Whip Jams: Taking a Ride with Local Musicians, 2021

Image by Jacob Hamilton, MLive

In the first few seconds of the pilot episode of Whip Jams, the viewer is taken on a kaleidoscopic tour through downtown Ann Arbor that feels almost foreign in 2021: windows down, sun splashing across laughing faces, music blasting. This is not a view one might associate with the current times, but in a world where human connection feels lost, comes a Youtube video series that aims to fuel a new kind of connectedness.

Nadim Azzam is many things: creator, producer, marketer, promoter, and host of Whip Jams, to name a few. But before that, or perhaps beyond that, Azzam is a musician.  

Azzam began performing music in high school, and today, is very involved in the Ann Arbor music scene. He collaborates with the Blind Pig, works with the Ann Arbor Northside Community Church, and is a songwriter for the Neutral Zone off Washington.

 But on Wednesdays, he’ll roll up in his black Honda Civic, ready to pick up the latest and greatest talent of Ann Arbor/Ypsi. Azzam provides the whip. The artist provides the jam. And they’re off, buzzing around the city, shooting the breeze while Azzam and crew collect live audio from whomever is accompanying him in his whip that day.

Whip Jams is a curation across the music genre. It’s all about spotlighting music and musicians in the area and giving them a platform to reach their current audiences with a little more detail,” said Azzam. “Just being able to bring awareness to our community of all the artists that are here in Ann Arbor/Ypsi, especially when we can’t go see live shows and everything, is what Whip Jams is all about.”

The episodes in the first season of Whip Jams, out now, are bite-sized video interviews, all less than ten minutes in length. Short by design, to keep ever-lessening viewer attention spans sharp, but deep in content, so that anyone watching will take away some unknown facts and tidbits about the local music scene, Whip Jams is not quite like anything that has come before.

Debuting in December of 2020, Whip Jams shot all of its episodes before the pandemic hit. While Covid-19 has put a stall on production, Azzam is working toward airing new episodes over the summer.  

Season one features interviews of Ann Arbor musicians Ki5, Mirror Monster, and Dani Darling; Flint’s D. Vaughn the Illest; and Detroit-native Pariis Noel. Watching the show, one cannot help but compare Whip Jams to Carpool Karaoke, but Azzam insists they are far from similar.

“With Carpool Karaoke, it’s sort of a late-night attraction, more for someone who is looking for comedy. They set it up almost as a gag bit, and it’s really a circuit opportunity for artists who are already established. It’s part of the press run up to put out an album.The truth is, the idea of Whip Jams developed before I knew what Carpool Karaoke was,” said Azzam. “I think it definitely existed by then, but we didn’t know about it until we were well into production. But to me, the primary difference is that Whip Jams is really about music discovery. We want to spotlight artists who aren’t already at the caliber of getting onto the late night shows. We want to provide them the opportunity to grow their audience.”

Azzam said the inception of the show came about in 2018, when he and a friend would drive around, bouncing the new music they were creating off one another. Since Azzam knew all about working in a creative, competitive field, and how important it was for musicians to get their music out there on as many outlets as possible, he wanted to craft a music interview experience that felt unique. To Azzam, this kind of informal setting of interviewing in a car felt like the most organic, honest way to get people to connect to new sounds.

“Especially for my generation, growing up as an American kid in the Midwest, so much of my social interactions came from me sitting in the car and having life talks with friends, or writing music. We thought the idea of keeping the show in an informal setting would allow for some of that natural conversation to progress, in a way that maybe a formal sitting in an interview doesn’t accomplish. But it’s also fun because, driving around, it keeps artists on their toes.”

Dani Darling, the central artist showcased in episode five, the finale of Whip Jams season one, agreed that interviewing in a car took away a lot of the traditional interview pressures and also made the interview more creative.

“When you’re doing an interview, there’s a lot that you’re thinking about. The pressure’s on, the cameras are rolling, you’ve got a lot of things running around in your mind. But here, the first thing I noticed was that no one’s staring at you while you’re trying to answer a question. I think that just makes it feel more natural and more casual,” said Darling.

“We’re talking, but we’re also kind of both looking at traffic. And we were local! I feel like that was one of my favorite parts of all the episodes—seeing where people were getting picked up around town. I feel like it really gave insight into who they were. I’m really into theater stuff outside of music, so I thought it was fitting to get picked up at the Michigan Theater, for instance.”

Darling, whose soulful lo-fi musical style draws from deep black opera and reggae roots, thinks that Whip Jams is “one of a kind.” A bold video series with an interview style all its own, Darling believes that what Azzam and team have created is one of those shows that “delves deeper into the artists’ psyche,” to create a product that viewers will be able to relate to their own lives.

“This show allows you to see different kinds of artists in different stages of artistry. You’ve got really seasoned pros like Pariis Noel, and you have music artists turned electronic fiends who are still figuring out their particular sound,” Darling said.

 “Everyone’s just doing their thing and being individual and that’s what’s amazing about music, and that’s what’s amazing about humans. And that’s why I think it’s a cool concept to explore differences between people,” said Darling. “I think that people can relate to that, you know? Hearing people’s stories in a setting like this, you get to uncover things that resonate with you in that artist. For people to be that open and honest about who they are and what they’ve gone through to get to this point, only inspires the same in other people.”

Azzam said that his interview style aims to dig a little deeper into what fuels artists to create.

“Obviously, we start by talking about the general stuff. We have to give the audience some simple background as to who this artist is. But then, I wanted to gather some fun facts and some interesting stuff. I care about going deep, I want to know about why this person makes music and who they are, what inspires them and how they got there,” said Azzam.

“As a young artist myself, I’m always watching interviews with people I look up to, trying to glean some insight. Even just hearing the process of how an artist chooses their name and their thought process behind that, or what were the biggest influences on them musically, questions like that can lead to a much more organic conversation. That’s what I strive to pursue with Whip Jams. I’m really intent on featuring artists that make you feel something deeper than the surface level.”

Azzam stresses the importance of his creative team, who helped him get Whip Jams off the ground.

“We work with an amazing, talented crew. We have local videographers come in with all these tiny cameras, making sure we get the perfect shots while driving around. Elliott Sabbagh, our sound guy, captures the audio that you are hearing live, from the car. That’s not something we dub over later. And that’s a testament to the amazing people we have, who are all part of this production,” said Azzam. “It’s really crazy. I’m really grateful and proud of the team that we have, that’s to me, the most impressive thing about the whole experience. These really high-level professionals coming together to work on this scrappy little start-up project,” Azzam said.  

He highlights some of the trickier parts of filming on the road. Said Azzam, “if it’s just the singer and let’s say they have a beat, you know, like a rapper does. You can play the instrumental in the car and they can sing and rap over it. But, if you have, you know, like Ki5 uses a looper. Then, we’re like okay…. we have to get one of those adapters to run power in the car so you can plug it in. We’re running the laptop in the backseat, recording everything live, so it’s a unique challenge. I think the next level, our next greatest challenge, is to record a live band, and figuring out all the logistics behind an idea like that.”

Check out the first season of Whip Jams on their Youtube channel, @WhipJams. For behind the scenes and more, check out @WhipJams across all social media platforms.