By Ken Mammarella
Jet Phynx wants residents of the hood to know that life offers more choices than sports and drugs.
He wants to reach “that kid whose mattress is on the floor, who has to get his lunch and dinner from the corner bodega because his mom is drunk off beer from the corner liquor store.”
He wants that kid — and others like him — to see what he has overcome, thanks to his ambition, his growing skill set and his spirituality. “God is the Creator,” he says. “He is also a creative. When you’re tapping into God, every person is a creator.”
Phynx is a creative as well, or, as he describes himself on LinkedIn: “The Shooter — cinematographer, director and overall visual creative.”
He is extra busy now and getting extra attention with the second annual Jet Phynx Dirty Popcorn Black Film Festival. The Delaware Art Museum, which hosts the free festival, says it “aims to discover, raise up and celebrate diverse new voices in and around Delaware through film, and preserve the work of local Black filmmakers.” Participants are asked to register at delart.org.
The festival, which runs 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 12, is planned to include screenings, meet-and-greets with filmmakers, a Q&A panel and a closing ceremony featuring audience awards.
Iz Balleto, the museum’s community engagement specialist, looks forward to increasing engagement among participants. “We want this to grow. We want this to give light to all the BIPOC talent,” he says, using the acronym for Black, indigenous and people of color. “We’re going deeper with our stories.”
For example, an artist who connected to the museum at the first festival came back to the museum in May for the Tradition, Cultura, Memory Fashion Show, in which she created what Balleto called an “emotional mural on what it’s like to be a migrant.”
“I want creatives to come network,” Phynx says. And maybe mentor, too.
On the day of his interview, Phynx was reviewing 112 films that had been submitted. He also has created an accompanying exhibit that will run for a month at the art museum.
That’s on top of running Jet Phynx Films, “a creative agency … delivering the visual sauces from culture to corporate,” from its offices in downtown Wilmington, including video production, branding, photography, studio rental and post-production for thousands of clients so far.
It Started With Music
Phynx grew up in Delaware. His father, Frederick Duncan, was an interior designer who longed to be a jazz saxophonist. Egyptian artifacts adorned the house. Jazz created the atmosphere. After he was diagnosed with throat cancer and had his vocal cords removed, Duncan communicated often via music.
“We would write music,” Phynx recalls. “He would play a jazz record and put the cover on the floor, and I would have to pick which cover went with the song. It was just like this little game, and we used to play it all the time. That’s how I found out that Kenny G was actually white.”
His parents divorced when he was 9, and he was mostly raised by his grandparents, who instilled energy and deep faith in him.
“It kept me balanced and focused from making a lot of mistakes in the industry, because there is so much temptation,” he says, referring to “the devil and all this darkness — the women, the money, the drugs and just having celebrity status. All that can make you crazy.”
During those formative years, Phynx also was writing lyrics that he likens to poetry. “I really wanted to put my thoughts into music,” he says.
He also had this “weird duality” of also being interested in sports, so he was part of the Elkton High School football team that won the state champion in 2000. He studied fashion merchandising at the University of Delaware until he decided to develop his career in places with stronger creative cultures.
He was 20 the last time he saw his father, on the day he died. His father asked him to write out his birth name — Parris — and look at it in a mirror. “It said Sir Rap. You’re a man, and you’re supposed to rap, he said. The world didn’t get to hear me. Make sure they hear you. Be my voice.”
First, he needed to bestow his rap name, which he got from a friend in the business. “You got to take off like a jet,” he said. Ooh, I like that.”
The conversation continued on the issues he was dealing with, including “rotten ashes. And we both said Jet Phoenix. That’s cool.” He simplified the spelling for the mythical bird that rises from the ashes, although it’s still pronounced the same away.
Thus began his first career, starting in 2010, as a rapper who has recorded hundreds of songs. He built his career by moving around and learning from lots of boldfaced names in different communities, living in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Toronto, Miami, Baltimore and the Washington, D.C., area.
“I was always destined to be this person,” he says. “My dad set the tone, and it was just for me to get there. It’s like my dad was somewhere roaming in Egypt like Indiana Jones, and I’m just looking for the artifacts. And I’ve kept that in my mind. I’ve always kept the creative mind spirit in my head. I always had to keep moving and keep going. There are so many different evolutions of Jet Phynx. Right now, I fully feel I have the drive where the phoenix is about to burst all the way into the sky, and everyone will see everything that’s been building.”
Phynx, who’s now 40, returned to Wilmington to establish what he hoped would be a “normal life, away from the devil and that darkness. He and his wife have a son, Kendrick, now 12.
Kendrick has assisted his father in teaching classes and has accompanied his father in the field. “He knows how to shoot really well, but his real passion is in sports and coding. So I encourage him to stay in that lane and will eventually show him a little bit of what I’m doing.”
Phynx is intrigued how the cityscape of Delaware’s largest city could stand in for other places in filming, if only he could help establish a momentum and a talent pool for what he calls Delawood.
He has “played a major role in developing artists’ careers and overall personas (Lady Gaga is just one example),” he writes on LinkedIn, and his client list for visual content includes Coca-Cola, Under Armour, Roc Nation, RCA Records, Atlantic Records, Skechers, Zelle and SoundCloud.
In 2017, Jet founded his independent production company. It specializes in entertainment and lifestyle branding, producing full- and short-length films, it says on JetPhynxFilms.com
In 2022, he and Ozprana (the professional name for Anthony Osborne, vice president of Jet Phynx Films) created 11 episodes of the Reel Talk podcast to “explore the journey to the source of creativity,” they write on their Apple homepage. “As Black creatives, Jet and Oz dive into what it means to be a creative in the urban space and culture with topics ranging from camera talk, editing styles, originality and branding, mental health, business management and developing the mindset to be a successful creator.”
“He has pushed me the hardest I’ve ever been pushed by anyone,” Ozprana says. “And that goes for all aspects: musically, creativity, spiritually, mentally, wisdom, accountability, being a great man. … He gives me his all and continues to share his gifts, knowledge and resources as long as I give my all. He doesn’t settle for less — EVER. With his Michael Jordan attitude towards creativity, execution and his Steve Jobs approach to detail, you will see why his work is the level and quality it is.
“I don’t think many could handle the chaos, pressure and magnitude of our industry without a ‘Jet’ in their corner. There’s so much to our world that simply can’t be learned in school or in a conventional way. With all he has given to me I can now stand by his side and return the favors to him and other people that want to get into our industry.”
“When you’re from the hood, you only have two options: either be a drug dealer or be able to get into sports,” Phynx says. “Most people aren’t thinking about being a doctor or anything like that because those dreams don’t come from that. I started realizing that the camera is the new basketball. With the camera, you can be creative, and you can go to the next level.”