Barring a natural disaster, music promoter Peppa Williams will pull off the impossible this weekend. "I plan on making history; this has never been done before," says Williams of his Memphis Legends concert. Starring rap pioneers Tommy Wright III, Kingpin Skinny Pimp, Gangsta Blac, Gangsta Boo, Playa Fly, La Chat, Al Kapone, DJ Squeeky, Gangsta Pat, DJ Zirk, and more, the event is slated for East Memphis' Blue Moon Event Center Sunday night, September 2nd.
It's the first time in decades — if ever — that such a roster has appeared on one stage. For true Memphis rap fans, the line-up is equivalent to Bonnaroo or Woodstock, and the timing couldn't be better. A$AP Rocky recently sampled Wright's 1992 song "Shoot to Kill" on the popular "OG Beeper." Drake is storming the airwaves with homages to local rappers, riffing on Project Pat's "Out There" for his recent hit "Look Alive," and sampling DJ Squeeky's 1995 track "My Head Is Spinning" on the brand-new "Nonstop." The common denominator for Drake and A$AP Rocky's Memphic-centric hits is 22-year old Raleigh MC BlocBoy JB, who now joins Yo Gotti, Moneybagg Yo, and Young Dolph as the latest local gangsta rapper to make the big time.
"People are reconnecting to the Memphis rap sound, but it's never really left," says veteran MC Al Kapone. "The way producers here made beats — particularly the rhythm of the drums, the snare rolls and the hi-hats—created an authentic Memphis sound in the 1990s. And right now, so many people are coming around to that sound. It's the perfect time for us to unite and say that we're all a part of creating it."
Kingpin Skinny Pimp describes that sound as "underground and hard as hell. It's a certain style we had, and everybody else is getting up on it now." Meanwhile, the fast-spitting Tommy Wright III has enjoyed newfound popularity among punk rockers and skateboarders. "Not that audiences in the '90s didn't like to get wild, but today's crowds can get wild without any fights," Wright says. My audience nowadays is turnt up."
That international fame came a few decades too late for most of these artists isn't lost on originators like DJ Zirk, who describes the Memphis rap scene of the 1990s as "an era of just trying: What can we invent that's different from what's happening up north and out west? We were working on limited equipment, doing what we had to do, because we didn't have the technology. With songs like 'Lock'm N Da Trunk' and Skinny's 'Lookin' For Da Chewin,' we were trying to see which one of us could be the wildest and have the most aggressive beats."
Back then, there was nothing more aggressive than the "Triggerman" sample, a break that DJ Spanish Fly lifted off a little-known 12-inch called "Drag Rap" recorded by a New York duo known as the Showboys. They, too, will be making a rare Southern appearance at the Memphis Legends show. Thanks to Spanish Fly and DJ Squeeky, "Triggerman" showed up in dozens of Memphis underground hits. It also spawned the dance trend known as gangsta walking, which evolved into today's jooking.
"'Triggerman' was so hot that we thought [the Showboys] lived in Memphis." Wright says. "It was such a hype anthem, the one that brought the house down. The DJs around Memphis would mix it in, talk over it, create their own versions like 'Shoot Triggerman,' 'Triggerman's Back,' 'Triggerman's Dead.' It is a classic."
Memphis Legends, with Tommy Wright III, Skinny Pimp, Gangsta Blac, Gangsta Boo, Playa Fly, La Chat, Al Kapone, DJ Squeaky, DJ Zirk, Gangsta Pat, SMK, Criminal Manne, the Showboys and more, perform at Blue Moon Event Center, 2560 Mount Moriah, on Sunday, September 2nd. $25.