Over Thanksgiving weekend 2006, local conceptual hip-hop faves Lord T & Eloise assembled what they called a "Memphis Legends" concert, featuring themselves, Neighborhood Texture Jam, Memphis rap legend Al Kapone, and DJ unit Feelharmonic Orchestra. It would be a gross understatement to say that the self-proclaimed "Aristocrunk" outfit has outdone itself for this year's followup concert, scheduled for Newby's Saturday, November 24th.
A simple glance at the talent is enough to raise some eyebrows: Lord T & Eloise headlining a bill that will include local rap pioneer Skinny Pimp, Southern rock enigma Black Oak Arkansas, and up-and-coming rapper Kaz. Perhaps readers need a second to let that sentence sink in.
"Even though we were private-school kids, my friends and I absorbed a lot of rap in the early '90s, and I loved what Skinny Pimp and Al Kapone were doing back then," says Lord T, who donned his signature 18th-century powdered wig for the duration of our discussion ... at 2:30 in the afternoon. "The music industry didn't have an ear for Southern rap back then, so the real groundbreakers like Al Kapone and Skinny Pimp went totally overlooked," he continues.
Known to append "Kingpin" to his moniker, Skinny Pimp began circulating mixtapes in the late '80s. He was also an early collaborator with DJ Paul and Juicy J who were nurturing a little project of their own called Three 6 Mafia.
Though Allmusic.com lists 2000's Controversy as the debut album by Skinny Pimp and 211, the rapper made his first significant local impact in the early '90s with the Kingpin Skinny Pimp and 211 Vol. 1. cassette release. It was on these tapes that Skinny Pimp and his contemporaries showcased what critics would later refer to as "horror rap," and there's no doubt that they had a massive impact on the future "crunk" movement.
Skinny Pimp's nascent version of the genre was marked by stark minimalism and XXX-rated, hyper-violent lyrics. Upon hearing this tape as a senior in high school, I remember it being the only instance in which a form of music made me think I really don't want my parents to find this tape. Part of the impact came from the sonic makeup. The rudimentary pounding of the drum machine and creepy simplicity of the cheap keyboards gave the recordings a chilling quality.
"I used to buy up the local rap section at Cat's on Union, and the Skinny Pimp and Al Kapone tapes were my favorites. It was so exciting and surprising to realize that it was Memphis," says Lord T.
If your frame of reference for Memphis hip-hop history is limited to Three 6 Mafia or the Hustle and Flow soundtrack, do yourself a favor by checking out Skinny Pimp's set Saturday night.
(Note: Skinny Pimp's CD releases from the past few years are obtainable and worth it — depending on one's capacity for sometimes over-the-top subject matter — but the early cassettes are next to impossible to locate, and sometimes command high prices on eBay.)
Black Oak Arkansas rocking the same lineup as Skinny Pimp is something that supports the adage "Only in Memphis." Though they never achieved the success of fellow Southern-rock bands like the Marshall Tucker Band or the Allman Brothers Band, frontman Jim Dandy Mangrum and Black Oak Arkansas were at it first with an unparalleled raw, primal stomp. They have recently enjoyed a prosperous chapter in their almost four-decade existence, with Rhino Handmade's reissue of their classic 1973 live set Raunch 'N' Roll, several high-profile overseas festival appearances, and an upcoming album of new material on the SPV label.
"We're big fans of Black Oak Arkansas, and they created a visual style of hard rock that would be copied for years. It opened the floodgates," says Eloise. "We tried to put together an evening of great performances," adds Lord T.