summer, on break from Hampton University in Virginia where he is a junior. The rapper has a plan for these next few months, but unlike the majority of college kids let loose for a couple warm, summer months, it does not include the beach. The rapper is going to play some shows. The rapper is going to hone his craft. The rapper will be doing work.

The rapper is Khemist- young, ambitious and frustrated.

While on winter break and over two days spent dug in at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, Khemist vented his frustrations. He let loose about problems with the music business, with school, with family, with everything and came out with Death to Wack Rappers, his third mix tape. It’s a sprawling and entertaining work of intellectual and clever hip hop aided by some balling up and coming local talents like Mic Stew and Selina Carrera and hosted by Black Thought of the legendary Roots crew, who Khemist hooked up with through a mutual friend. Khemist invited the Roots’ emcee down to the studio, confessed his lifelong admiration of him and then asked him to host this new joint he was working on.

But wait…what exactly is the difference between a mix tape and an album? Confused white dudes from Maine want to know.

“A mix tape is just where you’re at,” Khemist says. “It’s a collage of art.”

Plus you don’t need to worry about getting permission for samples. Bonus.

The gloves come off with the mix tape. The spit and polish is saved for albums. Mix tapes are products of the moment and the moment for Khemist was one where there were too many rhymes and ideas kicking around his head to sit on them, to wait any longer. The beauty of the mix tape is the immediacy of it, how it can be a pure expression of what a rapper is feeling at that time. Khemist was feeling frustration and anger. He was disgusted with the clowns he saw junking up the hip hop landscape both locally and nationally. For every Kendrick Lamar or Khemist’s favorite rapper, Lauryn Hill, there are a dozen jokers out there, who in Khemist’s opinion, are looking for the easy route to success and lazy when it comes to content and word selection.

“Some are just desperate to have it now, instead of being patient and working at it.”

Those, my friend, are the wack rappers.

With Death to Wack Rappers, Khemist was on a mission; a mission to prove that despite the nonsense and no-talent ass clowns out there crowding up stages and hoarding microphones, real hip hop still existed.

“Hip hop is still here in Philly,” he says. “We still got it. It ain’t go nowhere.”

Short of going all in on the Sixers, Khemist is one hundred percent Philly and happily brings it with him when he’s down at school, where he’s rocked the mic at formals, home comings and Spring Flings. Back home, he’s constantly inspired by the world around him, most notably the world on board the wild moving jungle of Septa buses and trains. Khemist is also a friend of the homeless man and schooled by them in conversations, provided they aren’t wacked out on drugs or crazy or both.

“Homeless people inspire me a lot. I enjoy talking to them,” he says. “I think they’re very wise people, the ones that actually know what they are talking about. Sometimes they open my eyes about things I might not even know.”

Khemist is a young buck with years ahead of him- plenty of time to kick around with homeless people, be entertained by Septa, concoct music scene takeover plans, and get his diploma. But he is not making his ultimate goal a secret.

“I’m that person coming for everybody’s spot,” he says.

You can download Death to Wack Rappers here.

Khemist plays the TLA in Philadelphia Saturday May 26th with Mic Stew, Dosage, Wyld Life and more.

Photos by Ron Winfield.

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