Midtown Memphis’ massive Railgarten complex is one of several elaborate, trendy live music venues that have opened here recently, many of them that resemble something from Austin or New Orleans more than Memphis. But as summertime venues go, Railgarten is probably the best, with something for everyone, including outdoor volleyball and an large outdoor yard and stage area, as well as a diner, ice cream parlor, ping pong lounge and upstairs deck overlooking the back yard and stage area. It’s not exactly like a beach, but it has a beachy sort of vibe to it. Even so, while lots of local and regional artists have performed at Railgarten, hip-hop is rare there, so when I saw that Al Kapone was sponsoring a cook-out and show to kick off the July 4th holiday, I wanted to make sure to be there. Fortunately, the weather was beautiful, if hot, and when I arrived the place was already crowded indeed. The event was a free show, so there were already a hundred or more people in the back outdoor stage area, with more coming all the time. The opening act was a spectacular local reggae band called Chinese Connection Dub Embassy, which has been wowing crowds in Memphis for several years now. They were followed by several local rappers, including Tune C, Memphis rap veteran Tom Skeemask and Uriah Mitchell. Then Al Kapone came on stage, performing with a live band, the singer Ashton Riker, a dancer or two, some fire-twirlers, and the rapper Frayser Boy, with a show that combined some of his newer material with classic anthems like “Whoop That Trick” and “lyrical Drive-By.” As Al wrapped himself in an American-flag-themed blanket, I looked at the crowd around me and thought about how appropriate his show was for the holiday. Surrounding me was a crowd of many different races, backgrounds and cultures, all united by their love of Al Kapone, Memphis and hip-hop, and there was not one fight or argument to mar the good vibes.
In 1958, record store owner Joe Coughi of Poplar Tunes in Memphis decided to start a record label, and he named it Hi Records, with the name taken from the last two letters of his name. Purchasing the Royal Theater on South Lauderdale, he converted it into a recording studio (Jim Stewart would do the same thing a year later with the nearby Capitol Theater on McLemore Avenue in forming Stax Records), and began recording country and rockabilly records. When Ruben Cherry and Celia Hodge’s Home of the Blues family of labels collapsed in 1962, producer Willie Mitchell was briefly without a musical home, but he soon ended up producing for Coughi at the Royal Studios, which he eventually purchased. Hi Records soon moved from recording rockabilly and country to recording blues, soul and gospel, particularly the work of such greats as Al Green, O.V. Wright, Don Bryant, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay and Syl Johnson. The Hi label was eventually sold to Al Bennett in California, but the Royal Studios continued under Willie Mitchell. As Stax collapsed and the Memphis recording industry with it, Royal continued on, and today, under Willie Mitchell’s son Boo, has become a world-famous institution. So it was only fitting that Royal Sound Studios should celebrate with a block party for the surrounding South Memphis neighborhood on the street now called Willie Mitchell Boulevard, and all the more so as Boo Mitchell announces to the world the launch of Royal Records, a label based out of the venerable Memphis studios. The first act for the fledgling label is a rap duo called Lil Riah and Key Money, both of whom are members of the Mitchell family, and who were the featured performers at the block party. But attendees also enjoyed performances by Memphis veterans Al Kapone and Frayser Boy as well as the Royal Studio Band, and there was plenty of good food from local food trucks, including hand-crafted ice cream pops from the good folks at Mempops. Even Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland came to pay his respects.
Memphians reacted with understandable sadness to the news last year that Memphis in May was eliminating the Sunset Symphony, which had been one of the highlights of the annual monthlong festival. For many of us, nothing short of a reversal of the decision would do, but eventually, Memphis in May softened the blow by replacing it with something called 901 Fest, an inaugural day-long event of local Memphis musicians in Tom Lee Park. One of the annoyances of the Beale Street Music Festival, at least to me, is the lack of local artists scheduled, when compared to Jazz Fest in New Orleans for example, so the 901 Fest concept was decidedly exciting.
Across three stages, a number of Memphis artists from all genres performed on a bright blue Saturday afternoon on the Memorial Day weekend, with perhaps the biggest headliners being veteran Memphis rappers Al Kapone and Frayser Boy, and Cody and Luther Dickinson’s North Mississippi Allstars. Boats were out on the river, people sitting on blankets enjoying music, plenty of local food trucks, and to cap off the evening, fireworks over the river. All in all it was a satisfying day.
Two days before Christmas, the Hi-Tone in Midtown Memphis was the scene of an all-star gala rap show with a live band, featuring many of Memphis’ best lyricists, old and new. The DJ and announcer for the occasion was none other than Radio Memphis‘ DJ Bay, and the line-up of performers included such Memphis icons as Tori Whodat, Al Kapone and Frayser Boy, as well as guest appearances from Memphis veterans like DJ Zirk. But there were also some outstanding new artists in the house, including a new Memphis rapper named Wala Wyse who was quite impressive, as well as the solo debut of Tune C, Al Kapone’s long-time hype man and a former member of the 1990’s hip-hop group NationWide. Tune performed his new single “Naturally”, one of five recent songs that have been recorded toward his upcoming album The Great Flood. Also fun was an impromptu collaboration between the band’s drummer and DJ Bay during an extended break between live acts. Such drum/DJ duets have caught on in markets like New York, Vegas and Miami, but have not been seen as often in the Memphis market. Altogether, it was a cheerful holiday tribute to our city’s hip-hop past and future.
Wednesday night is not usually a big entertainment night in Memphis, but on October 29, many of Memphis’ best industry figures came together at Purple Haze downtown to celebrate the release of veteran rapper Frayser Boy’s new album Not No Moe on the Phixieous label. Frayser’s own DJ Bay was on the ones and twos, and Tune C, DJ Zirk, Miscellaneous,Carlos Sargent, DJ Care Bear, Lil Wyte, Snootie Wild, Jason Da Hater,Suavo J, Louis Goggins of the Memphis Flyer and Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell of the Recording Academy and Royal Studios were among the attendees. Frayser Boy, Lil Wyte and Miscellaneous performed a few songs from the album toward the end of the night, and the event was all love, fun and food.
Keep up with Frayser Boy:
Tweets by FrayserBoy
Keep up with Miscellaneous:
Tweets by Miscdaboss
Keep up with Lil Wyte:
Tweets by Lil_Wyte_
Keep up with Phixieous Entertainment:
Tweets by PhixieousEnt
Keep up with DJ Bay:
Tweets by DJBay
One of the more important Thursday night showcases at A3C was called Double Cupped Fears, an event held at Space 2 on Edgewood Avenue and sponsored by TRDON, the record label/production company that works with Memphis rapper Preauxx, Select-O-Hits, and Travis McFetridge’s Great South Bay Music. The rather diverse line-up included hip-hop lyricists like J. Sands and Planet Asia, relatively new lyrical Memphians like Tori WhoDat and Preauxx, and classic Memphis headliners like Lil Wyte, Frayser Boy and Miscellaneous. Unfortunately, the showcase got under way about thirty minutes late, and as a result, was cut short at 2:30 AM, when the venue said they were required to close due to a city ordinance. But Lil Wyte and company left the crowd hyped and eager for more.
On Friday July 18 at the new Hi-Tone in Memphis, a group of Memphis rap artists came together to celebrate the city and its rap legacy in a concert entitled “Memphis As F@#k”, based on the popular local T-shirts of the same name. Like the “Grit and Grind” slogan of the Memphis Grizzlies organization, this saying is a defiant expression of pride in a rough, predominantly-Black, working-class city. DJ Witnesse got things off to a good start with plenty of classic soul and rap on the ones and twos, and then a local artist named Trackman started things off, followed by the female artist Tori Whodat, who has been getting some attention here this year. Knowledge Nick, who came on after her, is arguably Memphis’ best exponent of classic hip-hop, as opposed to street rap, and performed a number of anthemic songs over smooth, mellowed-out backing. But the headliner of the evening was Memphis legend Al Kapone, who was inspired enough by the Memphis As F@#k shirts to compose a song of the same name, and who was joined on stage by his homeboy Tune C, and then by a cast of Memphis legends, including Mr. Sche, DJ Zirk, Frayser Boy and Skinny Pimp. Like a pep rally for those of us who love Memphis, the night ended in nothing but good vibes and good fun.
After the show was over, Al Kapone got me backstage where I was able to hang out with a lot of the performers, and I even briefly got to meet Snoop Dogg. Ultimately, all the people from the film headed off to dinner at some place on South Congress, so I headed out walking, trying to decide where I wanted to eat.
After an early morning breakfast at the Magnolia Cafe, I parked my car downtown and set out walking across the bridge to Austin’s Butler Park, where there was an afternoon-long concert being held of Memphis music, scheduled to coincide with the film Take Me To The River, which was screened several times at South By Southwest this year. Despite the threat of rain, there was a decent crowd at the outdoor stage, and although rain started several times during the afternoon, it never continued long enough to run people off, and the day ended with the sun coming out. After an hour of so of DJ mixing from a really cool DJ, the show opened with a performance from the Hi Rhythm Section, and then a number of musicians featured in the film appeared, including Bobby Rush, Frayser Boy, Al Kapone, William Bell, Booker T. Jones, Charlie Musselwhite, Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson, Otis Clay, Iffy, Miscelllaneous Bosslife and Syl Johnson. Perhaps the high point of the day was when Snoop Doggy Dogg appeared without warning to join William Bell in a version of the classic “I Forgot To Be Your Lover.” It was actually a great day for Memphis and for Austin as well.
After a fairly late breakfast at Magnolia Cafe, I headed over to the Austin Convention Center to meet my friend Travis McFetridge, who had an afternoon panel. I was torn, because I wanted to see his panel, but I also wanted to attend the Memphis Music panel which Al Kapone was on, so I ended up going to the second one. This panel, held in conjunction with the Martin Shore film Take Me To The River, featured Al Kapone, Boo Mitchell, Cody Dickinson, Booker T. Jones, Frayser Boy, William Bell and Al Bell, and was sponsored by the Memphis Music Foundation. MY homeboy Miscellaneous was not on the panel, but was in the audience. Noted author Robert Gordon was the moderator.