After the Power Music Summit and the afternoon photo shoot with V-Tec and Mr. Hill, I headed out to a restaurant called California Dreaming in Martinez. I had been to one of their locations in the Mobile, Alabama area, and had liked it a lot, and I liked the one in Augusta as well. I had a filet mignon dinner, and was very impressed.
While I was in Augusta for the Power Music Summit, I also interviewed V-Tec and Mr. Hill from Cu-Cuz Entertainment for a future issue of Murder Dog Magazine, and then we did a photo shoot with them at several landmarks in Augusta, including the James Brown statue downtown, and the legendary Barton Village neighborhood where Cu-Cuz Entertainment and Only With True Thugs was born.
Last weekend I drove to Augusta, Georgia to speak at the Power Music Summit at Fort Discovery, and to interview V-Tec and Mr. Hill of Cu-Cuz Entertainment/Only With True Thugs for Murder Dog Magazine. V-Tec had been part of the group Millionairz N Playaz from the Barton Village neighborhood of Augusta and is one of the city’s earliest rap artists. I found the bulk of the Only With True Thugs click hanging out at a tire shop just west of downtown.
First day of my Select-O-Hits sponsored trip across the Carolinas promoting the new Pastor Troy album T.R.O.Y. At Birmingham, I drove into Mountain Brook to a pizza place called Bongiorno for lunch (okay but not outstanding). Mountain Brook, a “new town” which had apparently been built in the 1920’s or 1930’s, was primarily residential, but with three central “villages” that housed cafes and other businesses. I managed to pass though Atlanta with little difficulty, but it was getting dark earlier these days, and colder as well, especially at Augusta.
The rappers V-Tec and Hill met me at the T-Bonez steakhouse in Augusta for dinner, and then I drove downtown to the Metro Coffeehouse for a latte before heading out to Club 360 near Barton Village, which was supposedly having an event. There were a few cars there and a radio station van out front, but I changed my mind about going inside (I was really tired), and headed back to my room at the Courtyard hotel.
On either side of the market were restaurants and gift shops, but I soon found that parking (at $1 per half hour with no daily maximum) was quite expensive. I knew I would have to pay it to enjoy the city on foot (and that’s about the only way to enjoy Charleston), so I paid and parked my car and then began a walking tour of the area, snapping photos of nearly everything. While trying to snap a picture of the old US Customs House, I nearly backed into to a bellboy of what turned out to be the Market Place Hotel behind me. Seeing that they had a rooftop bar, I decided to ride the elevator up there, and found that the view of the old city from there was beautiful beyond description. The weather was downright hot, but the bar was crowded with people sitting around the rooftop pool, and I took pictures of the city, and of Mount Pleasant’s yacht harbor, visible to the north beyond the amazing bridge that I had crossed into the city over earlier.
I walked down to Meeting Street, noticing a lot of youths in military outfits who were cadets at the Citadel, and then I made my way back to the Charleston Crab House restaurant, where I enjoyed a shrimp dinner. The T-Bonz family of restaurants had a dessert cafe called Kaminsky’s across the market from the Charleston Crab House, so I walked over there foran after-dinner dessert and coffee. I instantly noticed a chocolate-peanut-butter torte, which proved to be moist and delicious, as Kaminsky’s only serves fresh desserts each day. Thoroughly relaxed and contented, I sipped my cappuccino while hearing rousing cheers from the T-Bonz next door where people were apparently watching a pro football game.
As I drove up Meeting Street, I stopped at an Exxon for gasoline, and then continued through some rough and ramshackle ‘hoods into North Charleston and on out Highway 78 into what truly was a primeval wilderness, broken only by the occasional small town. Some of these were a little bigger than others, and Branchville proved to be a rather good-sized place, where I stopped for a cold drink. The town was in a state of excitement due to some sort of fair and street festival, and crowds of young people were everywhere.
Then from there, I headed out to Tobacco Road, where I stopped at a couple of clothing stores, including Millenium Urban Wear and Titanium Music and More, and then I drove up to an urban wear store on Peach Orchard Road, but the Music Connection store next door wasn’t open yet. Jamming my “Crunk in Augusta” CDs of local rap that I had made from artists on Myspace, I headed past the abandoned Regency Mall to Pyramid Music and More, and then down Deans Bridge Road to Four Corners, also known as Augusta Music World. This local landmark featured a counter where people had signed their names and neighborhoods, and as I was purchasing a DVD, a boy came inside talking about some fight that had broken out in the parking lot.
My final destination was the other Pyramid Music and More downtown where there were old vinyl records, but my journey there led down James Brown Boulevard, through neighborhoods that were basically eviscerated. Seeing the decrepit, tumble-down buildings and houses, along with vacant lots and nodding junkies walking down the street, I couldn’t help but think of this street as an insult to the famous singer rather than a tribute to him.
Downtown Augusta had free parking, and there was some sort of music festival getting underway near the riverfront, as I saw a stage and heard a drummer warming up on a drumset, but I walked into the record store, and found a number of 45s that I wanted, but the prices proved to be way too expensive for me to purchase any of the records. I had thought that V-Tec and Mr. Hill would meet me downtown before I headed out to South Carolina, but they told me to head over on the Washington Road side of town, so I drove west on Broad Street past a number of project buildings in Harrisburg and Lake Olmstead, stopping at a Starbucks to meet them there, and Mr. Hill came to bring me a copy of the Millionairz-N-Playaz album.
It was later than I had intended when I left Augusta, and with so many gas stations out of gas in the area, I decided to head on into South Carolina before filling up, which proved to be a mistake, as no stations in North Augusta or Aiken had any gasoline at all. I finally found an Exxon in Batesburg/Leesville which had gasoline, and I filled up there, but the weather was now taking a turn for the worse, with grey clouds everywhere and wind picking up significantly.
Finally, at Florence, I-20 ended, and I made my way through the rain into town and to a Longhorn Steakhouse for dinner. Afterwards, I continued on Highway 501, stopping at a convenience store and noticing a newspaper headline about the bankruptcy of the Hard Rock Park amusement park in Myrtle Beach. An exit off the main road led me into Surfside Beach, and from there, I made my way to the Holiday Inn with no trouble. However, while running from the hotel lobby to my car, I slipped down on the wet pavement. The hotel called the EMTs out, and they concluded that I probably hadn’t broken anything, so I declined to go to the hospital, and went upstairs to bed instead.
I passed through Atlanta and stopped at a Panera Bread in Lithonia to meet a representative from DMP Records, who was bringing me some promotional items on the Hittman release. From there I continued toward Augusta, where I found that traffic was complete chaos due to heavy construction on I-20 and I-520. I had reserved a room at the Microtel Inn on Gordon Highway, so I checked in there and waited to hear from V-Tec, the rapper from Millionairz and Playerz that I had an appointment with. That group had been one of the first rap groups from Augusta, garnering attention from a single called “Barton Village Souljaz”. By an odd sort of coincidence, the Barton Village subdivision was but a stone’s throw from my hotel, and V-Tec had agreed to give me a tour of it. He soon arrived at the hotel, with several other people with him, and I rode in his truck down to Barton Village, which was not necessarily what I had expected. A large boulevard with a sign marked the entrance to the community, which had clearly been a suburban subdivision at one time. The houses were fairly large, and had decent front and back yards, although one could see that some of the houses had been allowed to deteriorate.
Built in 1969, Barton Village had been a private housing subdivision, but problems set in early, and the development company went into bankruptcy before the community was complete, so the US Department of Housing and Urban Development stepped in, and took over a subdivision where many of the houses were boarded up or even partially burned. The Augusta Housing Authority ended up with much of it, renting the houses much like project apartments, although some of the houses were still privately owned, and the area soon gained a reputation for drugs, then violence.
Local law enforcement and media associated Barton Village with a gang called the O-Dubbs, which the Augusta-Richmond sheriff claimed might be slang for Old McDuffie Road, which runs through the area. All of this brought a laugh from V-Tec, who could have told them that O-Dubb was short for Only With True Thugs, the old name of his record label when he and a partner named John Wolf first started recording rap music in the late 1990’s. On the song “Barton Village Souljaz”, there are numerous references to “OWTT” the acronym. People who lived in Barton Village came to associate this name with the neighborhood, and began to throw up a hand signal comprised of the letters O.W. to represent the area. Apparently the gang tag came about in two ways-one, the sheriff needed Augusta to have gangs in order to receive a coveted grant, and, two- some young members of O-Dub got involved in fights with nearby neighborhoods such as the Meadowbrook Click (MBC) or the Circle Boyz in Glenn Hills.
But now in the early dusk, as we rolled through the streets, V-Tec pulled up in front of one of the houses where some friends of his were hanging out, and he introduced me to them. People would come up to the truck and acknowledge V with an “O-DUBB” shout, and then we headed out to T-Bonz on Washington Road where other OWTT family members met us, and we got a big boardroom table to eat and hang out. V-Tec and I discussed digital and physical distribution, and then afterwards, he took us down to Soultry Sounds Cafe in downtown Augusta for a local showcase of rap talent. Some of the rappers were particularly talented, but I wanted a cappuccino, so I walked around the corner to the Metro Coffeehouse, and then back to the event. V-Tec wanted to stay and hang out, so his uncle drove me back to the motel