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Jesse Mader: A 'Breath' of urban rock

• The first song you encounter on Jesse Mader's site starts with a flitting synth line into a hip-hop beat over which he launches a rapid-fire rap verse. Before you know it, he moves fluidly into a head-turning refrain of "Baby, we were born to run."

"I grew up attending Bruce Springsteen concerts every year with my mother," the rapper says, "and that's what I wanted to be. So I finally found a way to make it all work, haha."

"Born to Run" is one of the tracks of "Breath by Breath," a new album from the Pittsburgh artist that combines rock and hip-hop with a feverish intensity.

He and producer Chris Longo (aka Mindbender) call it "urban rock," and the rapper attributes it to growing up in a musical family with a lot of loud music being played in the basement.

"I knew how to rock a 'four on the floor' rhythm at age 3," he says. "My father sang with different bands, and I remember watching him perform at local festivals in the summer. I learned early on that it's OK to sing, dance, laugh and perform. A lot of kids don't ever learn that."

As a teenager in Allentown, he was fully immersed in what he calls "that '90s golden era of hip-hop where it really broke free and meshed with R&B melodies, and that music is timeless."

By 15, he says, he was making songs out of sampled guitars and keyboard riffs into a tape recorder.

"I think that was the beginning of my hybrid music production. It came from experimenting with anything that I thought sounded good -- pop, rock, R&B, hip-hop. I always wanted to write stories using hip hop but front an energetic rock and roll band."

He built a fanbase selling his first two mixtapes out of the trunk of his car and in 2006 released his debut album, "Thin Line," named for the thin line between his musical styles.

Back then, he was going as J. James. "Breath by Breath," with its full band sound courtesy of the Urban Rock Pro-ject (DJ Climax, Chris Kraski, Anthony Tomassello, Mindbender and Jason Longo), has him working under his own name for marketing and artistic reasons.

"The main reason was for growth and change as an artist," he says. "The music I was writing felt too honest and authentic to really need a stage name anymore. The other reason was for online marketing and 'ownability' of the name as a brand. There are a lot of other 'Jesse James' and 'J.James' in the independent music world already, so Jesse Mader was more unique. I still use "J.James" as an alias for the grittier side of me and the music. So it still exists in the underground."

The release show is at Club Cafe, South Side, at 10:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $8. Go to jessemader.com.

PennRock 'not a battle'

• Super Monkey Recording and Pat DiCesare present the inaugural The PennRock Scholarship, billed as "not a battle of the bands but a showcasing of [regional] talent."

According to the promoters, "How many tickets you can sell your family or how many friends show up to see you play this one time will have no determination which band wins. Celebrity panel of judges will pick a winner based on points per category. Contest will be judged solely on these four categories: songwriting, musicianship, live performance and crowd reaction."

It begins at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Rex Theater, South Side, with Pittsburgh's Good Ship Gibralter, The Semi-Supervillians and Shrouded in Neglect and Cleveland's Dead Gumbies. Tickets are $10. It continues through Aug. 30. www.pennrockscholarship.com.

Get Hip Teen Garage Explosion

• Get Hip Records presents the second installment of the GET HIP * GET ART Sound Series event tonight at the headquarters in the RJ Casey Industrial Park, 1800 Preble Ave., North Side.

This one is a Teenage Garage Explosion featuring local Get Hip garage-rock band the Nox Boys, along with Detroit's Blaire Alise & The Bombshells and alt-rockers Chase the Monkey. Get Hip's Pop-Up Shop will be open with an expansive in-house selection of LPs, CDs, 45s, T-shirts and more.

It runs from 7 to 11 p.m. and it's free and all-ages. Donations are encouraged for the bands; www.gethip.com.

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