Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Four years ago, the rap music magazine Murder Dog did a special on the underground music scene of Jackson. A photo of almost 30 men, all of whom were somehow affiliated with the Jackson rap scene, captured a stereotype of what the folks of the Jacktown suburbs see. The article told the stories of rising Jackson artists, a bunch of guys looking for their first and last chances at success. After the picture and the article ran, everyone went their separate ways. Some of them made a name for themselves elsewhere (David Banner and Kamikaze, for instance). Some of them disappeared completely off the radar.
Earlier this year, that diffusion started to change when Kamikaze, along with other infamous undergrounders, formed a coalition to try to take Mississippi artists and producers to a new level, in hopes of bringing the music of the state to the forefront of the musical world.
Members of the new Mississippi Artists and Producers (M.A.P.) believe they have the potential to change Jackson and Mississippi, and not only in the rap scene—in July, they will be hosting a membership event to sign up rock, indie and country band members.
But what seems to be the real deal behind this odd collection is the people who make it up, who work for its purpose (which everyone sees with a different set of eyes), who actually believe this is Mississippi's real chance to bring its music to the world.
If you ever want to hear a good story, go to Donnie Money. One of the founders and vice presidents of M.A.P., Donnie has some stories to tell. He's been part of the Jackson scene for years and can tell the complete history of how he saw the development of what is now M.A.P.
Money was born and raised a Jacksonian growing up in the "wicked, wicked ways of Georgetown." It was here that Donnie got his first job: hustling. Looking at the opportunities around him, he had the life of crime or the life of sports (He was an enthusiastic and talented ballplayer); he chose "fast money."
The years quickly passed for Donnie; meanwhile, the gangs and violence were becoming more prominent in Jackson, but so was the music scene. The growing number of artists needed a venue, and Donnie was able to fund the budding scene with his not so-legal income. "I had the capital, and we needed a place to showcase our music," Donnie explains.
Over the next few months, Donnie and his crew worked hard to keep shows and artists playing. As one of his friends comments, "We needed a stage, so Donnie bought a stage." The entire time, Donnie had another plan: "Our mission was to be able to bring two different lines of people under one roof," he tells. At this time, many, including Donnie, felt that Jackson authorities weren't doing enough, or really anything, to help the violent situation on the streets.
But, as Donnie further explains, the young artists promoting the underground music scene were before their time. It wasn't too much longer that the Jackson authorities finally did something; they arrested, tried, and convicted Donnie Money on drug charges.
Almost a decade later, Donnie came home, but Jackson and Donnie weren't the same. He had watched his children grow up on Kodak, become a vegetarian and found a deeper spiritual side; Jackson and its citizens had changed a little bit more for the better, too. The underground music scene was still there, but under some rubble.
"It's been blessed to be livin', to come from the streets, 12 years of prison, to do something positive," Donnie says. "I feel like it's a second chance and a rebirth."
After a stint as an air conditioner repairman, Donnie is now doing M.A.P. fulltime, pushing for a change in not only Jackson, but in Mississippi. "What the M.A.P. coalition is doin', has already been a 15-year movement," says Donnie, but timing is everything. "In '05, we're right on time."
It's really awkward to try and sneak a phone call in an office to set up an interview with a producer named "DrummaBoy," especially when you're trying so hard to emphasize the "a" and not the non-existent "r" of drummer.
But when you walk into DrummaBoy's (a.k.a. Ricky Adams) studio/home/hair-cutting spot off Lakeland, the awkwardness subsides. Big Dipper, a partner of Traxtar Records, is there to greet you and show you the place. The homemade studio, piles of CDs (blank and burned), the barber-shop chair, the posters of admired and produced artists, the friends, the rappers, the wives and girlfriends all around—you feel, no matter what your life story, race, gender or musical taste, that you fit right in.
Unlike his partners, Drumma, 28, has no outside job, "I wake up, eat breakfast, and after that, I'm doin' music," he explains. "Doin' music" includes everything from sessions, cutting tracks or polishing up records. He doesn't hesitate when he explains that any Jackson artist who wants to do something on a big scale has been through his studio.
He's recorded and produced rap, gospel, R&B and lately even rock bands; his list includes Kamikaze, Queen Boys, Thread Boys, Storage 24 and a remix with David Banner. He produced most of the second volume of M.A.P.'s "The Coalition," which features several of the M.A.P. artists. He also has his own label, Traxtar, which put out a compilation last February entitled "The Life, The Luv, The Luxury." A single, "We Party," from that album is on the Jackson airwaves.
All this from a guy who first started his musical endeavors in the gospel choir during his teenage years. He grew up influenced by his cousin, Ray Adams, but also by artists like Run DMC, Outkast, Timbaland, Dr. Dre and even New Edition. He started the label with his three business partners in 2000 and has had his studio since 2002.
Over the past few years, though, Drumma has learned more about the music business than some people will ever learn. He sees M.A.P. as a tool for up-and-coming artists to learn the business. "The music business is 10 percent music, 90 percent business, and a lot of artists just need to know the business," explains Drumma. "Seminars and workshops will keep help keep their minds focused."
Not being a founding member, Drumma himself joined for the unifying aspect, like many of the other 250 members. "It's all about unity," Drumma says. "It's almost like a neighborhood."
"The first couple of meetings were heated," he explains, "but they've cleared the air." Since then, Drumma has been able to work with new artists, but he's also seen opportunity to branch out, and hopefully come home with something more for Jackson. "I can't leave from here, but I can't be scared to venture out."
MORE THAN GIRL POWER
The Mississippi Queen (Queen) and The Soul of the Sipp (Soul) have been friends for only two years, but they definitely give off a life-long vibe. Two years ago, Soul and Queen saw each other perform at a show and immediately had an interest in working with the other. Soul was a singer who occasionally rapped, and Queen was a rapper. That night, Queen was named The Mississippi Queen, and shortly after that, she and Soul ran into each at the store.
"We kicked it all night, until like 5 in the morning," Queen says.
Soul picks up, "We're like peanut butter and jelly."
Since then, Queen and Soul have been performing together under a larger group and concept of Real Queens Doing Real Things. They predominantly recruit women who are "making major moves in entertainment," Soul explains. Their self-defined style of ghetto soul can be found on an album entitled "Butta Gurlz" and on both volumes of the "The Coalition."
Though both have solo endeavors coming later this year, the two have big plans for their part in M.A.P. "Kamikaze called us up, and we loved the vision," Queen says. "We reach the female aspect."
These ladies are definitely not the Spice Girls. They are fighting their way through a world designed for men or less-than-appropriately dressed women looking for more money and more glamour. They are the only women featured on the first Coalition CD, and two of three on the second. "Men need to open their ears and eyes to what women are saying. We're not just eye candy. We're not teenage rappers," Soul says.
"I say I'm a philosopher because of the message we're trying to get to young females," Soul says. "I'm not tryin' to preach; I'm tryin' to reach. We're trying to send a positive message, but we're keepin' it real." Queen adds, "Music is so powerful; it's the only way to reach our youth."
Both say they are sisters of struggle. Soul and Queen have lived through a lot: Soul has two children, an honor student daughter, 12, who just finished as this last year with the highest GPA in the West District, and a son, 4, who is a "soon to be rapper."
Queen, who has been teaching Soul's son to rap, is working her way through school at Jackson State, working also at a dry cleaner. But she remains close to her family, who showed up during the interview. As her nephew Dequavious explains, "(Music) runs in the family." Her other nephew, Fred, who sometimes raps himself, adds, "She's a very good rapper." Her father, Bennie Jones, more of a skeptic, has his doubts, but is still reassuring of her hopes: "It's not bad (being a father of a rapper)."
Equal to their hopes of reaching and encouraging more women to enter the hip-hop arena, they see M.A.P. as being a huge chance for Mississippi artists to come forward. "I tell artists in Texas and Louisiana about home, about how Mississippi artists come together," Queen says.
"It's good to be with an organization; it gives us more backbone. There's no drama," Souls adds.
"It's now or never," Soul concludes. "Every city and state has had its chance to shine."
BUSINESS AS USUAL
Tony B. can usually be spotted toting around a small bag of something he's selling. Probably one of the last true salesmen, Tony makes his living partnering with Kamikaze's OurGlass Entertainment and merchandising.
Lately, Tony's duffle bag has been filled with M.A.P. Coalition CDs, which he hands out to everyone he knows and everyone he meets. As one of the vice presidents, he's been one of the keys to the planning, promoting and distributing of the message and the sound.
"I see it first as a way to unify (Mississippi artists and producers)," Tony explains. "We want more Mississippians to buy Mississippi music." M.A.P., for Tony and countless others, is a tool for promoting and putting music out, a way to network across the state.
Tony has helped in the networking of building the M.A.P. coalition, which at last count was over 250 artists. Doing shows across the state, he and Kamikaze have been able to let artists from North Mississippi, the Coast and everywhere else know what folks in Jackson are trying to do.
"Mississippi has something to bring to the world," states Tony. "We embrace being country, but there are hurdles to jump because of the Southern stereotypes." Tony has traveled all over letting people know Mississippi isn't just a bunch of ignorant bumpkins. "We have the pain, soul and passion of wanting something," Tony tells of the Mississippi style M.A.P. is trying to bring to the world.
Tony, born in Chicago but transplanted to Jackson at 2, has fully embraced Jacktown and everything it means to be from Mississippi. He knows the history of the underground Jackson music first-hand, playing local artists in the early 90s on WMPR 90.1's "Too Black Too Strong" show with Aziatikk Blakk (the third VP and founder and legendary Jackson deejay) and Darren G.
He is a rapper with a solo album coming out on OurGlass this year, and he is excited about pulling in different genres. "It's not gonna stop with rock," Tony says.
But more than anything, Tony, a businessman at heart, wants the music of Mississippi, no matter the artist or producer, on the shelves of music stores. He firmly believes in the artists in the coalition. "We want to build a buzz, pushing good music in your face. We want to make sure that people are buying their records."
THE ORIGINAL CREATOR
At 4:45 a.m., any phone calls are usually drunken friends or wrong numbers. Not until last week did I have my first call from a legendary Jackson deejay just finishing up another night of work.
Aziatikk Blakk, 36, is one of the Jackson underground and now above-ground musical legends. Deejaying since the age of 14, Aziatikk has risen to become one of M.A.P.'s three vice presidents.
His name is taken from the word "aziatick" meaning original, and "black" meaning creation: adding that together forms the original creation Aziatikk Blakk, CEO of Blakk Magic Entertainment. And he was one of the originals. He began his first musical endeavors at the age of 9, and by the age of 14, he was a deejay at Mr. B's on the Strip (aka Moonbeam—an area during the late '80s and early '90s where the clubs of Jackson were located). For the next several years, Aziatikk developed his style and his reputation for being one of the pioneering deejays of the early '90s.
"I was the first deejay to publicly air rap music in Jackson," Aziatikk mentions, also thanking WMPR head Charles Evers for that opportunity (something he never forgets to do). "I pioneered blending the music of the older and younger crowds."
This was at the height of the underground music scene, in the early '90s, the scene which many consider the foundation for M.A.P. "There were about six clubs on the strip" Aziatikk counts. He was working at two of them— The Place (a college club at the time) and the UG (Donnie Money's club)—and had a show, "Too Black Too Strong." "Being that young and being able to put the music on and change the whole atmosphere—it was magic," Aziatikk says.
But, as many will explain, Jackson changed, and the Strip was shut down. Aziatikk moved to Blacks (now Club Hypnotic) and got down to business. "I sat down and talked to my dad," explains Aziatikk. A few years later, he had his own company, and now is one of the success stories of the Jackson underground.
Being a VP of M.A.P., however, he is part of the team designed to share their knowledge with other up-and-coming artists. "It's really causing different artists and deejays to get serious or leave it alone," Aziatikk states. "Some think it's an easy way to make money or be popular. It's really got to be in you."
One of M.A.P.'s goals is to educate artists on how to handle the business of the music business, but also to help bring your music out to the world, or at least Mississippi. "M.A.P. isn't here to carry someone's weight," Aziatikk warns, "M.A.P. won't make you a star."
Kamikaze, president and founder of the M.A.P. Coalition, needs little introduction to the Jackson Free Press audience. He's been writing for the weekly and making his moves all over the city, recently performing at Jubilee!JAM. He has lead the M.A.P. Coalition since its very beginning, recruiting vice presidents, helping to recruit the artists, and working with those outside one's normal realm to make things happen.
"I go to the gym, and then I'm on the phone or talking with someone trying to advance the cause of the coalition," explains Kamikaze. Every day, he is planning seminars, the studio, or shows. "I'm also in the process of promoting The Coalition Volume 1 & 2 CDs."
Though he doesn't do it alone, Kamikaze has become the ringleader for one of the largest groups of musicians in the country. "I couldn't do it by myself," he admits. "Donnie is able to reach to people on the streets and tell his story and inspire others. Aziatikk brings his wisdom, and he's an astute businessman. Tony brings the hustle. He knows everyone, and he knows how to sell. We're a good team, and that's what makes it work at the end of the day."
So far, it's working, and its forecast is only looking sunnier. "As far as I know, this is something unprecedented," Kamikaze tells. "Hopefully we're making a blueprint for other states. It's destined to be huge."
This "thing" will soon include different regional chapters, a more diverse membership (including rock, jazz, blues and spoken word), a studio on Farish Street promised by Frank Melton during his campaign ("We're going to make Frank stick to his promise," Kamikaze states), and eventually a union for artists in Mississippi. "The union will be a support vessel for artists," Kamikaze explains. "Everyone should get what they work for."
Many in society, however, see rap music as a hobby, or just noise, but the artists and producers the Coalition has so far gathered think otherwise. Many of them, including Kamikaze, make their living and feed their children off the music they create, produce or spin on records.
But, as Kamikaze warns, "You have to be able to speak two languages. You have to be able to talk to the brothers and the sisters struggling, and you have to talk to the CEOs." In M.A.P.'s case, politicians can be added to the roster.
Two months ago, the M.A.P. Coalition endorsed Melton for mayor of Jackson. "I felt it was best to keep the Coalition out until after the primary," explains Kamikaze. "Things in the hood had to deal with the mayoral race, and people felt they identified with Frank. All of them were worthy candidates with good and bad points."
The endorsements and political activity won't stop in Jackson's 2005 mayoral race; with Gov. Haley Barbour, Sen. Trent Lott, Sen. Thad Cochran, and state legislators all coming up on the ballot in the next few years, M.A.P. plans to make their mark. "It's (M.A.P.) grass roots," as Kamikaze says. "I'm personally not going to let it die."
Join the M.A.P. Coalition, and the Jackson Free Press at the Red Room at Hal & Mal's on Wednesday, July 20, for an informal meet-and-greet starting at 8 p.m. No cover; bring some CDs and other materials to share. Musicians of all genres, as well as non-musicians, are encouraged to drop by.
Excellent article. I have been wanting to hear more about this organization. And I fully support their efforts. When I hear my colleagues down their generation I always like to have some positive ammo. IT's good to see artists that are good businessmen, articulate, AND leaders in their community. Just from reading him here and seeing what he's doing with his career and this coalition, I believe Kamikaze has a bright future as an artist and leader. What do the negative people have to say now??? Glad to see them getting involved in politics too. Don't know how that studio idea will work out. They've got a lot of doubters. But I will be watching to see what happens.
The MAP Coalition is doing a great job in supporting artists. I think just the mere existence of the organization is the testament that artists can pull together for the common good. It has always concerned me--- the bad case of the "crabs" that seems to exist in the arts, specifically. We say we want to see our hometown people "make it", but when they reach any level of success, we are ready to pull them down with insults, criticism, and hurtful speech. And it seems to come from the very ones that are supposed to be supportive! I have never heard Kamikaze or Black down any other artist, whether they like their music or not--- they have always been respectable. And that sets a model for the rest of us. I have not been known to be very "political", taking the stance that my political convictions (though conservative "hint hint") are not important to my journey as a visual artist, author and poet. But if we are truly honest, as this MAP article helps us to see, POLITICS are even involved in the arts. As for unification, that is for the better, but when it is used to destroy--- then it has gone too far. I recently was the victim of such destructive talk at a poetry spot that I greatly respect and have supported and its hurtful. It is hurtful to think that those who are supposed to be helping you would be taking the lead in trying to destroy you. So, when I read articles like the one commending the work of MAP, it makes me feel good to be a member... though I haven't been as supportive as I should be, I am working on improving that.
- c a webb
My nephew says "haters" are everywhere. But we know em as what you called them C.A those "crabs" in a bucket who don't want to see anyone succeed. Its easier to talk about what you can't do as opposed to what you can do. It takes less energy. Lazy people are good for this. But you get mad when you see someone making an effort. It happens in my place of work all the time. The people that work hard and try to advance are "hated" on by the lazy folks who just want to draw a check. Ignore them. Let them sit back and watch you succeed...its the best remedy!!!!
It has always concerned me--- the bad case of the "crabs" that seems to exist in the arts, specifically. We say we want to see our hometown people "make it", but when they reach any level of success, we are ready to pull them down with insults, criticism, and hurtful speech. And it seems to come from the very ones that are supposed to be supportive! I totally agree. But this is Mississippi. If you're reaching out to others, they will spit back sometimes. It's hard, but like trusip said "haters are everywhere". I never heard of you so I can't comment on your poetry, but I will look for you now that you are out there and I promise I won't throw any tomatos at you ;o). But you also have to understand that in most cases the media outlets are the major "crabs" that you speak of (not the people) who could do a better job at promoting Jackson and unifying the community to garner that support locally. In Atlanta, for instance, the local radio stations support their local musical artists whether the artist was home grown or moved and got a record deal in New York. The newspapers/magazines write on ALL the city's talent they can from near and far. If you're from Atlanta, the DJ's will play your songs and you're going to get that love and support unconditional, at least, from your home city/state for your craft AND the newspapers/magazine will write on them at them to balance the local support. Why? because the more people/media who "promote" Atlanta the better is how they think. They buy/support anything that has someone saying "ATL" or "Atlanta" in the song. The radio/newspapers/magazines in Atlanta do a great job of covering every musical artist they can especially if you're born and raised in Atlanta. They dig deep for their indigenous culture. You could live in L.A.,"Are you from Atlanta? You're in" no questions asked(i.e. Bobby Valentino). They go the extra mile to write about their indigeous talents and do in-depth interviews on them and really show the world how much support they give their locals whether they are physically living in Atlanta or not. And from there, if the Local goes major they are more apt to give back in hurry as opposed to not giving back at all or very little(i.e.- Alexander O'Neal/ Walter Payton/Leann Rimes). And that is what Jackson is not doing. I don't see the media outlets in full support of the locals, if at all, it's biased. I like Free Sol but they're a Memphis band that gets more press than 3 Doors Down(a platinum selling band) from Mississippi. That's why Leann Rimes, Brandy, and other major entertainers from Mississippi shun Mississippi to a degree because we don't show them unconditional love and support in the media to show how much we love/support "our guys". I got friends now who "hate" on Brandy. It's pitiful and a disgrace at the same time. Sure they'll come back and build a million dollar home on a lake but that's about it, to which I can't blame them sometimes. To me, Jackson is similar to Terrell, TX (Jamie Fox's home) in that, They never showed him ANY love/support until he won that Oscar and that's and a shame and a sham at the same time. Jackson is more in the mindframe of "Out of sight, Out of mind" and therefore artists/entertainers are forced to go where the love is. the people AND the media have a lot of work to do, I totally agree. If Brandy had as much support in Jackson as she has in L.A. she would move back here in no time and immediately bring her rich associations with her.