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Fabian Akilles: The Opportunist.

September 5, 2012

Text and images by Michael Bucher.

For many across the country, the Great Recession has had a profound negative impact. But for musician Fabian Thompson, it has been a period of artistic metamorphosis that transformed his sound and led to an exciting new venture in a startup record label.

Thompson had been performing as Akilles, a hip-hop artist in the same vein as Mos Def, Black Thought and Pharoahe Monch. Then, in 2009, he lost his day job as a public school teacher in Philadelphia. “I was really, really, low on shit,” remembers Thompson. He went home that day and wrote a song that eventually became the single “Comb My Hair,” a soulful song about shattered innocence.

Thompson found work as an assistant engineer at Larry Gold’s recording studio, where his college friend Ricky Friedrich worked as an engineer. Thompson began working with artists like Kid Cudi, Jill Scott and Dice Raw, and he frequently saw The Roots, who have studio space there. “It’s not the most money I ever made but it’s definitely the most important for artist development,” says Thompson.

As he started questioning his image as a non-native Philadelphian performing in the shadows of one of the biggest hip-hop bands in the world, Thompson started exploring his family’s Jamaican and Barbadian heritage.

“Ever since then, I’ve been on this lean where I’m just blending reggae-singer-man, soul and hip-hop,” he says.

To reflect his new artistic pursuit, Akilles became Fabian Akilles and released his debut album, Evil Round That Corner, in May. The seven-song album released on Friedrich’s startup label, Bold New Breed, focuses on issues of greed and self-indulgence.

“It turned into this critique on why life is so difficult for certain people and not for others,” says Thompson.

In the song “Money,” Thompson speaks of the shortfalls of consumer culture with lyrics like, “Seems like everything I want, they can sell me. But when it comes to what I need, they can’t help me.” The driving drum beats and catchy choruses inspire an urge to groove along.

Thompson spent the better part of his summer doing demolition work in a sweltering, 6,000-square foot Fishtown commercial building that is being renovated to house Friedrich’s Bold New Breed label. Both Friedrich and Thompson hold management positions in the company. Friedrich, performing as Ricky Radio, Thompson and Dewey Saunders, aka Dewey Decibel, are the only artists now but they are eager to expand.

They predict the space will open in September and be fully operational by early 2013 with a recording studio, space for video shoots, multimedia editing capabilities, lounge and a stage to host shows.

“Bold New Breed’s goal is to change Philly into a commercial hub where people come down and know they’re gonna get the talent,” Thompson says.

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