Hubbs is a rapper from the Penn Hills area who delivers heady, introspective bars using a relaxed flow that belies a deep intensity.
If there’s one thing I like almost as much as I like music, it’s baseball. I’ve been a diehard Phillies fan since I was nine years old; when I was a kid, I used to pore over box scores and leaderboards in the Philadelphia Inquirer until I had memorized as many players’ stats as I could. I can still tell you off the top of my head that Pat Burrell drove in 117 runs in 2005, Ryan Howard hit 58 homers in 2006, Chase Utley batted .332 in 2007, Cole Hamels had 14 wins and 10 losses in 2008. And don’t worry, Pirates fans, I still remember legends like Tom Gorzelanny, Nate McLouth, and Jack Wilson. I was thrilled, then, to see that Hubbs named his most recent album (presented by Modern Vintage PGH) after Tony Pena, an All-Star catcher who began his career with the Pirates in 1980. The record’s second track, “Pennant,” produced by New York’s NysceWorkk, features looped strings and brass bookended by audio of Pena’s walk-off home run in Game 1 of the 1995 American League Division Series. The song feels like a victory trot around the bases; atop the regal instrumental, Hubbs proclaims, “The glow so in touch, I been seeing Him,” and paints a picture of himself “leaning on the sunset.” A stark contrast is drawn, then, when he pivots to the line, “I’m consoling my young king as young homies getting shot,” also mentioning a “grape vine full of hate crimes.” One of Hubbs’ strengths is his ability to juxtapose celestial imagery with bleak descriptions of strife and injustice.
Back to baseball and Tony Pena for a second. The guy seems to fly under history’s radar. He didn’t put up flashy numbers (only 107 home runs and a career .260 batting average); his value came from durability and defensive prowess. By some metrics, though, he’s a top-50 catcher of all time. Upon learning of his lofty status, my incredulous response (“Who knew Tony Pena was so good?”) was similar to the question that Hubbs poses about himself on “Pennant”: “Who is this Hubbs guy? When did he become the best?” Hubbs and Tony Pena: two greats that sneak up on you.