Over the years there have been countless discussions on ways of bringing new life into inline skating and the conversation usually revolves around television exposure or lack thereof. What is too often overlooked is what can we as individuals can do within our local areas to grow blading organically and to show the community that we are not all hooligans and troublemakers, but more often, we are dedicated athletes that have found skating as a form of escape from the vices that plague our peers and families.
One of those individuals that is using skating to make a positive change within his community is none other than southern gentleman, Phillip Gripper. Phil has been a pillar of the Carolina blade scene for years and is now co-owner of the incredible Oso indoor skatepark. At Oso, Phil has dedicated his time into mentoring the younger generations of skaters and showing them the power of perseverance and positive thinking. On top of his busy schedule in managing the day-to-day operations of Oso, he also finds the time to give back to his local area through numerous social outreach programs and charities.
As if Phil’s resume wasn’t impressive enough, he is also an extremely multi-talented musician that produces his own solo projects under the moniker of Moon Man, he plays in a hard rocking band known as The Modern Primitives and a member of the international collective of musicians known as The Hip Hop Prodigies.
We had the amazing opportunity to speak with Phillip more about his blading roots, his personal influences and how his team at Oso skatepark have persevered through the recent setbacks with the Coronavirus. Here is what Phil had to say.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Phil. We know you are a very busy man with running a park and your other passions. Now, I know you have been blading for quite a long time, what drew you to rollerblading initially?
I’d have to say it was a coincidence of timing. There were a lot of kids my age in my neighborhood, and we did everything when it came to sports. I was 14 and we were all learning to skateboard, when my neighbors got a street hockey set up & we all got rollerblades to play. Not even a month later, the city announced it was building an outdoor skate park and from that point it was on. We started using our skateboard ramps with our blades and I’ve been blading ever since.
The blading scene in the Carolinas has groomed some amazing blading talent over the years. Who are some new kids coming up that are carrying the torch for the South?
The Carolina’s has always had hidden gems when it comes to blading talent. Since opening Oso we’ve been able to cultivate a new blade, bladie and quad scene. Shalina Leonhardt had been blading for a little over a year and has learned everything regular and switch. We also have a crew of kids that are going to take blading to new levels. One standout is a 6 year old named Braylon that can already soul and makio regular and switch on ledges/boxes and can frontside to fakie on the 6 foot quarter pipes at Oso.
You are co-owner of the incredible Oso skatepark in Charlotte, North Carolina. Now the first time I had heard of Oso was years ago when you were developing hand-made skates. What happened with that project and how did it change to you opening a skatepark?
We just went silent with the Oso boot project. We still have new designs and molds. We just don’t talk about it. I still have 2 pairs that I use every now and again. Brett and I were using our own money to test materials and make boots, which added up fast. We put over $6,000 into it before we decided to try to find a way to come up with some money for the project, so the initial idea of opening Oso skate park was to have a place to manufacture the boots and a way to generate income to pay for the production of the boots. Since opening our main goal has been to be a place of inclusiveness, outreach and positivity. We’ve really been able to tap into the communities of our city in a meaningful way, which goes way beyond making rollerblade boots.
The rapper Lil Wayne is an avid skateboarder and he actually visited Oso park recently. How was that experience and did you have to shut down the park for him to skate privately?
When Lil Wayne came through he I was super excited for the skate park’s image, but personally nervous because the last time he visited a skate park in our area his manager got hurt and sued the skate park, ultimately putting them out of business. Everything ended up being fine thankfully. He rented the park after hours, and requested that we arrange for 2 skateboarders to come, so he can have people to session with. I called all the best boarders that I’m friends with, and none of them took me serious. I called a 14 year old skateboarder Elijah, that volunteers at Oso, and he was literally there in 3 minutes. Watching Weezy skate was pretty cool. I didn’t expect much from what I’ve seen of him before, but he skated pretty well. I was really impressed with his personality. He reminded me of Dre Powell. Pure positive energy. He dapped me up and apologized for being an hour late. During the session he was screaming and cheering for Elijah like they were long time homies, while Chris and I watched and hung out with his manager and security. By contract we couldn’t film or take photos during the sesh, but without hesitation Wayne was willing to take a pic with us for park promo, and ended up giving Chris and I his cell number inviting us to his skate park in Miami. The next day he shouted us out on his Twitter. The only way it could’ve been better would’ve been if got to blade with him, but I don’t know his opinion on bladers, so I didn’t this time. If he comes back I’m throwing them on.
Oso has made quite a name for itself within the city of Charlotte for giving back to the community. Can you explain some of the outreach projects that Oso has done?
We opened Nov. 30th 2017, kicking off our start with a winter clothing and toiletry supply drive in benefit to The Hope Wagon; hosted by Lionheart Group. By Oct. 2018 we were hosting our own monthly outreach event called #communityunity, where we accept clothing donations, and have volunteers join us in making sandwiches for the Urban Ministy. Since then we’ve hosted kids camps, held fundraisers for local individuals in need and for other local businesses, hosted all ages art and music events, preformed stunt shows at local charity events, worked with several local nonprofits and organizations that give back, all while bonding with almost every person that comes in our doors.
How has the recent COVID pandemic affected the park? Is the park still temporarily closed down?
Indoor skate parks usually fail, so it really takes a lot beyond skating to stay alive. We we’re in the midst of having our 3 best consecutive months, when we were ordered to close on March 20th by notice from local law enforcement and government. As of last week the city has allowed skate parks to reopen, but we plan to wait until June. We don’t feel like it’s safe to open as the COVID pandemic is far from over, and don’t want to be a source of the spread. Thanks to the support of others, we were able to raise enough money through a GoFundMe and a government grant, to cover the rent while we’re unable to be open.
After following you on social media for a while, I have become a huge fan of your beat making as well as your work with your band The Modern Primitives. So how did you first get your start in making music?
In 8th grade I took a drafting class, and had three close friends in the class with me. One day they talking about starting a band, since two played guitar and 1 played bass. I didn’t want to be left out, so I was a drummer but sold my kit. At that point in time I’ve never even touched a full drum kit. One of the guys said “I can get you a drum set, my neighbors are throwing one out.” Playing it cool I said “Sure, when?” He replied “Today after school.” So we rode with his older brother to get the drums. Everyone wanted to hear me play a beat. Knowing I’d never played before and had lied, I made an excuse and said I had to get home ASAP because I was supposed to take the bus and had to get home before my parents got there. I got that drums into my room and again everyone wanted to hear me play. I told them “You have to go before my parents get home, but we can have our first band practice next week” so they would stop asking. My parents weren’t going to be home for hours. As soon as they left I was on those drums. I had three different beats by our first practice the following week, and have been making music ever since.
You seem to have a wide range of musical tastes. Who are your biggest musical influences?
I’m so glad you asked that. EVERYONE seems to think I’m inspired by Jimi Hendrix, but that is 100% not the case at all. My parents played Motown, disco, funk, old soul and RnB music, so I didn’t listen to any Jimi until I was almost twenty years old. My first big music inspiration was Curtis Mayfield. The songs “Little Child Runnin Wild” and “Freddy’s Dead” still are two of my favorite all time songs. I’ve always loved James Brown and how tight his band was. I think I get my crazy style of appearance from Parliament and Brother’s Johnson. Big circle glasses and afro’s with shiny shirts is definitely my thing.
I saw that you recently joined a very prestigious group of musicians called the Hip Hop Prodigies. Can you explain what they do and how they will be helping you with your music?
Hip Hop Prodigies is a collective of producers, MC’s, singers, and dancers that collaborate to help advance themselves, each other and the culture overall. They issue weekly beat making and writing challenges and offer guidance and tech support, which really caught my attention. It’s not something you pay to be in, you have to submit an application, and pass a phone orientation/interview to join. They really care to make sure that all of their members are of like mindedness, which makes for a great community. We’re currently working on a members only collab album. I’ve submitted a beat for other members to write to, and will be writing to one of their beats.
Do you have any upcoming projects or shows on the horizon? I am hoping for a compilation of some of these amazing beats you have recently released!
I’m currently recording 2 Moon Man albums from the beats I’ve made of the past couple months, while continuing to create new material. Modern Primitives is still my thing, we’re just waiting to be able to play again. We’ve put our album “Illuminaughty” out on all platforms, so check it out. For those that like stoner riff rock, check out my other band Space Wizard‘s album called “Volume” ; also on all music streaming platforms.
Thanks so much for speaking with us, Phil. Is there anyone that you would like to shout out or thank for their help?