For many artists, appealing to diverse audiences is no easy feat. But for West Philadelphia natives Josh and Aziz Collins of the R&B/ Soul duo U.City (formerly United Soul), this task is accomplished with ease, style, and some good music.
With their debut album Reservations, released in February 2005, U.City has created a fusion of soul, rock, funk and hip hop all in one original sound. A sound that engages various demographics and causes attempts at a single defined genre to appear somewhat futile. Reservations serves as a reminder of soul music as it once was. This project features music that “warms the heart and reminds one of love lost, found and yearned for”, as Aziz describes it. Included on the album is the sultry single “Best of Me” which won the group the 2003 Heineken Music Initiative/ASCAP Foundation R&B Grant which recognizes the best rising songwriters across the country. Another single, “He Don’t”, was also featured on Hidden Beach Recordings’ compilation album “Hidden Hits” released in the summer of 2003.
“Our sound is our own. It is exactly sincere; people don’t have to feel like they are listening to soul artists trying to do rock, hip-hop, and pop”, says Josh. Though the two are not related by blood as their identical last names suggest, their kindred musical connection explains why they identify as “brothers”. After attempts in solo ventures, the vocal contrasts of Josh and Aziz, an ideal mixture of refined smoothness and raw strength, finally came together in 2001.
Since their modest beginnings, the group, whose main influences include Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and D’Angelo, has realized a significant amount of local success and has developed a firm following in the Philadelphia area. They have since been featured in venues throughout the region including the locally renowned Theater of the Living Arts and the Trocadero. The group’s talents also earned them a spot on the 2005 VH1 Soul Tour where they shared the stage with Jaguar Wright and Kindred the Family Soul in Washington D.C. and New York City. The group is in no rush however, to bypass local success for worldwide recognition. “We are community based and believe that change starts from home. We can’t sing about changing the world without addressing the issues on our own block first”, Josh states.
Still, appreciation for U.City’s work reaches far beyond the boundaries of their immediate region. Music industry professionals from across the country, including Grammy award-winning producers Ronald “PNut” Frost (Jill Scott’s Beautifully Human) and Anthony “Ant” Bell (Anthony Hamilton’s Comin’ From Where I’m From) have recognized the potential of this group and have worked with them on numerous projects including their debut album. Outside of the country, the duo is generating a considerable amount of buzz. U.City made their international debut when they performed at the Jazz Café in London in 2005. And since its release, Reservations has sold well in Japan, London and France.
U.City continues to work on new projects in order to offer something that both devoted fans and first-time listeners can truly appreciate. Whether performing one of their sentimental-laced ballads like “Light a Candle” or a rock-infused track such as their original “Electric Lady”, the group will compel their audiences to pay attention. U.City strives to create that which will stand apart and ultimately “bring authenticity and depth to an industry that is starving to be fed substance.”