Dripping out of every building, coming for you from every speaker, and accompanying every meal, in Memphis we eat, sleep, and breathe music. More than a century ago, musicians of all races and backgrounds came together and, for the love of music, created a sound that changed the cultural voice of the world forever. Today this approach—a fusion of styles and culture—can be heard loud and clear in the soulful music that’s coming out of Memphis.
Memphis the Melting Pot
All you need to do to get a sense of the extraordinary depth of Memphis’ enduring music culture is to stroll down Beale Street, look down and, step by step, read the names on the brass notes in the cement. Then check out the Modern Memphis playlist on Spotify. There you’ll experience an eclectic mix of artists illustrating how Memphis continues to combine styles and cultures that gave birth to rhythm and blues, rock’n’roll, country, gospel, soul, blues, hip hop, and R&B. These adventurous sounds and eccentric personalities refuse to be boxed in, grab our attention; and unlike passing fads, they remain with us.
Memphis Music Roots: We Go Way Way Way Back
As you explore our unique sound, you’ll begin to understand why Memphis lays claim to ‘Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and ‘Home of the Blues’. Memphis put out the likes of Otis Redding, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Bobby Blue Bland, B.B. King, and W.C. Handy. These instrumental figures, along with its diverse culture, built a unique sound.
Beale Street was once central to Memphis’s music scene, a throwback to a time when Memphis was dominated by Sun Studio and a growing roster of rockabilly artists played throughout the city. Bands played on the street as early as the 1860s, and by 1890 Beale had a Grand Opera House. By the 1940s jazz and blues clubs lined the street; B.B. King was called “The Beale Street Blues Boy.” In 1977 an act of Congress declared Beale “Home of the Blues.”
Fast Forward to the 90s: The Memphis Hustle That Stole the Show
Influenced by minimal synth melodies, double-time flows, and samples ranging from soul and funk to horror film scores and classical music, Memphis birthed a new subgenre of hip hop music known as Memphis horrorcore AKA Memphis Rap. Considered by many to be the predecessor to the modern trap sound known in today’s trap music, this movement was led by T-Rock, Tommy Wright III, Playa Fly, II Tone, Three 6 Mafia, and others. It was Three 6 Mafia’s debut album that sealed the deal—Mystic Stylez becoming an influential cult classic. In 2006, the group hit everyone’s sweet spot with their Oscar-winning song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from the movie “Hustle and Flow.”
The 90’s Memphis Playlist:
- 8Ball & MJG
- Al Kapone
- DJ Spanish Fly
- DJ Squeeky
- Gangsta Pat
- II Tone
- Kingpin Skinny Pimp
- Lil Noid
- MC Mack
- Playa Fly
- Three 6 Mafia
- Tommy Wright III
Memphis Millennial Magic
For the latest generation of the original Memphis sound, we have our youngest and brightest talents to thank. From Blac Youngsta to Key Glock (a Paper Route Empire protege), and now BlocBoy JB, these young innovators are among those plotting their own path with distinct takes on the future of the Memphis sound.
Pivotal to this movement is 22-year-old producer Tay Keith. For the past few years, if you wanted a hit, you needed him. He’s been able to collaborate with and lend his creative fire not only to some of Memphis rap’s biggest names but to some international pop stars. He has chart-topping records with Drake and Travis Scott and made inroads at becoming a household name himself by producing Beyoncé’s ‘Before I Let Go,’ for her “Homecoming” album. Tay Smith has cemented his status as a go-to hit-maker for the new generation of rap and hip hop.
And no list of Memphis musical masterminds would be complete without mentioning Polow Da Don‘s new protege Jozzy The new kid on the block is already credited with being the songwriter responsible for saving R&B. In a short amount of time, she’s written for Chris Brown, Monica, Usher, Pitbull, Ciara, and Fergie to name a Few. When you’re on fire like Jozzy is, it’s only a matter of time that music royalty comes calling. And keeping up with Tay Keith, she’s already been recruited to write for none other than Queen Bey, Beyonce.
The Memphis Millennial Playlist:
- Amy LaVere
- Blac Youngsta
- BlocBoy JB
- Cities Aviv
- Julien Baker
- Key Glock
- Magic Kids
- Southern Avenue
- Star & Micey
- Valerie June
- Yo Gotti
Memphians Keeps Bringing The Heat
Memphis music is so deeply rooted that one can find traces of it in almost any sound. That being said, the Memphis sound is still one of a kind. Artists, record shops, labels, and entrepreneurs are all quietly and tirelessly working to continue to shape Memphis’ music scene.