Lost in the oozing gutters of South Memphis, Tennessee, there’s an incarcerated collection of tapes that still gleam like the bejeweled pimps and adolescent thugs that have become the historians of Memphis rap. They’re the pistol-packing progenitors of modern trap; ultra-violent MC’s who were the first to blend Stax samples with horror and triplet flows about hoods like Magnolia, aka “Da Crime Click.” Crackling tapes by Juicy J, Three 6 Mafia, DJ Squeeky, and Tommy Wright III reveal just a few chapters of Memphis rap’s story. II Tone is still telling it.
In 1995, a couple teenagers led by II Tone (aka 2 Tone) emerged from Da Crime Click to produce a mixtape titled Satanic Verses. Even by Memphis rap standards—Da Crime-Click, as they were known, were extreme. In 1996, they dropped the adolescent horror masterpiece, Million Wayz to Murder, which was later sampled by A$AP Rocky. The word on the street was that Million Wayz was too gutter for the watered-down labels that hyped Three 6 Mafia. For two decades, the story of Magnolia remained undocumented. Last year, Million Wayz was rereleased by SoCal record label, Burger Records.
But II Tone never left the hood. As the co-founder of Black Rain Entertainment, II Tone has been prolific in Memphis since the 2000s. Records like In Too Deep (2002) and Heaven Sent Hell Bound (2005), and two shockingly aggressive releases in 2017, offer rare and penetrating glimpses into the hustle of being a Memphis O.G. Along with producer Mr. 4Twenty, II Tone is now releasing his low-key manifesto, known simply as, Church & Liquor Sto, which documents the lifestyle and flow of one Memphis rap’s pioneers. With twelve distinctive tracks, II Tone has combined the nostalgia of old-school gangsta rap with triumphant productions that blast through the bullshit like Iceberg Slim wearing a ski-mask.
“With my music, I want people to know where I’m from,” says II Tone, who rhymes remorselessly about his feelings on “studio niggas” and “fakes”; while showing us the blueprint of Memphis rap, which invites the listener into a documentary on the pimpin’ ambition, home invasion robberies, scathing diss tracks, and narcotized beats that have become part of II Tone’s “fuck these hoes” philosophy. “It just means live your life to the fullest, provide for your family, and fuck what anyone else thinks about it,” he says.
II Tone’s Church & Liquor Sto blends terror with druggifiedpop. It begins with a reminder that shit hasn’t changed. II Tone is still in Da Crime Click. It ends by sending a warning to all the studio-gangstas: “Fuck with me, get killed.” Somewhere in the middle is “Takin’ Trips,” the gleaming lead single off Church & Liquor Sto, which is a South Memphis equivalent of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous—on druuugggs.