On A recent trip to New York, I visited more than a half-dozen record stores in Lower Manhattan, and one thing I was struck by was how much contemporary Memphis music I stumbled across without really trying: North Mississippi Allstars, Three 6 Mafia, Reigning Sound, Yo Gotti, Lost Sounds. But the most common and most prominent Memphis music I came across was the one that's probably the least-known locally --the new Memphix joint.
Titled Express Rising, this collection of instrumental hip-hop is the first official full-length (other than the subterranean-funk 45 comp Chains + Black Exhaust) released by Memphix and the label's first album-length collection of original music. Express Rising is the nom de plume of Chicago-based beat-digger and amateur musicologist Dante Carfagna who, along with Memphians Chad Weekley and Luke "Redeye Jedi" Sexton, founded Memphix in 1999.
Carfagna first met Weekley and Sexton while working at a record store in Kansas City. "I was working at a record shop and they came in looking for funk and breaks," Carfagna remembers. "I started to sell them things from my own collection and our relationship grew. I came up with the Memphix moniker and we decided to issue some 45s of the music we had been making."
As unlikely as it may seem, Carfagna got his start as a Miami-based teenager doing some production and scratching on (Public Enemy member) Professor Griff solo albums, recorded at the South Florida studios of booty-bass impresario and 2 Live Crew founder Luke Skywalker. These days, Carfagna's reputation is strictly underground, where he's become a major name in the oft-hidden world of indie-hip-hop DJ culture and crate-digging record collectors. Carfagna has toured with scene kings DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist and is a contributing editor to New York-based Wax Poetics magazine.
As for Express Rising, DJ Shadow's ground-breaking 1996 debut Endtroducing is the unavoidable comparison. Like that genre-defining masterwork, Express Rising is a beat symphony composed from record-shop refuse, anonymous found sounds sampled, sequenced, and plumbed for hidden grace to create wholly original music. It can't quite match the grandeur or wit of Endtroducing, but it replicates many of that record's considerable charms and with a nostalgic, reflective vibe that's all its own. It's also, save Memphix's earlier singles, entirely unlike any other music released by a Memphis-based label.
"The tracks that went onto the LP were songs that I had been working on over the past five years or so," Carfagna says. "I am very particular about the records that I sample. I wanted to make a completely sample-based LP that had a similar emotional feel throughout, even though all of the sources were disparate. I don't remember how many different records were sampled to make up the LP, but not as many as one would think."
The result is a lovely, moody sound-cycle made up largely of hip-hop-heartbeat drum breaks and understated organ loops. The wistful vibe is underscored by the sampled sound of children playing on the opening "Neighborhood," while the record's body-rockin' insistence comes through on the bhangrified redux "Neighborhood (Gentrified)."
"I didn't attempt to directly create a mood as a whole," Carfagna insists, "but, as many of the tracks were colored in the same way, I grouped them together as a long-player. The two words I had in my head as I sequenced the album were 'muted' and 'forested.'"
Carfagna will be making the trip down to Memphis this week for a local record-release party Saturday, September 27th, at the Hi-Tone CafÇ, where his set will be preceded by one from Redeye Jedi, Paul Taylor, and Atlanta-based Memphix associate DJ Klever. Showtime is 9 p.m. and the cover is $5.
According to Weekley, who handles most of the label's business affairs, Memphix shipped all of its initial 2,000-copy run of Express Rising within the first few weeks of release and is still a few weeks away from shipping copies overseas, where the label has done the bulk of its business. Weekley says tentative plans include a European and U.K. Memphix tour later this year. Express Rising is currently available on both vinyl and CD at local indie stores, particularly Shangri-La Records.
On a sad note, Mitzi Purvis, the sister of local guitar legend Shawn Lane, reports that Lane is in serious condition at Baptist Hospital, suffering from a lung condition. Purvis says that fans and friends wishing to send their regards to Lane can do so c/o Purvis, at 1654 Smokehouse Drive, Cordova, 38016.
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