At a hip-hop showcase at the Center for Southern Folklore a few weeks ago, a microphone was handed into the crowd, and a few of the aspiring artists there as fans took turns with their own freestyle verses.
The best of the bunch, by far, came from Tim "Royal'T TopMC" Love, a hulking 19-year-old who charmed the crowd with a flow that was warm, easeful, and engaging.
I'd met Royal'T earlier in the evening, when he was passing out flyers for a show he was promoting the next night at downtown's Club Escape. The show featured a long list of like-minded, new-generation Memphis rappers, whom Royal'T was unofficially dubbing "The Young Alliance."
"I do the shows just to give people good hip-hop," Royal'T says. "My goal is to really put myself out there and bring people together."
This weekend, at Young Avenue Deli, Royal'T is rounding up much of the same crew — rappers such as Cities Aviv, Preauxxx, Taktix, and Virghost — for a show he's dubbing "'90s Hip-Hop Reloaded," a tribute to the hip-hop style of that decade, with attendees encouraged to dress in '90s styles.
Given that Royal'T was born in the early '90s and that hip-hop culture tends to be present tense and forward-looking, it's odd that the young Memphis rapper — who once performed as part of a more conventionally modern group called Mic Runnaz — should obsess over what he refers to as hip-hop's "golden age."
"I feel that in the '90s, there was more soul," says Royal'T, who cites A Tribe Called Quest, Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, and Nas as his favorite hip-hop artists of that era. "Not just the lyrics, but also in the beats — you can feel more love than you can today."
Royal'T's introduction to classic hip-hop was also influenced by a couple of music-making uncles, Memphis' Ennis "Fathom 9" Newman and Chicago rapper HB Sol.
Fathom 9 will also be on the bill at Young Avenue Deli this weekend and is among the many veteran local rappers who join Royal'T on Raw Gospel Muzik, the strong, free Internet album Royal'T released last December. Along with Fathom 9, who connects early-'00s local hip-hop crews the Genesis Experiment and Iron Mic Coalition, the album features Genesis Experiment's Mike P., IMC's Empee and Jason Da Hater, and other local vets such as MaxPtah and Infinito.
"I reached out to bring everybody together. They weren't doing it for a while," Royal'T says of getting so many local scene vets together.
Given the subculture of "gospel rap" that Royal'T's music doesn't belong to, the album's title is a little misleading: "I wanted to start a controversy," he says. "A lot of people are going to see the title and turn it on and hear something different. But I see all the people I worked with as a hip-hop choir."
Royal'T produced most of Raw Gospel Muzik, with help from Fathom 9 and Max Ptah. It's his second release, following an earlier work, The Throwback Novel. But Royal'T considers these releases "prequels" to a true debut album, the more solo-performed and mostly Fathom 9-produced 4 All Seasons, which he says is "more personal, with more neo-soul and experimental beats." Royal'T hopes to have the album ready sometime this summer.
"Royal'T TopMC Presents: '90s Hip-Hop Reloaded" takes place at Young Avenue Deli on Friday, March 18th. Showtime is 9 p.m. Admission is $5. You can download Raw Gospel Muzik for free at royalttopmc.bandcamp.com.
Another local teen act celebrating a new release are Arlington-based rockers Deadfall Rd., a preternaturally polished hard-rock quartet consisting of David Hoffman (vocals/guitar), Blake Leonard (guitar), Preston Jones (bass), and Eric Graham (drums).
The band's second EP, the locally produced One Bullet at a Time, showcases a rock-radio-ready sound on crunchy, guitar-driven songs such as "Adrenaline" and "Riverbed." The band will celebrate the release Friday, March 18th, at the New Daisy Theatre, with Aurora and Planet Ink. Showtime is 7 p.m. Admission is $11.