Founded 1963 Relaunched 2019. The Postmodern South.
Month: <span>July 2011</span>
Month: July 2011


Al Kapone f/ 211, Kingpin Skinny Pimp & SMK “Down Muthafuckas” (1992, Alcatraz Productions)

The story of of Alphonso Bailey, better known as Al Kapone (and prior to that, Ska-face Al Kapone), is in many ways the story of the rise of Memphis rap music over the past two decades.

Fittingly, Kapone’s career began at what has been defined as the “big bang” moment of Memphis rap:  the release of Radical T’s Radical But Critical, the first record from the bubbling scene to be distributed nationally, in 1991. Kapone, credited as “MC AL”, appeared on the opening track entitled “Two Rapping Young Brothers”, his pitched drawl evoking a southern Eazy E. (The record would also launch the career of Eightball, as well.)

The following year, Kapone broke out on his own, easily settling into the uncompromising rhyme style popularized by his contemporaries from Compton, on Street Knowledge Ch: 1-12. The LP, powered by a decidedly g-funk sound and gangsta rhymes, was characteristic of underground rap beyond New York City at the time. However, it also possessed a weirdness beyond its rebellious spirit, exemplified both in sample choices by SMK — the distorted electric guitar stabs in “For Ya Bad Ass Kids” is more Def Jam than Ruthless, while “Down Muthafuckas” features a disembodied, new wave-y voice for the chorus — and in the bizarrely sentimental “Concerto For A Dead Brother”, a 0:53 instrumental played on a harpischord, which closes the record.

In 1994, Kapone put out two full-lengths, one on his own Outlaw Records, entitled Pure Ghetto Anger, and another on the independent Basix Music, who also put out records by Kingpin Skinny Pimp and The Barkays, entitled Sinista Funk. Both records were well cut g-funk, heavy on the low-end bounce and lyrical aggression, but standout due to Capone’s smooth hustler ethos and early “buck” tendencies, such as on Ghetto Anger’s ”Round After Round”.

Sometime after the release of 1995’s Da Resurrection, Kapone signed a deal with Gangsta Pat’s legendary On The Strength Records, but his career seemed to stall. However, in 1997 Kapone was contacted by E-40 to contribute a track to the compilation he was working on with B-Legit, called Southwest Riders, and the seeds of a friendship, and later, business relationship, were sown.

“Ain’t Fuckin’ Around” appeared on the compilation credited to “Ska-face Al Kapone” (a moniker he later dropped due to confusion with Scarface of the Geto Boys), and Kapone headed out West to produce his Memphis To The Bombed Out Bay compilation, that was released in 1998 on his own Alcatraz Dope Muzik label. The compilation fused Kapone’s long-standing affinity for g-rap with the source material, and featured appearances from Cellski and DJ Squeeky. After the release of his compilation, Kapone crossed paths with 40 again, hooking up with the Vallejo artist’s Sick Wid It camp, and preparing his first solo record in close to 5 years, Goin All Out. According to Kapone, the record was completed in 1999, but dealings with Def Jam (which ultimately proved fruitless) delayed the record’s release until 2002*.

During the ensuing years, Kapone returned to his independent roots, pushing his own talent, the Alcatraz Ridaz, and a series of mixtapes called Memphis Drama. He also hooked up with Kingpin Skinny Pimp and The Jerk for Memphis Untouchables in 2003. However, it was until two years later, in 2005, when mainstream success found Al Kapone.

At the time, Craig Brewer, a filmmaker and director, was developing a movie that focused on the life of a Memphis hustler trying to build a career in rap music (seemingly in response to the surge in popularity of southern rap music among the mainstream rap audience). Brewer attempted to reach out to DJ Paul to have him contribute the lead single to the “Hustle & Flow” soundtrack, but instead mistakenly ended up talking to Kapone, who he confused for the Three 6 producer. Upon learning of the mistake, Brewer asked Kapone to submit tracks for the score, anyway, and three of Kapone’s records make the cut, including the film’s buck anthem, “Whoop That Trick”.

The massive popularity of the film and its soundtrack opened new doors for Kapone, including a writing partnership with Lil Jon that resulted in “Snap Yo Fingers” as well as appearances on E-40’s first post-Jive record, My Ghetto Report Card, and the soundtrack to Brewer’s next film, “Black Snake Moan”.

Following (and often driving) the trajectory of the Memphis underground, Kapone began with a relentless work ethic, and word-of-mouth, trunk-to-trunk distribution, before elbowing his way into the spotlight. From the inflection point of Radical But Critical, through cassette culture, and onto chart success and silverscreen immortality, the tale of Memphis rap simply can’t be told without Al Kapone, and very likely, would look quite different without him. 


*During this negotiation period, Kapone did contribute a verse to the track “Doin’ The Fool” on 40’s Loyalty and Betrayal.

Club Tay-May, Mason TN, Summer 1991

014 Club Tay May015 Club Tay May

Back in the summer of 1991, when I was hanging out with a lot of fellow UT-Martin students who lived at Gainsville just outside of Mason, a local festival gave me the excuse to be down on the Lower End taking pictures. I had almost forgotten that I had them. I even got a picture of the legendary Club Tay-May, which burned to the ground not long after. 

UPDATED: Tay-May was the big club in Mason, and had existed in several different locations, the last one being the one pictured here. Since it could hold hundreds, it routinely featured artists like Johnnie Taylor and Little Milton, and was rumored to be the place where Rufus Thomas invented the Funky Chicken! I will always be sad that I never went inside it.

The Lower End, Front Street, Mason TN, Summer 1991

001 The Lower End002 The Lower End003 Chilling In Front of the Green Hut004 The Lower End005 Purple Rain Lounge006 The Black Hut007 The Black Hut008 Still The Real Deal009 Godfather Lounge, Brown Hut & Real Deal010 The Lower End

Mason, Tennessee, Front Street, The Lower End, Summer 1991. 

This was the summer that I was spending a lot of time in and around Mason and Gainesville, Tennessee. I had gotten some black and white film, and was having fun with my camera, and I was always fascinated by the “cafes” in Mason, as juke joints were called in those days. Of course, I had no idea back then that most of these buildings would be torn down and destroyed, so the pictures are maybe a little more important now than I had imagined.


Taken with Instagram at Rock’n’Soul Museum

The Hot Dogs (a really cool Memphis band of the early 1970’s) was led by Greg Redding, who many Memphis musicians may remember from Strings and Things.