They say “never forget where you came from” and for musician and producer, Keith Phelps, he didn’t just remember, he decided to create a project the celebrating the culture and creative scene of his hometown, Indianapolis. “Naptown’s Finest”, a 15-track album, documentary and clothing line, strives to demonstrate that Indianapolis could become a pop-culture destination if it had the proper recognition. The release party was this last Saturday (March 17th) and PATTERN talked with Phelps about his background, the making of the project and what the future of “Naptown’s Finest” looks like.
Julie Valentine: You are a music producer, musician and songwriter who has worked with talents on American Idol, scored a documentary and released your own music. When did you realize that music was your calling and how did you end up where you are today?
Keith Phelps: I began playing drums when I was 3 and piano when I was 7 yrs old. Ironically, the first stadium concert I ever attended was the Season 1 American Idol tour. I was 12 years old and my father’s best friend was playing bass. He ended up getting us free seats and backstage passes. After watching that show with such a resonant experience, I knew, at the very least, I was supposed to tour. Around the age of 13, I remember recording some instrumentals to a CD via a hard disk recorder. I still can’t quite remember anything else making me feel as good as hearing one of my own creations in recorded form.
JV: You are an Indianapolis native but left when you were 15. What made you leave the city and how has being from Indianapolis helped you grow into who you are today?
KP: My father ended up getting a job transfer and we moved 5 days after my 15th birthday. While the initial opportunity to move was exciting in all of its newnesses, after everything set in, I was rather heartbroken. Everything I ever knew was gone, with the exception of my immediate family. I believe the foundational things I learned in Indy helped me to navigate all the future encounters in my life. I was raised in Pike Township with a strong sense of community. I was taught to genuinely care about and appreciate the people at arm’s length because we all needed each other. That relational concept has helped me throughout every musical and personal situation since I’ve moved.
JV: “Naptown’s Finest” is about the talents that have emerged from Indy, the music scene that lives here, along with the culture that thrives in the city. What gave you the idea to do this project?
KP: My travels and entertainment industry experiences have allowed me to see the lack of Indianapolis’ “megaphone-like” presence within the industry and pop culture. That’s not to say that there aren’t people from Indianapolis that are notable and active within entertainment and pop culture. However, unlike LA, Chicago, NY, Atlanta, etc., our culture hasn’t overtly infected and shifted pop culture in a very obvious and geographical way. That leaves room for the assumption that there may be no entertainment presence, artistic culture, or hometown-pride, entertainment “mascots” to represent Indianapolis in a very attractive way. Through music, fashion, and powerful inspiration, Naptown’s Finest is intended to unify the natives and residents, with a common love for their city, while allowing that unity to create an obvious presence within pop culture that says, “Indianapolis has a dog in the fight and it is a big one!”
JV: The project includes a documentary, a clothing line, and a 15-song album. What can you tell me about this and why did you choose to do all three?
KP: With the changes in technology and how we consume multimedia, music has become more of an advertisement as opposed to the final product. We couldn’t just settle for a monumental musical effort. Music has become the stone you throw in the pond and the ripples thereafter are the pre-meditated supplemental cultural efforts. Brand recognition and association, by way of items that can only be consumed and obtained physically, are the new endgame, due to all of media consumption heading toward access-only streaming.
The clothing line was developed with the intent to allow listeners to buy into the concept of “Naptown’s Finest”. Not only is it a sign of appreciation for the music, Its an opportunity to say, “I, too, consider myself to be one of Naptown’s Finest.” Far beyond the music, the goal is to unify and project the culture of an amazing city.
With regard to the documentary, People tend to appreciate a thing when they are in a position to see how it was created and when they can see the heart and sincerity of the creators. We tried our best to show the passion behind what we wanted to offer the city. There’s also an assumption that when things are really good and well presented, there is a major corporation posing as a smaller organization for the sake of capitalizing on the heart of the people. We wanted to showcase our independence and strive for excellence within the low-budget space we currently exist in.
JV: You explore several topics through this project such as gun violence, religion, and Hoosier pride. What was it like exploring these subjects and what did you learn along the way?
KP: It was a bit of a homecoming for me, as well as an educational experience. When I come back home, it’s powerful to see how much the city has changed and what has not. After being gone for 13 years, I was really surprised to see how violent the city had become. While we were working on the project in the city, there were multiple occasions where I saw people walking around nonchalantly carrying and waving firearms in fast food restaurants and very public areas such as BroadRipple. On top of that, I’ve received numerous calls where people I knew or that were very close to my family were shot and killed in what was deemed to be a very safe and public area. When I was growing up in the 90’s, it was never like that.
A great deal of the conservatism within Indiana is based upon its heavy religious foundation and influence. One of the largest Pentecostal Christian organizations in the world was founded in Indianapolis and the headquarters is still in The Meadows. I was raised in that organization. A great deal of the beliefs surrounding this and many other Christian organizations subscribe to many archaic, man-made, dogmatic beliefs and principles that render irrelevance and a lack of efficacy within the community and world in which they exist. You would think that after these years there would be a refining and alleviating the excess beyond the foundational message. Yet, I return to see that not much has changed. I am a Believer and one who is firm in my Christian faith, so this is not to be confused with a questioning of the associated Deity or the actual foundational truth’s that we hold dear to our hearts as Christians. Its just time to cut away fat. It’s a very sensitive thing to discuss because a lot of people find “religion” offensive and those within strong religious groups equate “the way we’ve always done things”, to the very air they breathe.
A lot of my fellow Indianapolis entertainment professionals bury their hometown credentials in their bio and kinda move on with their lives. They may come home for certain events or even have small to large tributes dedicated to them back at home. They may even donate money to colleges and organizations back home, among other incredible philanthropical gestures. However, In my opinion, they just haven’t been loud enough. We have a great city, filled with some of the greatest, artistic and most talented people I’ve ever met. We reserve the right and have the responsibility of being really loud about who we are and what we do. I have too many conversations with high-aspiring Indianapolis natives set on relocating because “you can’t make anything happen here, you have to move.” A city is made up of the people that live there. All the most popular and notable cultural cities are made of culturally adamant people. If indeed one does move and leave, the strength is in pointing all the viewers and spectators back to where you came from. This gesture strengthens the hometown pride and allows the natives to say, “They grew up down the street from where I live now. I have someone to identify with and maybe I too can do something monumentally great like them”
JV: Tell me a little about the team you worked with and the people you met while creating “Naptown’s Finest.” What was it like working these individuals?
KP: I had the pleasure of working closely with 2 of my fellow executive producers, Shavonn Blueitt & Brandon Joyner. Both of them are young geniuses. Brandon and I oversaw all the musical direction while Shavonn actualized all of the creative, visual, and administrative ideas that we came up with. Brandon and I really wanted to bring back a lot the sonic staples that came from or around the city of Indianapolis. There is a very late 90’s-mid 2000’s thing to the music and it sounds so much like my childhood. We were really tedious in making sure things were just right and that we had the proper players in position for the project. Shavonn’s creative direction and attention to detail is 2nd to none. Aside from all of her stellar creative work, she was always there to ask the next question and keep me on my toes. She’s an administrative swiss army knife. It’s amazing to see how a conversation in Shavonn’s living room, back in December of 2016, is now a beautiful reality.
From there I went on to reach out to people that were the closest to me, people that were talented and would be willing to believe and partner with the vision. To name a few, this was the first time I enlisted my youngest brother, Brendan Phelps, to produce a song for me, as well as, my cousin Dorian Phelps who recorded drums for one of the songs. Some of the more notable contributions come with production from hometown hero, Clint Breeze and famed drummer and producer, Eric Seats. Mind you, all of these people are right from our very own backyard.
JV: You have worked mostly within music, so what was it like being one of the producers of a film and what did you learn from that experience?
KP: There’s a special place in my heart for documentaries. I believe the greatest question is not, “What?” but “How?’ or “Why?”. Documentaries centered around an incredible event, group of people or a particular project tend to answer that greatest question. I used to make documentary-style tour footage when I was out with Haley Reinhart. I documented her Lollapalooza festival performance and the label thought it was so good that they wanted to put it on her website. Then the first film I scored ended up being a documentary entitled, “A Fatherless Generation.”
Having to executive produce a doc was a whole different beast. Shavonn and I sat down at the beginning of the project to discuss how we wanted to portray the project and it’s necessary messages. I think the toughest part is slimming down the content and keeping everything focused. It’s easy to rabbit trail when you have a lot of interesting footage. However, Shavonn was really good at gluing the story together in a very cohesive way. Another really cool thing I learned was that we had some very intelligent participants for the project and the majority of them were under the age of 25. A lot of them gave well thought-out and captivating responses in their interviews and it was really inspiring to see that there was intelligence behind all of their gleaming talents and abilities.
JV: What do you hope audiences take away from “Naptown’s Finest” and what changes do you want to see come from the project?
KP: I really want my hometown to accept this as a gift from the “Naptown’s Finest” team. I want to ignite a pride that’s not based upon winning championships, GRAMMY’s, Emmy’s, Academy Awards or annual automotive exhibitions. Let’s just celebrate the fact that we live in a great city with great people. That’s a 365-day celebration in which we can all participate. The music, the film, and the apparel are only obvious reminders of that celebration. That pride inspires unity and when we are all unified as one, working together for the betterment of our city and it’s culture, the possibilities are endless.
JV: The album release, film screening, and clothing line debut are set for March 17th. What can people expect from the event?
KP: I’m so excited for this. We’re aiming for a mix between Kanye West’s infamous Yeezy Season, an Apple Special Event, and a TED talk. I know it sounds abstract but I really want to create an intriguing cultural experience as opposed to a “release party”, where there’s loud music, an abrasive DJ-Esq host, and an inevitable 21+ school dance that erupts toward the end.
I also want to spend time connecting with the people, after concluding the program. It’s an honor to be one of them; a Hoosier, an Indianapolis native. Having their support is the reason why we are doing this. It’s all-inclusive and doesn’t work unless the people are on board.
JV: What are future plans after Naptown’s Finest?
KP: Regardless of initial reception. Naptown’s Finest will not be a “one-and-done” venture. The clothing line will continue to be the most prevalent post the project release. We have more apparel planned for the future. Naptown’s Finest is such a powerful blanket assessment that It doesn’t have to stop at music, or fashion, or artistic expression. Athleticism, culinary establishments, businesses, etc. .All of these can play a part in being one of “Naptown’s Finest”. I don’t want to spoil all my ideas for the future. However, one thing that I would like to do is start a “Naptown’s Finest Festival” in the city. A culmination of all the things deemed “Naptown’s Finest” that year and make a huge deal out of it. The possibilities with this concept are virtually endless. I’m looking forward to the future and getting more involved with other individuals and organizations that have a similar vision and goal.
JV: Is there anything else you want our readers to know?
KP: I want people to be inspired to go execute that purposeful desire that secretly sits within the depths of their heart. Regardless of your location, upbringing, obstacles, and circumstances, we all have the power to accomplish virtually anything. I saw what I believed to be a deficit and sought to satisfy it. We had no money when we started this and the power behind committing to a purposeful plan will draw its necessary provision. Assess what you have at arms reach and make the most of that. After a while, you start noticing that your arms and your reach begin to extend and before you know it….you’ve completed the impossible!