When I reach David Parks, cofounder of Lyfe Is Dope, he's just finished a sound check at the Hard Rock Cafe in Miami, a venue he'll perform at later that night with platinum-selling artist Jason Derulo.
"I'm in Los Angeles about six months out of the year, on tour for about three months, and then back in Memphis for about three months," Parks explains, while he tries to find a quiet place in the club to talk.
When he's in Memphis, Parks and longtime friend Damien Woods curate Lyfe Is Dope, a production/clothing company that's grown from a small block party-type event to an anticipated annual gathering, hosting artists and socialites like Drumma Boy, Bruno Mars member Kameron Whalum, Shanell, and K97's Devin Steel. Parks and Woods first met while working at Club 152 on Beale, and quickly decided to join forces.
"We had started putting our ideas together, and around that time I was doing a lot of touring and going to a lot of live events, so I just started taking notes," Parks says.
"I would go to happening shows in L.A. and New York, and I noticed that there was just a huge void in the Memphis hip-hop community. At the time, most of the hip-hop shows in Memphis weren't well planned out, and the sound was almost always bad."
After settling on the name —Woods had a production company named "Nice Life," and Parks had a company called "Rated D for Dope"— Lyfe Is Dope was born. With the notion that this wasn't going to be just another hip-hop show, Parks and Woods started to come up with the ideas that are now staples at every Lyfe Is Dope event: a live band backing a rapper or artist who normally wouldn't perform with one, visual artists, projection screens throughout the venue, merch stations, body paint booths, and even a live chef.
The first Lyfe Is Dope events were held at 409 S. Main, but the packed shows quickly outgrew that space, leaving Parks wondering what the budding production company's next move would be.
"It grew beyond South Main, and I started thinking about trying to move the event to Midtown to bring in as many people as possible. If you're going to go to a big show, you're going to go to Minglewood Hall, and so that was just the obvious choice."
On Wednesday, November 25th, at Lyfe Is Dope Volume 6, Memphis legend Project Pat will perform with backing band Trump Tight for the first time, along with Lord T & Eloise and DJ Dnyce. Parks says that there will also be a jookin' contest, in addition to shoe painting stations where attendees can customize whatever kicks they bring to the show. If you were holding out to find out who the live chef is going to be, you'll be happy to know Chef Kenna — an upcoming contestant on the television show Hell's Kitchen — will be in the house.
"You won't see Project Pat with a live band anywhere else," Parks says.
"It's very important to include the live band aspect, because that is what Memphis is known for. We don't want it to be an average show; it has to be a next-level experience every time. My band will be behind Project Pat, and I'll be serving as the music director, taking all the skills and knowledge I've gained over the past five years playing with some of the biggest artists in the world."
Still, the idea of Project Pat performing songs with a full band off his club-ready albums Ghetty Green or Mista Don't Play seems a little bit weird, but Parks insists the crowd will like what they hear.
"The misconception is that rap music would be easy to play, but you have to lock in to all those grooves and hooks to make it feel right. There's a lot more going on than what people think," Parks says.
"We approach the artist ahead of time and make sure it works for both parties, but I think Project Pat already knew about Lyfe Is Dope because of his relationship to Damien. The band [Trump Tight] will normally spend about a week practicing the set, and then the artist will normally come in and do a couple of days of practice before the show. I've noticed that when you get to a certain level of musicianship, it's not that hard to pull off. Everyone involved just has to do their homework."
As for Park's intense touring schedule, he sees the experience as a way to make Lyfe Is Dope one of the best hip-hop events in the country.
"I had to turn down an Australia run to do this show," Parks says.
"But this is my dream. This is something I believe in. This goes further than me just being a side man for someone else. You've gotta sacrifice, and the band isn't gonna miss me for too long. Right after Lyfe Is Dope, I go to Angola, then I come back to L.A., and then I go to the U.K. in December."