In Anthony Potts’ tiny studio space sits a table with a computer, a chair, a couch and some shelves. Above the couch hangs a lone painting done as a collaborative piece by local artists Traphouse Art and Francesko the Artist. But Potts, a local rapper who performs as Phaze Gawd, doesn’t need to fit much more into the space to serve as inspiration.
After all, just outside the curtain next to his computer is a fortune of local art, all done by the artists housed at Charlotte Art League, a nonprofit visual arts organization located on Raleigh Street at the northern tip of Charlotte’s NoDa neighborhood.
As we walk through the vast warehouse on the way to his studio, we pass a sculpture of Queen Charlotte just like the statue that sits in front of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport — except not really. Upon closer look, there are differences. First off, her crown is bejeweled by beer-bottle tops, but less obvious changes include her hair, which is made of extension cords and phone lines.
The sculpture was made for an upcoming show, but mum’s the word on that for now. Potts has only been in the space for a couple months, but it’s already having an effect on his creative drive.
“Seeing all this local art, these are people in the city, so these are people that are here, my next-door neighbors,” he says. “This is what they do. How could I not know these people? I would be doing myself a disservice not trying to find who these people are and find out what these people do, their journey, because when you really start looking at someone’s art, and really start understanding the concept of art and reading between the lines and getting the stories of the people, that shit will really start changing your perspective on a lot of stuff.”
And though he isn’t discussing it in the moment, that statement speaks to Potts’ mission with his latest venture, For Artist By Artist, or FAxA, a new platform he’s launching to serve as a free promotional tool for his fellow Charlotte creatives.
For Artist by Artist prepares creatives for the spotlight
Building on the connections that he’s cultivated as a rapper in the Queen City, Potts plans to offer a multitude of services to local artists, all of which free of cost: video shoots, photo shoots, content creation (video interviews, storytelling, etc.), marketing, event planning and more.
The inspiration behind FAxA came from Potts’ recent return to Charlotte after spending two years living in Durham. Having grown up in Charlotte and built his name in the local hip-hop scene as Phaze Gawd, Potts was concerned that the Queen City was going to miss a big opportunity. He feared that COVID had the potential to undermine the explosive growth that Charlotte hip-hop had been experiencing leading up to 2020.
“There was this scarcity,” he said of moving back to Charlotte in November. “Of course, I’m coming back in the midst of the height of COVID, so there was not a lot of stuff going on, but even beforehand I was noting that there were not as many events as there was before — that I noticed, that I saw. I don’t know if it was just a lack of promotion for events, but I just didn’t see as many events being thrown as I had usually seen before moving and coming back. I was not seeing a lot of that movement in the city that I’m usually used to.”
Of course, this is happening to creative scenes across the country in the wake of the pandemic.
Musicians, visual artists and other creatives all around the world have only just begun poking their heads out from whatever their setup was during quarantine, looking for ways to share what they’ve created over the past 15 months and reconnect with their peers and patrons.
But as Potts points out, Charlotte and the Carolinas — specifically the local hip-hop scene — have all the more reason to pick up where they left off, as a spotlight had recently hit the area thanks to the chart-topping success of artists such as DaBaby.
“DaBaby has blown up Charlotte on a grand scale, so we have a lot more people coming through the city of Charlotte, a lot more people coming through the Carolinas as a whole trying to find talent, just being here,” Potts says, “so having that new spotlight has definitely opened a lot more lanes and opportunities to be seen.”
But are Charlotte artists ready to be seen when folks come looking?
Anthony Potts becomes Phaze Gawd
Despite not having been allowed to listen to hip-hop as a child due to his mother’s strict adherence to the traditional conservatism of her faith as a Jehovah’s Witness, Potts has known he wanted to rap since he was assigned with performing the iconic Freedom Williams verse on C+C Music Factory’s hip-house hit “Gonna Make You Sweat” as a third-grader at Collinswood Language Academy in southwest Charlotte.
He was bitten by the performance bug, likely handed down by his father, Gary Potts, who played saxophone in numerous Charlotte-area R&B bands as Saxxy G.
He rapped throughout his high school career at Olympic High, performing at talent shows and house parties, and would eventually drop out of UNC Charlotte to focus on his music career. He went on to form the Phazer Gang collective in 2012, and has released a number of collaborative and solo projects since. His video for “Billy Gram$” was awarded Best Male Hip-Hop video in 2017.
It was not long after the 2018 release of his EP Dark Dreams, a collaborative effort with longtime friend and producer A Man With Antlers (AMWA), that Potts packed up and moved to Durham to take a job as a warehouse manager.
He kept in touch with his Charlotte cohorts through social media and continued to make music. Phaze Gawd dropped a full-length album AyoPhazoGo! in September and prepared to make his way back to Charlotte, and upon his return last November he found himself wanting to take a more active role in the scene again.
That’s when the idea for FAxA began to bubble up.
No work shortage here
While he pronounces the acronym FAxA as “Phaza,” that’s about where the similarities to Phazer Gang end. Potts is adamant that FAxA isn’t a collective, per se, but an organization that’s open to anyone willing to work hard for their art.
“We’re just bringing a lot of our fellow artist friends together to give them this platform to be seen,” he explains. “That’s the thing I always saw, not just in this music scene but elsewhere: A lot of stuff is still you got to pay to play to be a part of something, or you gotta be at a certain tier to have access or be on a certain platform, and I understand those ways, but my thing is I hate the idea of having to pay to be heard.
“As artists we spend our own money already just to create something,” he continues, “and it’s hard as an artist just to recoup that already, so now to have to spend more as an artist just to have something seen is kind of asinine.”
Upon the creation of FAxA, Potts went to work on a number of different fronts, bringing on Charlotte rapper and longtime Phazer Gang collaborator Railz the Principle to handle video production, filming an interview with fellow rapper Joe Sig to kick things off.
They also shot a collaborative rap video, the first in a new series titled FAxA Sessions, featuring performances from Phaze Gawd and Railz alongside Charlotte’s GHX$T3EYES and Raleigh’s Tanajah.
Phaze and his collaborators plan to continue building content like that until there’s enough to officially launch the FAxA website, which will consist of music premieres, exclusive videos, reviews and the like (you can follow FAxA on Instagram until then).
Until then, Potts is also working on giving local artists not only a platform but a stage to perform on. He met with Justin Graham, owner at Bart’s Mart in the burgeoning Eastway Crossing shopping center, to discuss expanding the open mics that the small bottle shop had been sparingly hosting when they found the time and performers.
Potts says the hesitancy of local venues to book hip-hop shows along with the new struggles introduced by the pandemic have only inspired a stronger drive for DIY folks like himself.
“What it’s done is created a generation of artists that literally had to do it on our own and we had to hustle and make something out of nothing. That’s why I’ve been grateful to find other locations to perform at like Bart’s Mart,” he says. “Every place is a music venue if you put a speaker in it. Bart’s Mart has done some open mics but I saw the potential in it and I said, ‘How can we make this bigger? How can I get my people involved?’ Justin being the guy he is, he’s definitely open to new ideas, so I was grateful that he was open to that idea so we could have that and show the real talent in the city.”
On June 29, he hosted the first FAxA Open Mic at Bart’s Mart, featuring local rappers performing while Francesko the Artist sold his artwork. The next event is scheduled for July 30.
Potts emphasizes that everyone is welcome to work with FAxA, as long as the artist is willing to put in the same level of commitment that he’s willing to give back to them.
“The idea is to keep as much money in the artists’ pockets as possible, of course without going crazy ourselves,” he says. “It’s all about maintaining a balance — finding artists that are working, making sure that they’re consistently working, they just need that level up … That’s the biggest thing is we want to make sure that we’re helping artists, but we’re also looking for artists to believe in themselves, to step it up. Let’s make sure that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, and we’ll do what we can.”
Because when you’re looking to open doors, collaboration is the key.
Become part of the Nerve: Get better connected and become a monthly donor to support our mission and join thousands of Charlotteans by subscribing to our email newsletter. If you’re looking for the arts in Charlotte, subscribe to the paper for the most in-depth coverage of our local scene.