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Philly's Cookie Rabinowitz has his hand in everything from hip-hop to animation

Soul Spectacle

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Rather than joining the blue-eyed soul club, specs-wearing Cookie Rabinowitz puts his own spin on the genre by calling his music "four-eyed soul." "We're not necessarily labeling it as far as ethnicity," Rabinowitz says. "Myself and the guys in the band are from quirky backgrounds. We have all shapes and sizes, so it's more eclectic." The music exudes classic R&B vibes with a modern upgrade, incorporating an electronic touch that adds a cosmic element to his sound.

Based in Philadelphia, Rabinowitz's influences span genres and decades, starting out in rock and heavy metal and morphing into R&B, hip-hop, and rap. "I schooled myself in the rock background, but my love was for soul music," says Rabinowitz. He garnered early influences from late-'50s and '60s funk groups like Sly and the Family Stone and the Isley Brothers, while pure soul hit him hard in the form of a Marvin Gaye record. "He just makes you listen with an open mind, that pure soul."

A big mentor for Rabinowitz is gangster-rap originator, Schoolly D, who included him on a tour with Public Enemy and other classic hip-hop groups. "I played guitar on the road for a few shows with those guys," Rabinowitz says. "Soul snubs its nose at rapping sometimes, and I was worried about being a singer-songwriter on that tour bus, but those people in that mix were the most open-minded people, the hip-hop community. They had nothing but love and gave me a lot of confidence that I didn't have before.

The connection, however, was not exclusively musical. Schoolly D's passion for animation — he did the theme song for Adult Swim's Aqua Teen Hunger Force — served as an empowering inspiration for Rabinowitz's own cartoon dreams. He is currently working on a pilot with Cartoon Network and has a series of animations on YouTube titled, The Cookie Rabinowitz Show.

Other than Schoolly D, Rabinowitz's current tour lineup includes animations producer, sound engineer, and guitarist Eric Horvitz; keyboardist/writer/producer Reyes; and jazz-trumpet genius John Swana, who plays the EVI to add that spacey sound to the stage and studio. "It's nothing that a traditional synth-keyboard can create," Rabinowitz explains. "It's a different sound than anything else out there."

Rabinowitz and company dropped an album in February. One of the tracks "Firewall" was covered by Sleepy Hollow star Orlando Jones on a Halloween mixtape featured on Billboard. And their Hall and Oates' cover "Fall in Philadelphia" also won the Philly crew a couple thousand online downloads in just two days. The tribute to the hometown meant a lot to Rabinowitz, who has had his ups and downs in the city. "For us, Philadelphia has got a lot of problems. It's not perfect, and it's rough around the edges in some spots, but it's my home, and when I'm here, it's right," says Rabinowitz.

While off the road, Rabinowitz DJs at a local strip club to pay the bills. "The music isn't easy to pay bills with, but you gotta feed the fire. That's where my day job — well, night job actually — comes in. They're cool with the music, and I work as much as I can, so whenever I have a show, they work around my schedule," says Rabinowtiz. Somewhere along the journey, Rabinowitz has also dabbled in technology and computer software, finding odd jobs as a self-proclaimed tech geek.

Those skills are applied on the road, as Rabinowitz brings animation screens that play behind the stage, featuring scenes from the cartoon he and Horvitz have developed. "It's a big part of our show," Rabinowitz says. "We change it every few gigs, but we have hours and hours of footage of animations of these characters. We mash up all of those visuals."

Rabinowitz has been working on a new record since February, but the release is on hold until the first disc really gets into the hands of the masses. In the meantime, he'll release a track next month, "Broad Street Buddah." Rabinowitz says, "The song is about not being tied to anywhere or anything and not being close-minded to profiles and stuff like that. The theme runs loosely through all our stuff."

There are big plans for the album release next year, apart from the traditional method of vinyl, Spotify, or iTunes. "It will be different from just streaming it on the internet," Rabinowitz promises. "That's all I can say now, but we will be breaking some new ground on that."

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