Madgods, an Austin-based hip-hop clothing line, had this temporary store between Sixth Street and the Hilton hotel. There were some really cool designs, but, unfortunately, they didn’t have the shirt I liked in my size.
Drumma Boy had the listening party for his new mixtape at a hip-hop clothing and shoe boutique called R. Sole in the Laurelwood Shopping Center, and that was really great because I wouldn’t have known about that shop otherwise. A lot of Memphis rap artists, producers and promoters were in the house, including DJ Bay and myself from Select-o-Hits, First Degree, G.K. and Li’l Pat.
When J2 on Highland closed some years ago, Memphis was effectively left without a hip-hop clothing emporium, so true headz should be thrilled to discover Sneak Peek, a hip, funky urban fashion boutique in Memphis’ trendy South Main Arts District. Experimental and fashion conscious, this is not the place to find familiar commercial brands like Ecko or Akademics, which show up routinely at your average department store. The brands at Sneak Peek are less familiar, more creative, and, yes, rather expensive, but there are sales and discounts from time to time. Also, the store has a welcoming, cozy feel and of course great hip-hop music to provide the soundtrack for your shopping. Pay them a visit at 515 S Main in Memphis, just around the corner from the Civil Rights Museum.
When in Monroe, I always like to eat breakfast at the Brandy House restaurant at the Atrium Hotel on Louisville Avenue. The place is never crowded, the waitresses know me from having eaten there so frequently and the breakfast is among the best anywhere in the South. So with the sun rising over a beautiful, blue, chilly fall morning, I headed there for an omelet breakfast before making the rounds of antique malls along West Monroe’s Trenton Street. The results were far more disappointing than in previous years, as I didn’t find anything pertaining to Grambling in any of the shops, but I continued west into Ruston, and stopped for lunch at Raising Canes, a chicken finger place that I was thrilled to see had put Grambling logos and pictures on their walls as well as those for Louisiana Tech in Ruston.
After lunch, and a brief look-through at Acorn Creek Antiques in Ruston, I took the backroad past Rabb’s Steakhouse into Grambling. On this Friday before Homecoming, Grambling was beginning to come more to life. Main Street in the Village was lined with cars, and students were beginning to hang out. A new barbershop called the G-Spot had opened, and its proprietors had placed large stereo speakers outside on the sidewalk, which were blasting a hip-hop mixtape of some sort. The quadrangle wasn’t all that crowded, other than the group of Que-Dogs gathered around their hill near the sidewalk, but down at the Favrot Union there was a considerable crowd of students hanging around. The bookstore was quite crowded indeed, and there were a number of Grambling items that I would have liked to have purchased, but, with Barnes and Noble having taken over the bookstore, the prices were quite steep. I did buy a new Grambling T-shirt for myself, and a book about Grambling’s long-time sports information director Collie J. Nicholson, but I had to leave two other books I wanted behind because they were so expensive. As I headed back up the street toward the quad, I could hear the beat of drums, and thought that perhaps the Grambling band was on their way to a pep rally, but it turned out that they were practicing inside Dunbar Hall, near where a group of student were busy at work on a Homecoming float for the next day’s parade.
I reluctantly decided not to wait for the pep rally, and headed back to Monroe instead, since I had not visited any of the record stores there yet, and since I wanted to eat dinner there rather than in Ruston. To my surprise, there weren’t as many Grambling fans in my hotel as I would have expected. Instead, the football team and some fans of the University of North Texas were staying there, as I assumed their team was in town to play the University of Louisiana-Monroe at their homecoming. I had promotional CDs in my trunk for Li’l DJ (whose album Welcome to the SWAC was a tribute to the Black college athletic conference of which Grambling was a member), Bohagon, Hittman and Donnie Cross, and I dropped these off at Mr. E’s Music and Mad Flavors clothing store. Sadly, no other stores remained in Monroe, so after that, I headed to dinner at the Mohawk Tavern in West Monroe, where the radio was broadcasting a pregame show for West Monroe High School’s homecoming game.
Mohawk Tavern was a seafood restaurant, and I ordered grilled halibut, which was very good. On the other side of I-20, I stopped by the Corner Coffeehouse again for a Reese’s cupcake and a cafe latte. I had called my friend Dr. Reginald Owens, the journalism professor who taught at Louisiana Tech, and he was grilling chicken over at his house, so he invited me to drop by and we hung out for awhile talking.
Then I parked in the Village and walked onto the campus, still feeling like this year’s crowds were smaller than previous homecomings, but there were crowds at the Plush club and at the old Renaissance building. I had heard on the radio that Gravedigga was supposed to be DJing at the Endzone, out southwest of Ruston, so I drove out there, and found that he wasn’t there, but one of his associates was, and I left some promotional singles with the DJ there. Then, resisting the temptation to head back to the Plush in Grambling, I drove back to Monroe, where DJ Phat was spinning at a new club on Catalpa Street called Club Envy. There was hardly anybody there, and that was despite the fact that G-Spot from Dallas was supposed to be there to perform their hit single “Stanky Leg.” I left DJ Phat a stack of promos, and then drove over to Club Dominos, and, as with the night before, this is where the crowd was gathered, as well as four carloads of Monroe police who seemed to be expecting a problem. I had to pay to get in, and I had never heard of the DJ that was there, who said his name was KC, but I gave him another stack of promos, and then, thoroughly tired, returned to my hotel, hoping to get up early enough the next day to make it to the Homecoming parade.
On the internet, much had been made of a trendy spot called Wild Eggs on Dutchman’s Lane in Louisville, so I drove out there after checking out of the hotel, and ate breakfast there, noticing the dramatic glass case full of eggs of various sizes, shapes and colors. The restaurant was very crowded, but I managed to park and find a table, and the breakfast was quite good. I then drove out to the West End to leave Haystak posters at Better Days Records on Broadway, and from there I drove back to the east side to visit Exclusive Wear and, I thought, Q-Ball’s. The latter store had closed, however, and I was quite sad to see it gone. My last stop was in Jeffersonville, Indiana at LB’s Music & More, but they weren’t open yet, so I left some promotional items in their mailbox. I got a fairly early start out of Louisville heading toward Lexington, and with no record stores between the two cities, I saw no reason to stop. My hotel in Lexington was actually the Marriott Griffin Gate Resort, and was by far the most impressive and luxurious of the hotels on my trip so far. There was a golf course, a restaurant in a 19th-century house, an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, tennis courts and a basketball court. After checking in, I headed through downtown to The Album, where I was surprised to find a lot of African LPs and Black gospel LPs, which I purchased. Practically next door to The Album was CD Central, which doesn’t always carry rap but does carry Haystak, so I left them some posters and postcards. After I visited the two Muzic Shoppe locations with materials, I headed out to Lexington Green, but there I learned that the Disc Jockey store, the last in that once-venerable Owensboro chain, was now closed. I had discovered that there was a restaurant and marina called Riptide on the Kentucky River south of Lexington, so I drove out Old Richmond Road to the spot, and it was on a lovely spot between two bridges on the riverfront. However, I was soon concerned when I learned that the restaurant was out of filet mignon. I had to settle for the New York Strip, but it was very good. I learned that the restaurant was more of a bar and club at night, and while I ate, employes were stringing up lights outside over a sandy beach area in front of the outdoor stage where a duo was playing and singing country music. There was an outdoor bar as well directly beside the river. After I drove the 20 miles back into Lexington, I stopped at Common Grounds Coffee House on High Street and had a dessert and coffee. Despite being a college town, Lexington can be boring at night, as I had learned on a previous trip. There were no rap clubs, no jazz clubs, and my hotel was the type of place where a lot of rich retired people were vacationing, so I checked the iPhone to see what was going on in Cincinnati, only an hour to the north, and found that there was a Reds game, with tickets as inexpensive as $20. I had not been to a major league baseball game since I was little, so I decided to make the hour drive north on I-75 to Cincinnati. As I expected there was plenty of parking, but, after parking, I found myself somewhat confused, for there was some sort of football game going on in Paul Brown Stadium, a high-school game or jamboree, probably, although it seemed early in the month for high school sports. I was tempted to go there instead for a minute, but finally, I walked the opposite direction toward the Great American Ballpark, which is exactly that, bought a ticket and headed into the very crowded game. Unfortunately, the Reds didn’t do very well, but I soon learned that the game was to be followed by a fireworks display over the stadium and the Ohio River. Long before the game was over, I could hear and catch glimpses of another fireworks show coming from over on the Kentucky side, Covington perhaps. The fireworks on our side of the river were dazzling as well, and then I walked out into the street to head back toward my car, listening to the hypnotic cadence funk of several young Black marching band drummers, mixed with the boom of nearby African drumming, all playing for tips from the sports fans walking past on their way home. I thought about cities like Cincinnati, how they have a soul, culture and personality all their own, and, looking up at the dazzling skyline, I wondered if there was something to get into. I debated heading over to the Blue Wisp Jazz Club, but the last time I had been there, the musicians quit playing at midnight, and it was nearly midnight now, so I drove back across the bridge into Kentucky. At Florence, with some difficulty, I found a Starbucks that was still open, and I drank a latte to keep myself awake on the 70 minute drive back to my hotel. Although I turned the lights out and went to bed, I was amazed to hear voices and the pounding of a basketball from outside my window. Looking out, I saw that a pickup game was in full action out on the court at about 1 AM, and it still was when I awakened at about 2AM. I don’t know when it broke up, but the next time I awakened, the court was dark and silent. The Griffin Gate is known as a golf resort, but it’s a streetballers dream as well.