Stay Fly: Where is Memphis Rap Now?

   The city of Memphis, Tennessee has changed the direction19 of hip-hop many times in the last 25 years.

    In the 1990s, Memphis brought lo-fi horrorcore group, Three 6 Mafia, to national prominence. At the time, the dance Memphis Jookin' was beginning to percolate at the local level. As the 2000s rolled in, early YouTubers introduced Jookin' to the nation. It is certainly one of the first viral dance crazes. The city later launched successful solo careers from Three 6 alums: Gangsta Boo and Juicy J.

    After a lapse of almost 10 years, Memphis native Yo Gotti did the city proud, bringing home a nomination for BET Album of the Year* in 2014. Although Yo Gotti was not selected for the award, his nomination marked a renewed interest in his city and its storied rap scene.

n.b.    This essay will survey the early history of Memphis rap, focusing on the music & interviews of Gangsta Boo and the continued success of Juicy J. The essay will then examine Memphis's continued influence on new trends within hip-hop, transforming the narrative of decline into one of (often uncredited) influence.

. . .

    The question, “where is Memphis hip-hop now?” has been asked numerous times in the music media. To answer that, we must go back to what Memphis hip-hop was. 

    Known primarily as a Blues and Rock&Roll town, Memphis also gave rise to an impressive list of local and nationally-recognized rap talent in the mid tolate '90s.

    By far the most successful group to come out of the city is the infamous Three 6  Mafia.

    Three 6 formed in 1991 but it took until 1995 for the group's lineup to stabilize. In '95, the group consisted of Juicy J, Lord Infamous, Gangsta Boo, DJ Paul, Koopsta Knicca and Crunchy Black (Ivey 2015). That year, Three 6 independently released their debut album, Mystic Stylez.

    Complex Magazine's 20th birthday celebration of their debut record stated that, “Three 6 Mafia may not have invented horrorcore but they might have perfected it” (Ivey 2015). Three 6 Mafia went on to found Hypnotize Minds, a record label intended to release the group's solo projects and select Memphis luminaries such as Project Pat, Lil Wyte and La Chat.

    Three 6 Mafia’s producer and defacto label head, DJ Paul, has continued his role as tastemaker in the Memphis rap community to the present day (Meara 2014). As the only real game in town, Hypnotize Minds is the ‘label of record’ for Memphis. I would argue that Hypnotize Minds is responsible for putting Memphis' trademark phonky sound on the map.

    With its brooding basslines, trash-y snares and thumping kick drums, Mystic Stylez has served as a blueprint for the horrorcore-influenced work of many artists including LA horrorcore rapper Hopsin, NYC rapper A$AP Rocky and Miami producer/rapper SpaceGhostPurrp.

    A$AP Rocky is especially well-known for adopting and popularizing southern rap tropes for the Big Apple. A$AP is upfront about his debt to the south, shouting out late Atlanta rapper, Pimp C in almost every rap (“Multiply”, “Waveybone”). A$AP has also collaborated frequently with Juicy J and Houston rapper Bun B.

    In 2011, A$AP signed a major record deal with Sony Music (Battan 2015). A year later, Rocky would release “Pretty Flacko” produced by SpaceGhostPurrp which has over 7million views on YouTube, at the time of this writing. It would be an omission to talk about Memphis hip-hop and not mention the infamous dance craze, jookin'.

n.b.    The history and impacts of Memphis Jookin' are extensive but unfortunately outside the scope of this paper. I encourage the reader to watch the following video, because it deals explicitly with the influence of the dance and importance of remembering its birthplace, Memphis, Tennessee:

    All the members of Three 6, except notably Gangsta Boo, appear on the album cover of Mystic Stylez. Gangsta Boo has claimed her absence was prompted by concerns from the others that her presence would make the cover too girly (Cipher Podcast 2014). This would not be the only instance of friction within the group. When asked in a 2013 interview with VladTV if she ever had relations with DJ Paul, Boo hedged with a revealing “maybe...maybe….”  

    In 2001, a year after the group scored a platinum record with When The Smoke Clears, Gangsta Boo left the group for undisclosed (inter-)personal reasons (Cipher Podcast 2014). Boo has continued a small but reasonably successful solo career, including recent collaborations with NYC rap group Run The Jewelz and experimental hip-hop act, Clipping.. Boo’s famous refrain “Yea Ho” has been and continues to be sampled ad infinitum in rap, club and electronic music.  

    Rapper and producer Juicy J stuck with Triple 6 until 2011, when he accepted a position as A&R rep and co-owner of Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang Records. That same year, the Pittsburgh rapper (Khalifa) found mainstream success, receiving BET’s Artist of The Year award (Lipshutz 2013).

    Those who pine for the glory days of Memphis rap are participating in a destructive narrative. Gangsta Boo continues to make regular appearances on new records; DJ Paul consistently collaborates with big names NS Juicy J enjoys arguably more success now than with his former group, not to mention Yo Gotti’s recent success.

    The people and articles which say Memphis hip-hop is dead are robbing the city of ownership of the sound that they invented and popularized.  That damaging narrative focuses on the importance of coastal cities (NYC, LA) while ignoring continued Memphis’s contributions to the game. According to Gangsta Boo in an interview with The Cipher podcast, “people these days don’t even know Juicy J was part of Three 6.” I will admit...I did not know Juicy J was from Memphis at all, even when he entered the mainstream as a solo artist in 2011 with a feature on Wiz Khalifa’s “Black & Yellow Remix.”

    Juicy J lives in L.A. now along with DJ Paul (VLADTV 2013). They have enjoyed success over the last few years, adjusting to coastal mainstream rap life. Gangsta Boo, back in Memphis, remains in relative obscurity, celebrated mostly be rap aficianados.

    And yet, Gangsta Boo continues to speak up, claiming the genre of “horrorcore” for Memphis, in interviews and on social media. In the words of Gangsta Boo, “everyone does that spooky stuff now.”  On her newest collaboration with La Chat entitled Witch II, Boo continues her work reminding the hip-hop community where that spooky sound came from.

. . .

    So. . .Can Memphis produce another hip-hop phenomenon like Three 6 Mafia? . . .I don’t know.

    As I have argued above, the spooky production of horrorcore can be clearly traced back to the musically-fertile city of Memphis, Tennessee.

    The question, “where is Memphis rap now?” might actually have some merit. After digging deeper into it's history, I might answer the question.

'Memphis hip-hop is in L.A with Juicy J and DJ Paul; it is in New York City, carried on by A$AP Rocky; It is in Miami with Yo Gotti and SpaceGhostPurrp and it is in Memphis, with Gangsta Boo.'

    Memphis Rap may not be in Memphis anymore, but we know for sure it is definitely not dead.



Playlist: (

Break Tha Law - Three 6 Mafia
I Thought You Knew - Gangsta Boo & Crunchy Black
Stay Fly - Three 6 Mafia

Bringing The Phonk - SpaceGhostPurrp


Battan, Carrie. "A$AP Rocky Talks $3 Million Record Deal, Mainstream Acceptance." Pitchfork. October 28, 2015. Accessed December 17, 2015. Http://

Cipher Podcast "Gangsta Boo." In The Cipher Podcast. May 27, 2014.

Ivey, Justin. "Three 6 Mafia's 'Mystic Stylez' Is Still a Southern Hip-Hop Essential 20 Years Later." May 23, 2015. Accessed December 15, 2015.  Http://

Lipshutz, Joseph. "Juicy J Stays Trippy: Inside The Rapper's Unlikely Comeback | Billboard." Billboard. August 12, 2013. Accessed December 17, 2015.

Meara, Paul. "Come Back To Hell: The Resurgence Of Memphis Horrorcore." HipHopDX RSS. February 7, 2014. Accessed December 17, 2015.

Rocky, A$AP. "Multiply lyrics." Accessed December 15, 2015.

VLADTV "Gangsta Boo on Leaving Three 6 & DJ Paul Relationship." YouTube. May 23, 2013. Accessed December 17, 2015.

Sports Writing: An (Short) Essay

    Sports writing, as we have discussed in my Literary Journalism class, opened up many of the narrative avenues now utilized widely in serious "new journalism." While using the term serious to denote “important” or “relevant” journalism is an issue that deserves some unpacking in its own right, this essay will deal mainly with with how sports writing is important and relevant. I will make the argument that a discussion of sports writing is really a discussion of society itself. Sports, as with other “tune-in, tune-out” entertainment, can never fully insulate itself from social issues. In fact, modern Sports Writing has a tremendous power to sway opinion when it inserts the political into the entertainment (see BeYonce’s SuperBowl halftime performance).

    Modern sport writing stands in contrast to old-school sports reportage. Old-school sports writing is the stuff of numbers and statistics, rarely advancing beyond the who-what-where-when of an individual game or play. It is the raw material of the sports media industry akin to beat reporting on city council meetings. In addition to the die-hard sports fans and commentators, these stats provide the shrewd gambler a chance to crunch the numbers and play the odds against her local bookie.

    Baseball in particular amongst sports is often held up as a “thinking man’s game.” As recently as 1990 columnist George Will added to this tradition of (male-dominated) baseball philosophy, writing, "Baseball is as much a mental contest as a physical one”. New Yorker staff writer Luke Epplin notes that this idea is actually a recent one, popularized by Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson in the early 1900s. The writings of Christy Mathewson might be seen as the beginning of modern Sports Philosophy, elevating sports above other plebeian pastimes. No matter the emphasis on “Ruthian ability to overpower opponents,” Epplin writes, “Mathewson’s framing of baseball as a thinking person’s game endures."  

    However owners may fight to keep politics (as distinct from harmless philosophy) out of sports, they always lose. We have seen the condemnation when police unions chided LeBron James for donning a Tamir Rice shirt before a game. But one can only segregate and gender a national pastime for so long until someone comes along brave enough to voice their their right to life and entertainment on their own terms. Three years before Harry Truman’s 1948 executive degree to forcibly end segregation, Jackie Robinson signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers. 1976, Renée Richards forced the USTA & US Open tennis tournament to recognize her female identity as more than a mental disorder. Last year, the University of Missouri football team pushed the rising call for the resignation of the university’s president past a tipping point through their refusal to practice or participate in games. The more pressing the issue, the harder it is to keep it out of sports. Good modern Sports Writing realizes this and embraces the intersection of sports and life.

    As I see it, there exist two main branching of sports writing, stats-heavy “non-political” old-school writing, and modern Sports Writing, which draws in social commentary to help explain aspects of the game and its reception. This latter form is particularly good at ambush, what I call “disguised social commentary.” This is what enables the conservative paper New York Post to support a(n at least relatively) liberal staff of sports writers. We seem like the generally harmless non-serious wing of the paper, and therein lies the power of sports writing.

    As I see it, the classic format for sports writing is the column, the glorious 300-800 word meditation on a single news item with quick reasoned argument punctuated with a conjecture or question about the future. Of course, another newer form is the longform profile (often, a long and winding road) such as those in BAMW 2006 (see bibliography). In the context of this assignment (and associated word limit), I will attempt a sports column, focusing on a topical news item (taken from the raw material of old-school sports reporters) and how it illuminates a trend or question about the future. *end*

[n.b.While there is a wealth of foreign sports writing out there, this essay is focused primarily on American sports writing because otherwise this would be a book. Honestly, it probably could be regardless]

Reference Writings:
    Real Narrative:
    Conservative Newspaper sportswriting:
    Grantland Examples:
    Baseball as Thinking Person’s game:
             Column Examples:
    NY Post:

Pierre’s Lonely Week in the City

     On Monday, March 14th the struggling New Orleans Pelicans were set to face the unstoppable Golden State Warriors. Boy wonder and Golden State point guard, Stephen Curry, was again the center of attention. As San Jose Mercury News reports, "On Oct. 31 at New Orleans [the last time the teams met], Curry scored 53 points as the Warriors defeated the Pelicans for the second time in four days.”  On the official Pelicans fan blog, The Bird Writes, the day’s lead story depicted the team’s fuzzy mascot, Pierre The Pelican, brought to his knees on the basketball court. This is the revealing portrait of Pierre, who must watch as his 13th place Pelicans face down another impossibly good basketball team. 

. . . 

         The matchup was played in California, at the Warrior's Oracle Arena. To avoid mascot altercations, it is customary for the visiting team's mascot to stay home. The game started out close; the teams matched each other shot-for-shot, miss-for-miss. It reached half-time and there still seemed to be hope for the Pelicans. This hope was soon vaporized as Stephen Curry took over; the Warriors pulled ahead by 10 and then 20 points. Oh, how must Pierre feel! The 7-foot Pelican is likely sitting alone in a deserted party suite in the cavernous Smoothie King Arena, in a city that could hardly care less about the team, sobbing softly to the media interviews with his losing team, a veritable post-game torture ritual. What else can he do?

. . .

    If you find yourself in New Orleans walking on the diminutive block that calls itself "Dave Dixon Drive", you are there for one of two reasons, the thing on your right or the thing on your left. On your right is the former "New Orleans Arena," now Smoothie King Center, the home of the Pelicans. It seats about 17,000 people. As the sun sets on New Orleans, the Smoothie King Arena is engulfed in shadow. The shadow is cast by the thing on your left, the home of the New Orleans Saints,the infamous Superdome. 

     In August of 2005, the Superdome became the picture of governmental inaction and mismanagement as 30,000 New Orleans residents were herded into the battered arena. For days, New Orleanians were closer to each others' pain than they could have ever imagined.

     Across Dave Dixon Dr., a mere 40-feet, there is only an illusion of closeness. The Pelicans changed their name from the “Hornets” in 2014. The decision was announced as an effort to make the team "mean something" to the city. Unfortunately, the team means very little to this city. As Pelican’s fan @jdbillo tweeted, “BREAKING: New Orleans Pelicans fans suffer season ending injury. They will be done for the remainder of the season." This is a community that has been ripped apart by weather and governmental mismanagement. In the midst of that forced proximity of the Superdome and afterwards, this is a community that has built itself back together. The Smoothie King Center remains an afterthought.

. . .

     This team and it's home, the Smoothie King Center, may be forever doomed to stand in the shadow of the Superdome, an unwilling monument to the city's suffering. As the Pelican's fight desperately for fans, it seems clear that what they really crave is relevance. As Pierre waits patiently for his Pelicans to return from a long and hard road-trip defined by lopsided losses, he might do well to reflect on his team’s relationship to New Orleans: to emerge from the shadow of the Superdome, it will take more than a flashy re-branding campaign. In a city that has seen basketball teams come and go numerous times, fans need to be proud when their team wears "New Orleans" on their jerseys at Away games. Maybe the Pelicans just need to start winning but winning will be a means to an end. Winning will reflect the comeback of a city largely dropped from headlines since the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Winning will be more than the numbers, it will be relevant to the city's struggle. Like New Orleans, the Pelicans must rebuild. *end *


Sources (all accessed March 14/15th except where noted): 



     March 14th ESPN Game Broadcast of Pelicans @ Golden State

     March 14th The Bird Writes Cover Article:

    Anthony Davis Post Game Interview:

    Head Coach Anthony Gentry Post Game Interview:

    Pierre Face Surgery:

     Literary Sports Writing:

    Party Seats at Smoothie King Arena:

     Name Change Announcement:

    Superdome after Katrina:

Killing Radio

My clock radio is Philips brand; it falls off the shelf when I roll out of bed in the morning. It is light but resilient. It has a small green LED display and an array of cheap-feeling buttons on top. This hunk of plastic is always tuned to WOBC, 91.5fm Oberlin college and community freeform radio. 

{are we really ready to pull the plug?}

    I grew up in a single-parent household for most of my life. When the house was empty, I would tune the radio to WNYC, 93.9fm New York City's NPR station. Conversations about sports, politics and pop culture kept me company. 

    I have been told radio is a dying medium since I first began listening. Even back in the early 2000s, I was the only teen I knew who still listened to baseball games on the radio. In 2004, local reporter Fiona Morgan wrote,  "radio is dying (and it’s about time).” In her article, she argued that satellite radio and the exciting new medium of “podcasting” were poised to deal traditional radio its final death blow. In her eyes, on-demand content was going to take us in new direction, towards an new and exciting future for the sharing of ideas. But what about all the fun times we had with radio? All the fireside chats, the baseball games, the breaking news and the public conversations! Should we be willing to give up the medium so easily?

. . .

    In 1925, Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier told a large audience that "the modern city is dependent on infrastructural systems of ‘water, electricity, gas, and radio.’” Le Corbusier was arguing that radio is an essential utility for modern life. He could not imagine a modern city that could afford to forgo this revolutionary communication technology. Now a hundred years later, the FCC is faced with pressures to classify the internet as a utility, in an effort to affirm its necessity to modern life. The case has been made that the internet is integral to modern communication elsewhere, and for the sake of brevity I will accept this argument as fact. The question remains, are we ready to discard radio in favor of internet communication? What can radio offer that the internet cannot?
    First, your internet could be cut at any time. Even if a solar flare wiped out every piece of electronics we own, the radio space lives on, waiting for a young tinkerer to tune in on her unpowered crystal radio set. More importantly, radio is tied to local community. As a kid, my mom and I would go on long car trips between New York and Ohio to visit my grandmother. Driving down I-80, we would sample the local culture through the radio dial, hearing accents change from typical east coast gruffness to midwestern sweetness.  As we sped through the expansive state of Pennsylvania, we were able to "listen live" to the voices of each community we passed (provided we could find the right station!). It is a simple beauty of traditional radio that you can only hear it "here" and "now." The "call-letters" of a popular local radio station are an arguably better indicator of a local than their zip code.
    This is where the internet fails. It may facilitate communities but these communities are placeless, native only to the internet space. Radiophonic space, on the other hand, is always tied to place, and more specifically to local community. For that alone, we should not pull the plug on radio.

But who is to say we even could kill radio if we wanted to?

. . .

    Like many “inventions,” radio was not invented but discovered. Guglielmo Marconi, oft credited with the invention of radio, in fact invented a sort of wireless telegraph, using gigantic sparks to send messages across the Atlantic. The real advent of the radio came along with the installation of the modern telephone grid. In the [year] Thomas Watson, assistant to Alexander Graham Bell, was testing a prototype telephone connected to a test grid, formed by a half-mile of “no.12 galvanized wire,” connecting prototype telephones around London. During the day, the grid was populated by the voices of other operators but when they went home for the night, Watson stayed. In the dead of night, whistling & chirping sounds leaked through the telephone lines. Night after night, Watson listened, slowly convincing himself the sounds were communications with (an) earthly god(s), or undead spirits. His mind running wild with possibilities, Watson began a book titled, “From Electronics to God: A New Conception of Life,” in which he put forth a natural theology of sorts based around radio and these newly audible vibrations. In the book he writes, “every electron and every atom of the earth, from its center to the farthest list of its atmosphere, is alive and sings its part in earth’s stupendous music."
     It is now clear that what Watson heard a century ago was a phenomenon known as natural radio. The half-mile grid of “no.12 galvanized wire” had served as a radio antennae, transducing the radio frequencies produced by an electrical storm hundreds of miles away. These days, radio stations are all 24/7 and it is nearly impossible to hear these natural phenomenon over the sound of human radio's constant babble. Watson was lucky enough to be listening to radiophonic space, unpopulated by modern interferences. His wild speculation about the provenience of these unearthly sounds further underscores that fact that radio is in fact an accidental discovery of a natural phenomenon, one that we are temporarily occupying, rather than an impressively technical invention. 
     If we admit that radio is natural, that radiophonic space exists outside of human technology and that we have only gained access to it through our technology, then we cannot hope to kill radio. In the same way that we cannot "kill" earth but only pollute and degrade it until it becomes unlivable for us, radiophonic space will survive us.

three transcribed sound bites from my current place, Oberlin, at various times:

“The thing that makes Instrumental Surf Rock unique is the amount of reverb. That’s that wet drippy echo you hear right now.” - WOBC radio DJ at 8:59pm on Tuesday night (“Surf Radio”)
"God Bless America and no one else" - WOBC radio DJ at approx. 4pm on Monday (unknown show)
"Yeowomen's Softball had a rough time of it this week at Rhodes College, dropping both games of the afternoon double-header" WOBC radio DJ at 8:46am on Monday morning ("Sports Talk")


Click for Natural Radio courtesy of NASA

End Notes:
-Radio is dying (and it's about time). Article for Durham North Carolina publication, Indy Week (November 2004). 
By Fiona Morgan
article link:

-Earth Sound Earth Signal: Energies and Earth Magnitude in the Arts. Book published by UC Press
By Douglas Kahn
Background on radio and fights to classify it as a utility. Chapter 1.
ISBN: 9780520257559

-High Atop Wilder Hall. An essay in Oberlin’s Alumni Magazine (Spring 2001)
By Michael K. McIntyre
General details about the magic of WOBC
article link:

-Making Radio a Tool for War. Essay published by the  University of Wollongong, Australia (1996)
By Mary Cawte
General information about history of radio.
article link:

-Buckminster Fuller Inc.: Architecture in the Age of Radio. Book published by Lars Müller Publishers, Zurich (2015)
By Mark Wigley
Quotes from Le Corbusier about radio. Page 36.
ISBN: 978-3-03778-428-0


Welcome to Blog-landia: Recital Edition

Hello Visitors! 

Welcome to my website blog. You will find many unrelated things here (in the future). Here are some of the things you will find: post-it notes, new web content notifications, rants, etc. For example, I just finished uploading the documentation (audio+photos) for my junior recital. You should check that out! 

A little more background on me and my recital: I am currently a fourth year (out of five) at Oberlin College & Conservatory. I am working towards two degrees: a B.A. in Environmental Studies and a B.Mus. in TIMARA (Technology In Music And Related Arts). As part of my TIMARA major, I am required to have two performances, including one in my last year. These recitals are expected to be the product of an entire semester's work, if not more. My recital was no exception....

In September, I assembled my ensemble. They originally numbered five, although one dropped out fairly early in the month. Down to four group members, we began working on small improvisation games. I would make a sound, and the ensemble would sing whatever note they heard -steadily- for an entire breath. We would repeat this and similar games, picking out the material that seemed most compelling. This is how we spent October. 

In the immortal words of Drake, "then November came" and I began to experiment with musical scores. For the way I make music and the sound I gravitate towards, writing out musical notes on staff paper doesn't make much sense. Instead, I used text almost exclusively (and some basic graphs) to sequence the most successful "games" we had worked on in October. The recital began to take shape. 

November 30th, 2015 Dress Rehearsal in Fairchild chapel.
After a night of frantic edits to the pre-recorded beginning to my recital, I felt weary but confident that I'd at least thought of everything, if not out-right taken care of it. Finally! We could hear the music in the space. My scream echoed back and forth against the stone walls. My bass saturated the tiny chapel with low frequency hums and groans. 'This is the perfect venue!' I thought.

To see and hear the result of my work: Go Here