The distance between Orange Mound and Midtown is mere blocks, but the Railgarten appearance by Memphis rap duo 8Ball & MJG, slated to take place Sunday, September 2, is more of a metaphysical journey. Just two weeks ago, Premro “8Ball” Smith and Marlon Jermaine Goodwin celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of their nine-song studio debut Comin’ Out Hard
, a funky, bluesy hip hop masterpiece.
Recorded in Houston, Texas by producer Tony Draper, Comin’ Out Hard
is a lyrical marvel: On it, the MCs drop one juxtaposition after another: In one verse, they rap about running drugs on the corner and in the next, they’re ruling high school talent shows. There was truth to their lyrics, but there was also a lot of fantasy. The song “Armed Robbery,” MJG explained to me during an interview in 2007, is “a broke motherfucker’s fantasy, to be able to rob a bank and get away with it.” Laid over the hook from Lalo Schrifin’s “Mission: Impossible
Theme,” the riveting story-song helped solidify 8Ball & MJG’s legacy on the top tier of Memphis rappers, right alongside the city’s other heavy-hitters, Three 6 Mafia.
While the members of Triple 6 covered more ground, 8Ball & MJG rapped specifically about Orange Mound, the first Black neighborhood in the U.S. to be built by Blacks, established on the site of the former Deaderick Plantation in the 1890s. 8Ball was raised by his mother on Lamar Circle and was bussed to Ridgeway Middle School, where he met MJG. The two attended Middle College High School, and, in their downtime, hung out at a pool hall across the street from the Lamar-Airways Shopping Center. MJG grew up a few blocks away, on Sample Street, where he absorbed the country music his grandmother loved alongside the jazz and R&B his father preferred. Each had formidable talent, but together, they gelled into a single unit that left lesser MCs in the dust.
Their music transcended the boundaries of Park Avenue and East Parkway, reaching audiences of all races around the world. Today, 8Ball & MJG don’t just serve as the prototypes for classic southern rap music: they are often rapped about, with their names popping up in the lyrics on songs like E-40’s “Record Haters.” Even National Public Radio has sung their praises, devoting a 2014 segment of “Morning Edition” to the group. Now, 8Ball & MJG are putting the finishing touches on a film biopic, also titled Comin’ Out Hard
, written, produced and directed by the Superwoman Squad, a multicultural collective of creative women and female entrepreneurs. The duo is releasing a new live album, Classic Pimpin
, this fall. They’re also slated to make an appearance at Atlanta’s A3C Musical Festival in October.
8Ball & MJG’s Railgarten concert, which also includes performances by Chinese Connection Dub Embassy, Unapologetic’s Weird Maestro, and DJ Witnesse, caps off a loose series of local appearances, including 901Fest in May and a listening party held at Memphis Slim House last February. Next, the duo hits the road for a fall tour, which includes stops in Birmingham, AL, Grand Prairie, TX, and DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. The Railgarten show is slated to take place on the outdoor stage, with the first act appearing at 7 p.m. Admission is $10.