Smoking the Charts 

Memphis rappers experience runaway success with latest disc

Memphis rappers experience runaway success with latest disc

The songs, themes, and lyrics of Memphis-based rappers Three 6 Mafia have earned the group regional success and national attention. Their recent production featuring the Hypnotize Camp Posse has hovered in the lower reaches of the Billboard R&B charts for over four months. Now Loud Records has released a new CD by the Mafia, When the Smoke Clears, which in its first week of release landed at No. 6 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart.

This collective of rappers, DJs, and producers offers brutally uncensored material littered with drug references, gun lyrics, violent imagery, and nonstop racial slurs, taunts, and boasts. While the flow and the production technique recall the Cash Money sound of New Orleans, Three 6 Mafia’s music carries a lean, throbbing feel and linguistic flow that reflects the members’ Memphis backgrounds.

Unquestionably, there’s much about Three 6 Mafia’s material that’s disturbing. From the casual approach to violence to the depictions of women as lowlife predators, the rappers glorify actions and lifestyles that many both inside and outside the African American community deem abhorrent. Yet, as is the case with so much gangsta rap, Three 6 Mafia’s CDs are brilliantly produced, displaying a sophistication and technical awareness that rivals anything by acts with much bigger budgets.

More to the point, their tunes spotlight a constituency that feels as alienated today as many in the soul and R&B generation felt in the ’50s and ’60s. Sure, there’s plenty to dislike about the lyrics on When the Smoke Clears, but those who would simply dismiss its creators as ignorant thugs do so at the price of missing the bigger picture. Namely, why do the rappers feel the way they do—and what does this mean for future generations?

—Ron Wynn

A matter of Pride

Charley Pride’s recent induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame was both overdue and delightful. Pride, the first and still only African American country superstar, has persevered and thrived doing the music he loves. For years he has steadfastly refused to complain about how difficult it’s been for a black artist working in an idiom deemed “white,” nor has he ever commented about the relative lack of support he’s received from the African American community. Locally, at least, Pride and many other African American country acts have gotten their plaudits thanks to the Black Country Music Association.

Still, Pride, Deford Bailey, Stoney Edwards, Ruby Falls, O.B. McClinton, Henry Glover, and other pioneers should be as admired and exalted as African American opera singers Marian Anderson and William Warfield. Sadly, there’s often been a ridiculous double standard regarding “black” music: Jazz, blues, vintage R&B, reggae—indeed, anything that’s not aired on urban radio—is either ignored or unknown by huge chunks of the African American audience.

Thankfully, this shortsighted attitude is slowly but surely changing. Whether it’s D’Angelo playing a Coltrane CD during an interview on Black Entertainment Television, or Stevie Wonder making guest appearances on Afro-Brazilian and gospel sessions, more and more African American musical greats are urging their fans to appreciate the complete black experience. Charley Pride is as much a black music hero as Chuck Berry or Robert Johnson or John Coltrane; perhaps now he’ll be recognized as such within his own community.

—Ron Wynn

Elliptical dispatches: It probably won’t be available in the States until late August, but we’re already hearing excellent advance word about Pocketful of Soul, the upcoming solo record from Jason Ringenberg. Described by one listener as “like Woody Guthrie with a combo,” the largely acoustic record was recorded by the Jason & the Scorchers frontman with Fats Kaplan and George Bradfute, who produced the LP at his Tone Chaparral home studio. Ringenberg wrote nine of the record’s 11 songs, including a tribute to his daughter Addie Rose; he also tosses in a cover of Guadalcanal Diary’s “Trail of Tears.” The indie release will be distributed by Redeye Records....

If the recent Wang Chung show didn’t satisfy your craving for the MTV faves of the ’80s, 12th & Porter serves up another July 13: Gene Loves Jezebel. But fans may be a little confused about who’s showing up. In the glorious tradition of feuding British brother bands, which extends from The Kinks to Oasis, founding Welsh twins Michael and Jay Aston split the group into two contentious factions, both of which perform under the name Gene Loves Jezebel. The edition that will play Nashville is Michael’s. On his Web site (www.genelovesjezebel.net/band.html), Michael chides the poppy “glam rock” direction the group took in the late ’80s under Jay’s leadership; since the Jay reign produced GLJ’s radio hit “Jealous” in 1990, make of that what you will. Expect to hear the signature song “Desire” and plenty of proto-Goth mysticism....

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