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How tough is it being a student by day and a rap star by night? "Not too hard," says Darrell Mitchell Jr., the Central High School ninth-grader who's best known as Kristyle. The 13-year-old has been rapping for four years, ever since his father, fireman and part-time drummer Darrell Mitchell Sr., brought him along on a studio session. "I said, 'Look at this!'" the elder Mitchell says with a laugh. "We've been focusing on his career ever since."

Things really took off earlier this year, when NuDawn Entertainment promoter Quentin White happened to catch Kristyle's performance at a Lil' Romeo concert on Mud Island. "He did several shows with Romeo. He got the young girls all into it," Darrell Sr. explains. "Quentin came to us afterwards and we exchanged phone numbers. Then, lo and behold, he set up the Bow Wow tour."

"It was a good experience," Kristyle says of the tour that took him to Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida; Augusta, Georgia; and Detroit. "At the first show, I didn't know what to expect," he says modestly. "I got butterflies in my stomach before every performance, but listening to artists like Jay-Z and Nelly before going onstage really pumped me up. Once I got out there, I just focused on rockin' the crowd. I knew they were gonna like what I did."

"Bow Wow watched my first show, and he told the people in his camp that he wanted me to be on the rest of the tour," Kristyle says. The young rapper was home-schooled on the road for the first part of the tour; afterward, the concerts were changed to weekend dates and Kristyle was able to enroll in classes at Central. "He has a 4.2 grade-point average, and he's in the National Junior Honor Society," his father happily points out.

When Kristyle says that he enjoyed traveling and meeting people on the road, his dad laughs. "He's so shy and laid-back until he gets onstage," Darrell Sr. says. "In Jacksonville, he went out to sign autographs -- now, keep in mind, this was a territory we'd never been in -- and we had to leave town with a police escort. At that point, the promoters were overwhelmed. They couldn't believe the impact Kristyle had on the crowd."

Now that he's back home, Kristyle has been spending most of his time in the studio, tracking songs with producer/DJ Jus' Born at Doctor D's Music Den and Big Trey's Studio. "I write all my own lyrics," he says, "and I co-produced more than half the tracks I'm rapping on." He plans to release his new album next month.

"We're talking to three major labels right now," his father says. "Right now, we're weighing our options, but at this time we're not at liberty to discuss it any further."

"This music biz is a rough business," Darrell Sr. continues. "I keep him grounded the best I can. One thing I'm teaching him about is a residual income. What are you going to do with your money, Kristyle?" he asks. "Invest it," his son answers, prompting a chuckle from his proud papa.

Look for Kristyle at the Hot 107-FM Back to School Jams concert, scheduled next month for a date and location yet to be announced, and at a pre-album release party tentatively scheduled for his 14th birthday, which is October 18th. When asked what he wants for his birthday, Kristyle pauses. "I really hadn't thought about it yet," he says softly. "I know. I want everybody to buy my CD!"

Rugby, England, native Pete Kember aka Sonic Boom just finished a week-long session with Jim Dickinson at his Zebra Ranch studio in Coldwater, Mississippi. "My earlier band [Spaceman 3] was greatly influenced by Tav Falco's Panther Burns," Kember explains, "and I've always liked Jim's work on the Delta X and Dixie Fried records, as well as his Mudboy and the Neutrons stuff." But Kember credits David Katznelson of Birdman Records with the idea for this project: "It wasn't something I would've instigated myself, but it was a fabulous collaboration."

"I don't know if it's because Memphis is caught between three poles -- Nashville, New York, and Los Angeles -- but there's a fiercely independent and self-aware music scene that seems to produce a unique sound," Kember continues. "It's hard to not be a fan of Sun and Stax and everything else that's gone on here."

The Zebra Ranch session yielded several tracks, including a menacing 15-minute cut called "The Lonesome Death of Johnny Ace," which features Dickinson on vocals and lowe bow, backed by Kember's swirling, effects-laden mix. "That was my hope -- to come out with at least one track that was really great," Kember says of the song, which also features washboard player Jimmy Crosthwait and Detroit musician Randall Nieman.

"It's always interesting seeing other producers at work," says Kember, who also visited Willie Mitchell's Royal Studio while he was in Memphis. "I was curious to see how Jim does it," Kember says. Look for the as-yet-untitled collaboration on the Birdman label this fall. n

You can e-mail Local Beat at localbeat@memphisflyer.com.

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