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Black And Nobel: Antenna of Energy.

September 5, 2011

Text and images by Chris Malo.

In the heart of North Philadelphia, in arguably one of the city’s most drug riddled neighborhoods, is a different type of business, one offering the opposite type of product that many of the other corners peddle.

Located at Broad Street and Erie Avenue, Black and Nobel is a community resource that slings hope, information, books and music.

Black and Nobel owner Hakim Hopkins began selling books on the sidewalk in 2003, before doing enough business to rent a location on the same block. Eventually he expanded to the current location at 1409 Erie Avenue.

You enter the store by walking up the steps, through a poster and flier covered staircase to the second floor. You are greeted not only by the books, movies and CDs that line the walls but by Tyson Gravity, who has worked at the store for more than six years (or, as he explains, long enough to see his long black locks turn a silvery-gray).

What is striking is that there is a constant stream of people who come to Black and Nobel – not just to shop, but to engage with the community. They come to talk, trade ideas, discuss anything and everything. The guiding philosophy, Hopkins says, is to teach people. From simple manners to business concepts. On the far wall there are shelves with books dedicated to educating people about the music industry.

In addition to retail, one of the programs that has become the pride and a cornerstone of Black and Nobel is shipping to prisons. Between twenty to thirty packages per day are mailed to correctional facilities around the country, serving those who are locked down. Recognizing the possibility of hard work and entrepreneurship, Black and Nobel makes their entire inventory available for wholesale, to encourage people to find the same success they have.

Black and Nobel has become a staple to the Philadelphia hip-hop industry. A who’s who walks through the door on any given day. From Freeway and Peedi Crakk to Jakk Frost, Tone Trump, Oschino and Meek Mill. It has even attracted out-of-town legends like Raekwon, Professor Griff from Public Enemy, Styles P and Rick Ross.

There’s even a story about a cypher taking place out front, when a hooded figure strolled up, jumped in an pulled off the hood to reveal the D-Block General Jadakiss.

But what is, and will always be, important is the hometown team.

“We are hip-hop,” Tyson states. “It’s important because from the outside looking in, a lot of labels say that Philly artists are a liability. If we don’t support each other, we are showing we are a liability.”

In these difficult economic times, with bookstores filing for bankruptcy and music labels scrambling to come up with a new business plan, Black and Nobel is optimistic about what lies ahead. They know they offer what other brick and mortar or online businesses can’t: a sense of community, in their own community.

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