Charles Palmer prepped for Thanksgiving early this year—not with a turkey and sides, but a collaborative rap album he created alongside local artists. Much like when basting a turkey, producing an album takes time, care and the right ingredients to create something worthwhile.
Back in August, Palmer produced the Legend of the Summer II series, a music showcase with rappers Tricky Hudson, Hollywood Luck, Coke Bumaye, Savvy and Dono Vegas as headliners. The reactions he saw from the crowd prompted his next moves.
“I just saw the unity that it brought with all of their fans combined in one place,” the producer told the Mississippi Free Press. “The energy felt so good. It’s easy to get fans to come see one person, but to get the same fans to come see multiple of their favorite artists is a better experience. So that’s what drew me into recruiting those top-tier artists.”
Starting in August, the rappers met with Palmer and Jamaan Hunter at Juso Studios in Jackson every Tuesday to record songs over soulful beats that Charles recorded under titles such as “Family” and “Turkey Bag.”
“When I thought of the idea, I personally wanted to give music back to their fans and to the culture. I was like, ‘What better time to give back than Thanksgiving?’” Palmer explained. “When I made the beats, I made everything around the soulful sound that the old people might like and that the young people might like.”
If Palmer’s role as producer is like that of a chef, then the artists are the thyme, garlic, parsley and sage—the studio his oven. The rappers recorded the album’s songs, trusting that Palmer would let the music cook to succulent perfection as he tweaked them during the final phases of the production process until dinner was served: an eight-track, 38-minute conceptual album titled “Thanksgiving.”
The album debuted across streaming platforms on Nov. 18, within a week of its namesake holiday. A live, sold-out show at Duling Hall on Nov. 22 followed the release. Fans loved the flavors of the album enough that they demanded seconds, leading the artists to offer audiences another serving on Dec. 1 with an installment of The Mash Up at Duling Hall titled “Thanksgiving: The Leftovers.” Alexis Noble helped arrange the show.
“I feel like with this project, it’s showing that it’s more that we can do than just put the music out. We can do interviews, podcasts, freestyles and other content,” Palmer said. “I’m hoping this can kind of be a guide.”
‘Give Back to the Culture’
Coke Bumaye told the Mississippi Free Press that saying yes to the album was no-brainer because he has known and worked with these artists for so long and has seen them perform at other events. Collaboration among Jackson artists has not been done to this magnitude to his knowledge, Bumaye said. Two music artists may work together periodically, but five is rare.
“Jackson is known for being divided, not just musically but anything—like two barbershops can’t get along,” he jokingly said.
“When you put two rappers together, you put their entourage together; you put their mamas together; your girl might be there,” Bumaye continued. “You put so much energy together, and if the guys who are at the top of the energy function properly and at a high level, it will trickle down, and that’s what’s been going on.”
Bumaye dubbed Charles Palmer a genius, stating that the producer understood who he was working with and gave artists what they needed to create effectively. “He put us in a space where you had not a lot of choice but to execute,” Bumaye explained. “When you’re dealing with five artists … you have to concentrate in this space.”
Savvy used to be in a rap group with Palmer called Savvy and Gutter back in the day. He was able to listen to these tracks before anyone else and help handpick who he wanted on certain tracks, the rapper said.
“Even if they weren’t on (a song), they’d still end up finding a way to be a part of it,” Savvy said. “Like ‘Turkey Bag’, Tricky wasn’t on it, but he still ended up doing a little end part on it. Dolla Black wasn’t on ‘Family’ to actually rap, but he ended up singing on it. We just ended up finding interchangeable parts and just making it work.”
Although Palmer had previously worked with these artists separately, the recording process for “Thanksgiving” brought them closer together, he said. Before the weekly sessions, they only got to see each other occasionally, but creating, talking and congregating together forged deeper bonds.
In a year that marks 50 years of hip-hop, a genre that many claim is dying, Palmer asserts that “Thanksgiving” brings some soul to the current hip-hop landscape and shows a side of rap devoid of glorifying violence, drugs and money.
“People just wanna rap, wanna give back to the culture and wanna feed their fans great music,” Palmer said.
Savvy believes hip-hop isn’t dead. He calls the state of hip-hop today a free-for-all, where people have to find what musical artists they like and stick with that.
Coke Bumaye, on the other hand, believes that sometimes things need to die to be reborn again. “If (art) keeps living on, it gets old and slow and still,” Bumaye said. “It has to die. It has to go through a mourning stage. And then it has to be born again in this young, vibrant, strong way.”
‘Preserving Their Language’
Like a Thanksgiving plate with a little of everything stacked on it, the “Thanksgiving” album contains a multitude of musical components: lyricism, production, flows, presence, highs and lows. The creators crafted songs with soul and intention, which can be felt through the performances from each individual rapper. The blues and gospel influences on tracks like “Grateful,” “Da Original One” and “Thank You” leave no room for doubt that this album is homegrown, organic, rooted.
“Charles Palmer, a real church boy. He’s probably in church now,” Bumaye joked. “Like he a real drummer and keyboardist. He sings. I think his sister is on the album. She sings the blues.”
“It’s only two types of producers: It’s producers that got to church and producers that was in the band. If you find a guy that was in the band and in church, you got you one of them guys,” he said of Palmer.
Unlike most rap albums that usually start with an upbeat opener to set the tone, “Thanksgiving” begins with the rich, warm calming spoken-word poetry of Amanda Furdge in the track, “La A Room.”
“(Starting with Furdge’s poem) was necessary because the rest of the album is finna be high level, high energy,” Bumaye explained. “I think she just set the tone. I think her tone vocally was amazing. And the things she was saying described the picture we was painting in pieces. Once again, I think that was Charles Palmer, too.”
The first half of the album tackles Thanksgiving themes like gratefulness and family, but the only solo track on the album, “601 Interlude,” featuring Hollywood Luck, transfers the audiences into more high-energy songs like “Pimpin” and “Da Original One.” These tunes have less to do with the holiday and are more of an homage to southern rap and music.
On a song like “Pimpin,” audiences can specifically hear the influences of southern emcees like UGK and David Banner. The song loosely borrows the chorus from David Banner’s “Like a Pimp,” which features Lil Flip and Pimp C. The funky, upbeat tune melds blues with a little twang of country music.
“I actually wanted to give as much credit to (Pimp C) and Banner (as I could) because the record itself was monumental for the city,” Savvy said. “And just to see the relationship he had with Pimp C and Bun B, coming up just two hours down—I just had to be on the record.”
Bumaye finds little difference between being southern and country and said that many people see the two words as synonymous. Southern rap encompasses soul, church, blues, twang and a language that only those culturally cognizant can speak.
“Real girls get down on the floor; that’s not a clear-cut statement where if we say that, everybody know what’s going on,” Bumaye said. “If you are from a certain place, you know what that means right? Southern rap is about preserving their language, and I think we did that also.”
Coming full-circle, the album closes with Amanda Furdge’s “Thank You,” a spoken-word track reminiscent of a prayer whereupon the poet expressing her thanks to God for all the things he has provided her. Her-free flowing praise continues into the chorus, striking a contrast to the rap performances on the track.
“Favorite song together would probably be ‘Thank You.’ I didn’t really grow up celebrating holidays, so Thanksgiving, the concept, really doesn’t draw me in,” Savvy said. “But I’ve always been a very family oriented person. I always wanted to work with these guys. We’ve been working with each other for over 10 years, so it really wasn’t hard to do. We just mesh well.”
‘Not Loud, But Bold’
Producer Charles Palmer said he hopes this multi-artist collaborative project will inspire other artists watching to take it upon themselves to work together more often.
“It’s cool knowing that we can come together and (that) we don’t have to do it all alone,” he said. “They’ll see that teamwork really can make the dreamwork.”
From his experience, Palmer uses one word to describe the talent and attitude of Mississippians: bold. That boldness is apparent in what they wear, in how they move, in their drive. Mississippians embody the mindset that if they can make it here, they can make it anywhere, he said.
“If we’re going to wear green, we’re going to wear green to its finest,” Palmer said. “Whatever it is, we’re gonna stand out. Not loud, but bold. It’s nothing we are missing. Everything is missing us.”
After two sold-out shows, the group is setting their sights toward a tour. As a vegan, Bumaye is not looking forward to the slim food selections that being on the road can sometimes present, but he is looking forward to the grind, he said.
“Ain’t nothing like rapping in front of a crowd who don’t know one word and they looking at you like you’re the worst artist in the world, and then when you get off stage, they say, ‘Man, that sh*t was so hard,’” Bumaye described.
Savvy looks forward to making new connections and leaving Mississippi for a little while, but he will definitely bring home on the road with him, he promised. “It’s a lot of Mississippi in everybody, you know what I’m saying? I’m repping it everywhere I go,” Savvy said. “I may have some type of Mississippi apparel or jersey, something to represent the town.”
“Thanksgiving” is available across various music-streaming platforms. The touring artists will stop in Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and Birmingham. The group will announce tour dates soon.
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