About halfway between Jackson’s Farish Street and Memphis’ Beale Street was Greenville’s Nelson Street, the Main Street of the Black Mississippi Delta. Lined with professional offices, cafes, pool rooms, juke joints and churches, Nelson Street was the place that Black people went in Greenville for nearly everything, from business to pleasure. One place on the street in particular stood out, a legendary blues club called the Flowing Fountain, which had been open just a few short years ago.
Nelson Street began to fall on hard times in the early 1990’s, when crack hit Greenville like a ton of bricks. There had been a lot of comings and goings between the Delta and Chicago, and soon the infamous Chicago gangs were in Greenville streets, and gang graffiti began appearing on Nelson Street bricks. Open-air crack markets and drive-by shootings followed. With Greenville like a war zone, most of the jukes and clubs on Nelson Street closed, and most of the ones that remained decided to shift their focus to a younger crowd, hiring DJ’s to play rap and hip-hop. The one exception was the Fountain, which billed itself “The Blues Capital of the World” and featured local talent like the legendary Roosevelt “Booba” Barnes. Occasionally, tourists defied the warnings from their hotel desk clerks, and ventured to the Fountain for an authentic blues experience. But the presence of rap clubs nearby and the frequency of gunfire in the neighborhood took its toll. Stud Ford, the grandson of the late bluesman T-Model Ford said that the Fountain ended up closing because its older patrons were scared to venture into the area because of the kind of clientele the other clubs nearby were attracting.
The building still sits proudly and a little sadly at the center of what was once the business district. The front has been painted with a sort of gallery of important Black Greenvillians including “Boogaloo” Ames and “Booba” Barnes. Nearby, a historic marker explains the significance of Nelson Street. But there is nothing here anymore but nostalgia. A club on Walnut Street a couple of miles away claims to offer live blues on weekends, but it doesn’t book anyone well-known, and tourists have learned to make their way to Clarksdale if they are searching for the blues. Despite a storied past and great potential, Greenville’s Nelson Street is only a memory.
Twista first came to prominence on the song “Po Pimp” by a Chicago duo called Do or Die, on the Houston-based Rap-A-Lot label, and the song had a decidedly Texas feel. Still, I had never thought of Twista as having been influenced by Pimp C, yet he said exactly that to the crowd at A3C during the Pimp C Memorial Concert. He also performed his verse from “Po Pimp” and another of his classic songs as the crowd cheered and chanted the lyrics with him.
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P. Dibiase was the last artist to appear on the Fresh Out The Box showcase at A3C, and the only one on the lineup that I had ever heard of. That being said, there’s not a whole lot of biographical information out there about him, other than his being from Chicago, and a lot of videos, songs and mxtapes, the most recent of which is called the Steve Jobs Mixtape. Like all the performers I heard, Dibiase is extremely talented, and perhaps more lyrical than some of the previous artists, and has definitely garnered a little more attention from the blogs and websites. P. Dibiase may be positioned to be the next big thing from Chicago.
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Weasel Sims has a famous (or infamous) name in Chicago, a name that belies his young years. His dad, Rufus “Weasel” Sims, also pursued a rap career, but was better known as one of the city’s most notorious drug lords, once allegedly purchasing a mansion with solid gold plumbing fixtures. Now the young Weasel Sims and his rap group the RAN Nation are poised to take Chicago’s rap scene by storm, and they certainly shook up the Fresh Out The Box showcase at the Music Room in Atlanta during A3C, showing more energy than just about any other act I witnessed on that stage. While I’m not always a fan of hardcore street rap, I couldn’t help but admire the stage command and level of enthusiasm they showed. Weasel Sims and the RAN Nation are definitely a group to watch in the future.
Chicago’s Saint Millie began rapping at age 8 while living in a gritty West Side neighborhood and dealing with his mother having been sent to prison. Since he felt he was “living in hell”, he chose the name Saint Millie, and has proceeded to release two highly-acclaimed mixtapes. He has also performed at South By Southwest in 2013, and his style of rap shows a strong difference from other artists, even artists from Chicago. Millie places more emphasis on inspirational stories of struggle and success, and is definitely one of the Second City’s rising stars.
Young Chicago artist Chi City chose music as a way to avoid the gangs and drugs around the area where he grew up at 45th and Drexel. Beginning to write at 11, he eventually got an opportunity to tour with Freeway, contributed to songs by other artists, and has now for the last four years started getting the attention he deserves as an artist in his own right. His performance at A3C this year was definitely impressive.
I have left the event that my homeboy Fort Knox was hosting before it was over, because I had hoped to catch Juvenile’s performance on the A3C Main Stage on Edgewood Avenue, so I was surprised and disgusted to find that the stage had already shut down when I got there. So I made my way down Edgewood Avenue, checking out some of the venues where A3C showcases were going on, but most of them had horrendous lines waiting to get inside. I briefly peeked inside a hip-hop clothing boutique and mixtape shop called Tops Boutique, where a DJ was mixing in the shop, and then continued down the street. I ended up at The Music Room, where a showcase called Fresh Out The Box was taking place, which consisted strictly of Chicago artists. Few of the artists I saw were familiar to me (the exception was P. Dibiase), but I was impressed with Chi City and Saint Millie, and especially with Weasel Sims and the RAN Nation, a hard-core street rap group that would not be at all out of place in Memphis. Altogether, the showcase was a great introduction to the Windy City’s rap scene, and the artists chosen represented the highly diverse style of rap found in Chicago.
Meridian native Alvin Fielder was in New Orleans at Xavier University studying pharmacy when he met New Orleans’ legendary jazz drummer Ed Blackwell, and then moved to Chicago where he joined the nascent Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and played with Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman and Muhal Richard Abrams. Returning to Mississippi in 1968, he was for many years the only African-American pharmacist in the state, but he continued to perform, often with Kidd Jordan’s Improvisational Arts Quintet in New Orleans. Quite appropriately, he named his record label Prescription Records, with an RX on the label. But while Alvin Fielder has remained in demand as a first-rate avant-garde jazz drummer, his gigs are usually in Europe or New York, and it is relatively unusual for him to be performing in Jackson, so when I saw that he was scheduled to play at Cassandra Wilson’s excellent jazz club The Yellow Scarf, I purchased an advance ticket and drove down to Jackson to see him. Fielder performed with a trio on this particular night, with Andrew Lewis on piano and Dr. London Branch on bass, and with a vocalist named Rhonda Richmond (who also handles the clubs live music bookings) on a couple of tunes. Despite Fielder’s reputation as an avant-garde drummer, his style is actually melodic and firmly rooted in the work of Max Roach, whose influence he acknowledges. When he solos on drums, it is usually very easy to follow the form of the composition he is playing. He is truly a living legend, and he doesn’t appear in his hometown nearly often enough.
Richard “Rip” Lee Pryor is the son of the late Chicago bluesman Snooky Pryor who himself was from Lambert, Mississippi in nearby Quitman County. Like his father, Rip is a harmonica player and guitarist, and he thrilled the modest crowd outside Clarksdale’s Rock & Blues Museum during Juke Joint Festival on Saturday. The museum is worth a visit, not only for the exhibits, but also for the good selection of used vinyl and compact discs that are for sale.