PittRemix spin it


To watch Marcus Harris talk about hip-hop is to witness a throwback to the same excitement… To watch Marcus Harris talk about hip-hop is to witness a throwback to the same excitement and anticipation one thinks Grandmaster Flash must have exuberated in the Bronx in the late ’70s. An effervescent cool flows from his mouth as he genuinely enthuses about the place and direction of the local hip-hop scene in Pittsburgh today, dropping DJ names like they were letters of the alphabet and using colloquia smartly rooted in his own hip-hop background. He talks about emcees “comin’ correct” and the proud, often overlooked, history of music in this city. It’s clear after only a few minutes of listening to him that when it comes to hip-hop and its constantly redeveloping genesis, this kid knows his stuff.

Harris makes up a loose one-third of PittRemix, a promotion group headquartered at 92.1 WPTS focused on expanding the exposure of local hip-hop culture to the students and residents of Pittsburgh. With his partners Corey Mizell and Isaac Goldszer, the group has a mission to “give artists opportunities to develop and strengthen the productivity and quality of their music,” Harris explained.

“We are out to bridge gaps,” the fifth year senior definitively stated. “The biggest gap for me is the one between the urban music scene and this campus. Eighty percent of students listen to hip-hop or are interested in some facet of the hip-hop culture, whether it’s dancing or graffiti art or whatever. They don’t realize we have just as strong a hip-hop community here with just as much to offer.”

Conveniently, one place where the hip-hop community thrives is Pitt’s very own radio station. Harris said, “Hip-hop has a strong history at WPTS. DJs that were here are now big names on the underground scene. The problem was, once the great people left, there was nothing, no one to replace them until another great person came.”

Harris is now co-director of hip-hop programming at the station along with Mizell. To them, a local focus on the genre is imperative. They promote and push as much as they can. Harris points out that last year, he and Mizell showcased Wiz Khalifa three months before the rapper appeared with Nas at the Pitt Program Council show. “We put up the first posters; I gave a few CDs out to people. The real buzz started with us,” he emphasized. The two also began to generate ideas on how to build a foundation for hip-hop that would last beyond any one particular DJ or show.

Eventually, one of those ideas, PittRemix, came to fruition, and Harris credits the radio station for providing the right tools to allow the project its functionality.

“PittRemix is really just a facet of the radio station,” he explained. “We’re DJs, entertainment personalities, emcees, whatever you want to call it, working together at WPTS. Why do things by yourself if we’re all doing the same thing?”

It was that attitude that brought Goldszer into the project, a junior who just started DJing in earnest early this summer after working the fraternity scene for two years. As a member of the group, he is also one of its earliest success stories.

“PittRemix is advancing me more than I am advancing them, I think,” chuckled the tall, bright-eyed turntable master. Over the summer, Goldszer explained, he was “working 30 hours a week in the station, working on [his] scratching and beat matching while doing all the technical work [of a radio show], too.” And with lugging his own equipment to the station every night, the project was too overwhelming to leave him with much room for progress.

Then he met Harris, who agreed to work with him, and things started to take a progressive turn pretty fast. Goldszer, who feels he now has more time to focus strictly on his music, explained his appreciation for his mentor. “Marcus gave me the opportunity to make something of myself,” Goldszer said. “That’s what he does. He opens the door, and if he likes you, you can stay, and if he doesn’t like you, he lets you leave out the window.”

But Harris is equally appreciative of Goldszer because the young DJ is a real-life example of what PittRemix embodies in its philosophy. “The station is here for the taking,” Harris explained. “[Mizell and I] want to find new people. When I leave, Goldszer’s gonna have another year or so to do his thing and build it up. When he leaves, there will be somebody else.” The two host a weekly radio show on WPTS every Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m.

Goldszer, who goes by the name DJ B-Tips in the booth, lays down the beats while Harris, alias MH the Verb, conducts interviews with local artists, talks up new tracks and generally just spits the flow of the program. Watching the two work together – one a relative veteran of the game, the other a budding up-and-comer with a killer ear for beats – imparts the feeling that hip-hop, if not entirely secure yet, is finding its place on this campus.

B-Tips pops a move every now and then as MH moves his entire body when he talks into the microphone. They rap along with the jams they know, and neither one stops moving his head for a single minute. It’s evident that the boys live and breathe the music – this is their baby.

“I would’ve had a show freshman year if I knew [the radio station] was here, in this building,” Goldszer explained. “With the amount of fun I’m having and the time I put into it, there’s no telling where I’d be today.”

“You know he talks about having fun,” Harris chimed in, “and that’s the point. We really enjoy it. Most of the guys that work with us, that come through for Beats and Brews, are my friends, too.”

In fact, everyone is a friend of the PittRemix crew on Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. at Spice Cafe. The vibe flows through the entire crowd as local emcees take their turn with the mic and the Remix DJs lay down taut, layered beats. It’s a change still unnoticed by bigger press in the city, but the Atwood Street bar transforms into Oakland’s own explosive underground hip-hop scene for those four hours every week.

“Beats and Brews” is the brainchild of Harris and his crew. “I had the idea for awhile, but I had criteria,” he explained. To put it into the making, there had to be certain elements involved. “I wanted it to feature local hip-hop. I wanted it to be in Oakland. I wanted the [radio] station to be involved.”

Most of all, though, Harris emphasized that it had to be a show. “It’s not just a mix of DJs comin’ up performing. It’s a show. There are opening acts, headliners and promotions. If you come, there’s a good chance you’re gonna leave with a T-shirt or get a free shot. There’s a good chance you’re gonna have a good time,” he added.

While still only in its infancy, PittRemix seems to be successfully fulfilling its mission statement and having its own good time while doing so. Most of all, the boys are optimistic for the future – not just the group’s own, but the future of hip-hop in Pittsburgh.

“I really believe that hip-hop in Pittsburgh is heating up, that there’s gonna be a big movement soon,” Harris concluded. “That, or we’re all just gonna fail.”

“Nah, man, don’t say that,” Goldszer piped in. Harris laughed and conceded. Then he qualified it: “All or nothing, man, that’s what I’m saying. All or nothing.”