Playa Fly movin’ and groovin’
Rapper went from drugs, jail to music
Last Tuesday night, rapper Playa Fly stood in a kitchen in Memphis’ northeastern suburbs, chopping bell peppers and garlic cloves for a marinade. His spotless Prada sneakers had been discarded by the front door, and his hair, usually shaped into tight braids, was released in an unruly halo. He wore a white undershirt and jean shorts, and talked incessantly as he prepared his favorite lamb dish.
For Playa Fly, aka Ibn Young, this was as real as it gets.
“There are 168 hours in a week, and I’m trying to utilize as many of those hours that I can,” said Fly, 31, who will appear at the Escape Club Saturday night.
The conversation veered from his legacy as a pioneer on the local rap scene to the king crab legs that lay defrosting in the kitchen sink. “We’re just movin’
and groovin’,” said Fly.
He might’ve been miles away from his personal ground zero in South Memphis, but metaphysically at least, he was very much at home.
“I grew up at 639 South Parkway East,” said Fly, slipping into an easy rap. “That’s right across the street from Southside Park. That’s a Lauderdale sub(division) — it sits between 51 and 61, the highways that is. That’s Elvis Presley and Third Street. It’s like the Sunset Boulevard of Hollywood, Calif., to me. Yeah, that’s the strip, that’s where I’m from, that’s where I’m at.”
Unequivocally, Fly is a product of his environment.
His father, Willie David Young, who sang with the Avantis and later, the Ovations, was best known for co-writing “Keep On Dancin’,” a huge hit for garage rock group the Gentrys. His mother trafficked narcotics. Both were heavy drug abusers.
“I got it honest,” said Fly, who parlayed his reputation as a teenaged drug dealer into a career as an underground rap star before a prison sentence nearly derailed him.
“My dad sung at Stax. He went to Booker T. Washington (High School) with Maurice White (of Earth, Wind & Fire). There was a lot of hanging out with Bobby Womack. I even remember the Pips coming by my dad’s house at Mississippi and Saxon,” said Fly. “Where was my mom? She was stuffed in the box, serving a federal sentence for trafficking drugs.”
Fly’s grandmother, Minnie Mae, taught him how to cook. She’s the one who lived on South Parkway. She raised Fly and his first cousin, Tony Bones, as brothers, before she died in 2000. An oversized charm, emblazoned with the letter ‘M’ and the number ‘3’, hung from a gold chain around his neck.
“This is M to the third power; M by M by M,” Fly said. “Minnie Mae Muzik.
“My grandmother never sold a drug in her life. She was Church of God in Christ, sanctified and filled by the Holy Ghost. She never got arrested, never felt handcuffs on her wrists, never sat in the back of a cop car. She never got her lights turned off.”
Despite Minnie Mae’s example, Fly was 13 when he started selling drugs, and just a few years older when he hooked up with Three 6 Mafia’s DJ Paul and laid down his first rap.
A few years later, Fly severed his ties with Three 6 yet continued his solo career, self-releasing albums like Movin’ On and Fly2K, which yielded the stellar “Nobody Needs Nobody,” featuring his father, who died in 1998, on vocals. Then he went to jail. “It was for so many charges,” said Fly, who served a seven-year sentence at Shelby County Penal Farm. He was released in mid-2006.
Fly pointed to a composition book filled with handwritten lyrics to songs such as his latest underground hit, “Moo -Lah.” “I actually have 50 songs ready to go,” he said. “I’m finishing a new album called Mafia All Day and recording a group album and another Playa Fly album.”
“The radio stations are still playing ‘Nobody Needs Nobody,’ but that song is 10 years old,” Fly said. “I appreciate the homage, but I’m working on a new record. We’ve already mastered this — now my fans are waiting for it to go to another level.”