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II Black II Strong

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One of the hardest working, best unsung artists on the streets, rapper II Black is celebrating his birthday by rolling out a pair of brand new singles, "Love Handles" and "Buck Jumpin'," at Off Beale, located at 616 Marshall Street, Thursday, November 2nd.

"I just got a new team of producers, Frozen Tracks and Fire Tracks, and I am ready to roll," says II Black, a Mitchell Heights/Orange Mound veteran who recently broke away from Hoodoo Labs after dropping mix tapes Da Representa and II Black: Da Heartstopper, volumes 1 and 2.

"A lot of women are ashamed of what nature has given them, but it's cool, II Black loves ya," he says of "Love Handles," a dark dance track that ups the ante of Chingy's "Dem Jeans" for plus-sized girls.

Of "Buck Jumpin'," which is the latest in a series of gangsta-walk songs made popular by the likes of Three 6 Mafia and 8Ball & MJG, II Black says, "Al [Kapone] started it with 'Lyrical Drive By,' and we're gonna continue it. Hopefully, Three 6 opened the door and we can slide in."

II Black and his rap partner Keno Da Don have been together, he says, "as long as 8Ball & MJG. We've been trying to put it down since Gangsta Pat and Reggie Boyland were doing their thing. It's tough and rough in Memphis. The DJs just don't want to play new groups, and there are guys out here like Nasty Nardo who have been trying to get their songs played for the last four years. Then you've got guys in the door who are politicking the game. Right now, the best thing to keep my spirit going is to make a good song."

With his wife, Lady Thug Passion, and his best friend, Keno Da Don, at his side, II Black will ring in his birthday with a 30-minute performance. Doors open at 9 p.m. $7 cover; free for ladies until 11 p.m.

Diamond-D label owner Cody Dickinson also credits Al Kapone for a leg up in the rap game. The North Mississippi Allstars drummer launched Diamond-D, a digital-only label, last fall with Da Midsouth, a CD compilation that featured Kapone and Yo Gotti alongside veteran rappers DJ Squeeky and DJ Spanish Fly and newcomers such as Big Money Ballers and Miscellaneous. Since then, Dickinson signed rock groups Snowglobe and Dixie Hustler to the label, which is distributed by digital giant IODA.

After working with movie producer Martin Shore on Snoop Dogg's feature film Hood of Horror (the Allstars scored a segment of the movie), Dickinson and Shore have become partners in Diamond-D.

"All of a sudden, I have a West Coast connection," says Dickinson, "and I've hired a full-time marketing correspondent, Jim Hanft."

"We've signed Crystal City, [son of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh] Grahame Lesh's pop-rock group. We had to go through negotiations with the Dead's lawyers, which was crazy. We've signed Tangled Thoughts, which features Kurupt from Tha Dogg Pound."

Just last week, Dickinson inked a deal with Oakland Raiders fullback Justin Fargas, a Bay Area rapper and son of actor Antonio "Huggy Bear" Fargas. "Imagine how intimidated I was sitting on Young Hug's couch," says Dickinson. "The one thing I've learned over the last year is how to close a deal."

IODA executive Pierce Stacy was in town last Wednesday participating in the Memphis Grammy workshop about digital distribution, part of NARAS' yearlong Indie Impact lecture series. "I think record labels realize they screwed up and missed the boat," Stacy told a rapt audience at Studio on the Square. "The company I work for is filled with techies who are all about change and innovation. Until recently, major labels weren't thinking that way." Wes Phillips of Select-O-Hits, a national music company based in Memphis; Scott Robinson, founder of Nashville roots music label Dualtone Records; and filmmaker Joel Rasmussen (The Day the Music Died) were also on hand for the panel discussion, moderated by journalist/musician Bill Ellis.

Mark your calendars for Tuesday, November 14th, when NARAS presents the next installment of Indie Impact, a How to Mix Records discussion with famed producer Paul Ebersold. Admission is only $5.99, but space is limited, so RSVP by calling 525-1340 or emailing Memphis@Grammy.com.

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