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The former musician, now a filmmaker, sees big things in Wilmington’s future—maybe even Beyoncé.
Local filmmaker Jet Phynx (pronounced fee-nix) likes to say that he’s seen it all.
Born Parris Duncan, he was raised in Wilmington but often spent weekends visiting his mother’s family across the Maryland state line in Elkton. He became interested in music at a young age and credits the influence of his father, Frederick Duncan, a jazz enthusiast and music collector, and his great uncle, the legendary drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, a member of the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.
At the age of 9, Phynx learned that his father had been diagnosed with throat cancer and would have his vocal cords removed. Unable to speak, the elder Duncan would arrange album covers around the record player, then quiz his children, playing music and asking the kids to match songs to albums.
Young Parris Duncan began pursuing music and songwriting in earnest while enrolled as a fashion merchandise major at the University of Delaware in 2004. It was at this time that his father’s throat cancer returned.
Two days before passing away, his father shared a final wish. “He basically said, ‘I think you should be in music. The world didn’t get to hear me. Make sure they hear you. Be my voice.’”
Shortly thereafter, Duncan began devoting all his energy into launching a music career. He recalls telling a friend that he felt like a “jet” after his father passed away, and his friend added, “or like a phoenix, rising up from the ashes.” And so was born his stage name: Jet Phynx.
He left college and moved to Los Angeles to pursue an internship with Interscope Records, where he witnessed 50 Cent’s debut album, Get Rich or Die Trying, go through the production process.
In 2010, with his then-girlfriend, Brawdway, he formed the band Typical Friday Night (TFN) and began experimenting with music and performance at the intersection of American hip-hop and Korean pop-dance culture. His first single, “Jiggle It,” was released in 2012, and his debut independent album sold more than 12,000 units worldwide.
He has been backstage with Lady Gaga, opened for Kansas, and at one time was labeled “the next Black Eyed Peas,” by Elle Canada. He’s walked the red carpet twice at the Video Music Awards and Billboard’s Grammy afterparty.
However, by 2015, Phynx had burned out on the music industry and returned to his mother’s couch in Elkton. Over the next four years, he would use his connections in the music industry to build a new life as a videographer, creating music videos for up-and-coming artists. He now has more than 200 music videos on his YouTube channel.
“He’s an experimental guy,” says Zach Phillips, creative director at Short Order Production House in Wilmington. “He’s always trying to push the limits and do something different.”
For Phynx, who is now 35 years old and lives with his wife and children in Wilmington, promoting Delaware and its talent pool of young artists has become his driving mission as a local filmmaker and entrepreneur. To learn more about his career and what it’s like to film in Wilmington, Out & About sat down with Phynx for an exclusive interview.
O&A: What made you decide to stop being a music artist?
Phynx: It was just like three years of trying to be something I wasn’t, and it got to me after a while. So I decided to walk away from all that, and I came back to Delaware to decide the next step of my life. The industry is very tough. That’s why a lot of people see artists turn to drugs because there’s a lot of demands, there’s a lot of pressure that comes with it, especially if you don’t have control of your identity. You start to lose yourself. One night, I was in a hotel in Toronto, and I’m like, You know what? I don’t want none of this anymore. I got on my knees and asked God for stability because at that time I didn’t have stability. When you’re traveling a lot, you’re doing a lot of things; you really don’t have stability in your life.
O&A: What attracted you to filmmaking?
Phynx: I was always interested in music videos. As a music artist participating in photo and video shoots, I started seeing a greater demand for good videographers. Around here, some folks were charging between $500 and $800 for videos that weren’t really that good. So here’s the plan: I’m going to shoot a hundred videos and only charge $100 for each video. Once I get past the first hundred, then I’ll move the price up. And that’s what I did. And now people are calling me, some of my label friends who remember me as an artist calling me like, “We love what you’re doing! Would you want to shoot for some of the artists we just signed?”
O&A: So your first office was at the Wilmington Amtrak station at the former location of Short Order Production House?
Phynx: I did love being at the train station. It was cool because we could secretly bring in celebrities and clients right off the train and nobody knew that they even came to Delaware. Or we could hop on the train and head to New York, or anywhere we wanted. I loved that access. Our lease wasn’t renewed, and we just got a three-story building on Market Street. It was a good thing for me because, realistically, I wanted to be on Market anyway. I feel like that’s where the new energy is going.
O&A: In addition to producing music videos, you’ve also worked with the City of Wilmington to rebrand the city. Can you tell me more about that?
Phynx: It’s the narrative. Wilmington needs a new narrative, and culture and social life. If you can bring that, then this whole city will change. I started realizing that I have people around here who look up to me. So that’s been my number one goal is to change the narrative of Wilmington, and be one of the real pioneers to set a new tone and bring culture here that connects with the millennials, because a lot of people that are doing good things out here, they’re just still not connecting to the millennials.
O&A: What made you decide to start a small business in Wilmington?
Phynx: Wilmington can be the hottest city in America. I truly believe it’s a city on the rise, just like Austin was. We have a lot of unique things going on here in the state, and it’s just waiting for the right people to step up and be the faces of it. That’s what makes a city grow. That’s why I’m really pushing because there’s not many film companies here, and on top of that not even an urban film company. So that’s why I’m going to pioneer this energy with film.
O&A: What are some of your favorite spots to shoot in Delaware? And what do you look for when planning a shoot?
Phynx: Delaware has a lot of different looks. You got Wilmington, an eclectic city with buildings from a lot of time periods mixed together. You’re an hour away from the beach. You can get the suburban look. So what I always try to look for are places that, for example, look like New York. Then I create the narrative, making it look like a New York street. Same if there’s a neighborhood that looks like California. When I came back to Delaware, I was like, These houses are built just like in Long Beach, California. So I just look for places and landmarks that give a different type of feeling. There are so many historical buildings. Like the Hotel Du Pont: that’s equivalent to the Waldorf Astoria. You hear what I’m saying? We wanted to capture that regal feel, like you were at a ball in the Waldorf. I just have a keen eye for that. That’s what I look for.
O&A; Have you heard about the new sound stage that’s being built on Wilmington’s Seventh Street Peninsula?
Phynx: Yeah. That’s gonna bring so much, like, oh my God—do you realize how big that is?
O&A: I have no idea. What can Wilmington expect because of it?
Phynx: So here’s what I learned in the music business. When you’re building a tour stage with lighting, pyrotechnics, underground lifts and all types of stuff, everyone needs to practice the routine beforehand. Run the set, make sure lighting is there, and everything is the way you want it to be. Then you keep breaking the tour stage down, seeing how long it takes to break down, how many crew you’re going to need, how many trucks are needed. That’s a big deal.
Q: So the soundstage is where all the pieces of a tour come together for the first time?
Phynx: Yeah. But it’s also logistical. When artists go on tour, they mostly start on the East Coast and wrap up in LA. It’s easier on the pockets. Why have a truck drive all the way from California to New York just to circle back around when the tour is done? Just start from here and travel back to California. Here in Delaware, the trucks will get right on I-95 and go. It’s prime location. That’s one reason why Beyoncé and all these big-time superstars are going to be coming to Delaware soon, and they’re gonna stay in hotels because they’re going to be working on their tour for that whole week, or month, right in that building.
Learn more about Jet Phynx at jetphynxfilms.com.