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.
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.
The Mid-South Coliseum was built and completed in 1964, during the administration of Memphis Mayor William B. Ingram, and for many years was an important fixture in Memphis for sports and entertainment, hosting Tiger and Memphis Tams basketball, minor league hockey, concerts and pro wrestling. For many high school seniors, it was also the location of graduation. Unfortunately, after the building of the Pyramid downtown, the Coliseum fell on hard times and was eventually closed. A master plan for Fairgrounds reuse proposed tearing it down, like so many other Memphis landmarks. But the Coliseum means so many good times and historic occasions in Memphis, and as a result, a large number of Memphis citizens have come together in an effort to rally support for preserving the historic structure. They have sponsored events called Roundhouse Revivals, in which pro wrestling, vendors, food and live music are used to call attention to the efforts to save the Coliseum, and the at the second of these on November 4, Memphis’ superb reggae band the Chinese Connection Dub Embassy performed, followed by rap godfather Al Kapone and his hype man Tune C, who were unexpectedly backed by the CCDE as well. Although the weather was chilly, a decent crowd came out to enjoy the music and food, as well as pro wrestling demonstrations by Jerry “The King” Lawler himself, and of course the obligatory visits from political candidates.
Every once in awhile, a corporation does something worthwhile, and certainly Red Bull’s Sound Select tour with Run The Jewels fits the bill. Run the Jewels is a collaboration between Killer Mike and El-P, and when my homeboy Matt Sonzala told me to come out to Minglewood Hall in Memphis to check them out, I invited my homeboy Tune C and we headed down there. To my amazement, the place was absolutely packed, and many of the people there were like a who’s who of the Memphis recording industry, including rappers Ify, Tori WhoDat and Jason Da Hater, singer Tonya Dyson, and legendary engineer and producer Boo Mitchell. The opening act was a thoroughly gangsta crew from Dallas known as the Outfit, and for a gangsta-style group, they were decent. But it was the Run The Jewels performance that everyone came for, and it was very impressive indeed. Tune and I had hung out with Mike in Atlanta last year, and we got a brief chance to catch back up with him after the show. It was truly a momentous night for Memphis hip-hop.
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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.
The Mid-South Chapter of the Red Cross sponsors an annual Red Boa Ball as a fundraiser for their activities, featuring live music, food and drink. This year’s event was held at the Memphis Botanic Gardens and featured a DJ set from Paula and Raiford of Raiford’s Disco downtown, followed by a live performance from Memphis rap legend Al Kapone. Following the performance, Kapone was mobbed by fans wanting their picture taken with him. The food, which was excellent, was catered by Local Gastropub. Altogether, it was a lot of fun for a really good cause.
Up-and-coming Memphis rapper Tune C at the Cooper-Young Festival, 9/15/12
Up-and-coming Memphis rapper Tune C at the Cooper-Young Festival, 9/15/12