This just might be Al Kapone's year. So far, he's collaborated with Atlanta's Lil Jon on the million-selling "Snap Ya Fingers," toured with the North Mississippi Allstars and Kid Rock, and collected a Critics' Choice Award for "Whoop That Trick," his contribution to Hustle & Flow. The ink on his contract with Red Light Management (the company behind such acts as the Allstars and the Dave Matthews Band) is hardly dry, but he's already begun work on True Underdog, his soon-to-be-recorded follow-up to his 24-song self-released CD, Whoop That Trick: The Mix Tape.
Yet as the glory accumulates and the accolades keep piling up, Kapone continues to focus on keeping it real.
Today, dressed in a red T-shirt, jeans, and his ubiquitous doo-rag, he displays no ego, no attitude. What you see, he proclaims, is what you get -- and right now, Kapone is seated at my kitchen table, pounding mugs of Celestial Seasonings tea like they were shots of Grey Goose vodka. In between sips, he reveals his next career move, which is as carefully planned as a political campaign.
"I have one solid opportunity, and right now, I'm being cautious," he says.
"Hustle & Flow provided a platform for me to broadcast my music to a mass majority of people, black and white, young and old," Kapone says. "I'd been doing some stuff with E-40 and Yo Gotti, but truthfully, without the movie, I don't think 90 percent of this would be going on for me. People call me a pioneer or a legend, but this has been like a rebirth for me.
"There have been so many great moments this year," Kapone continues. "When Craig [Brewer, writer/director of Hustle & Flow] and John [Singleton, producer] were like, 'yeah, we're gonna use your song.' Another pinnacle -- MTV coming to my house. Another one was doing the scenes in the movie.
"Winning an award when I was up against Dolly Parton was unbelievable," he says, breaking into a broad smile.
Shaking his head, he notes, "It seems like it never stops. My life will finally calm down, then something else happens."
"I have a great deal of respect for Memphis music, but for a long time, I felt like the local music community has shunned us or shut us out. I always felt like they talk about what was, which is great, but why not include rap? Maybe it's a generation gap, but man, this attention was long overdue."
Still, Kapone isn't about to complain about the belated kudos.
"The way the [rap] industry is, folks wonder what's going on. 'He did "Whoop That Trick," but what's he doing now?'" he deadpans, before explaining, "All your success is based off what song you've got going on right now."
"His next album, True Underdog, is an evolving project," says Michael Allenby, Kapone's Red Light rep. "Al has enough songs to do a great crunk record, but he wants to put out the right record. He's a hard worker, and he has passion and the right personality. Obviously, the biggest challenge is making sure that we don't change him as a hip-hop artist."
Kapone is currently experimenting with live bands -- at last month's Beale Street Music Festival he was backed by Allstars drummer Cody Dickinson and Bo-Keys bassist Scott Bomar -- and he's already cut 20 new tracks with DJ Trick and John "J. Dogg" Shaw.
Fully aware of his appeal to white audiences, Kapone has also scheduled a concert at the Hi-Tone Café for this Saturday night.
"I don't want to be all black, all hood," he says. "I purposely went to Central High School because it was diverse. Back in the day, I played shows at the Antenna Club and 616, with groups like Neighborhood Texture Jam and Big Ass Truck."
And late last month, he performed at Newby's alongside the Secret Service and Organ Thief. Although that show was hardly promoted and sparsely attended, Kapone has high hopes for this weekend.
"The alternative audience has shown a great deal of love and respect for what I do, and I want to embrace that community and show how much I appreciate them," he says. "In my own way, I'm trying to break the barriers. Let's connect, and let's see what might happen."
According to fellow rapper Holland "Chopper Girl" Taylor, who organized the Hi-Tone concert, it's been a long time coming.
"Everyone I know listens to rap and appreciates it," she says, "but there seems to be a lot of fear about the actual venues. People have this idea that they might get jacked at a rap show, but none of us operate like that. [A rap concert] is not any more violent than a punk-rock show.
"People believe that there's a wall between the black and white scenes in Memphis. If there is one, it's only about two inches high. It's easy to step over," Chopper Girl declares.
"The Hi-Tone realized that we really wanted to bring the music to the scene, not the other way around," she says. "This is his first big headlining show in Memphis, which really means a lot."
Al Kapone with Nasty Nardo and Chopper Girl The Hi-Tone Café
Saturday, June 10th • $7