BLOCK PARTY TO BRING THE LOVE
COALITION AIDS SOUTH MEMPHIS, LOCAL RAPPERS
ASK 35-YEAR-OLD MEMPHIAN J. Shields, founder of the Southern Coalition Movement, what the most important component of a good block party is, and he’ll say, “barbecue.”
His cohorts, 33-year- old Richard “Richie Rich” Biggs, 35-year- old Priest “DJ Splash” Robinson and 37-year- old Kerry Causey, list good music, family and friends.
This Labor Day weekend, the four men are putting their own spin on a block party — Summer Crunkness 2008, which kicks off at noon on Sunday — in South Memphis’ Belz Park.
The block party will cap off their 18-month effort to build the Southern Coalition Movement from the ground up.
Shields, a Washington, D.C.-born, Memphis-raised entrepreneur who got his start selling candy bars outside a local shopping mall, founded his own label, Slum Records, before he realized that artists weren’t pooling their resources.
“Everyone has a label, but not many people are doing promotion,” he says.
Causey, the owner of a car detail shop, Da Wash Shop, at 1506 S. Third, says that Shields approached him with the concept for a networking and promotional group, “and it just took off.”
Industry insiders like Biggs and Robinson, South Side High School graduates who co-founded the rap group Big Money Ballaz and opened a studio called Versatile Sounds Production, were quick to jump on board.
“Memphis rappers love production, but they lack promotion,” says Biggs. “Everybody thinks they’re the next best thing, and their music sounds so good that it will happen for them. The artists want to keep us producers in the studio all the time — then afterwards, everybody goes their separate ways.”
Anyone can join. “We’re looking for people who are willing to give back to other artists and to the community,” Shields says. “Second, they need to have a strong business mind. Third, they need to go to southerncoalitionmovement.com and sign up.”
Rapper Yung Kee, one of the headliners of Summer Crunkness 2008, embraces the movement.
“A lot of the people in this city don’t stick together, because they’re all about the money,” says the 25-year- old rapper (real name: Darius Tipler), who drops his first full-length album, Perfect Timing, on Sept. 9. “I like working with people who want to see others succeed, and I want to do more for my community.”
Via events like Summer Crunkness 2008, the Southern Coalition Movement hopes to deliver entertainmePnritn eacntdly - cbyityNewspaperDirect
kids who may not be able to afford tickets to concerts like Crunkfest. Some might discount the validity of a rap concert as community outreach, but Shields and his friends say Summer Crunkness 2008 is a positive event.
“When people say South Memphis, negativity immediately comes to mind,” Biggs says. “It’s the same with hip-hop, but these artists are doing something positive for the community without violence. This is a block party. There’s gonna be hip-hop music, but it’s also a charity event, with free canned goods and school supplies.”
“There’s no coincidence about where — or why — we’re throwing this,” adds Shields. “This area of Memphis needs a lot of love.”
“People know rap music as entertainment, but for me and a lot of my fans who have grown up on the streets of Memphis, it’s a reality,” says Kee, who’s already readying a second album, titled Product of My Environment, for release in February 2009.
Growing up, Kee witnessed the power of music firsthand through soul icons like Isaac Hayes and Al Green, who employed his father, trombonist Kenneth Dewalt, for studio sessions and touring gigs. Now he’s reaching out to fans on a call-in advice show on Holly Springs, Miss., radio station Power 92.7 FM.
Kee, the father of three children who range from 1 to 11 years old, says, “The way I see it, it’s up to parents to teach their children right from wrong. When they don’t have a direct plan, that’s when they’re setting themselves up for failure.”
The Southern Coalition Movement is (back row, from left) Richie Rich, J. Shields, DJ Splash, and Kerry Causey. This Labor Day weekend, the four are staging Summer Crunkness 2008 at Belz Park. Yung Kee (foreground) is one of the headliners.