Updated weekly on Tuesday. For large calendar view click here.
Between the steady dedication to creativity of Henry Turner Jr.’s Listening Room and the Shaw Center and the fresh offerings at Third Street venues like this Friday’s Water Seed/Cafe Au Lait/ Glamour Profession line-up at the Roux House, original music has officially taken root in the downtown scene. “I don’t mean to be bragadocious, but we kind of spearheaded that.” Anthony “Tony Phlare” Knighten, bandleader and drummer for New Orleans/Baton Rouge trio Cafe Au Lait, said during my interview with the band on Tuesday. “Yeah, we were there years ago, when it was not popular to be an original band playing on Third Street. We were that band that was splitting up 30 dollars.” Andrew Davis, who plays guitar and synth with the band, reiterated that the downtown scene has really changed, “Mike Foster and John Gray were out there even before us, and they just moved in to Monday nights [a successful weekly series at the Roux House that Jive covered recently].”
Third Street isn’t all Cafe Au Lait members Knighten, Davis, and bassist Lawrence “Chief” Ussin, have seen develop over the years. The three men, who all studied music at Baton Rouge universities and have worked together locally for more than a decade in various configurations, say the city’s music community has come a long way. “It’s like big brothers watching the little guys come up.… I’m proud that Baton Rouge is finally realizing how much musical talent and ability is coming through the city. There are a lot of gifted musicians who are coming out of Baton Rouge right now. I’m thankful, because ten years ago it wasn’t like that.” Knighten reflected.
Cafe Au Lait’s growth as a band in some ways mirrors the larger community’s evolution. Its history began with a predecessor project formed in 2003 called “Category Six,” experimentation with a variety of genres (including gospel, heavy metal, AND gospel with heavy metal elements), a break-up over growing pains, and a coming back together story. Now, as a “stripped down” trio, the band has found a sweet spot of richness and versatility that can meet any audience where it’s at and get everyone into the groove. Knighten explained, “It’s funny, because we always try to be on the side of funky with a mix of R&B and jazz in there, but for whatever reason when people come to hear us play, they always come to the conclusion that we make baby-making music.”
Davis agreed, “There’s a blending that has to happen, because there’s only three of us. if we all have the same vibe at the same time, it can be a little stale. So, we taking a complementary approach to what we’re playing. I love to play things in a lyrical, smooth, connected a way…. By bringing our different textures it’s a lot easier to fill up the sound.”
Through development of their distinct, individual voices, the members of Cafe Au Lait come together to produce a colorful, well-layered sound. While Knighten drums with what he calls “rhythmic melody” to complement the rest of the band, bassist Ussin brings that “baby-making” funk pulsing through Cafe Au Lait’s songs. When asked, Ussin wouldn’t attempt to explain his musical style: “Most of the players I like are funk, like Bootsy Collins and stuff like that, but it don’t really come out that way. I can tell you who I aspire to be like, but all I can say is that I play like Chief.”
Like the band’s delicious namesake– “cafe au lait” is a mixture of dark roast coffee, hot milk, half and half– the trio’s resulting sound is bold and rich with a smooth finish. “Basically, people say Lawrence and I are like one instrument,” Knighten said of he and Ussin’s percussion/bass collaboration. “And Drew [Davis] plays the silky thing.”
Although Cafe Au Lait is a solid standalone act, the band’s versatility has lent itself to numerous collaborations, particularly with vocalists. One night, the band might play an all original set with Michael Liuzza, and the next they may be covering jazz standards with Christien Bold. They even took one of their collaborators, Clif Saint Laurent, with them to their second appearance at the Destination Aquin International Festival in Haiti last April.
When asked about their experience at the Haiti festival, Knighten said “Haiti is our second home. Period.” Davis agreed enthusiastically, “The bookers [of the festival] told us, ‘You’re the first non-Haitian band to play at this festival two years in a row.’” This likely has to do with the deep cultural connection between Haiti and New Orleans. “Haiti spirit is very much like that of Louisiana.” says Knighten. Indeed, Afro-Latino influence, so deeply rooted in the New Orleans music tradition, pervades the band’s music.
Although Davis said the band members “could talk all day” in interview, he invites you to engage in conversation with the band on Friday. Instead of having a pre-planned setlist, Cafe Au Lait gets on stage ready to engage in a “give and take” with the audience. Knighten elaborated, “We might get somewhere and we’re thinking we need to play a more rocky show, but it all depends on the mood and temperature of the crowd. We’re reading their emotion and taking and augmenting their emotion… by the time you’re on the third song, you realize that you’re moving without even thinking about it.”
Beyond this Friday, the band is looking forward to sharing new music that reflects all the aspects of its funky personality, anticipating an album release by the first of next year. And “Chief” Ussin, who was the most reserved of the three in the interview, let me know in no uncertain terms to be ready for that day: “All I have to say is, come January 2016, everybody just prepare to get your faces funked off.”
My calendar is marked, Chief.
Catch Cafe Au Lait with Water Seed and Glamour Profession at the Roux House this Friday night. Details here. AND look out tomorrow and Friday for ticket giveaways to this and the Hydrogen Child/Startisan/Breton Sound (details here) concert on the Jive Flamingo Facebook Page!
Jive Flamingo cares deeply about YOU getting off the couch and experiencing the great original music that’s happening in Baton Rouge. So we’ve reached out to local venues and the creative community to get tickets to hot shows so you will have a chance to get ’em for FREE! So look out for weekly TICKET GIVEAWAY posts, and when you see them, like and comment on the post on our Facebook page to be entered into the drawing to win! We’ll private message you if your name is pulled and put you and a friend on the guest list!
Feeling a bit puzzled and excited, your eyes dart from one end of the stage to the other as you see Chris rapping and playing the bass. You’ll catch Nick playing trombone with one hand on a synthesizer and John, the vibraphonist, jumping up and down, mallets in hand, as you try to follow Eli’s sticks as they fly across the drums. Watching four musicians transition seamlessly between an array of instruments, you may find yourself dancing without even realizing it. This is what it’s like to see The Easy live.
Local hip hop quartet, The Easy, will be performing with George Porter Jr. and the Runnin’ Pardners on July 18th at The Varsity. In light of this upcoming show with the musical legend that is George Porter Jr., we sat down with The Easy to find out more about their unique sound and journey. The Easy is comprised of Nick Garrison, Eli Williams, Chris Polk and John Mann.
The Easy released their first album in October of 2014. Their compositions began as funk and instrumental and have since transitioned into the realm of hip-hop. Their journey began as part of a larger group, accompanied by a lead singer and guitarist, but they have since whittled down the lineup. Their experiences with different members and evolving sounds makes for a compelling story about a band that continuously reinvented itself in order to adapt.
John Mann explains, “We had experimented playing with 7 people in the group and a lead singer in the front. It ended up not working out so we parted ways. When that happened, we weren’t going to stop there so it opened up a whole new outlet for us to start venturing into more music that we were influenced by, like hip-hop and dance music. Instead of focusing on soul and funk with a lead singer, we started branching off into what we are now.”
That resiliency is what makes The Easy’s story so captivating. Chelsea Layne recalls recruiting the band to perform at JiveFest ‘14. Just before the show, they unexpectedly parted ways with their singer. Thinking they would need some time to restructure, she asked if they wanted to drop out of the show. “I asked Nick if they’d be able to pull it off without a singer – but he was adamant about performing. Confident they could pool their resources, they decided to make it work. And come showtime, they absolutely did. I was blown away with what they’d pulled together. I’m sure it was a stressful situation but they turned it into something even more valuable because they gave local singers platforms in addition to having a great set. It totally fit the spirit of the event.”
Restructuring their material to focus on the instrumentality of each musician, the Easy began to evolve their music into what you might hear today. That malleability would come in handy again. Shortly after recording their first album, another member of the Easy decided to pursue a different musical route. “One of the hardest things about being in a group that will have any longevity is having all your members have the same vision, be geared toward similar goals and have the same sound.” Garrison said. The four lasting members of the band understood the rarity in that alignment, and instead of bringing in another musician to fill that element, they decided to pick up the slack. Garrison notes, “We didn’t want to add anyone else, we were going to take it from there and nurture that,” Garrison said. That’s exactly what The Easy did; they pushed themselves to create something new and energetic, and true to themselves.
“By the time we got down to four members it forced us to expand our individual sounds. We asked ourselves, ‘Rather than feeling limited, what could each one of us do to add something to what we already had?” Garrison remarked. Commenting on their sound without a guitar, Polk explains, “We stretched our instruments to encapsulate that sound that we’d grown accustomed to – those extra layers that the four of us weren’t previously applying, we had to start creating that ourselves to get the sounds we wanted.” Members of The Easy can regularly be seen switching instruments and maneuvering around the stage. Whereas Chris Polk was previously the only singer in the band, Nick, Eli and John began contributing to the vocals. Garrison began with adding layers on the synthesizer, and vibraphonist John Mann began multi-tasking on the synthesizer and keyboards, Eli Williams added an electronic drum kit, and both percussionists layered on the bells and whistles to extend their sounds.
The Easy has a unique sound that is difficult to describe. Their music covers a broad spectrum that’s danceable, contemporary and soulful. ”A lot of our songs are extremely different. People are always trying to fish around, ‘How did he get that sound? How is he doing that?’ It keeps the audience interested for every song. None of our songs sound the same.” The audience stays interested enough to keep coming back. They’ve built a steady and capacious fan base in Baton Rouge, piquing the interests of hip-hop, funk and jazz fans alike. They’ve performed alongside rappers and jazz quintets, outdoors at the Blues Festival, even inside the Hartley Vey theater.
The band expressed gratitude and surprise that people would want to see them perform again and again. “People are always really excited to come see us even if they saw us the week before,” remarked Mann. “It’s humbling that people really like our product enough to come back week after week,” Williams added.
The Easy as the hip-hop quartet that we know today was able to transition past obstacles that cause many bands to break. Their perseverance has created a really strong foundation. They also attribute their success to the strong musical community they have had the opportunity to grow with. They express gratitude toward one mentor in particular, Doug Gay, founder of Baton Rouge Music Studios, who understands the importance of nurturing our city’s musical community. “Part of our sound is reliant on Doug’s generosity,” said Garrison. Doug supported The Easy from the beginning, giving Garrison and Mann jobs at BRMS amd even giving The Easy their electronic drum kit.
Baton Rouge Music Studios (BRMS) offers excellent music education and performance-based programs to Baton Rougeans, focusing on community development in the process. “Baton Rouge Music Studios has been a part of our growth, from teaching to rehearsing in their facilities. BRMS is a really important part of the music community here. These kids have a great opportunity to learn from musicians who are actually part of the local music scene here which is something I never had when I was younger,” Mann said.
Garrison added, “We might be inspiring those few kids but Doug is a huge inspiration to us. He toured the world, taught private school and then dropped it all to start this dream of his, BRMS, which is flourishing. It’s cool for us to see that because there’s this master musician who has decided to give back to the community. Not only is he giving up-and-coming musicians jobs and experience teaching but he’s also furthering the music scene in Baton Rouge.”
Go see The Easy this Friday and in the words of Nick Garrison, “go support everyone’s shows, not just ours.”
~Chelsea Layne and Emily Jean
Photos by Nicholas Martino and Chelsea Layne
Check out their website here
Looking for tickets to the show on Friday with George Porter Jr.? Click here
My name is Emily and I grew up in Baton Rouge from the age of zero to eighteen. I headed off to Chicago after graduating high school and attended school there for a year before returning to Baton Rouge for various reasons outside of my control. When I returned to Baton Rouge as an adult with a little experience and independence under my belt, I was upset and frustrated by what I saw. After living in a city like Chicago that loves, encourages, supports and enjoys the arts and the artistic community and after attending an art school for a year, Baton Rouge and LSU were a bit of a culture shock for me and my readjusting took longer than expected. I was disillusioned, regretful and a little bit hopeless that Baton Rouge would ever be the city I knew it could be.
The thing that I had grown to know about Baton Rouge is that the people are amazing, the food is great, and Baton Rougeans know how to have a good time. More than that, Baton Rouge is overflowing with talent but because of the culture and climate of the city, most of the artistic talent stays for a bit and then leaves. They leave because there are better opportunities elsewhere, they don’t feel wanted here, maybe they don’t feel seen, or the terrain is just too tough. That makes me sad because I wish I could say that Baton Rouge was a city that welcomed and encouraged an artistic and diverse community to stay and to thrive.
I’ve been reflecting on these things because I heard the news recently that Lagniappe Records is moving to Lafayette. When I moved back to Baton Rouge, I found a few great places that made me feel like I could be okay here as an artist and as a future creative professional. I found Mud and Water, Lagniappe Records, Spanish Moon, Chelsea’s, Atomic Pop Shop, Magpie Café and Highland Coffees. These were the gems that helped me maintain my sanity as I persevered to live what I love in a city that didn’t love what I lived. Mud and Water shut its doors only months after I had found it and that was a hit for the city of Baton Rouge that a lot of us still feel.
Lagniappe Records was a haven for me during a difficult transitional season of my life. Patrick and Tess are this talented and passionate duo who could’ve lived anywhere but sacrificed that to move to Baton Rouge and face difficulty and do what they loved in spite of it. They helped our city grow and they got people involved. They encouraged young musicians to play and they encouraged Baton Rouge to listen. I always used to marvel at them because of how they spoke about Baton Rouge. Unbeknownst to them, they encouraged me to pursue my dream of opening a bookstore/music venue here (one day); they made me feel like if they could create a safe place for musicians and artists to come, hang, collaborate and grow, then maybe I could too (one day).
When I heard they were relocating to Lafayette, I was more than bummed. I got in my car after leaving work and found myself driving to the store; I bought a Cat Stevens record and chatted with Tess for a moment. The bitter-sweetness of the situation was apparent in the quivering of her voice. I said bye to Patrick and Tess and as the door to Lagniappe shut behind me, I started to cry. I was mourning a deep loss for the city of Baton Rouge. I felt the sadness in my bones. And I was angry. I wasn’t angry with Patrick and Tess; I understand that they were making the best of a bad situation that was out of their control. I was angry that Baton Rouge wasn’t able to keep them.
This is a good reminder for us that, though there are amazing things happening in the BR music/arts community right now, we’re still dealing with challenges and a climate that doesn’t necessarily welcome things of a diverse or artistic nature. That being said, we can do something about it. The people who live in this city can resolve not to let another treasure like Lagniappe slip through our fingers. We can buckle down and pursue our dreams and welcome diversity and fight for the arts to be normal and wanted, not by a niche community, but by the masses.
I wish Patrick and Tess all the best and know that we will see them and the bands from Lagniappe’s DIY label around the city of Baton Rouge. Baton Rouge is better for Lagniappe and though we may be losing them, we can take notes from this so that we don’t let something like it happen again. We live in a great city full of amazing artists and musicians and that is why we at Jive Flamingo do what we do, because we love this city and we are hopeful for what Baton Rouge will become.
This is the last show to be held in Lagniappe’s Baton Rouge location.
Lagniappe keeps regular business hours in Baton Rouge until the 25th of July.
New Venture Theatre in Baton Rouge presents Dreamgirls, July 15th through the 19th at the Manship Theatre. A long-running Broadway musical drama about a fictional R&B trio’s rise to fame in in the 60’s and 70’s, Dreamgirls is directed by Greg Williams and features Chloe’ Johnson as Deena Jones, Michelle Dunbar as Effie White, Nakisha Hampton as Lorelle Robinson and Brittney Brumfield as Michelle Morris.
New Venture, which started out as a program in a local community center in 1997, took its current name in 2007 and is committed to offering performing arts education and creating a unique, challenging, and bold theatrical experience that is engaging and infused with diversity. Their vision is to be a theater where all the country’s voices, rhythms and cultures collide.
Because of New Venture’s upcoming production of Dreamgirls, we wanted to chat with Chloe’ Johnson, a local Baton Rouge musician. Chloe is a 21 year old singer from Baton Rouge who is a part of the BR-Nola band, Gardens. You may have also seen her sitting in with The Easy, Captain Green or Trailer Hounds.
Jive Flamingo: What was it like working with New Venture for the first time?
Johnson: My experience with New Venture has been really awesome. I haven’t done a play in three or four years and I didn’t know what to expect going into it. Now that we’ve been working on the play for so long, it’s been really awesome because we have so many different types of people involved. There are some people who have done plays before, other people who perform with bands and other people who haven’t been involved in anything like this at all. It’s been great learning together. The director, Greg, has been such a wonderful help to all of us and he has created such a welcoming and open environment for the creation of this whole thing.
JF: What is your history with musical theater?
Johnson: Actually, musical theater was my original career goal. If you ask anyone I went to high school with, they would tell you that I was always talking about how badly I wanted to be on Broadway; that was my absolute dream. A few months after I graduated high school, I joined a band and realized that that was also something that I really loved. Musical theater was essentially my life in high school; I did musical theater competition teams at Center Stage Performing Arts Academy, I was in choir etc. I have a pretty strong history with musical theater and it felt kind of weird these past few years not doing it. It’s been really nice to be back.
JF: What is one thing you have learned from being a part of Dreamgirls as an artist/musician?
Johnson: I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that you really can be more than one thing. When I was in high school, I was really concentrated on musical theater; I was thinking about competition team and what play I wanted to do and all that. Once I got out of high school and started doing live music, I left that all behind because I didn’t feel like there was room for both. I thought, now that I’m performing with a band, I don’t have time for any plays. It wasn’t until I saw that New Venture was holding auditions for Dreamgirls that I even considered doing both. I went for it and then figured out how my schedule would work and it all fell in line. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned, you don’t have to stick to one thing. If you love something and you love something else, do both. Why not?
JF: Has there been anything that was difficult to adjust to or any challenges crossing over from live music to musical theater again?
Johnson: The thing I’ve had the most difficulty adjusting to has been all the dancing. I was never that much of a dancer to begin with. Then, on top of that, to not be taking dance classes for a few years. It was a muscle I hadn’t worked out in awhile. That was the scariest part of the audition process; I hadn’t done choreography in years. That was a real challenge. But, it’s been really great learning and it’s been a real confidence boost being able to actually get it.
JF: What has your experience working with the Dreamgirls cast been like?
Johnson: It’s been really cool. I didn’t know what to expect since I went in not knowing anyone. I didn’t know the director, I didn’t know any of the staff or any of the cast. I went in as a total stranger and I saw that some people already knew each other but everyone in the cast got so close so quickly. Me, Kisha and Michelle, the other two dreams, have gotten so close. Acting as if we’ve known each other forever and have been friends for a long time is really easy with them because we’ve bonded a lot. I’m the youngest one and I look up to them. I can ask them for advice and they teach me so many things all the time.
JF: What are you most looking forward to about Dreamgirls opening next week?
Johnson: I’m really looking forward to showing people how hard we’ve worked on this. I’m looking forward to seeing people react to Dreamgirls the way I did when I first saw it. I’m in love with the story, with the music, everything about it. I can’t wait to see if people take away the same things that I took away from it. I’m excited to hear how people felt about it, how they felt about the characters and about what I did with my character. I’m really excited for dress rehearsals and to dance around in the costumes and all that but I’m most excited for the reactionary things I’m going to hear from people; good or bad, I want to hear it all.
JF: What gets you excited about singing/performing? Why do you do what you do?
Johnson: The thing that makes me love singing and performing so much is really the feeling that I have when I’m there on stage. It’s really like nothing else. It’s a chance to be someone else but at the same time, to bear your soul. When I’m on stage, I’m not the same person as when I’m off. I’m a pretty quiet person and I would consider myself to be introverted but when I’m on stage, there is this energy that I have access to that I don’t have access to offstage. There is this big wide web of musical joy that I can see when I have a microphone and I’m not worried about anything else. It feels comfortable. Being on stage is my home. If I could live there, I would. Whether it’s a jazz gig, a musical or an indie show, just being able to sing for anyone is like being able to speak for me; it’s my communication.
You can find out more about them at http://www.newventuretheatre.org/ABOUTUS/MISSION/
Dreamgirls runs July 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19th. You can get tickets here: https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=nvt
Dreamgirls features Acy Jackson, III., Antoinette Jones, Brandon Johnson, Brandon Lewis, Brittney Brumfield, Chloe’ Johnson, Christian Jones, Corey Frank, Darian Bell, Darrion Hill, David sylveser, JR., Elise Patin, Hope Landor, Jazzmine Ceasar, Jeoffery Harris, Jr., Latosha Knighten, Lori St. George, Michael Russ, Michelle Dunbar, Nakisha M. Hampton, R’Myni Watson, Roger Ferrier, Tara Winder, Toi Bonnet, Whitney Robertson and Will Moses.
Photographs by Frederick Price.
To combat the typical lull of a Monday evening, I made my way over to the Roux House downtown on 3rd street. The dark lighting and brick walls of The Roux House provide a mellow atmosphere where a diverse range of people relaxed with a drink or a bowl of red beans and rice in hand. Cheerful chatter formed the background noise to the upbeat jazz coming from the talented musicians onstage. As the band played, some people danced, yelled, and clapped, while others just kicked back and enjoyed the tunes.
Michael Foster, a seasoned Baton Rouge jazz musician and front-man of the popular band The Michael Foster Project, had the idea to start a weekly night of jazz downtown with free red beans and rice. Inspired by a lack of jazz culture here in Baton Rouge, Michael Foster wanted to engage the community in quality jazz. “It was hard to convince club owners to open up for jazz on the weekend so I decided to make it a cultural event and add the Louisianian culture to the music. I went along with the history of the red beans and rice on a Monday. I coupled that with the jazz music and brought the food and music together to make it work for a Monday. It has a historical connotation for why we’re doing it on a Monday and it is a way to get jazz to the public,” said Foster.
Historically, Monday was the traditional “wash day,” in South Louisiana. Women would throw on a pot of red beans and leave them to simmer all day while they did laundry since the red beans required little attention. Growing up in Baton Rouge, my mother used to do laundry on Mondays and regularly cook red beans for Monday night dinner. My grandmother had done the same thing and her mother before that so I was well acquainted with the tradition that Foster had spoken of.
Camellia beans provide the red beans weekly and a different chef cooks them every week. When I attended red beans and rice Monday on the 29th of June, four jazz musicians played: CJ Trusclair, Michael Foster, John Gray and Rod Jackson. Mike Foster started the evening of jazz and red beans in November of 2014 and the feedback has been positive. “It’s been going great,” said Gray, “I think that, outside of the music, people look forward to the social aspect of the event. They come out and hang out on a night that is just a regular weekday evening. It is lively and very social. People just enjoy the atmosphere.”
“What I want to see happen is for a Monday night downtown to look as busy as a Saturday,” said Foster, “I’d love to see the Monday night be such a thing that a visitor would know that they could go downtown on any Monday night and get a great dose of Louisiana culture.” Foster and Gray hope that red beans downtown becomes a Baton Rouge staple “where people know that every Monday night, this is just what happens,” remarked Gray.
Red Beans and Rice Mondays isn’t just for one kind of person, it’s for anyone and everyone. “It’s a good place to bring your friends or your girlfriend and hang out and listen to jazz. The vibe is always dope. It is always something that anyone can get into. It’s definitely an event for a mixed crowd whether you’re 15 or 55,” said Deven Trusclair.
Not only do Red Beans and Rice Mondays engage the community in local jazz and offer a great cultural experience but Michael Foster has other intentions for the project as well. “Red Beans and Rice is a free event and we work off of donations. We’ve been able to take in enough donations to donate a keyboard to Westdale Middle School and to Capital Middle School. Our goal is to donate a keyboard every semester and get some of these musicians into schools to do a concert and then do follow up workshops,” said Foster.
“I was a band director for twelve years and our kids aren’t often exposed to alternative styles of music. I love hip-hop myself but the messages in a lot of hip-hop songs aren’t what kids need to have a heavy dose of. When you’re able to get a jazz or classical musician into the classroom and let these kids hear other things that are beautiful, they may want to know more about it, maybe even pick up an instrument themselves and then find another outlet that they could use opposed to just what is forced upon them,” said Foster, “When I was in middle school, I had no idea how far music would take me. It got me a scholarship to school; Jazz music has even taken me around the world. I would love to have that experience passed on to other kids.” Not only does Red Beans and Rice Mondays bring jazz to the Baton Rouge public, but it’s also helping expose young people in our city to different styles of music.
“I just want to get as many people involved as possible. It would be cool to pack the house every Monday. Whether it’s a house band, another artist or another band etc. If I could, I would make the entire city of Baton Rouge come to the event. I just want to see people get more involved. It’s a really positive event; Mike is doing a lot of good things for the community,” said Deven Trusclair.
Foster intends to keep up with red beans and rice Mondays for a long time. “I appreciate Camellia beans and what they’re doing to support us and to, in turn, support the community,” said Foster. Red Beans and Rice Mondays could also use your support. You can attend (every Monday at 6pm), donate, or find other ways to be involved with this project. Why wouldn’t you want to get out on the town on a boring Monday night and enjoy some delicious red beans and incredible jazz?
—Emily Jean McCollister
Photos by Chelsea Layne
If you’re a musician interested in participating in Red Beans and Rice Mondays, if you’re a chef interested in cooking the red beans OR if you’re interested in donating to this project, you can contact Michael Foster at firstname.lastname@example.org
Next week (July 6th), Ernest Jackson will be playing at Red Beans and Rice Monday with Charles Brooks, Deven Trusclair and Michael Foster.
The following week (July 13th), Grammy nominated artist, Trombonist ‘Big Sam‘ from ‘Big Sam’s Funky Nation’ will be the featured artist at Red Beans and Rice.
Baton Rouge Hip Hop is alive.
It takes some looking for. Boosie, Gates, and Webbie don’t live in the city limits anymore, and 94.1 doesn’t play any local music. You can really only see it at a handful of venues and hear it during designated programming hours on a few community radio stations. Most clubs and stations are content playing and publicizing top 40 and top 20 hits.
The first “I Got Next” open mic competition, hosted by the BR Hip Hop Project at Culture Reggae Club, shows that the situation we’ve got in Baton Rouge isn’t due to lack of quality musicians, and shows there’s hope for the future of local rap. Ten artists participated in the event on June 19:
- Tim James
- Richard Lah Slaughter
- Ron Coolhead
- JayB August
- No Suh Foster (Mobile, AL)
- The Monastary (Birmingham, AL)
- D.Judge (Mobile, AL)
Cardell Flare was supposed to perform, but suffered injury in a car accident and wasn’t able to make it. DJ Mikelarry took care of the scratches and spins, and, for a show set during the middle of the summer, it did remarkably well.
The event featured these ten emcee’s in a bracketed rap battle showcase, and the intensity of the competition encouraged everybody to bring their A game. The Monastery took home the crown, with Gho$twriter coming in second. “When we won, I felt like people were finally seeing how ambitious we are. I felt like the 6-hr drive was worth every ounce of gas, and I felt like we had reached a new plateau in our rap journey. I was elated,” Carlos Charm of The Monastery said.
I sat down to talk with the man behind BR Hip Hop Project, Marcel P. Black, about the event, the scene, and what it really needs to thrive.
Marcel has been in Baton Rouge for 13 years, a transplant from Oklahoma. He started the BR Hip Hop Project by himself in the summer of 2012, but eventually put Justin Ivey, Matt Bruce, Mark Wallace, and DJ Automatik on the team. As a teacher full-time, he has a constant desire to help artists help themselves. “I’m a mentor by trade,” he says.
Marcel organized the open mic – his first since 2011 – not only as a way to have some fun, but as a way to mentor and cultivate a scene in Baton Rouge. It was the open mic done right – a competition with thought and consideration given to the artists and their financial and networking needs. In the music world, everybody benefits when you put different people in the same room, from different places and with different assets and ideas.
In addition to the ten competing in the open mic, the event had three “featured performers”: Dude With No Name (BR), Billsberry Flowboy (NO), and Crisis (Memphis), all selected by Marcel as a different model of professional and successful emcee. Dude With No Name is one of the few local musicians to take initiative and put his releases in local record stores. Crisis is from Memphis and knows how to travel. Billsberry Flowboy never holds any bars when he raps, and is a proficient battler. “I can preach to em all day long,” Marcel says, “but if they’re not in Atlanta with me or Houston with me to see how I move, what I say don’t make sense. So I wanted to get other artists to model it for me, so it don’t sound like just me preaching.”
Some of it was more overt: to even be considered to compete, the artists had to send in an Electronic Press Kit (EPK) containing links to online hosted music, social media accounts, a biography, and a video of a performance. Putting together an EPK is an extremely beneficial task for an artist, but one that is often overlooked.
Marcel believes that too many up-and-coming musicians are caught up in an old business model – they try to make a hit single and sit around hoping that some DJ somewhere will help blow it up. “It ain’t since the 90’s that somebody’s had a song so big, Puff Daddy heard it in the barbershop and went ‘who’s this rapping, let me give him a record deal.’ It’s an outdated model.”
Nowadays, “you gotta be on your independent grind. You gotta make things happen for yourself and let everybody else come to you. You gotta put yourself in the position to where you can create opportunities for yourself, as opposed to sitting back, being mad and frustrated that somebody won’t give you something.”
There are artists in every facet of the music industry that neglect the entrepreneurial side of what’s going on. Music is an extremely creative business, but it’s still a business, and musicians offer a very valuable service. By neglecting to take up the mantle and create opportunities for themselves, musicians are prime for getting exploited, or just don’t see the success and popularity that they should. On the other hand, pandering to what the market or audience demands (or what you think they want) is patently false, and everybody can tell it isn’t genuine. Like everything else, it seems to be all about balance.
Baton Rouge Hip Hop Project is around to help promote that balance. They put on shows, book, promote, and whatever else the community needs. “I feel like it’s our duty, as lovers of hip hop, and people who understand the talent that’s in Baton Rouge, to try to build a scene,” Marcel says. “So first things first – we gotta get our artists mobilized.”
If Baton Rouge can develop a strong community of musicians producing consistently good content, there’s nothing that can keep that community from growing. These musicians need to take advantage of the resources they’ve been given, and be confident enough to put themselves out there and make mistakes worth learning from. In the age of the internet, there’s less and less knowledge that’s beyond the typical person’s reach – you can learn about marketing, licensing, promoting, performing. There’s almost no reason not to get out and get yours. Eventually, forces from beyond the city will talk about what’s going on here, book shows here, and build up our local musicians.
“Baton Rouge Hip Hop Project – we all understand the importance of having a scene that’s prominent here'” Marcel says. “Cause we go to concerts all the time. We have to go to New Orleans, have to go to Dallas or something to catch an act that we would like. Even independent acts or whatever. For the most part, we’re tired of seeing people skip over Baton Rouge when it comes to concerts.”
Marcel says the number one thing the scene needs is a tight community. “The artists gotta support themselves. And when I say support themselves, I mean support the scene. There’s so many rappers that wanna be on these shows… If every rapper that wanted to be on the bill showed up, you got 100 people in the audience right there. And with that said, you gotta bring your fans. The scene needs fans. Y’know, after a while, rappers get tired of rapping to other rappers. We need more people in the audience. Every single person that loves hip hop, who loves live entertainment, or who just wants to do something different, they should take a chance on it.”
“Another thing is we need to be more organized. Less politics, more organization, in terms of what we’re trying to do as a collective. It’s problematic to me when this group of people has a conflict with this other group of people… so they just shut each other out. That hurts everybody.”
When people withdraw support like that, sales and attendance go down at shows. And if they have a gig that hurts the bottom line, venues become less likely to book another hip hop show in the future. Then nobody ends up being able to book there.
Marcel acknowledges that it’s an uphill battle. 91.1 KLSU and 96.9 WHYR have underground hip hop programs, but 94.1 stopped playing any local music when it was bought by Cumulus. Spanish Moon, Culture Reggae Club, and Chelsea’s are some of the few venues where you can see an independent hip hop show, but even clubs on the North side aren’t that much of an outlet for local creatives, instead just letting a DJ spin whatever’s popular. “I would like to see more venues and more spaces willing to take a chance on artists or acts that they normally don’t have, and not be afraid to let particular demographics come in a spot and do whatever,” Marcel says. “Everybody loves hip hop. Regardless of content, everybody wants to put their hand in the air, while they got a beer in the other one, and have a good time.”
Marcel and the BR Hip Hop Project are working for a future in which Baton Rouge hip hop will be alive and well, and require a little bit less hunting to find. Marcel says, “Baton Rouge has a very particular story that needs to be told. The world needs to hear what the city has to say.”
Photos by Chelsea Layne.