Music Issue: Ground Up

Four local musicians have been making waves in the Philly music scene with their hip-hop/DJ group, Ground Up. With 10 mix tapes released and two shows lined up in Amsterdam in the coming months, Ground

LUIS FERNANDO RODRIGUEZ TTN Alexander Azar (left) and Malcolm McDowell (right) are the two MCs of Ground Up, a four-piece hip-hop/mash-up group from Temple.

Four local musicians have been making waves in the Philly music scene with their hip-hop/DJ group, Ground Up.

With 10 mix tapes released and two shows lined up in Amsterdam in the coming months, Ground Up is living up to its name for having come a long way from after they first met almost four years ago.

The trio is made up of MCs Alexander Azar and Malcolm McDowell, known as Malakai, and exclusive producer Bijan Houshiarnejad, known on stage as Bij Lincs.

Opening up for big names like Chiddy Bang, Mac Miller, Rick Ross and Freeway and going on multi-state tours, the Temple-based hip-hop group has built enough momentum to keep fans engaged and is looking forward to its next move.

The Temple News had a chance to sit with Azar and McDowell as they were getting ready for their two-week trip to the Netherlands the next day.

The Temple News: How did you guys first start?

Alexander Azar: I’m actually from Bucks County, [Pa.] right outside of Philadelphia and [McDowell]’s from Baltimore. I was lucky enough to bump into him at Temple freshman orientation over at 1940 [Residence Hall]. Not only did I meet [McDowell], but we were all meeting new people and I met one of our managers and a bunch of instrumental parts of our team at orientation so Temple’s definitely got a special part in both of our hearts.

TTN: How did you first start talking about music and collaborating with each other?

Malcolm McDowell: [Azar] rapped in high school and I didn’t, I wrote poetry in high school. So I met [Azar] and he gave me a copy of his mix tape and I gave him a book of poetry. I definitely listened to his mix tape a lot when I got back home.

We came back and were messing around, having a good time. We made our first song and ever since then we’ve been making songs.

TTN: What inspired the name Ground Up?

AA: It was a team decision, obviously. We were tossing around ideas sitting in a room together and I had the name Ground Up in my head for a while because I liked the possibilities on its play on words. I think I might have thrown it out there and everyone liked it.

It represented what we were doing.

MM: And we smoke a lot of weed so it actually worked extra well.

TTN: How would you describe your style of music?

MM: I’d like to think our style of music is very diverse because we as a group of friends as a whole are. Our semi-focus would be hip-hop, we grew up on that so that’s what we make, that’s what we love.

TTN: How would you categorize Ground Up fans?

AA: Loyal and devoted. That’s the best way I can describe it.

MM: We have the best fans in the whole world. The fact that these people follow us around and follow the music that we make is just insane and I just appreciate them so much.

TTN: Was there a defining moment where you knew you were onto something with your music?

AA: We’ve had lots of defining moments. Moments that keep us doing what we’re doing. Off the top of my head the most recent one would be selling out the [the Theatre of Living Arts] about a month ago and even though that’s such a recent turning point, it really opened my eyes at least to see the impact we’ve made on Philadelphia.

TTN: When did you begin traveling outside of Philadelphia for shows?

MM: I believe our third or fourth show was outside of Philadelphia. We went to Bucks County where [Azar] grew up. We’ve been doing shows up and down the East Coast for about three years now and loving all of it. We just recently came back from Boston and we’re going to Amsterdam.

TTN: What do you have planned for Amsterdam?

MM: We have two shows out in Amsterdam. We’re opening up for R.A. the Rugged Man and Reef the Lost Cauze. That’s our homie right there.

AA: And we’re going to be smoking a lot of weed. I know it’s a school paper, but I gotta be honest with you.

Lots of work, lots of play. We want people in Europe to know our name so we’ll constantly be handing out CDs, doing what we do here just over there.

TTN: Do you already have listeners there?

AA: Definitely. We do research on who visits our website and we’ve actually seen a huge cluster of fans in Europe.

TTN: Is there a specific song that gives you a lot of play?

MM: Every mix tape has its own most successful song. At the moment I urge everyone to listen to “Live a Lot,” just anything off the new mix tape. I believe there’s a song for everybody on every tape.

AA: The beauty of having 10 mix tapes out is people being able to not just focus on one song and define us on that one song, because that’s only how we were feeling at that time. People can judge us off a catalogue of autobiographical mix tapes that really talk about what we’ve been going through this whole time.

Luis Fernando Rodriguez can be reached at

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