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Local Coffeehouse Showcases Philly's Finest in Hip-Hop

Led by renowned Philly Rapper, Kuf Knotz, MH the Verb and Blaqmel gave Burlap and Bean a reason to break the listening room silence on Aug. 20.

NEWTOWN SQUARE— has always strived to bring music from the city to the 'burbs. Back in May, renowned Philly rapper headlined an amazing show at the Newtown Square coffeehouse to a less than packed house. But on Saturday, Aug. 20, he was back with and MH the Verb and this time people got the message.

Blaqmel, who performed on Knotz's pervious show, returned to the stage with his signature soul and strong vocal range. His sound is a combination of influences such as Stevie Wonder, Sam Cook, Miles Davis, Living Colour, Steve Perry, Prince, and recent Burlap and Bean performer

"I want to show people that I respect where I came from while at the same time giving them something new to think about," said Blaqmel, a.k.a Melvin McKnight, a New Brunswick, NJ, resident.

He opened with a cover of Counting Crows' "Round Here" and described it as a tribute to Amy Winehouse. The original track is somber, but Blaqmel's vocals added an even stronger dynamic of sadness. While his voice is what blows audiences away, it's his guitar skills that needs to be addressed. On one particular song, Blaqmel appeared to be using his Tiffany blue acoustic guitar as a bass, a drum and a guitar. His lyrics are classic R&B with an updated story.

"I don't want to pressure you, I just can't stop thinking of you. I just gotta know your name and sometime maybe we can hook up, hang out, or just chill," he sang in one of his songs.

Blaqmel can make the sounds of simple "oohs" and "aahs" into an art form with the complexity of his vocal range–it can sound magical and he doesn't even have to say a word.

The next performer MH the Verb had a treat for audiences. He just received the first printing of his new album, Cult Classic, and was selling the new tracks to the local coffeehouse audience before the release date of Aug. 23.

Verb invited the audience to his album release party, which will be held on Aug. 31 at World Cafè Live in Philadelphia during this month's Boombox Collective–a free, all-ages show at World Cafè Live to help highlight local Philadelphia and national musical acts as well as artisan vendors selling jewelry, fashion, and crafts hosted by Knotz.

There is also a planned video shoot for that day. Verb has made a few headlines in his hometown of Pittsburgh. In 2005, his previous band was named best band in Pittsburgh by the Pitt News (University of Pittsburgh). Music isn't his only passion though, Verb has stayed politically active as well. He has participated in organizations such as LiNK (Liberation in North Korea), Barrios Unidos (a California-based organization against youth violence), the Financial Consortium of Western Pennsylvania, and the League of Young Voters.

On Saturday, Verb hit the stage with an element of energy that only could have been building up since he mentioned he hadn't been on stage for a while. Despite his absence, he didn't miss a beat. (On a side note: the drum that provided the beats was on loan from Burlap and Bean regular Will Donahue who plays for and ).

"I'm going to try to talk to you because I get lonely up here," Verb frankly told the audience.

From the first verse he sang, Verb began pulling the attentive, somewhat shy, listening room out of their shell. He engaged the audience, jumped off stage, prodding the audience to sing and dance with him. His band picked up a groove while Verb dropped the beat that got heads bobbing.  

His lyrics are usually positive and clever such as, "Would you go back in time like Marty McFly?"  The sound is classic hip-hop–natural and unprocessed like his influential band A Tribe Called Quest.

He closed his set with a song featuring a nice groovy bass line.

"You like that bass line," he joked. "It's on my CD, it'll cost you five dollars."

When Knotz took the stage, the audience, at this point, had really loosened up. His set consisted of a collective work featuring Blaqmel and Verb on a few songs as well as letting his back-up band take the spotlight on a track or two.

Knotz has become a leader in the hip-hop community of Philadelphia. Each month he hosts the Boombox Collective. Knotz has performed with acts like Common, ODB, and The Roots.

Like Verb, Knotz is active in the community, he participates in WXPN's Musicians On Call program, which brings live music to the bedside of patients at six local hospitals, including The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, and Philadelphia VA Medical Center in West Philadelphia.

Knotz ended his set with a song that could knock the Fresh Prince's "Summertime" out for the top song describing Philly in summer. The vibe of the evening was chill but energetic, despite the muggy summer weather outside.

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