View from the top
Steph Simon's Visions
Without Tulsa, there would be no Visions from the Tisdale. The album is a product of Steph Simon’s relationship with his city in the same way Illmatic is a product of Nas’s relationship with Queensbridge.
“I really like to tell my story of growing up out north and growing up out south, that’s my big thing,” Simon told me. “I wanted to make an album for people to feel like they’re in Tulsa.”
Visions is littered with rich memories and bright images of Simon’s time living in north Tulsa and his eventual transition to the Union school district his freshman year of high school.
“All the way up until [moving], Tulsa stopped at Wal-Mart on Admiral and Memorial,” he recalled. “We never went around that highway unless we went to Woodland Hills for Christmas.”
Simon found much of his inspiration for Visions sitting atop a hill directly above the L.L. Tisdale Parkway sign near his old neighborhood. “To me, it’s the best view of Tulsa.”
The 13-track LP opens, fittingly, with “Visions,” which begins with Simon namedropping streets and local landmarks (“I can see Pine Street, lemme go to Lacy . . . Swing down Virgin, headed to Apache”). The second verse takes us back to the 1921 race massacre, to Simon’s vision of what Greenwood would’ve looked like from the hill—“I can see the smoke in the air, I can see the fire burnin’/I can see the kids crying cuz they mom ‘n’ daddy dyin.’”
With beats adapted from Outkast’s Dirty South classic “Funky Ride,” “TulsaxWorld” is a standout track, packed with clever bars and head-nodding bass lines. Guest rappers Dialtone and Young DV float over the beats with rhythmic ease. Simon closes out the song with dialogue discussing old feelings of shame towards his hometown (“It feel good to rep the town nowadays, niggas used to be ashamed of that shit”).
Simon’s powerful lyrics, coupled with a smooth delivery over feather-light beats, make his intense message easily palatable. By using his music to provide a portal to life on the north side, Simon hopes to ignite an interest among listeners who may not be familiar with that part of the city. As a high schooler, he witnessed curiosity about the area. “Going to Union, I had friends that would ask me about how it was out north all the time because they had only heard about it on the news.”
Lately, Simon’s creative interests have expanded beyond music into writing books and screenplays. His pen stays busy even during his day job at a call center, where he’s able to complete job-related tasks on autopilot as he writes. “They tell me to put my pad up all the time, for security reasons,” he confesses.
In addition to being a song title, TulsaxWorld is the name of a brand of local hip-hop artists including Simon who share the mutual dream of promoting their music around the world and providing artists with a solid platform and backing. By collaborating with other MCs, DJs, producers, graphic design artists, writers, etc., the TulsaxWorld group boasts great potential to expand. It’s a lifestyle that’s rooted in Tulsa but doesn’t limit itself to just Oklahoma. “Because of the Internet, we can reach anywhere,” Simon said.
“[Visions is] the album that’s gonna get us over the hump,” Dialtone, AKA Antonio Andrews, predicted. “It’s like we been all getting on our hands and knees for one another to get over this fence and Steph is the one that’s gonna jump over the top and open it up for us.”
“It’s a Tulsa masterpiece,” fellow rapper Devin “Young DV” Vann added. “He paints the picture vividly to where out-of-towners would be able to envision what he’s talking about. It’s just a great piece of art and an Oklahoma classic.”
For more from Mary, read her article on agressive yet unassuming local emcee Mike Dee.