Domenic Palermo, front man of Philly shoegaze band Nothing, saw himself in Meek Mill as the superstar rapper endured a long drawn-out legal battle with the criminal justice system.
While Mill has become a spokesperson for prison reform since his release, Palermo is working to contribute to the cause as well. "To see such a prominent Philly figure right now going through it and not being able to escape it even with his status and money, it really made me decide that I wanted to focus my attention on that," Palermo said.
He and his band may not have the platform that Mill has, but he's had similar experiences.
Palermo spent two years in prison in Camden, and six on probation for aggravated assault and attempted murder in the early 2000s. The people he grew up with in Kensington know the system, too. "I've dealt with people that have gotten railroaded by that system and gotten themselves caught up in the revolving door just because of a minor thing," said Palermo, referencing minimum sentences on minor drug offenses. "And it's not really made to be an easy thing to get out. I've watched a lot of friends go down that way."
This weekend Palermo is launching Belly of the Beats, an organization centered on tackling issues within Philly's criminal justice system. On Saturday, Nothing will headline a show that will also double as a hometown release party for their third record Dance on the Blacktop (Smut, Big Bite, and Swirlies will also play on the bill). A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Pennsylvania Prison Society, a nonprofit that provides services like family transportation and advocating for prisoners' rights.
Venue Union Transfer will also donate a portion of the bar tab, while promotions agency R5 Productions will donate the service fee to the cause as well.
"We were shocked," said Natalie Jenkins, communications and development associate the Pennsylvania Prison Society, about Palermo's offer of a donation, "but we're excited to be a part of it."
Palermo and Nothing have donated proceeds from shows to organizations like the Pennsylvania Prison Society in the past, but Belly of the Beats is meant to be more of a long-term project, rather than one event. Palermo plans to keep growing the organization and hopes to eventually have some legislative impact. "We have plans of moving this festival toward more of its own act and trying to help some of the legislative stuff, but we figured for the first year, with all we have going on, we would find a suitable nonprofit that we really believed in that we could get some money to," Palermo said about why they chose the Pennsylvania Prison Society.
In addition to the donations from Saturday's show, the Pennsylvania Prison Society will receive 100 percent of the proceeds from an online auction, called the Single Marker Series that features the custom work of 16 artists who were sent a blank record sleeve and one marker — to represent the mandatory minimum drug sentencing and lack of resources provided to the currently incarcerated — and were tasked with redesigning the cover for Dance on the Blacktop.
The title of the album is slang for fighting, a term Palermo learned during his two years in prison, and the rest of the album touches on difficult periods in Palermo's life including his incarceration and his dad's death. The themes are heavier and more personal than previous Nothing efforts. It sounds dreamier, too, a reference to how he felt after he was diagnosed with a brain injury following a 2015 assault. The record's second track "Blue Line Baby," a song about the opioid crisis in Kensington, is a reference to the Market-Frankford El and mentions Philadelphia street names Cambria and Lehigh, streets Palermo grew up on.
But those streets that he grew up on are changing: He points out that while the city takes new shapes, there is still work to be done in communities like these.
"There's more money coming in and there's more real estate and development happening, but the problems are still there," he says.
He continues, "It's kind of bittersweet to see your city finally thriving and doing well for itself, but when you really look at it under a microscope, it's being done in a way that's just kinda shameful to be honest."