Memphis Rap: Parting the Dark Clouds

He pulls into the parking lot shortly after midnight to receive the usual rap show assemblage (underdressed females, over-posturing males) milling about a crowded and awkwardly arranged spread of cars, many of which outshine the drab exterior of the venue by a considerable margin. Three kids who swear that they’re of age but don’t look a day older than 16 sit on the hood of one and shout, “Don Trip! Lemme get an autograph, a picture or a record deal!” nonspecifically in the direction of a van that, to their knowledge, may or may not actually contain Don Trip. A member of Trip’s four-car deep entourage laughingly brushes them off with reason: “He’s still trying to get on himself.”

The inside of the club appears to betray that logic, though as The All New After 5 Sports Bar and Grill is packed tightly with a couple hundred fans who could very well turn combustible quickly. Word has come down from above that the warm-up DJ blew out the venue’s only set of speakers. While management runs around frantically to figure out exactly how to solve this problem Trip waits backstage—literally. Rather than place him in a green room they have simply cornered off a VIP towards the rear of the stage itself, surrounding a small, booze-stacked table with couches and posse and creating something of a warped Last Supper scenario. Two of the more attractive women in the crowd are either invited or take it upon themselves to join Trip on stage but he appears to interact with them very little. Instead he sits silently, looking alternately focused and frustrated. Part of this is his natural alignment; his deep-set eyes and sharply arched brows suggest a constant intensity that might not always be present.

Trip’s management, too, tries to remedy the speaker situation by offering to instead turn the event into a meet and greet, but before they can organize such an effort, the club’s security produces a new set of speakers and parts the crowd to install them. After some negotiation, Trip finally takes the stage—the front of the stage—at about 1:30AM. There he runs through a 40-minute set of artfully executed songs about gunplay. His is music designed to induce riots and fortunately only comes close to its intended effect on this night. But it’s Trip’s emotional turmoil, not his physical threats that gets the biggest response as “Letter To My Son” builds to its growled thesis statement: Stupid bitch, I just want to see my child. The crowd devours it.

If Trip does manage to cross over, it’s hard to say what, if anything, his success would mean for Memphis. Gotti’s has built a sense of pride, but not of unity. Trip has potential to be an even bigger artist, but without a collective voice in Memphis, ultimately his stardom will be his alone and today the same goes for any artist who might be so lucky as to emerge from a second-city scene. Memphis may see movement in its Richter scale, but without that unity, those spikes will remain few and far between.

While Trip might break out, he has no plans to leave the area anytime soon. He’s a self-professed homebody and his allegiance to his city is one of simple comfort, if not roaring enthusiasm. “I just like Memphis. I like the fact that it’s spacious. Like right now we can stand in the parking lot, at a lot of spots there ain’t no parking lot. You gotta park on the streets. I ain’t too into that,” he says. “I travel all the time but I don’t think I need to move, Memphis is home. Miami is exciting, LA is exciting but no other place is home but home.”

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POSTED December 16, 2011 7:20PM IN FEATURES Comments (4) TAGS: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,




  1. A.T. says:

    Killer article. Very well done. You’ve reignited my love for this music. As someone from the Memphis area (North Mississippi) I can attest to the tape trading era of yesteryear. I remember some of those Memphis rap tapes trickling down to my neck of the woods when I was in high school. I had a friend trade me for my Beastie Boys License to Ill tape for a re-recorded Playa Fly Fly Shit tape. I still have that tape.

    Also, one time my friend and I went to the Mall of Memphis to get our Three 6 Mafia Chapter 2: World Domination CD signed by the group, they were up there promoting the record. We were the first ones there and they asked us what the hell we were doing at that mall (being notorious for homicide and other crimes and not the friendliest of places, they used to call it the Mall of Murder) and we told them we loved the record and we loved “Tear The Club Up ’97″. They signed and we drove back down the 55 to Mississippi to show it off to our friends.

    Seriously great article. Easily one of the best I’ve ever seen on The Fader.

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  3. Ross says:

    I feel as though in the 90′s, the south generated it’s own type of sound and that established it’s place in hip hop. But eventually it got played out because every young fella seeing how artist from Memphis/south area do it, they wanted to be like that. True, Memphis is dark as hell. Not really a suggested place to build a career, but when there’s no other option you have to go out and get yours. And this happens most of the time down south. That’s why T.I. says you grow up fast down here in ATL. Have to make a chance for yourself.

    Shit, Cali is killing it right now.

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