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The Next Generation of Joie Kathos.

August 3, 2015

JoieKathos07onlineText by Brianna Spause. Images by Brae Howard.

Joie Kathos scheduled herself some downtime to create on a warm Wednesday afternoon in West Philadelphia.

“This used to be my sister’s room,” she says, eyeing up the fresh coat of forest green paint dressing the walls of her home studio.

A soft, April sunlight bounces in the open window upstairs in the house Kathos grew up in.

“It’s minimal but it allows me to do what I need to do,” she says with a quick glance around the room, her absorbed expression reflected in an Apple monitor.

Flanked by speakers, a cherished old Maschine MPC mixer and a keyboard all linked up and ready to go, the 23-year-old Kathos, whose given name is Jordan Shannon, transforms herself in this familiar space.

With origins in French and Greek respectively, the fierce young businesswoman’s adopted moniker translates to “With joy, I am.”

“Joie is the Beyonce for Jordan,” Kathos says, shedding light on her growing brand. “She comes in, works hard and takes no BS from anybody. She’s not afraid to speak her mind or challenge the normalities that people set in society.”

Kathos burst onto the scene a mere two years ago with a self-titled EP that landed her the title of the 2013 Philly Hip Hop Awards’ Best New Female Artist. Though in the process of establishing her young music career, Kathos has spent her entire lifetime on stage – finding her roots in dance at age 3. Through a repertoire of talents like production, songwriting, acting, choreography and teaching, she has emerged as the powerhouse behind the entrepreneurial venture Joie Kathos, LLC.

“Hold up, I’ll be down in a minute,” Kathos speaks quickly into her iPhone.

Kathos returns with Jacqueline Constance in tow, the 26-year-old singer sporting a full-faced smile and a loud sweater.

Kathos and Constance met last year on the set of The Queens Village, a monthly performance series at Voltage Lounge that celebrates sisterhood in the Philadelphia music scene. The featured artists became fast friends, bonding over what Constance calls “a really cool artistic synergy,” which is evident in their latest collaboration.

“Win or Lose,” is a socially conscious track from Kathos’ second EP, FLOATERS, which became available online for free in July. Inspired by the All Lives Matter movement, the hip-hop track illustrates a core value of Kathos’ music – a diagnoses of how individuals in today’s society treat one another. The protests in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray were a timely example Kathos cited. News coverage of the events had just begun to roll out that week as she spoke firmly about the deep-seated change the country needs to face.

“I let everybody know from the rip that I’m just about peace and positivity,” Kathos says. “It just comes out in my music without me even really thinking about it because I try to stay true to myself. Honestly, I’m disappointed in what I see happening in the world today.”

Kathos goes on, describing how the human race is on the cusp of a renaissance period. Her blend of alternative hip-hop is crafted with the intention to inspire positivity while retaining easy listening qualities.

“Hopefully my music will contribute to the spark of change we all seem to be crying out for as a people,” she says.

To Kathos, it’s all about balance. She aims not to produce tracks that are too heavy, but rather keep it real.

Russell Shannon, Kathos’ father and manager, views her music as a labor of passion.

“[The message] she projects in her music is how she is in real life, out with her friends,” Shannon says. “She’s of a conscious level where she wants people to think about what is going on in society. She doesn’t want the young brothers and sisters to feel like they have to go ahead with the norms of what’s going on in the neighborhood.”

A lifetime resident of West Philadelphia, Shannon cites examples of drugs, teenage pregnancy and violence as pieces of a perpetual cycle which Kathos targets lyrically.

“Her whole life is geared around making a difference and she’s showing it,” he says. “She proves it on a regular basis.”

With Logic software stretching across her monitor, Kathos runs the beat she has been playing around with for a new music video on repeat. She and Constance mindlessly sing along as they gather themselves to record, Constance pulling out a smooth harmony as she struggles with a tangled chord.

“This is an illustration of my life,” she murmurs, locking eyes with Kathos for a belly laugh.

Laying down the lyrics takes several tries as Kathos listens to the playback with eyes closed, executing subtle dance moves as if the choreography was already brewing.

“I’ll do it until I have it,” she says.

“That’s great, that’s a great trait to have,” Constance, with a background in musical training, says. “Go crazy.”

Kathos, a raw talent with no musical training, gracefully takes direction from Constance – “Be more buoyant,” “Pick up the lazy tongue,” “Think less vertically and more horizontally” – until a solid amount of progress on the track has been nailed down.

Eyes on the clock, Kathos begins to gather her things to head out into rush hour traffic.

“So this is what I do during the day,” she says, her hands up in the air, embracing the silence in the studio as the computer sleeps. “The dancing is what I do at night.

“It’s not my full focus anymore, but it’s definitely a huge part of my branding and who I am,” she adds over her shoulder as the front door clambers shut. “Dancing adds a completely different element to my stage performances and it’s something I’m very comfortable and confident in.”

Kathos begins to stretch on the hardwood floor of Studio A. It is 5:58 p.m. and the intermediate dance workshop she teaches on Mondays and Wednesdays at Millennium Dance Complex is about to begin.

Two young dancers mill in – one male, one female. A small crowd for a Wednesday, Kathos says, as she usually works with eight to 10 students for the general admission class. Though a little extra cash never hurts, Kathos teaches classes at the studio in pursuit of her lifelong passion. Instructors at Millennium can take one another’s classes for free, an opportunity Kathos utilizes to stay sharp.

“She has always had a drive to learn new things,” Shannon says.

It’s a trait he attributes to Kathos’s growing success as a performer and a quality in high demand in the field of dance, where new rhythms and techniques are consistently changing the pace.

As for her role as a teacher, Shannon added with a laugh, “Joie strives for perfection.”

The instruction is slow and thorough at first, as Kathos runs down sharp movements to Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.” Her face lights up when she watches her two students execute the sequence perfectly for the first time, about half an hour into the hip-hop class. Almost simultaneously, they jump backwards and throw their arms out in celebration.

“Yes! Y’all are working today!” Kathos offers.

On a constant repeat, the dancers run through the routine while watching themselves intently in the mirror, their focus evident in a cool and confident manner. Long shadows race across the studio floor, visible to the public through a wall of windows. A constantly rotating crowd of onlookers strolling down South Street halt, mesmerized by the routine as it unfolds.

“It’s crazy, her work ethic,” Constance says, watching the workshop from the lobby. “I’m surprised she actually finds time to work on music with me. She does so much between teaching and gigging, sound production for dance studios and choreographing. She probably works harder than a lot of Philly artists – well, artists period. She’s really into building her brand and she’ll do whatever she needs to build it into something beautiful and positive.”

As an independent artist, Kathos funnels the majority of her time into creative outlets to promote the Joie Kathos brand. Despite a jam-packed schedule and each end of the entertainment industry pulling her in different directions, Kathos is dedicated to producing a quality product.

“I give 110 percent to everything,” Kathos says confidently. “I can’t fluff it because my name is attached to that and it’s a part of me.”

Sheer dedication to her craft is a trait that is easily noticed by those working with Kathos.

“Her work ethic is what is going to make her successful,” Shannon says. “Whatever it is that she’s trying to do, she works hard at it and she does it until she feels like it’s perfect. Eventually, that perfection comes out on stage in her performances.”

At a young age, Kathos laid her dreams out on the table and she’s been chasing them ever since.

“Growing up, I wanted to be everything,” Kathos says. “For the most part, I knew I wanted to be a rapper. I knew that since I was 9. I had dreams of touring the world doing modern dance but my body was like, ‘No, you’re not made for this.’”

Kathos had put in years of training in ballet, tap, jazz and hip-hop, taking on a specialized dance curriculum at William Meredith Middle School and the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA). At the ripe age of 17 – about to accept the role of dance captain going into her senior year – Kathos began to experience crippling pain in her right hip that kept her from being able to make it across the floor.

A few trips to the doctor uncovered the resounding effect of a jungle gym accident in her formative years. As a result, Kathos does not have full hip rotation on her right side, which is vital to perfecting bodylines and turnouts in a dance career.

It was time for her to make a decision. Pursuing a professional career in ballet or modern dance could have meant a lifetime of pain, Kathos remembers.

“After I got injured, my focus switched to music really heavily because I was mourning over never being able to dance again,” she says. “Music was really therapeutic and I felt really happy, like this was all I ever wanted to do.”

Equipped with a soundboard and laptop, Kathos had already begun producing music by the time her flexibility injury brought years of career planning to a halt. Shannon recalls that time as a difficult one for Kathos.

“When things go crazy for her, she really focuses on something,” he says. “Music was what she focused on. It was a smooth transition through a rough time.”

As she has grown into her music career, Kathos has found a way to incorporate her first true love with her new career path by creating a memorable stage presence.

“Dancing is a crucial part of my live performance. You get the full experience,” Kathos says while making jokes about “just standing up there, holding your pants and doing the old ‘wish-wash’ hand thing.”

“I think that Joie is a rare breed, one-of-a-kind type of artist,” says DJ Bear-One, who has been working with Kathos as a sound engineer and DJ for the past eight months.

As a partner on stage, Bear-One has been impressed with “the way she switches from MCing to singing and her dance moves.”

“That’s a move MCs used to do back in the day,” he adds. “You had to entertain, not just stand around with a bunch of people on stage. You had to rock the party. I love her energy and we’re just getting started. Wait for it!”

Thick smoke rises from Clark Park in early May and the smell of sweet, sweet free barbeque fills the air. A small crowd has formed for the 2015 May Day Rally, a celebration of “Socialization, Solidarity and Humanity,” a gathering of labor unions and members of the $15-an-hour movement, to let their voices be heard.

Kathos performed at May Day in 2014 and had been invited back to the festival this year in acknowledgement of her insightful lyrics and firm stance on equality. As 4:30 p.m. rolls around, Kathos jumps on stage with an electric disposition, captivating the audience seated below. In a commanding tone she raps, “Join us as we take back our history and continue to fight for the dignity and rights of the voters.”

In addressing the issues at hand, the audience receives her words well by nodding and clapping along.

“Say it girl,” rings out from different sides.

Summer2015JoieKathosCoverAs four dancers join the stage, the dynamic of the performance is transformed. Confidence is displayed in between calculated movements as Kathos performs with a gleaming smile. Three of the five performers, including Kathos, don T-shirts with an intricate “Think Nation” logo.

Think Nation is Kathos’ newest venture, a clothing line designed to inspire the wearer to promote positivity amongst young people. Shannon’s childhood friends Sean Byrd and Lamont Turner had goals for a clothing line and those goals aligned with Kathos’ mission as an artist.

Growing up, Byrd notes, Kathos was, “musically inclined and liked to dance but I never thought we would be business partners until I decided to launch a clothing line.”

After attending one of Kathos’ performances in 2014, his vision of a young girl in tap shoes was forever changed.

“She doesn’t follow the crowd, she does her own thing,” Byrd says of the quality which makes Kathos a fine leader of Think Nation. “She doesn’t care what anybody thinks. Basically, what she does is she does everything in a positive mindset. That’s what I like about her. She could be out there doing everything that everyone else is doing but she’s not. She’s going in a different direction.”

This past year, Kathos adopted the Think Nation look by repping the brand on stage as a leader of positivity and change. The line officially launched at the unofficial release party for Kathos’ new EP at the Theater of Living Arts in July.

Kathos’ music clearly defines the goals of the clothing line. Standing apart from hip-hop artists who “just talk about clothes and money and cars” has always been a goal for Kathos’ brand, she says.

Twenty-three and so long to go, Kathos has been grinding her own groove into Philly’s hip-hop scene. A seamless culmination of dance and music with a social conscious is brewing within this West Philadelphia MC, all of which came from a negative possibility.

When Kathos couldn’t pursue dance as a professional career, she refused to extinguish her creative voice.

“Never give up on anything you have the slightest idea that you can achieve,” Kathos says as a note to aspiring female artists. “Learn. Do. Be proactive and consistent. Even if other people don’t see the vision or don’t believe in it but you believe in it, it can happen. Your path is yours and your story is important in more ways than one.”

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