Monday, December 29, 2008

Crunchy Black: Climbing back up a steep rap ladder

By Andria Lisle
Friday, December 26, 2008

Crunchy Black's appearance at the Hi-Tone Café tonight has been a long time coming.

It's been nearly three years since his highly publicized split from Three 6 Mafia, and were it not for a new song, "R U Ready," getting spins on K97, fickle fans would've deemed the rapper ancient history.

Local industry insider Hosea "M-town" Mayes, co-founder of, says that Black has the potential for a comeback.

"He brings higher expectations than most," says Mayes, adding, "If he doesn't come out with something good, they'll come down harder on him.

That said, we've got tons of Three 6 fans coming to"

Rattling off a list of former Three 6 affiliates, Mayes says, "Lord Infamous, Koopsta Knicca, Crunchy Black -- they don't forget about those guys too quickly. (Black) just needs to focus on who his audience is and build his own fan base."

"It's an uphill battle," says another observer, local promoter Freddy Hydro, who worked with Memphis rapper La Chat shortly after she left the Three 6 fold.

Even Black says he's faced with a Sisyphean-sized task.

"It's harder doing Crunchy Black than if I was somebody brand new," the rapper (real name: Darnell Carlton) says.

Personally and professionally, Black's life is defined by tough breaks.

His mother was incarcerated in a women's prison in Indiana when she gave birth to him in August 1974.

Nine years later, Black watched helplessly as his grandmother died of an asthma attack. By then, Black was already flirting with trouble -- so he ran away from home and began accruing gangsta merit badges for petty, and then serious crimes. Soon, he was bouncing in and out of jail.

Then Black joined forces with childhood friend Paul Beauregard in the burgeoning rap group Prophet Posse, which, by the mid-1990s, morphed into Three 6 Mafia. Success, via platinum-selling songs like "2-Way Freak," "Ridin' Spinners" and "Stay Fly," came quickly.

On March 5, 2006, Black's career reached its apex when he joined Beauregard and Three 6 co-founder Jordan "Juicy J" Houston onstage at the 78th Academy Awards ceremony, accepting an Oscar for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp."

A few months later, Black left the group, just as Three 6 was riding a pop culture wave that included their own MTV reality show, "Adventures in Hollyhood," and appearances on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" and "Beauty and the Geek."

Black says, "It wasn't the big stuff that mattered -- it's the little stuff that hurts. I was already planning on leaving before the Oscars, but I thought if I stayed a little bit longer, more folks would know me."

Leaving the group wasn't easy. When he walked out on Jordan and Beauregard, Black lost his best friends. And, when Three 6's Hypnotize Minds imprint released two substandard Crunchy Black solo CDs, On My Own and From Me To You, which were culled from sessions for their 2005 album Most Known Unknown, his reputation plummeted.

Undaunted, Black rented a house in East Memphis and filled a spare room with recording equipment from the Guitar Center.

"All my friends were gone," Black says. He laughs ruefully, then corrects himself. "I had people who were hanging on, who weren't my friends in the first place."

On his own for the first time, Black strove to create new songs the only way he knew how "riding the beat and painting pictures in my head."

"I was talking to God about the work I was doing on my own, and I was spending all my time in the studio, because God said I needed to give it 100 percent," he says.

"I could make 'hood money, but I wanted to make real money, so God told me I didn't need a real producer -- I needed someone who could talk money."

At that moment, Glen Booth knocked on the door to get the rent.

The 43-year old property manager became Black's manager -- and now, under the aegis of "Da Real Hardhitters, Inc.," the two are hustling new tracks produced by Atlanta beatmakers Gahsh and Big Reef to major labels.

"Crunchy is a very intelligent person. He just doesn't have the music business experience. Hopefully [success] will come with time, but if he was gonna jump out, he should've done it immediately after Three 6 Mafia," Hydro says.

Yet there's no going back for Black.

"Being on my own, I've tried to focus on giving the people a change," he says. "I'm trying to bring gangsta music back the right way, with a crunk-wise vibe and a better message."

"At the concert, I'll be doing songs from old to new -- Three 6 songs, and new stuff that's getting ready to drop," he says.

In the studio, it's another matter entirely.

"I'm not against how [other rappers] are living, but their lyrics limit them," Black says.

"No more 'funky bitches,' no more weed songs, no get high songs, no powder songs. I've got other things I can talk about -- the good part of life."


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