Hip-hop and R&B artist Sphynix Roze turned her childhood experience in the foster care system into a drive to provide foster children with life-sustaining goods and services: The Sphynix Project.
“I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete… It’s so fuckin’ heroic.” —George Carlin
And that’s my way of ringing in the vernal season’s sentiment of rebirth and regeneration, courtesy of Mr. Conductor, that late, great Roebling & Sons* of comic oratory. The quote’s brusqueness allows it to be concise, because the right words—not their nearest cousins—were used, and that gives it power.
Of course there is another kind of power being described here, and it is that of life itself. Concrete, taken as a trope, is often cast as the embodiment of soullessness, or the chief characteristic of settings which are pitiless and unfeeling—the man-made city in most cases. But when a budding stalk, nourished through weaknesses in the asphalt, exploits a crack and prizes its way to the surface to bloom in the sunshine, it seems to exist, in all its leafy, verdant exuberance, and equal vulnerability, in baldfaced spite of its cold surroundings, as if to say, “Hello, World. Life’s here. Do something about it.”
Philadelphia-based hip-hop and R&B artist Sphynix Roze’s 2014 debut single, Grown Woman, has the singer flexing with a similar sentiment, with a soulful Philly R&B spin on the usual hip-hop fronting. And I write ‘usual’ with all the best intentions; with Ms. Roze, as with the flower growing out of the sidewalk, there is nothing wrong with expressions of cathartic triumph over a life of hardship, even if so many in the industry proceed to milk the act behind their electric gates, flexing nuts well after becoming superheroes.
Sphynix ran away from an abusive household at age eleven, announcing her departure with a crayon-scrawled note on trash paper. From there she was bounced from foster home to foster home, twenty-two in all, before finally being released from Child Protective Services at the age of 21.
She assembled the portmanteau of ’Sphynix’ (SFEE-nix), from the Ancient Egyptian mythological creatures, Sphinx and Phoenix, and feels she embraces certain aspects of each—the latter for obvious reasons. Admittedly non-religious (at least by Western standards), Ms. Roze is fascinated by Egyptian mythology, and lets that show both in her onstage jewelry, and the purpose she feels she serves in depressed communities. The Sphynix Project, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization is sponsored by GreatChance.org, an initiative of Brightlife Charitable Foundation Inc., and by We, The World, a global collaboration for social change, spearheaded by Jane Goodall, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and others. Says Ms. Roze, “We’re about to be very busy here in L.A., because May is National Foster Care Month.”
The Sphynix Project aims to provide free clothing and sustenance to foster children, via Salvation Army-style brick-and-mortar markets, as well as providing goods to the community at large on a needs basis. Ms. Roze’s mission aims to ensure that children who exist in the foster care system don’t have to suffer quite the level of indignity and discomfort as what she experienced. Feeling she embraces the guardian aspect of the sphinx—albeit a more benevolent ward than is usually depicted, but no less dedicated—she states, “My guardianship is over any foster children who are in need… Or just people, period.”
Her normal speaking voice was surprisingly more delicate than her deep, strong recording vocals led me to expect. “I love being able to sing in that lower octave,” says Ms. Roze, herself a fan of other female baritone singers like Sade, Toni Braxton and India.Arie, “it has been hard for people to find a place for me because my voice is so unique—most women can’t go that deep.”
In 2012, Sphynix was discovered and coached by Grammy®-nominated producing/songwriting duo Helen Bruner and Terry Jones, who despite declining offers to sign new artists, nevertheless instructed her to invest in her potential, “They looked at me, they told me I had everything that it took to make it in this business, but that I had to invest in myself.”
Since her emancipation from foster care, Sphynix earned a Finance degree from Millersville University, has had a comfortable career in accounting before deeming that life path “completely boring,” ran two daycare centers, a nightclub, and eventually settled on real estate and property preservation, which provides the funds for her creative work. Ms. Roze currently has the freedom and resources to work on her music whenever the creative bolt strikes; the five singles she has released between 2014 and now are well-polished works, plus her most recent Sitten Here, released just this February, which is the first single of her new ongoing project LIQUID. “At this point I’m making music because I want to make music,” says Ms. Roze. “I’m not making a whole lot of money off my music, but I don’t really care—I enjoy doing it.” And her nearly 20,000 fans on Reverbnation.com love listening in.
Sphynix is backing away from, in her own words, the ‘surface’ type songs of her earlier work, shelving the in-your-face lyrics for something more mysterious and mercurial. “The tracks in this project,” says Sphynix, “are like liquid. I’m coming off the surface, because I don’t live on the surface.” Throughout our chat, it was clear that she felt her personal story aligned best with the Phoenix: the mythological bird that is reborn of its ashes—and due to my age and generation, I cannot help but think of the image of Fawkes flying Harry and the gang back to Hogwarts, accompanied by strings of John Williams. (And not the Osamu Tezuka masterpiece? For shame!) I also think of the Carlin quote, which rhymes metaphorically with Sphynix’s own Reverb Nation bio: “Started out a foster kid on the streets of Philly…never got adopted… I am the rose that grew from concrete.”
*There was no Roebling & Sons during the life of John A. Roebling. I just thought that device sounded better than 'John A. Roebling's Sons Co.' Oh well...