Tyke T was already an up-and-coming Memphis rapper when the local radio station K-97 proclaimed him the “Next Big Thing” after he won a contest they sponsored. Since then, he has been to New York and several other places for concerts, and although he might not be nationally known yet, he is part of a growing movement of Memphis rappers who seem to be more positive, more upbeat and more lyrical. He is also part of a growing local trend to rap with live musicians instead of just recorded tracks or a DJ, and for his performance at the River Arts Festival, he chose one of Memphis’ best up-and-coming bands, 4 Soul to back him, along with live singers, and guest appearances from other Memphis rappers such as Li’l Cam and S.O.U.L. Altogether it was a rap performance that could appeal even to people who don’t usually like rap, and that was probably precisely the point. Tyke’s lyrics avoid the negative tendency of the local artists that lean more to the gangsta style, and the live band gives him an appeal to those whose musical preferences lean toward other genres.
Keep up with Tyke T:
Keep up with 4 Soul:
The preliminary rounds of the Guitar Center drum-off in Memphis were held on successive Tuesday nights, September 9th, 16th and 23rd. Two drummers from each week were chosen to advance to the finals, which were held on September 30th. As a result, the six drummers who competed that night were the best of the best, and the judges had a more difficult time deciding who should advance. Ultimately the privilege fell to 16-year-old Keith Hankins of Byhalia, Mississippi. Byhalia is close to Memphis, and besides that, there is no Guitar Center in the state of Mississippi, so Hankins will represent Memphis at the state finals in Nashville.
As I posted last week, the Memphis metropolitan area has an amazing level of talent when it comes to drummers, and that was obvious again during the third round of the Memphis Drum-Off at Guitar Center on September 23rd. Two winners from each of the rounds advance to the store finals on the 30th, from which one will advance to Nashville for the state competition, from which one will advance to Atlanta to battle for the regional award, and one drummer from the South will go to Los Angeles for the national championship, which includes a drum set, endorsements and $25,000. And yes, a Memphis drummer has won nationally in the past.
For some reason, the city of Memphis is full of amazing drummers, and has been for as long as I can remember. At least some of it has to do with the gospel music legacy in our city, as for many years we were the headquarters of the Church of God In Christ. Much of it may also be a legacy of the excellent band programs that used to exist in Memphis’ inner-city high schools such as Manassas, Booker T. Washington and Hamilton. But each year, when the Guitar Center has their national drum-off competition, the Memphis preliminaries yield some amazing performances from some amazing young drummers. Although I missed the first round, the second round, held on September 16, had some incredible musicians, including Shawn Payne, who has already made a name for himself, an outstanding young female drummer named Shakira Jackson, and a 17-year-old named Marquise Moore. Ultimately, these last two advanced to the store finals on September 30.
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.
In the field of Black music worldwide, no other musical instrument is as important as the drums. Not only is percussion the musical foundation for much Black music and dance, but the instrument looms large in the cultural memory of people throughout the African diaspora. So it was only fitting for Arkansas’ best drummers to be honored at an event called The Drummer Is In The House, which was held at the Revolution Room on President Clinton Avenue in the River Market area of Little Rock on Thursday July 10. The event, sponsored by Clifford Drummaboy Aaron, featured performances by current and former Little Rock drummers Yvette Preyer, Rod Pleasants, Steve Bailey, Aerion Jamaal Lee, Jonathan “JJ” Burks and Charles Anthony Thompson. Rather than just a lot of extended solos, most of the drummers played with their individual bands, and even some singers, performing songs from the neo-soul, jazz and gospel traditions. But there were great solos too, including one from Jamaal Lee full of afro-caribbean rhythms and patterns, and one from Charles Anthony Thompson exhibiting extended sticking and tone techniques including pitch bends, and plenty of jazz influence. The final highlight of the evening was an event called the Roundabout, at which drummers moved across the stage from the first drum set, to the second, to the third, while Yvette Preyer kept a basic conga pattern for them on an octapad. As one drummer would exit the stage, another would come on from the left, enabling all the drummers to have an opportunity to shed three at a time, and to play each of the three drum sets. The Drummer Is In The House was truly a major event that highlighted some really great drummers, and a lot of other great horn players, guitarists, bassists, keyboardists and singers. I am told that future events will be held at the Revolution Room to highlight the other instrument families, and I am looking forward to it.