06/06/09: Huntsville, Alabama’s Five Points Neighborhood


I decided to spend the day down in Huntsville shopping for books and records, so I headed out after breakfast, stopping in Corinth, Mississippi for a latte. At a rather cool bookstore in Huntsville’s Five Points neighborhood, I found books about Bob Marley, Rastafarianism and Prince, as well as the London trilogy of Colin MacInnes, which includes Absolute Beginners, one of my favorite novels. I bought quite a few classical records at James Records and Tapes, and then made a final browse through the Booklegger at Holmes Avenue and Jordan Lane before calling it a day and heading out to dinner. I decided to check out a place called Connor’s Steak and Seafood, and it turned out to be in a new shopping development called The Bridge out at the border between Huntsville and Madison. The shopping village is dominated by a huge Westin hotel, and surrounded by a pretty lake, with paddle boats for rent. With an hour-long wait in effect, I decided to eat in the bar at Connor’s, and the steak there was quite good. After a latte at a nearby chocolate shop, I began the long drive back to Memphis.

The Frontline June 2009


NOTES ON THE STATE OF THIRD-COAST HIP-HOP- More and more people are jumping into the rap game strictly to make money, and their albums sound like it. How many more albums are we going to have to endure that brag about the sales and distribution of drugs, that promote violence against others, or disrespect of women, or that introduce some silly, mindless dance, usually sexually explicit? Time is running out for this artform that we love. We call recording musicians “artists” because we assume that what they create is “art”. Increasingly, that assumption is naive on our part, because there’s nothing artistic about hanging out in the “trap house.” Wake up, people!!! THE WAR REPORT- Memphis, Tennessee has been front and center, thanks to MTV’s Five Dollar Cover, which follows the careers of a lot of local bands and artists, including Memphis veteran AL KAPONE and his son YOUNG AJ, and the rap/rock/comedy artist MUCK STICKY. KAPONE and AJ, along with their live band, were one of the main sensations at Austin’s South By Southwest Music Festival in March, where they were featured on the Memphis Music Foundation stage. Memphis rappers LORD T & ELOISE and FREE SOL were also highly visible at the festival. Memphis has also seen the release of solo albums from DJ PAUL and JUICY J from the THREE-6 MAFIA and YO GOTTI. Albums are on the way from GANGSTA BLAC and MC MACK. Memphis will also for the first time be hosting the Urban Network Summit on June 10-13 at the Memphis Cook Convention Center. Be there!Nashville native ALEX KING has completed his debut album Reincarnated and will release it nationally in June. In Mobile, Alabama, CD and DVD Warehouse has opened a second location in the suburb of Semmes, and the C & M Record Pool is sponsoring a music conference on July 7. Florida’s internet radio station Reewine Radio is sponsoring a music conference on June 19-20, with panels and listening sessions on Friday, and a beach party on Saturday. In Georgia, the Southwest Georgia Radio and Music Conference was held in Albany in March, and was a huge success. People came from as far away as New Orleans and Rochester, New York, and there were notable artists there, including the New Orleans veteran KILO. Coinciding with the conference was the announcement of the formation of World South Entertainment, a new Albany label that is preparing to release an album by the artist KNO GOOD. Other albums are out or on the way from GUCCI MANNE, YUNG RALPH, T-ROCK and V-TEC. In Louisiana, Baton Rouge legend C-LOC, who helped launch the careers of BOOSIE, WEBBIE, YOUNG BLEED and MAXMINELLI, has released his latest solo album entitled Scrape The Plate. There is also a new record store in Baton Rouge called Da Sewa Underground Music and More. On August 26-30, 2009, the 13th annual Cutting Edge Music Business Conference will be held at the Westin Canal Place Hotel in New Orleans. Make your plans now to be there, as this will be one of the most important conferences of the year. Greenwood, Mississippi was the scene of a music conference in early May, which was attended by a number of artists from Mississippi and Louisiana, including KILO from New Orleans and Jackson artist RAZEN KANE. Albums are on the way from DONNIE CROSS and SMACKABATCH. In September, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina will again be the location for the Southeast Music and Entertainment Summit (SMES). Call them at (866) 554-2405 to register or get more information, and make your plans now to be there. From Texas, new albums are on the way from JUAN GOTTI, MONEY WATERS and MURDER ONE. Continue to support your local record stores. They are important!

The Roots of the Crime Epidemic: A City’s Failure Of Its Youth

I hope that most Memphians were amazed and outraged when Mayor Herenton last week proposed laying off police and firemen, as well as closing libraries, parks, community centers and pools. A man who has made little sense over the years, Herenton seems to be making less sense every day. But there should have been equal outrage over the Memphis City Council’s decision to eliminate local funding of the public schools last year. Both attitudes show a lack of regard for our city’s future, our young people, particularly our African-American young people, who face a myriad of problems and roadblocks from birth. Memphians have been griping about high crime rates for several years, but never make the connection between growing crime and the taxpayers’ unwillingness to fund decent education and recreation. Therefore, a considerable amount of local tax moneys go to prosecuting and punishing criminals. The criminals’ lives have been ruined by bad choices, and their victims lives have been ruined as well. How much better it would be to try to intervene through first-class schools, better social services to deal with situations where parents are not involved with their children, and adequately-funded, plentiful recreation facilities and programs. I am not claiming that these would prevent all youth crime. Nothing would prevent all youth crime. But many young people are stumbling into a life of crime due to negative attitudes about their poor performance in school or because of boredom, peer pressure and nothing to do. We owe it to ourselves, our city and our youth to provide the best schools that money can buy and good, supervised recreation so that kids have something to do other than get into trouble. We may have to spend more tax money in the short run, but we will save much more in the reduction in crime, prosecution and imprisonment. 

The Courts Declare Shelby County Schools Unitary!! (What World Are They Living In?)

Local Memphis media this past week has been reporting that the Fifth Circuilt Court of Appeals overturned Judge Bernice Donald’s ruling continuing federal oversight of Shelby County Schools, and declared the school district unitary (a fancy legal term for integrated or free of discrimination). White response has of course been positive, but I have to choke back a laugh and wonder how the courts can ignore what is painfully obvious for all to see. Previous court decisions have said that “unitary” school systems should not have schools identifiable by race. Southwind High School in southeast Shelby County on paper is 80% Black. I say on paper, because in reality, I am reliably told there are no white students in attendance. The 20% white enrollment has either fled the district or attends private schools. Shadowlawn Middle School had a 65% Black enrollment last year, and has an 80% Black enrollment this year. Keep in mind that all of this is occurring in a school district serving a population that is overwhelmingly white (the Shelby County Schools serves only that portion of the county outside of Memphis). For there to be majority-Black schools in suburban Shelby County, one has to be trying to have majority-Black schools, and that is exactly what is happening. The county school board draws boundaries in such a way as to limit contact between white and Black children in the public schools. The removal of court supervision leaves no one “minding the store” with a district that blatantly violated the law while they were under court supervision. When someone defies the law while enforcers are watching, it is ludicrous to remove the supervision and expect that they’ll do the right thing. The sad fact is, neither Memphis nor Shelby County has ever done the right thing when it comes to Black people. 

5/25/09: Memorial Day in Oxford


Memorial Day, and not a whole lot to do, but I called down to Square Books in Oxford and found out that they were going to be open, so after breakfast I drove down into Mississippi through occasional pop-up showers. On the square in Oxford, the sun was out, flowers were blooming and the businesses and courthouse looked like a postcard image. I browsed for a couple of hours and dicovered a couple of books I couldn’t live without, including the new autobiography of Bob Zellner, who was a white civil rights worker in the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee in the 1960’s (try finding that book in a Memphis bookstore). I then walked down to Abner’s for lunch, but while I was in there eating, a nasty storm developed, and I was two blocks from my car. Fortunately, the shower soon passed, and I walked back to the bookstore to get a latte before starting the long drive back to Memphis.  Between the showers, it was a laid-back, summer kind of day, and I chose Maze as the soundtrack to that. 

5/9/09: A Rap Conference in Greenwood, Mississippi


I drove down to Greenwood for a rap conference at which I had been asked to speak, and the weather in Memphis was horrible, but after I got past Grenada, it was nicer in the Delta. When I got to Greenwood, I had some extra time before I was supposed to be at the conference, so I stopped at a downtown bookstore called Turnrow Books, and immediately found two books about teachers teaching in predominantly-Black schools in Greenville and Leland, so I purchased those and then walked down the street to get a latte from the Mockingbird Bakery only to find that it had closed (or at least the little cafe had). I soon learned that the bread could still be purchased in the Viking Range shop, and that coffee was available on the second floor of the bookstore I had just come from, so I walked back over there and got a latte, then drove a couple of blocks west to the Memorial Building where the conference was taking place. A lot of Shreveport artists were there, one group from Rochester, New York that I had met in Albany, Georgia, Kilo from New Orleans and Razzen Kane from Jackson, Mississippi. After I spoke, it began to rain, and I decided to leave, grab a dinner and head back to Memphis. Outside the building were some older people that were part of a family reunion going on in another part of the building, and they were outside doing a dance called the “stanky leg” that I had thought was only for the young people. The dancers in the parking lot had recommended a restaurant called Webster’s Food and Drink, north of the river across the bridge, so I drove there and had a delicious filet mignon dinner. When I came back outside, however, the rain had begun to come down in buckets, and I got drenched getting to my car. Worse, large black, tornadic-looking clouds were hanging all over the western horizon. I drove over to Dunkin Donuts for a latte, and while I was there, I downloaded an app into my iPhone for realtime weather radar and forecasts. Knowing what to expect, I decided to drive back through Grenada and up I-55, and although the weather was bad at times, I made it all right. 

4/21/09: The Grill at Fair Park and Cafe 212, Tupelo

Cafe212
Album Alley/Bebop Records in Tupelo had a Select-O-Hits listening booth that was on the fritz, so the company sent me down there with a new CD changer to fix it. Fortunately, it was nice weather, and fixing the listening booth proved to be simple once I got to Tupelo, so I rolled past the other record store but found it closed since it only opened on weekends, and I soon found that the FYE was gone from Barnes Crossing Mall as well. It was about 5 PM, so after browsing briefly in Books-A-Million, I drove around the 45 bypass to East Main Street, where there was a restaurant called The Grill at Fair Park, which belongs to the Harvey’s corporation. They were fairly empty, but open, and I enjoyed a steak dinner there while watching the CNN news talking about President Obama and the worsening economy. After dinner I wanted coffee, but JoJo’s across the street had moved over onto Gloster, so I was headed that way, west down Main Street when I spotted Cafe 212, and it appeared to be open. Not only did they have great coffee, but they had something called a peanut-butter chocolate chip pie, which was undescribably good. After that, it was all I could do to stay awake back to Memphis.

4/16/09: Al Kapone (@ALKaponeMem) Live at the State Theatre, Starkville


I took off work early so that I could pick up Al Kapone and Sir Vince and head to their show at the State Theatre in Starkville. The drive down took awhile, but Al and I were engaged in one of our discussions about philosophy and religion, so we were in Starkville before we knew it. After we stopped by the venue, we found that we had time for dinner, so we drove a few blocks to a restaurant I knew about called Harvey’s. The waitress was fascinated by Al and Vince being rappers, and she sped up our dinners so that we wouldn’t be late in getting back to the club. Unfortunately, a band called Galactic was playing at another club in Starkville and had a huge crowd, so we knew that our crowd would be slim, but still people came out. Al and Vince went first, followed by Lord T and Eloise, but Al had a couple of songs to do with them, so we waited for their set to end at midnight. Then, with no coffee bars open, I got a latte from a McDonald’s, and we drove the two hours back into Memphis.

03/21/09: Al Kapone (@ALKaponeMem) Live at the Austin Civic Center @SXSW

After breakfast at Jim’s, I picked up Al and Vince and we rode downtown for Al and Vince to do a Memphis Music Foundation interview. I wanted to go to the Austin Record Show that was being held as part of South By Southwest in the Convention Center, but it was a small show and I didn’t find much there. I did run into Missy Querry and Kim Martini, two of Select-O-Hits’ sales reps who were there with the owner of Perris Records. After the interview Al and Vince were hanging out with friends at the Courtyard Marriott, and I walked over to Z Pizza for a small lunch, running into a couple of rappers from Atlanta who were there. On the walk back I stopped by a gelato shop, and then waited in the lobby of the Marriott, trying to get updates on the University of Memphis game. When Al and Vince came downstairs, we caught the van over to the Austin Civic Center for another large rap show. The people running this event were rude, however, not wanting to allow us in the green room and not allowing anyone to do sound checks. Al Kapone’s show with a live band captured the crowd however, and those who came after him just couldn’t do anything to equal the enthusiasm that a live band brings. Vince and I went to the Magnolia Cafe afterwards for dinner, and then I drove back to the hotel. The University of Memphis won their tournament game. 

3/20/09: In Memoriam Eddie Bo/Classie Ballou and Barbara Lynn Live at the Continental Club @SXSW


Al and Vince and I all went to Jim’s Restaurant for breakfast, and then Al had to go downtown for an interview. Vince and I ended up going back out to Backspin Records again, and then to a coffee bar on the eastside called Hot Mama’s. Leaving there, we got caught up in a tremendous traffic jam outside a warehouse that was selling jeans and shoes in conjunction with the South By Southwest week. Live bands were playing there, and there was a line out the door and around the building. Vince went with me to Texas Land and Cattle Company for dinner, and then we rode out to a dessert and coffee cafe called Dolce Vita, and even they had a live DJ playing out on the patio. I wanted to go to the Continental Club in South Austin to catch the Bo-Keys, Classie Ballou and Barbara Lynn, so I dropped Vince back off at his hotel, and headed down there. I had to pay for parking, and it was quite a long distance from the venue, but the weather was nice, and there were crowds everywhere, so I didn’t mind the walk. Across from the Continental Club was an old art-deco hotel called the Hotel San Jose, with a courtyard where a stage had been set up, and about a thousand people or so were out there listening to bands. The Continental Club was also packed to the rafters, but I managed to find a seat. Classie Ballou is a blues legend from Lake Charles, and he performed a number of swamp pop and blues hits, and later Barbara Lynn came on stage, performing a number of her best-known songs. The concert was sponsored by the Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau and the Ponderosa Stomp, and was being broadcast by New Orleans’ WWOZ radio, and at one point the MC silenced the crowd and announced the tragic news that Eddie Bo had passed away. I caught the Bo-Keys first set, but afterwards, it became so hot and stuffy in the little, over-crowded club that I left. The coffee bar across the street next door to the hotel had already closed, so I walked back to the car and drove back to the hotel.