Steve McKie has been around. The local drummer has played with Musiq Soulchild, Joss Stone and Robert Glasper, among others. He’s worked in the studio with John Legend; he’s produced hits for Jill Scott.
Last October, he joined forces with Love My Life Entertainment, run by local entrepreneur Matt Sawyer and artist development and staffing firm BBE, headed by Adam Blackstone, musical director to megastars. (Blackstone’s resume includes work with Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, Maroon 5 and Eminem, for starters.) Together, they founded Beat Street Jam, a monthly jam session with a familiar Philly recipe: Bring musicians from different sides of the scene together, whether they make hip hop, jazz, whatever the flavor. Mix heavy hitters with up-and-comers. Let it stew.
McKie, also a member of the musical collective Killiam Shakespeare, spoke to us before rehearsal preparing for tonight’s jam. On the bill, they’ve got DJ/producer OddKidOut and rapper TheBulBey. Producer Dilemma will spin, and singer Aaron Camper will host. We asked McKie about Beat Street and the musical moment we’re in right now. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How does your jam fit in with the current scene?
It was kind of like a joke where a couple years ago Lil Wayne came into town, and he complained there’s nothing to do in Philly. We kinda took offense to that. There’s a bunch to do in Philly. Sometimes it just falls on different nights when you’re here, but for the most part, we have some of the best musicians and musical directors in the world that are playing with all different artists. The only thing that we were lacking was having just a really good jam session where there’s a really good sound in the venue, there’s a good vibe. We just wanted to be able to do something really cool like that.
At the same time, we wanted to keep our band Killiam Shakespeare moving, so it was just the right time to kill two birds with one stone. (Note: McKie leads the band with keyboardist Corey Bernhard.)
We wanted to fill a void. I think we have. I see it moving to a bigger platform. We can take the Beat Street Jam to a different city— L.A., New York or something like that. It’ll be its own festival, or its own stage in its own right.
How do make sure it’s a good mix each time?
It’s really about just getting a good a brand of music to showcase. Whether it’s someone local or someone from out of town, the whole idea is just to pick out good music.
A lot of people are people we had relationships with, friends in the industry that we know. A lot of people are brand new artists coming up and they have a lot of really cool stuff to share with people, and they don’t necessarily have the right stage to perform it on. We’re trying to make that where everybody can come and introduce their music.
Philly artists — DJ Haram, Moor Mother, and Bri Steves — are regularly getting looks from national press. Do you think that something special is happening right now in the city?
I do think there are special things that are happening right now, and there’s some really talented people here. It’s time for it. We’re always going to be a musical town that produces all kind of acts from DJs to rappers. And I think there’s a new line of people that’s ready to go out and do their thing. It’s always like that. It’s nothing new under the sun. It’s like a revolving kind of circle.
What do you think the music scene in Philly needs?
Everybody’s kind of surrounded by their own teams and cliques, or whatever like that. It’s as simple as that. It’s a competition and the competition has led to things like ‘Oh, we got our own band,’ ‘we got our own jam session.’ What people forget to realize is that we’re all doing this together.
The thing that the guys did back in the day— they just kind of stuck together with everything. They had one camp… Nowadays we aren’t doing that. We should do more of that.
…People like the Roots, Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, Bilal. I think what they did what stuck around one hub, it was the Black Lily, it was Ahmir’s (Questlove’s) jam sessions at his house.
If people leave the ego at the door, [it’ll] open up a lot of room to help people evolve more.
Beat Street Jam is tonight at Silk City. Open mic sign-up starts at 9. Tickets are $10.