by Tracy Sow —
Special to TSDMemphis.com
Nearly everyone has heard the triple platinum collaborations with hip-hop and country or rock.
The collaborations have launched, saved, or revised musical careers.
Much of the nation strolled down the “Old Town Road” with Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X, and “Walk this Way” with Ron-DMC and Aerosmith.
If rap is an offspring of the blues, it is almost expected that would be a mega collab.
There have been some single releases, but a whole album is rare with notable artists of blues and hip-hop genres performing on a project together.
Grammy-nominated rapper Al Kapone has unapologetically released “Hip-Hop Blues” under his surname AK Bailey. He assembled some big-name surprises: John Mayer, Melissa Etheridge and Eric Gales for this collection.
AK does not depart from the raw edge lyrics that gained him fame as a gangsta rapper and one of the pioneers of Memphis rap. His growth as an artist is evident as he incorporates great musicians with incredible singers to create a vibe embodying the rich international musical culture of Memphis.
This project has been a long time coming to fruition. According to Kapone, he talked to Oona Mitchell (of famed Royal Studio) about the idea and they both agreed with the viability of such a project. But the project got shelved until now.
Years of collaboration came to a halt because of social gathering restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am stuck in the house and I’ve written a couple of coronavirus related songs about its effect on the world. Quarantine forced me to revisit some songs that I already had and before you know it, I had an album,” he said.
So, there was no doubt that there is a space for blues and hip-hop to coexist on the same stage.
Knowing the two genres were complimentary was no consolation when asked to perform for Bobby Rush’s 86th birthday at the historic Club Paradise in front of a hardcore urban blues crowd.
Kapone was reluctant to perform and compared his nervousness to being like the first time hitting the stage. True to form, he wowed the crowd with all the grit of his rap shows.
After all the worries of acceptance, the ladies in the audience were on their feet dancing throughout and he got swarmed leaving the stage by old fans and the newly gained ones.
Blues and rap were derived from struggle, hardship. They creatively express the condition of a people while offering a glimpse into their common-life experiences.
Bailey is an extremely proud father. His son designed the “Hip-Hop Blues” album cover. His daughter obtained her Masters of Fine Arts and partnered with some of her graduate friends to form a mass media group.
Bailey was asked what advice would he give a father that aspires to be a rapper?
He responded, “I would tell him the most important thing is to be present in your children lives.”
Towards the end of the interview, I accused him of being an undercover geek. He sighed, as I continue spilling the tea.
You are truly a renaissance rapper with a vibrant corporate career in Information Technology (IT), I persisted.
He sighed deeply again and cracked up laughing. “Yes, I am a proud father, rapper and undercover geek!”
He explained, “I have never discussed this aspect of my life in any interview.”
He shared, after the economic changes in 2008 that he needed to develop other options. He already had the knowledge of computers from the music industry.
However, not formerly educated in technology meant he had to find a way to transfer his skill to revenue.
He called the very person he had performed a benefit free of charge to seek advice on entering the IT market. The man offered him an opportunity to gain experience by working weekends only, graveyard shift and the rest is history.
As society develops a new norm because of the pandemic, most live performances have been canceled for the rest 2020.
Because of that, Bailey said, “Right now, the “Hip-Hop Blues” album is available at akmemphis.com. Understand that this is a sneak-preview. I will be adding some songs and making some changes. So, I must get it now to have bragging rights that I have the original.”
I told Bailey I had reached out to some blues legends for their critique of the album.
“Oh wow, what did they think,” Kapone asked?
Theodis Ealey “The Stand Up in It Man” said, “I think, it is a very fresh concept of playing the blues that is long overdue. I will tell you, like good friend Little Richard told me. ‘Whoever does not like it needs to get out the mustard and catch-up.’ Kapone took this as high praise coming from a blues legend.”
Bobby Rush said, “There is nothing new under the sun, but he did the album good; no real, real good.”