Let the World Listen Right
The Mississippi Delta Hip-Hop Story
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: University Press of Mississippi
No American region is better known and more intensely studied for its history and culture than the Mississippi Delta. Generations of writers, scholars, pho-tographers, and filmmakers have traveled Delta roads and captured its worlds in memorable ways. William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, and Richard Wright wrote powerfully about the Delta. Folklorists and music...
First and foremost, I thank Jerome “TopNotch the Villain” Williams, who has put as much work into this document as I have, and whose beautiful words have both shaped my understanding of the Mississippi Delta and taught me how to live with style...
Introduction: Emergence at the Crossroads
East Tallahatchie Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard converge quietly among the crumbling ruins of the New World district of Clarksdale, Mississippi. They trace the faint spines of ancient Native American trade routes that first brought civilization to the land, intertwine with the Mississippi and Sunflower Rivers, and rest upon burial mounds that keep these ancient paths dry from...
One: “This Game Is for Life!”
Red’s Juke Joint, one of many sprinkled throughout the abandoned downtowns of the Mississippi Delta, sits on the boundary of Clarksdale’s historically black New World district. Beneath its foundation are the edges of ancient Tunica burial mounds. These Native American ceremonial ridges, packed architecturally with loamy soil and ancestral bodies, doubled as powerful levees for the once-mighty Sunflower River, which runs behind Red’s establishment through...
Two: New Blues in the Mississippi Delta
When I met twenty-six-year-old Jerome Williams at the threshold of the Love Zone that Sunday night, I was inspired to learn more about his work. At that time, he was spending four 12-hour days a week as a telemetry technician at Northwest Regional Medical Center, watching electronic blips on a medical computer screen. The hospital is situated on the periphery of the Brickyard, and it is a source of the few dependable jobs in town. TopNotch had been at...
Three: A Family Affair
As we drive to meet TopNotch’s friends in a neighborhood called the Brickyard, he takes a moment to explain to me the concept of hood rich. It’s a term popularized by Big Tymers, an entrepreneurial rap outfit out of New Orleans, in their song “Still Fly”: “Gator Boots, with the pimped out Gucci suit / Ain’t got no job, but I stay sharp / Can’t pay my rent, cause all my money’s spent / but...
Four: True Blues Ain’t No New News
About fifteen miles south of the Tennessee/Mississippi border, TV signals fade, most cell phones cease to work, and hopes of socioeconomic equality struggle as if trapped under the thick cotton curtain that lines its boundaries. In this part of the world the radio auto-tuner swings almost completely around the dial before finding a weak signal to pull from the air. More than likely, it will find community radio from the closest small town—tiny stations with tiny...
Five: Musical Mobilities
The blues crossroads, a symbol of Clarksdale’s creative energy, also marks the site of an important global intersection that is as much a part of the regional identity as the rich, spongy soil upon which it sits. The unique cultural convergence that defines the Mississippi Delta can be traced through the town’s history as a center for agricultural trade. The suitability of the lush Delta ground for cotton planting led to the arrival of enterprising Anglo development in the years just before and after the Civil War. These planters’ ambitious desires...
Six: The Undivided Road
East Tallahatchie Street traces the vestiges of old Highway 49, a thin east-west stretch across the southern Black Belt. It is a lonely nighttime path that cuts from Hopson plantation to the New World district, a route used only by locals to bypass the two-lane highway. Few lights reveal the crumbling road ahead, pockmarked with potholes and gaping divots. A rotting sofa lies broken across the right half of the road. Garbage lines its banks. I pass Red Panther Chemical, the site of a massive toxic spill in the late 1960s. It is defunct now, surrounded...
Conclusion: Let the World Listen Right
If the crossroads marks the path across the realms of the living and the dead, then music represents the life force of the blues community of the Mississippi Delta. The title of this book comes from a conversation TopNotch and I had in the earliest weeks of our collaboration. For him this project represents a way to build an audience for his art—to strengthen the connections between his community and those both within and outside the South. He plans to stay in...
Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2009
OCLC Number: 472606046
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