The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Cover Story - By An­dria Lisle

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 south­ern­coali­tion­move­ 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.”

Nikki Bo­ert­man/The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

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.

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