The blues documentary M for Mississippi premieres this weekend, has St. Louis roots, while Black Spade sibling Tef Poe steps out from his brother's shadow with a new album, label and mixtape

Oct 8, 2008 at 4:00 am

It's been five years since the release of Hip-Hop & Soulful...ish, the double CD from St. Louis' now infamous Soul Tyde crew. As a collective, the group featured some of the most promising emcees, DJs and singers the area had to offer, but they disbanded shortly after the album's release. Most of Soul Tyde's members have moved on and continue to make quality music: Gotta Be Karim, Nato Caliph and DJ Needles can all be seen regularly at a club near you, while Black Spade is signed to indie label Om Records.

Hoping to "get on" next is Spade's younger brother, Teflahn Poetix, or Tef Poe for short. Prior to the Soul Tyde breakup, Tef and his peer Kash formed the group Honors English (RFT's Best Hip-Hop Artist of 2004). Although Kash has since relocated to Arizona, Tef maintains that they are still in constant contact, and plan to release another EP under the Honors English name. "Kash is like my conscience," Tef says. "It's times when I'm ready to just hit the button on these cats, and start a nuclear holocaust in this joint. But I'll call [Kash] and tell him the situation, and he'll come up with a more logical solution."

B-Sides: What other projects are you currently working on?

Tef Poe: I'm starting a label called Boogie Bang Music Group. It's nothing major, just an independent outlet for all my projects. I'll be dropping the new album soon, Age of Illumination. It's pretty much complete, so right now I'm trying to get the manufacturing together. I want everything to be perfect for this one. The mixtape, Glory to God, is basically a bunch of songs I didn't want to put on the album.

Did you have a specific concept in mind when you were putting these projects together?

I was sitting back drinking one night and listening to some of my own music, and I heard a voice ask me why I talk about myself so much. I'm an extremely braggadocious emcee. I do different things [on the mic], but I found my niche as a punch-line rapper. Part of being a punch line, or metaphor, emcee is always saying, "I'm the baddest, I'm this, I'm that." I wanted to make a project where I could reference God, without being corny or overdoing it. Glory to God is my way of saying my flow is the glory I'm giving back to God.

Over the last couple of years, you've been back and forth between St. Louis, San Diego and Tennessee. How is the hip-hop scene different here than in other places?

Cali is more independent-music oriented. That's a part of the game we just ain't got yet. The St. Louis underground is still so divided. In one area, they might want you to be on some straight backpack rap. You might go to another area, where they want you to have a more energetic show. I like to take both of those influences and combine them.

St. Louis is notorious as a city where it's hard to gain support as an underground artists. Do you find that to be true?

I don't adopt that mentality. I feel like once you start thinking like that, you're screwed. I think you just have to give people an emotional attachment to your music. We're in a recession right now — so you really have to give people that reason to buy your music.
— Calvin Cox

M for Movie
"The blues [is] a personal thing," says singer/guitarist Jimmy "Duck" Holmes during his interview segment in the new documentary M for Mississippi. "What drives me to play the blues may not be the same thing that drives you to play the blues."

Holmes is just one of a dozen distinctive personalities featured in the film, which was conceived and produced by St. Louisan Jeff Konkel and former St. Louis resident Roger Stolle. Mississippi will have its world premiere in Clarksdale, Mississippi, this weekend.

Self-described "obsessive blues fans," Konkel and Stolle were already heavily involved in promoting Mississippi music before coming up with the idea for the film in 2006. Konkel runs the country-blues label Broke and Hungry Records, while Stolle had moved to Clarksdale a few years ago to open Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art, a retail store, art gallery and record label focused on Mississippi culture.

M for Mississippi follows the duo on a weeklong, barbecue- and beer-fueled road trip through Mississippi, visiting tiny juke joints and musicians' private homes to introduce viewers to a memorable cast of characters. The film starts with the Clarksdale street musician known as "Mr. Tater the Music Maker," whose primitive, monochordal songs are nearly indecipherable — but whose broad, gap-toothed smile radiates infectious, pure joy at the process of music-making.

Some of the musicians included in the film, such as Holmes, "T-Model" Ford and Robert "Wolfman" Belfour, are already known to blues enthusiasts. Others are more obscure, including folk artist and musician Pat Thomas, who follows in the footsteps of his father, James "Son" Thomas; octogenarian singer/guitarist L.C. Ulmer; and the 78-year-old musician known only as "The Mississippi Marvel," a church deacon who adopted his secret identity to avoid the disapproval of fellow congregants who still believe blues is "the Devil's music."

Because their $25,000 budget was relatively small, Konkel and Stolle kept the crew to a minimum. Only director, cinematographer and camera operator Damian Blalock, a Mississippi filmmaker who previously had worked with Stolle on a biographical film about bluesman Big George Brock, and Bill Abel, a musician and audio engineer known for his field recording skills, came on the trip with them.

"Frankly, taking a big-budget approach would have killed the film," Konkel says. By working with what he describes as "a light footprint," the filmmakers were able to get up close and personal with their subjects and offer an intimate look at a musical world largely unknown outside rural Mississippi.

Following its premiere next week, M for Mississippi will be released on DVD, and Konkel says they also hope to take the movie to film festivals and perhaps even negotiate a deal with broadcast or cable television. He says they also want to have a screening in St. Louis, though there's nothing definite yet.

Most important, "We wanted the movie to serve as an inspiration to come down to Mississippi to see these guys," says Konkel. "And we wanted to show that this is something anyone can do. If you have an interest in the music, a tank of gas, an atlas and a fairly strong liver, you can do this."
— Dean C. Minderman