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.
Memphians have been enjoying Thursday night parties in the warm weather months for several years now, both on the rooftop of The Peabody Hotel, and more recently on the rooftop of the Madison Hotel. Now a third series of parties and concerts has been launched at the new Tower Courtyard in Overton Square, known as Thursdays on the Square. The inaugural event was held on Thursday April 17, featuring performances by Memphis blues queen Ruby Wilson, Al Kapone (who led the crowd in a chant of “Whoop That Trick” for the Grizzlies), and indie artist Free Sol. Several hundred people attended, and the event will be held every Thursday night through the end of August. Admission is $5.
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.
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.
Indie Memphis is one of Memphis’ two annual film festivals (On Location: Memphis is the other), and this past weekend, a party was held at Kris Kourdouvelis’ Warehouse in honor of the indie film Meanwhile in Memphis which was debuted at this year’s festival. The party opened with the amazing Hi Rhythm band, featuring Teenie Hodges on guitar, a female vocalist named Lisa B. and soul veteran Percy Wiggins. Memphis rap icon Al Kapone followed with his live band, his hypeman Tune C and his son/DJ Young AJ. Behind him came Hope Clayburn and the Soul Scrimmage, and a reunion show for Shangri-La Records artists The Grifters. Altogether it was a fun evening of Memphis music.
The Blues Ball is an annual event in Memphis sponsored by the Memphis Charitable Foundation to raise money for worthwhile causes, and is the largest annual ball in the United States. This year, the event was held outdoors on Lt. George W Lee Avenue between the Westin Hotel and the Gibson Guitar Factory, and featured a large stage at each end of the street, as well as a third stage on the outdoor rooftop of the Gibson factory, and food from about 20 or so of Memphis’ best restaurants. In addition to great Memphis food, attendees were also treated to great Memphis music from Ruby Wilson, Will Tucker, Preston Shannon, Sam Moore of Sam & Dave fame, and Memphis rap icon Al Kapone with his band. At one point in the evening’s events, fireworks were set off from the roof of the adjacent Rock and Soul Museum, and the heat from them could be felt down on the street in front of the stage. Seen in the crowd were Memphis rappers Tune C and Young AJ, Select-O-Hits’ music buyer Wes Phillips, James Alexander of the Bar-Kays, Memphis soul legend Don Bryant and his wife Ann Peebles and Knox Phillips of Knox Music.
Kris Kourdouvelis fell in love with Memphis enough to move here, and since he has been here he has become one of our city’s biggest cheerleaders, and has tirelessly given his time and money to the cause of Memphis music, as well as many other charitable and philanthropic causes. As if all that wasn’t cool enough, he also bought and restored a historic old warehouse in the South Main Arts District and turned it into his private residence, but he turned its large downstairs into an amazing party room/venue/museum of Memphis Music called The Warehouse, which has hosted numerous charity events, Memphis music events and concert after-parties. The Warehouse turned 100 years old this weekend, and to celebrate, Kris threw a major bash featuring performances from the Greenville, Mississippi-based Kattawar Brothers and Memphis rap godfather Al Kapone, as well as great barbecue from the nearby Double J Smokehouse, of which Kris is a partner. The party was festive and bright, despite the chilly, wet evening outside.
Al Kapone was actually among the earliest batch of locally-based rappers, scoring big with his original single “Lyrical Drive-By.” But as the years have progressed, Kapone, whose roots are undeniably street, has become something of a civic cheerleader for Memphis, a gangster rapper who can comfortably perform with the Bar-Kays or the Bo-Keys, or even the Memphis Symphony. During the Grizzlies’ recent amazing season, Memphis fans found Kapone’s “Whoop That Trick” from the movieHustle and Flow as the ultimate expression of the team’s grit and grind. Kapone is also a past president of the Memphis chapter of The Recording Academy, and his brief performance at the Levitt Shell gave the crowd a chance to join in the “whoop that trick” mayhem. But it was Al’s “The Music” that made a more lasting impression on this momentous night, as the lyrics celebrate the history and legacy of our city as a place where music is born.