By Joy Doss, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

I want you to know that there is hope for hip-hop.

A sliver of that hope resides in Memphis.

I checked out Marco Pave and Alfred Banks at the Memphis stop of their 18-city River Kings tour, which was part of the Opera Memphis festival. Full disclosure: I left a little after midnight before Marco came on. I did, however, sit with him for an interview.

Marco is a very bright young man. It is evident in his lyrics. And in speaking with him, it became more evident that he is very informed, aware and connected to the spirit and soul – and ultimately the survival – of Memphis.

I love any chance I can get to talk about the young people who are not apathetic. It makes me feel encouraged because we will have to leave this world to them at some point. And they will in turn leave it to my kid and her peers.

As I trawled for music, I also found some very pleasant surprises. Did you know that Marco did a Ted Talk on Art Entrepreneurship? It was subtitled “From Hobbyist to Lobbyist.” Color me impressed. Ted Talks are the real deal. (Online readers check it out here:

Trawling on, I found that his debut album, “Welcome to Grc Land,” has some faces familiar to me, that are not the usual suspects. I spy with my little eye, my fab friend, soror and “big sister” Jamey Hatley, who happens to be an amazing writer and storyteller herself. (I saw her there and she nada. I will deal with you later Jamey!)

I also noted a collaboration with the uber talented duo Artistik Approach and that sangin’ soul sista Big Baby. If you are reading this and haven’t heard of any of these folks, I would suggest you stop what you’re doing to get familiar. “Welcome to Grc Land” will be officially released on May 12.

Though he started developing the album before the I-40 bridge protest (last June), Marco was clear that this moment in time played no small part in codifying the sound, tone and content of the album. He describes the album as “very Memphis” and “sonically pleasing,” which I enthusiastically co-sign.

The press release will describe him as Project Pat meets KRS-One. I would go a step further to say that he is equal parts KRS, Ball (8 Ball and MJG) and Ice Cube. He has the storytelling quality and delivery of Ball, the fire and wokeness of KRS and the intensity of pre-Hollywood Ice Cube.

I know people like comparisons. And although he may inspire warm reminiscences of our faves, Marco’s style is all his own.

“Welcome to Grc Land” is, without a doubt, intended to be the sound of the (BLM) movement. Much like Isaac Hayes and others before him in the ’60s and ’70s and west coast 90s rap, he is inspired by real-life events. But make no mistake, this is not a flat, one-dimensional collection of rants and raves by any stretch.

In Marco’s own words:

“A protest record is assumed to be about being angry, fighting and thinking about the ‘white man.’ (This is about) being a full human being. When you wake up in the day, you don’t have the same emotions all day. You go through different emotions. You experience a wide range of emotions. A lot of times, hip-hop artists aren’t allowed the full range of emotions.

“If you get classified as a trap rapper, the only thing you can rap about is drugs. If you are backpack rapper, you can only rap about conscious stuff. I’m a storyteller. I’m an observer. I watch what people do. I want to tell the full story. My album is in sections – there’s a sad section, the build-up, party section and the glory.”

We sat amongst a random assortment of friends, fans and onlookers. I mean every kind of box was checked, including a fair amount of representation from the BLM set. Then I saw some folks I didn’t expect to see at all, which included MTV News folks that came to find him in Memphis! It was wonderfully diverse. As was the talent that opened. If you like hip hop with a razor edge, check out Roben X too!

Hailing from the norf-norf (that is, North Memphis), Marco has nothing but love for his city. To the good people of Memphis, Marco says this:

“Love this city. Love is multi-faceted. Don’t love it because it has good food… and Stax. You can’t hate the city because we have a higher poverty rate or because we had a couple episodes of ‘First 48.’ Love is very tough. You gotta love everything about it. Appreciate it for what it does it have…fix the things that need fixing.”

Vivre Memphis! Vivre hip hop!