At the end of the year, how many people can say they’ve fulfilled the New Year’s resolutions they made 365 days before?
North Philly-based hip-hop artist Alexander Charles and his dedicated team of producers, managers and videographers can.
Twelve months ago, Charles, best known for the 2017 single “Go Get That Money,” proposed a challenge to his crew. What if, he asked the group of friends in their late 20s, they attempted to put out a new original song — accompanied by original visuals — every single week for a year?
“At first we all thought ‘This is nuts,'” said Frankie Santella, one of Charles’ managers, “but then we mentally and verbally committed to Al’s vision, and figured that we’d come up with the process along the way.”
And so they did. As of this writing, they’ve pulled off 50 of 52 weekly minute-long spots of lyrically clever music paired with video swimming in evocative imagery that ranges from effervescent Warhol to grungy punk-rock monochrome.
It wasn’t easy, Charles said, but it sure was satisfying — and it was also a big hit with fans.
A ‘real-time experience’
Key to avoiding burnout was letting the project be fun and spontaneous, Charles said, and treating it less as a business obligation and more like a personal diary.
“I wanted to make the ’52 Weeks’ project feel like it was a real-time kind of experience,” Charles explained, “rather than a compilation of songs that I had stashed away.”
There’s been nearly no downtime for him, producer Bij Lincs and videographers Ian Hirst-Hermans and Mike Oberlies since last January — except, per Charles, to watch football on Sundays.
Alternating between streetscapes and corner stores, sunflowers and convertibles, they traveled the city — and the country — to find enticing backdrops for the audio journal. There were weeks when Charles was hopping a last-minute flight to Los Angeles and others where he was running underneath the El or fraternizing with fans at the Linc.
When time or budget was running low, producers put the artist in front of green screens, letting effects, saturation and lighting do the magic of sucking the viewer into a vortex of nonlinear plot, esoteric pop culture references and jagged, geometric designs.
Leaving fans thirsty for more
Goals of the mentally exhaustive cycle of writing, workshopping, storyboarding, beat-mixing, filming, singing and editing week after week were twofold. One was to “inject new life” into the fan base.
Mission accomplished, because while the videos, which were released on Charles’ YouTube and Instagram accounts, never really notched giant view counts, they had listeners clamoring for more. Almost every video, when it concluded after just 60 seconds, produced a comment frenzy on Instagram, with people begging for “the full song.”
As of now, there’s no set plan for building on any of these specific tracks. “We’re going to take a lot of value and the lessons we learned from this project and apply it to a full-length album,” Charles said, “and some full-length videos, maybe a short film.”
The other goal was personal: Charles left the hip-hop group Ground Up in 2016, and felt he hadn’t really explored his full capacity as an individual lyricist, rapper and musician.
“My priority beforehand was always … to contribute, usually, to someone else’s idea,” he said. “But now I’m spending more time in writing a whole song, rather than just a verse, and it’s been so liberating to be able to craft something from scratch.”
Though the others in the crew have all brought to the table their skills, persistence, support, camaraderie and time, the ball was ultimately always in Charles’ court.
“At the end of the day,” manager Santanella said, “Al has the final say in where we’re going and what we’re doing with his songs.”
You can watch all the videos in the project here and attend the closing celebration at the REC Room (2301 N. 9th St.) on Wednesday, Dec. 19 to catch a live performance, Q&A session and free drinks, starting at 8 p.m.