The Memphis rap and hip-hop scene is thought of nationally in terms of Three 6 Mafia, Yo Gotti, and 8Ball & MJG, all roughly similar artists. But the scene has grown more diverse — and, as a consequence, more fragmented — in the past decade.
This weekend, Friday, January 14th through Sunday, January 16th, independent promoter Kaviar Lewis seeks to put the spotlight on the local scene by bringing artists from different strands of the Memphis hip-hop scene together for three showcases at three local venues in a self-described "unification summit" dubbed "Mic Check."
"I started to see the same people [at every show] and wanted to reach out," Lewis says. "I made it a point to slowly start integrating the scene. Lots of guys are sitting at home making record after record and no one is seeing them. And I don't care how many Facebook friends and YouTube hits you have, you have to be able to get onstage and move the crowd. Be an MC. That's what it's about."
A quick primer on the schedule concerts:
The lineup Friday night at the Center for Southern Folklore was designed to "show the diversity of the hip-hop scene," according to Lewis. A couple of the acts are more tangentially rap-related.
Artistik Approach, which pairs recent transplants Brandon Tolson (East St. Louis) and Siphne Sylve (New Orleans), incorporates R&B elements, doo-wop, and human beat box in a vocal-based style that, based on what I've seen and heard, is more lively than the band's rather stiff name. And solo artist Ify is a Memphian of Nigerian descent whose music stands at the intersection of rock, pop, reggae, and R&B. Her look and style is reminiscent of Santogold.
Artistik Approach and Ify will share the stage with three more conventional rap acts. Knowledge Nick is a University of Memphis student and promising pure hip-hop MC whose dexterous flow can, like a lot of self-consciously "conscious" MCs, get a little wordy at times. UndenYable is "more street-oriented, but lyrical," according to Lewis. And rounding out the bill is Detroit transplant Promise.
Dubbed "The Hip-Hop Happy Hour," the night will include a meet-and-greet period from 7 to 8:30 and a panel discussion with local music-industry figures from 8:30 to 10. The music starts at 10. There is no cover for this event.
The Saturday night lineup at Young Avenue Deli is meant to be a showcase for lyrically advanced pure hip-hop acts, according to Lewis.
The highlight here might be Cities Aviv, a young MC with punk roots who has put out a series of terrific internet singles (citiesaviv.bandcamp.com) in recent months, the best of which, "Coastin'," will be released as a seven-inch single next month by the local Fat Sandwich label.
Total Savage is an energetic young white rapper who has toured with Lord T & Eloise and opened for Girl Talk at Minglewood Hall last year. New Orleans transplant Preauxx is a promising young MC who comes across, stylistically, in much the same way as emerging Memphis hip-hop contender Skewby.
Reggie Bean is an Orange Mound rapper with a smooth flow who scored a local radio hit of sorts a year ago with "All 4 U," which was produced by Free Sol's Elliot Ives. "He's the most lyrical street dude I know," Lewis says.
Rounding out the bill are Dutchess, whom Lewis describes as a fixture on the spoken-word and battle rap scenes, and Taktix, who emerged earlier in the decade as a member of the group Poisonous Dialects and is now a veteran of the local underground hip-hop scene. Last year, Taktix, Cities Aviv, and Ify all contributed to "Pushin' Buttons," a single from local DJ Homework.
Music starts at 10:30 p.m. Cover is $7 for under 21 and $5 for over 21.
The Sunday night lineup at Murphy's is devoted to local rap crews and features longtime stalwarts the Iron Mic Coalition alongside several crews in the more traditional Memphis rap vein, including the promising young bunch Team Black Embassy, whom Lewis describes as "Iron Mic for the ghetto." Other crews on the bill are the INM Music Group, 3MK, and The Heavy Chevvy Boyz. Showtime is 10:30 p.m. Cover is $10.