MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Memphis artists including Kingpin Skinny Pimp, Carmike, Zed Zilla, Lil Gin, King Nard and DJ Cottonmane are working on a collaborative album they hope transforms the reputation of the city on a national scale.
The artist known as “Carmike” said he raps mostly about life growing up in Memphis.
“Growing up in the area I grew up in North Memphis, you see a lot of poverty, a lot of tragedy,” he said.
Carmike, 43, whose real name is Michael Mosby, went to Humes Junior High School and came from a working-class family.
“They provided for me, gave me a great home. We sat down for dinner every day. We had structure. My next-door neighbor didn’t have that because his mom was on crack. So I became a target,” he said.
He said he got involved in crime for his own survival. Eventually, that forced him to put rapping on hold.
“I was incarcerated for 20 years," he said.
He went to prison first for felony robbery and then attempted manslaughter. Carmike said he learned perspective.
“Even though I fell and I fell hard, I’m still getting back up. I don’t let my failures define who I am," he said.
Carmike recently got married.
Survival and unity represent two of the theme on a new album featuring Carmike and several other Memphis rappers like Young Nard.
“I’m 32 and I’m from South Memphis," said Young Nard, whose real name is Kanard Miller.
The two artists may be from different parts of town but their message is universal.
"When you come together, there is so much success in unity,” Mosby said.
“Show how we do it together with no arguing, we can show other cities how we do it," he said. “We're linking up and doing something positive.”
That attitude contrasts with the recent shootings involving two Memphis rappers in California. These men know Young Dolph and Yo Gotti either directly or through friends. They respect their work, but not how they represent their city.
“You away in Cali but still some Memphis stuff going on. It make it bad how people look at us from other cities like Baltimore and Mississippi,” Miller said.
“If I still was able to talk to Gotti, in a position they’re in, I could’ve stopped them from doing it," said Derrick Dewayne Hill, also known as Kingpin Skinny Pimp.
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Kingpin Skinny Pimp also attended Humes before coming up in the Memphis rap game in the 1990s. He’s a sort of mentor in the group and is part of the collaborative album.
“Carmike, Nard, Memphis Red, Zed Zilla, DJ Cotton, Lil Gin. It's an album called Godfathers and Wise Guys," Hill said.
"There isn’t anyone in this collaboration who hasn’t been through what I've been through," Mosby said. "They know what it is to wake up every morning like this looking over your shoulder, ‘Am I going to make it today?’”
They’re putting all those ideas to music, hoping to inspire and set an example.
The album comes out by the end of the year.