The final event for the Core DJ Retreat in Jackson was a cook-out and Mississippi Rap Showcase on the outdoor patio at Freelon’s, held on Sunday afternoon, September 7. DJ D-Matic was the Dj for the occasion, and a number of Mississippi artists performed, including Jackson rapper Dolla Black from BDE Entertainment. The weather was perfect for the event, and it was a great way to close out the conference.
At the third and final day of the Core DJ Retreat in Jackson, the afternoon showcase was sponsored by Atlanta-based Good Life Music Group, and was hosted by the venerable Jacksonville DJ Bigga Rankin, who has broken many a new artist in his day. After the showcase, there was an informal wrap-up led by Tony Neal, recognizing those who helped put the conference together, before we all headed out to Freelon’s for an afternoon cook-out and a final rap showcase.
While the media turns its huge spotlight on hip-hop whenever something tragic, criminal or salacious happens, they are conspicuously absent when rappers and people in the hip-hop industry do something positive, which happens all the time. On Sunday morning, the third and final day of the Core DJ Retreat in Jackson, Mississippi, conference attendees turned out en masse to feed homeless people in Jackson’s Smith Park, an urban park near the conference hotel that literally sits a block from the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion. It is disconcerting that Jackson has a severe problem with homelessness, but I suppose all cities do these days. At any rate, we brought food, but we also brought our DJ’s, and thus music and dance. Hopefully, we not only nourished bodies but also refreshed spirits as well.
When I left Hal and Mal’s, I headed on over to F. Jones’ Corner, where something called the Dexter Allen Blues Band was playing. Despite the name, Dexter Allen seemed to perform more soul than blues, but I was quite impressed with his first set, as he did two of my favorite songs. The first one, “Cruising”, is a difficult song to do right, as it immediately invites comparison with Smokey Robinson’s original, which is sheer perfection. However, it’s not one of those songs that just should not be covered, and Allen did a tremendous job of making the song his own, and his band gave it a slower, funkier gospel and neo-soul feel. He also performed Bobby Womack’s “Harry Hippie”, not a Womack song that gets covered frequently. Of course, everyone knows it, and one of the beautiful things about F. Jones’ Corner is that in a place like that, everyone will sing the hook together.
After dinner, the Core DJ Retreat had another party, but it was at a strip club in South Jackson, and I don’t go to strip clubs, so I decided to head over to Hal & Mal’s, where the Southern Komfort Brass Band was scheduled to appear. I had heard this band at Underground 119 last year, and was quite impressed with them, as they are one of the few brass bands not from New Orleans to measure up to the standards of that city’s brass band tradition. I had not expected an opening act, but saxophonist Ryan Raziano proved to be a decent contemporary jazz musician, and his backing band was first rate indeed. Of course, the Southern Komfort Brass Band rocked the house, just as they had last year, and while they played some familiar brass band standards like “Do Whatcha Wanna”, they also played some tunes I have never heard done by a brass band, such as Sade’s “The Sweetest Taboo.” After a rousing set of music, they were followed by Jackson saxophonist Ezra Brown, who was celebrating his birthday. But I wanted to catch Dexter Allen at F. Jones Corner, so I headed out.
The neighborhood where the new Offbeat Arts gallery is located is called the Midtown Arts District, and is Jackson’s fastest-growing arts community. Unlike Fondren, where rents are soaring, Midtown still has affordable buildings, but it is rapidly becoming the hippest neighborhood of Mississippi’s capital. Although the emphasis is on the visual arts, there are a few places that involve music, including the Soul Wired Cafe, Offbeat and TurnUp Studios.
This year’s closure of Morning Bell Records was a terrible blow to Jackson, Mississippi’s music scene, so the news that a new record shop had opened in Jackson was welcome. But Offbeat Arts, the new venture from adventurous Jacktown DJ Young Venom is not exactly a record store in the ordinary sense, and what it is might at first seem confusing. It is (all at the same time) an art gallery, a record shop, a clothing store, a book store and a performance space. When I visited for the first time the weekend of the Core DJ’s Retreat, it was hosting a video shoot for local hip-hop artist Jaxx City. Its vinyl selection isn’t huge, but leans toward the funky, hip and less familiar side of the spectrum, and as might be expected, there’s a decent selection of local artists and releases (but not much in the way of CD’s, so be forewarned). There are also books about hip-hop and Black culture, comic books, local Jackson clothing gear, and beautiful local art. Occasionally, on weekends, Offbeat becomes a performance space for various DJ-based genres of music, which is appropriate, as the shop sits in the middle of Jackson’s burgeoning Midtown Arts District. When visiting, it’s probably a good idea to call ahead, as some days Offbeat is open by appointment only, and the opening hours seem to vary and be a little sporadic. That being said, Offbeat is as cool as store as I’ve seen anywhere in the South.
151 Wesley Av
Jackson, MS 39202
The second day of the Core DJ Retreat was largely dominated by panels and showcases, including a very well-attended radio panel that included Memphis’ legendary radio promoter Lester Pace, formerly of Interscope Records. After the radio panel was a showcase sponsored by VirDiko Music Promotion and hosted by veteran DJ Bigga Rankin from Jacksonville. Among the industry stars I ran into around the hotel were Shreveport/Dallas DJ Hollyhood Bay Bay and the artist Hurricane Chris.
A little over a year ago or so, I wrote about the sorry state of Jackson’s historic Farish Street, a redevelopment nightmare that has left most of the street still abandoned, and most of the historic buildings rapidly crumbling beyond repair. The exception I noted at the time was a place called F. Jones Corner, a privately-owned blues juke joint that hopefully can serve as a template for what the rest of the street could and should be. F. Jones is an after-hours bar, and that is unusual enough for Jackson, but what is even stranger is that it books live music almost every night of the week, serves food, and attracts a crowd that’s nearly evenly split between whites and Blacks. Perhaps the key to F. Jones Corner’s success is the music, which is centered around Mississippi’s twin gifts to the world, blues and soul. On the Friday night I visited, the Sorrento Ussery Band was on stage, performing everything from funky down home blues to classic soul, with the dance floor full, and basically no place to sit inside. Fortunately, there’s a large courtyard outside which is available when the weather is nice, and even an outdoor stage, although nobody could tell me if the stage is ever used. The decor inside is historic, mostly ephemera from Jackson, from Farish Street itself, or from the blues and soul legacy. Things keep going at the Corner until 4 AM, and a sign on the wall near the entrance sums it all up nicely- “No Black, No White, Just The Blues.”
After the opening night showcase, the attendees at the Core DJ Retreat headed over to Freelon’s, which is Jackson’s premiere hip-hop night club, for an opening night party that proved to be much more. Although the event wasn’t promoted as a show, a few rappers showed up and performed, including Big K.R.I.T. and Memphis-based CMG recording artist Snootie Wild. I have to add that Freelon’s is without a doubt one of the largest nightclubs in the South.