Crew Cuts: The STNDRD Crew Is Out To Be The New Standard In Rap And Atlanta Sound
Crew Cuts is Green Label’s series wherein we unpack a creative collective’s dynamic by asking its members to talk about each other’s most valuable assets.
Despite prevailing stereotypes, Atlanta (along with its accompanying metro area) is a city of varying shades and sounds—so much so that it brought together a first-generation Nigerian-American and a Palestinian kid with impeccable wit, as instant friends. The two, Green Label Sound winner Kelechi and STNDRD cohort Phay, then known as SUBMiT and Pharoh, both shared a certain quirkiness and love for rap that invaded their middle-school years. As a result, Myspace rap battles against each other ensued, earning the two school-wide fame, and the origins of the STNDRD crew—now understood as a family—were formed.
“I’m very upfront, and he’ll say the same thing as me, but he’s the artsy type,” Phay says of their dynamic. “I could just say I’m trying to go back to the hotel, and he’ll write a whole haiku about it,” he says, laughing. “That’s where we’re different, but I think—in the most modest way possible—we both have that x-factor.” In actuality, their differences are what make them a stronger team.
“He’s the Arab to my Soulja Boy,” Kelechi jokes, making light of the false “hypeman” labels placed on Phay. “I think we’re both going to make our own wave, and it’ll connect back to the STNDRD somehow,” Phay adds.
Now also consisting of Kelechi’s brother Ukan, along with friends/extended family members Dom, Puckett, and Thelma (who they affectionately call Chinny), the STNDRD crew is out to set the bar high for artists and collectives inside and beyond Atlanta’s city limits.
Ukan, The Delegator
Kelechi: He gets in his mode because he played football. He played football all throughout college, so he gets in this mode where he starts coaching us and starts making us run drills and do sit-ups. He’s just very like, “C’mon!” He literally starts acting like a coach.
Phay: You know those corny inspirational quotes at school when you’re in like middle school? That’s what he’s like. You know how there’s a picture of a lake with a sunset? But it be working though.
Kelechi: He tells everyone else what to do.
Phay: He’s Head Coach. He’s the face of management, but he doesn’t really do anything [laughs].
Thelma, The Facilitator
Phay: Thelma brings this thing to life. Thelma is the feminine perspective. You always need that feminine perspective, and she’s just always so positive and always so beautiful, no matter how much we roast her. [To Thelma] I just want you to know that you so beautiful.
Kelechi: I think going along with the whole quality thing and making sure that we’re trying to be perfect because we’re perfectionists, just having a female’s perspective and having them involved with the little things at shows—she always remembers them, and she’s always like, “Yo, don’t forget, we have to do this. One of y’all need to do this.”
Phay: She graduated from Georgia Tech. She’s smart.
Puckett: Major key: keep a female around.
Kelechi: She takes care of everything after everything has been taken care of, if that makes sense.
Phay: She made the Andre 3000 pants in the “Spend It” video. And she put baby oil on me.
Dom: She’s a jack-of-all-trades.
Dom, The Regulator
Ukan: Dom’s really the brains of this for real because I’d say out of all of us, he’s probably the most traditionally-trained in the industry, if that’s a thing. He does stuff with Rich Homie Quan—he’s seen the business side of things for other artists. So wherever he’s at—whether it be with Rich Homie, whether it be with Jacquees, whether it be with Trinidad, or whether it be when he worked at CAA, the booking agency—he would always take something and bring it back, and we would work off of that. And he’s somebody else that super pays attention to detail. I’m just like, “Yeah, let’s do it, whatever you guys want to do.” He’s like, “Wait, before we do it…” And that’s why I think that’s why me and him work really well together, just being co-managers, because we literally work off of each other. Just having two different personalities kind of helps steer things.
Thelma: And just creatively, Dom can think of things that you would never, ever think of as far as marketing, even just little things.
Kelechi: Not only is he good at getting opportunities, but he maximizes opportunities. He came up with the idea for me to tweet and have fans come and listen to the album before it came out. That was all him. That showed how his mind works; it’s not just, “Okay, we did the thing; this is tight.” It’s like, “This is cool; how can it be better?”
Phay: He doesn’t interfere artistically or creatively, but sometimes I can be too abrasive and say things that might offend a big group of people, and he’ll be the one that says, “You might wanna think about that before you put it down.” He never says, “Take it out.” And he’s responsible for connecting a lot of artists, even underground artists in Atlanta. Everybody I meet knows Dom. He doesn’t do it for anything in return; he just does it because he genuinely wants to see people work.
Thelma: Puckett’s role is merch, first and foremost.
Kelechi: Yeah, he does handle all retail transactions and merch, at shows and online, so if you don’t get something on time, it’s his fault. But also, outside of that, he just gives motivation. It actually is mad important to have someone who’s always gonna be positive and be like, “Yo, we’re about to tear stuff up. We’re gonna do this.” Puckett will turn up, and that can get that fire in you.
Dom: He’s also an idea guy. He’ll toss 15 ideas a day in a chat; we may say no to like 2,010 of them, or 14 of them, but there’s a good idea every now and then. He may give an idea, and we’ll take it and be like, “Puckett, I see where you’re going with this. Let’s try to do this. Let’s spin off and do this.” And then of course, it’ll be his original idea. He also has the creative mind, as well. We all feed off of each other. A lot of it—the creative, the merch ideas—does start with him—just marketing, in general.
Ukan: Out of 15 ideas, 16 are bad.
Kelechi: I respect him though because Puckett never takes it personal, and we still be chewing him out, and he still comes up with them.
Dom: With Puckett, he does everything and he’s humble about it.
Kelechi, Curator (Originator)
Phay: That’s what we call “Daddy.” If he don’t move, nobody moves.
Ukan: Real talk. Kelechi’s involved in everything. All the creative stuff that has to come down through the STNDRD comes filtered through him. People might just hear him on a record, but they might not know that he produced the record; recorded himself on the record; engineered; mastered it; made the cover art for it; wrote the harmonies—everything, literally. Anything that has to do with the creative, it gets funneled through Kelechi, or he did the whole thing.
Dom: I find myself often asking this man like, “What don’t you do?” Literally. I don’t say it to be kidding or playing around. He’s the true definition of an “artist”—he’s not a rapper, he’s an artist.
Thelma: He does our website, too.
Ukan: I feel like our generation is trying to steer away from being basic; like the whole nine-to-five thing is just not cool. So sometimes, I’ll catch myself being like, “Ay, bruh, thank you for actually believing in yourself to the point where you’re for real doing something.” His dream is now my dream and her dream and his dream, and we’re kind of all involved in this, and it’s not basic. It’s cool. He made $50K off of the thing that he believed in, and that alone is something. Everybody graduated but Kelechi.
Phay: This thing runs off of Kelechi’s initial drive. If Kelechi got a job or finished school, or was like, “I’m gonna be a teacher,” we probably wouldn’t be here. It was his vision, his drive.
Dom: It’s fun to work with him. He’s just so humble about everything. It’s just a breath of fresh air waking up and knowing that you have somebody easy to deal with; somebody who genuinely wants this, not because of the money, but is like, “I want the world to hear and see what I have to say and have to offer.” With this guy, we could make x-amount of dollars and half of it would go into production just so the audience could get a good show to go back and talk about it.
Ukan: And then the other half will go to make sure that we can bond and get stronger. I don’t want to sound like, “Oh, it’s not about the money,” but at the same time, it’s not about the money. If you’re really doing it for the right reasons, the money’s definitely going to come. Yeah, he’s that guy.
Phay: He’s the most patient person. Aside from the artistry, this is my best friend. When I was going through some stuff, he had won the competition already, and he would come over here and mix for me, and we didn’t even know if I was doing this for real. He just knew that it helped me out mentally, so he would come here and mix for hours on end, and didn’t even know if it was going to be out or not. As a person, he’s just genuinely compassionate about people that he cares about.
Phay, Creator (Originator)
Kelechi: First of all, Phay is a weirdo, but he’s a genius.
Ukan: He’ll just wake up and do weird stuff. For instance, right now, his beard his grey/blonde/green.
Dom: He was valedictorian at Georgia State University.
Kelechi: But he didn’t even know he was valedictorian until a week before he graduated because he didn’t even care.
Ukan: You’ll be talking to Phay, and Phay is one of those people who’ll have all the jokes in the world. You’ll leave the conversation thinking the dude knows nothing, like, “That dude is crazy; he’s a jokester,” not knowing that if you really talk to him, he’s super deep. Out of all of us, he cares about people the most. Then, he’s just stupid smart. It’s a weird combination. Phay is so weird that we don’t realize he’s so weird until he’s around people that aren’t always around him.
Kelechi: You know how most people have two layers? It’s like, “Oh, this is what I thought about you, but now I think this about you.” With him, it’s three. It’s like, “This is what I thought about you, but then this is what I actually think about you—but wait, this is what you actually are.” And most people don’t know it because he doesn’t really care, I guess, to put it out there like that, but it comes out more in music, and I guess I know him on that level because I mix all the songs. If you look into what he’s saying, it’s kind of like a Dave Chappelle show skit or like a Louis C.K. skit, where you’re like, “Haha, that’s hilarious—wait!” And he can rap.
Dom: And he can really, really rap. I enjoy working with him. Not only do I like his music, but I like him as a person. He’s really dope, and he really listens. He and Kelechi, they listen and value our opinion, which is very important, especially with your team. So yeah, this dude is the truth. Coming soon.
Thelma: During Bar 1, he was rapping, and there were two chicks at the front crying; it was that moving. He had these chicks in tears.
Kelechi: One day, while we were in college, I get on Facebook and look at a picture of him, and he is bald—like all his hair is gone; he’s shiny bald. I was like, “Why’d you cut your hair off?” And he was like, “I don’t know, man. I woke up feeling like Ron Harper.” You just gotta accept that you’re gonna randomly pull up on Phay, and something’s gonna be weird. Just accept it.