Passersby looking in might not realize how popular Phenomenal Records, located at 1432 Cecil B. Moore Ave., is to the rap industry. Just a block from Main Campus, the quaint store is often quiet, except when famous artists stop by.
The walls lined with posters, books and CDs are just the beginnings of what is offered. Doubling as a CD store, Phenomenal Records is also a recording studio with some of the best up-and-coming artists working there.
Selling primarily rap, R&B, hip-hop and gospel used and new CDs, as well as books and magazines, the store attracts famous and local artists as well as everyday customers. Waka Flocka Flame recently stopped in for a meet and greet in the store before his show at the Theater of the Living Arts. Young Chris, Meek Mill, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Fat Joe, Freeway and Ludacris are other famous rappers who have promoted their records and merchandise there.
Aside from its big name in-store meet and greets, Phenomenal Records has a recording studio located in the rear of the store. Artists pay $50 per hour to work on mix tapes in the studio. Meek Mill was the first to record there when he was 15 years old, store musical engineer Bear-One said.
Up-and-coming artists STF and OCP have worked in the store as well.
Milan Flores, who is employed at Phenomenal Records, sees the success that these big names bring.
“When they come in here, they usually have whatever they’re promoting and do autographs, signings, meet and greet, interviews, questions, all of that,” Flores said as he pointed to the Wall of Fame — the store’s mural of pictures and autographs of all the artists that have been in the store.
And when the bigger names come in, Flores said the store fills up immediately. Ludacris drew its biggest crowd just a few years ago.
“It generates a lot of revenue, it lets people know we’re still here giving out good music,” Flores said.
He said he sees people from all walks of life come into the store, from middle schoolers spending their allowance on the newest CDs, to older women purchasing gospel music.
“This one 13-year-old kid came in here looking for an Arab mix tape. He spent his last $5 on it,” Flores said.
The store workers pride themselves on ordering whatever it is that the store doesn’t carry.
Flores also said it’s not only North Philadelphians who account for the majority of the store’s profits. He has spoken to people from New Jersey and Delaware that make special trips to Phenomenal Records.
Store owner Jay Stanback has used his knowledge and connections from within the music business to bring big names in his store, as well as work with them. In addition to owning the store, Stanback is also an experienced consultant who tells up-and-coming artists where they should put their money.
“I used to hang out in New York with a friend that introduced me to a lot of people,” Stanback said. “I had shortcuts to labels.”
He said being connected to The Source, a well-known hip-hop magazine, helped him when he decided to open the business 10 years ago.
Stanback attributes his recording success partially to Bear-One. Outside of being a DJ and producer, Bear-One makes the beats and essentially puts the songs together.
“He used to work with Universal [Records], so he’s got the background,” Stanback said. “He knows everyone. He’s a dope DJ, and we can really advance you to the next level you need to be at and consult you in the right direction.”
Stanback and Bear-One have been working together since 2006.
“It’s been a life-changing experience,” Bear-One said. “Jay is also a really good friend of mine through the industry. And Phenomenal, that’s my heart. It’s the best independent record store in the city. It gets no fresher.”
Since Phenomenal is smaller compared to other big name companies, Stanback said larger recording labels enjoy working with him better. They don’t have to work around red tape, but are able to get directly to the source more easily. The owner said sometimes he’ll end up doing bigger numbers than some of the biggest name stores.
Stanback attributes a lot of his success to his location as well, and claims that if it wasn’t for being next to Temple, he might be out of business. He said when he first opened the store, it was ranked No. 162 in the most popular record stores in the tri-state area. Now it’s up to No. 15, he said.
But although the store is doing well for itself, it’s not entirely what it used to be. Stanback said this generation wants everything instantaneously. He personally calls it the “oatmeal era” because they want everything in a few minutes. Soon, he thinks everything will go to Internet downloading.
Stanback said he believes this is why he feels record stores are a “dying breed” that will be obsolete in about five years. However, that doesn’t concern him in terms of business.
“I work other angles, so I can protect myself and be viable in this game,” Stanback said.
He said he can close tomorrow, knowing he could down in history as being the store to sell Meek Mill’s first mixtape.
But right now, he said he’s not concerned.
“Now I’ve been here so long, it’s a place to go. Cool little mom-and-pop place,” Stanback said.
Phenomenal Records is working on a new website layout, and also a new line of clothing to sell online at phenomenaluniverse.com and in the store. All of the store’s products can also be purchased online, including some mixtape downloads.
Patricia Madej can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.