Breakfast with Charlie Braxton and two of his sons at Broad Street Baking Company. Then I drove back to Memphis, but detoured into Water Valley to meet Justin Showah, the owner of Hill Country Records, who had an order of Eric Deaton Trio CDs for me to pick up for Select-O-Hits. The talk in the little grocery store there in Water Valley had been about the weekend death of Memphis music legend Jim Dickinson.
Breakfast at Primo’s in Ridgeland (always good), and then I headed out to the flea market in Pearl to look for old records and Jackson State memoribilia (didn’t find much other than a couple of old Provine High School yearbooks). Events on the Jackson State campus got under way late because people had been out at clubs the night before, so I ducked into the bookstore to kill time and noticed racks of T-shirts announcing the historic football game between Mississippi State and Jackson State in September. I started to buy one, but then I noticed a book by former JSU president Dr. John Peoples, and I bought that instead. I was able to spend some time talking with Dee-1 and his manager, and then Charlie Braxton arrived, followed by Kevin Powell, the keynote speaker for the conference, who was formerly editor-in-chief of Vibe Magazine. After his early afternoon speech, he headed out with me, Charlie and Kamikaze to Cool Al’s in North Jackson, where we ate lunch. Although famous for burgers, I enjoyed the lemon-pepper chicken fingers and freshly cut french-fries.
Back on the Jackson State campus, there was a screening of a documentary about Mississippi rap, but the film upset a community organizer because it contained cursing, and he had brought his grandchildren to the event. He argued with the DJ from Mississippi Valley State that Black art should be appropriate for the elders and the children.
The afternoon panel that I was on almost didn’t happen because all the artists were over in the auditorium doing a soundcheck, but they eventually came back over to our panel, and we got underway.
Afterwards, Charlie, Kevin and I decided to go get pizza for dinner, and as we walked out of the back of the Student Center, the Sonic Boom of the South was practicing in the fields just to the north, with the War and Thunder drumline practicing their cadences. We had intended to eat dinner at Sal and Mookie’s Pizza in the Fondren nieghborhood, but they were overcrowded, so we headed to Soulshine Pizza Factory in Ridgeland instead. The food was great, and the conversation stimulating, and then we dropped Charlie back off at his house, and I dropped Kevin back off at the Jackson State guesthouse since he had an early flight back to New York the next day.
I found that the rap performances at the auditorium had ended, but something seemed to be going on on Gibbs-Green Plaza on the yard, so I parked and walked up there. The freshmen had arrived on campus, but some upperclassmen had too, and there were Sigmas doing a step routine near their benches as I walked past. At the Student Center end of the plaza, a DJ and turntables had been set up for what I supposed had been a “welcome back” party, but everything was winding down. I gave the DJ my business card, and then headed back out to the hotel.
Breakfast at Panera Bread in Memphis, and then I headed out to Jackson, Mississippi for the Ya Heard Me-Meanings In Hip-Hop Culture conference at Jackson State University. Lunch at Majestic Burger (new and good), a cappuccino at Cups and then I headed out to the campus, which seemed bigger and newer than the last time I was out there. The new student center looks like something out of CSI Miami, but not many people were there because they had been told that the day’s conference events were cancelled. I met a couple of rap artists from Ghana, and there was a reception for us hosted by JSU President Dr. Ronald Mason. Then, with heavy pop-up showers occurring at times, I headed out to Sal & Phil’s Po-Boys for dinner, and watched the Saints-Bengals pre-season game while enjoying a shrimp po-boy. New Orleans rapper Dee-1 and his manager had come up from New Orleans, and called me as they were heading over to Flood’s for the rap showcases, but I headed to my room at the Comfort Suites. They were supposed to call me when Dee-1 was about to go on stage, but if they did, I slept right through it.
Two years ago, in the summer of 2007, we were all concerned about six young African-American men from Jena, Louisiana who had been charged with attempted murder after a schoolyard fight. Through the efforts of activists and bloggers, their situation became a national cause celebre, and, perhaps through those efforts, they were saved from having the rest of their lives ended by a juvenile decision made in high school. There was even an unprecedented national march in the fall of 2007 that some analysts called the start of a “new civil rights movement.” But then charges were lessened, judges and prosecutors were replaced, plea agreements were reached, and by the time everything came to end as far as the criminal charges, it was hardly even news, buried on the back page of some morning newspaper. Now I have to wonder if the six youths who were the central reason for it all feel a little used and abandoned. After all they were really just ordinary youngsters, thrust into the limelight through a cruel accident of history-the accident of hung nooses, burned schools, a private party at a fairgrounds and a bad decision on a school campus. And now, when perhaps they need us more than ever, where are we? Mychal Bell’s suicide attempt last year made headlines, but what I found far more poignant was his statement that it all got to be too much pressure on him. They have now been freed from physical jail, but they may never escape the scars and damage that these tragic events have caused. Pray for these young men on a regular basis- Mychal Bell, Theo Shaw, Bryant Purvis, Carwin Jones, Robert Bailey and Jesse Ray Beard. Ask that God would heal their hurt, uplift them and give them peace.
The police killings of two African-American men in Louisiana and Texas this year have not garnered much attention outside of the region, but are disturbing and deserving of higher scrutiny. 73-year-old Bernard Monroe was shot to death by police in Homer, Louisiana in February in front of his own house during a family cookout, after police had chased his son Shaun to the home. The son was tased, but not charged with a crime.
In April, Kevin Jabriil LaDay died in Lumberton, Texas while in police custody, after he had driven his automobile into a ditch. Although an autopsy was “inconclusive” as to the cause of death, people in the Black community believe he was beaten to death. The Homer case attracted Al Sharpton, who led a march there in April, and the Lumberton case came to the attention of Quanell X of the New Black Panther Party, who staged a tense rally in front of the Lumberton Police Department, also in April. Even so, only continuing national coverage will keep these incidents from being swept under the rug like so many more have been.
The national news reported on a near-riot situation that developed in a downtown Paris, Texas park after competing rallies by out-of-town Black activists and white supremacists. The trouble stems from the mysterious death of 24-year-old Brandon McClellan, whose mangled body was found beside a highway in September 2008. Two white men, who claimed to be friends of the victim, were the last to be seen with him, and were, for a time, charged with his death. But evidence was scant, and, after an 18-wheel trucker claimed he might have hit something on the road that night, the two suspects were freed, much to the displeasure of the victim’s relatives, as well as Black community organizers from Fort Worth, Dallas and Houston. Their rallies led to counter-rallies by white groups, also from out-of-town, displaying Nazi and Confederate emblems. Paris has already been having economic problems, with plant closings, and has been desperately trying to recruit new industry, but new factories are not likely to choose a town that is nationally potrayed as racially torn. Brandon McClellan’s death was a tragedy, but so is the racial division encouraged by people who do not live in Paris, and won’t have to daily witness what they helped stir up.
After checking out of the hotel, I drove to Dick Russell’s Bar-B-Que in Tillman’s Corner for breakfast, then headed west out I-10 to Escatawpa.
In Moss Point, I stopped by Misty’s Urban Apparel, and then by Byrd’s Music, where Mr. Byrd told me that he had had to add a deli to his music store to stay open, and that if it weren’t for the food he was selling, he probably would have had to close. I then drove over to a new record store on Chicot in Pascagoula called Rebel Muzik, and spent some time with the owners there, putting up some of my posters and talking with them about their projects. I suggested that somebody needs to make a movie about Pascagoula and Moss Point in the early 90’s during the Carver Village era, and they told me they had been talking about doing that. But Carver Village was gone, I learned, as I drove down Mobile Avenue. All of the projects have been torn down since Hurricane Katrina and replaced with housing for the elderly.
Ocean Springs seemed prettier that it used to be, and the old Biloxi restaurant McElroy’s Harbor House had relocated to a nice waterfront setting at the approach to the Biloxi bridge. Biloxi is beginning to look like Atlantic City these days, with a new Margaritaville casino under construction almost next door to the Hard Rock Casino, but as I headed westward past Edgewater Mall, the weather turned grey and threatening.
By the time I got to Lil Ray’s Po-Boys on Courthouse Road in Gulfport, the rains came with a fury, and I got drenched to the bone. But a Lil Ray’s shrimp po-boy and Barq’s root beer brought comfort and memories, and the food was every bit as good as it had been in my childhood. Gulfport’s hip-hop store Da Shop on 34th wasn’t open, and neither was Fox Hollow Coffee (it was out of business), so I drove downtown to PJ’s Coffee of New Orleans on 13th, where I grabbed a latte before starting the long drive back to Memphis.
Woke up to rain and thunderstorms that never seemed to let up. Ate breakfast at the Spot of Tea on Dauphin, and then made the rounds of Mobile record stores putting up Alex King posters and asking everyone about the Prichard song I had heard last night on WBLX. Nobody seemed to know who it was.
Driving down Michigan Avenue, I had hoped to inquire about the old Uptight Records building to see if there were still any vinyl records in it, but the building seemed boarded up and abandoned.
By the time I got out to the Prichard area, the sun had come out, and it was hot. In the late afternoon, I drove over to Fairhope to check out the Down By The Bay Cafe, but it had already closed for the day, and the Yardarm out on the pier wasn’t open either, so I headed back west on the old causeway to the Original Oyster House, which my mother and stepfather had enjoyed when they were in the area a year or so ago. From my table, I could see dark ominous stormclouds rising in the west behind the Mobile skyline, but it was still sunny here. I tried the grilled shrimp, which were very good indeed, and ended my dinner with a peanut butter chocolate chip pie, which was also very good.
Then, running late for the start of the conference, I began driving back west into Mobile, but as I headed up I-65 from I-10, I could see a funnel cloud begin to descend from the black line of clouds above the horizon. It apparently never touched down, but as I arrived at the Roxy, where the event was being held, the storm sirens began to go off. The conference was a couple of panel discussions, and a lot of performances, and I felt it went fairly well. DJ Sammy Sam played the Alex King single “What If I” just before the first panel, and although people weren’t familiar with it, I saw some heads bobbing to it. There were a lot of notable Mobile personalities present, including C-Nile, Kalinski, Hittman and Choppa T, who turned out to be the artist responsible for the song “Raised Off 45”, which was the Prichard anthem that had caught my attention the night before. The rain ended about the same time as the conference, but afterwards, the challenge was to find a coffee bar open. Serda’s had closed at 11 PM, but I found one in West Mobile called Biggby’s that was open until midnight. I recognized the place as a coffee house that had been called Beaner’s the last time I was in Mobile, but the girl behind the counter explained to me that the company changed the name when they began expanding into the southwest, as they had learned that “beaner” was an offensive term for Mexicans. Even after a cappuccino, I had no trouble sleeping.
Drove down to Mobile for the C & M Record Pool’s Mobile Music Conference. DJ Bull got me checked into my hotel room, and then I drove over to the new Eastern Shore Center in Malbis to meet up with the Pensacola rapper Big Bone at California Dreaming restaurant. I went by two different Starbucks on the eastern shore and found both closed, but I finally found a coffee bar called Serda’s that stayed open until 11 PM. It had been raining in Mobile, and the streets still seemed wet as I rode back out west toward the hotel, listening to WBLX as they played some rap song about being from Prichard.
My friend Aaron Walker, the jazz drummer, was in town visitng his mother, so I picked him up and we rode downtown to the Westin Hotel to check out a jazz gig with pianist Steven Lee and drummer Renardo Ward. Aaron and I both got to sit in for awhile, and then we walked around on Beale Street to Alvie Givhan’s gig with Lynn Cardona at the King’s Palace Cafe. Aaron couldn’t hang out late, however, because he had to fly back to Wilmington, Delaware early in the morning, so I took him back to his mother’s house and went home to bed.