Wednesday, December 11, 2019
JACKSON — Rapper Unknwn wore shades, a black hoodie, jeans and an Army jacket, and her mystique matched her name perfectly. The crowd inside Offbeat in midtown formed a stage around her at the 4th Quarter Exchange, a musical event bringing artists and consumers face-to-face through performances and networking.
It was Unknwn's debut as a rapper, so the nerves were there. But as she performed song after song, her confidence flourished to pull off an impressive first performance. Afterward, Unknwn said she was skeptical of whether she did a good job or not, despite the love from the crowd and praise from her peers.
"I was psyching myself out and getting out of breath and stuff. I think I did OK for my first show," she said.
Rapper Dolla Black, the creator of the Exchange, invited her on as a headliner for the event as she's been recording a lot of music, unknown to the public, she said. Other headliners included rappers Vitamin Cea, Yung Jewelz and Remidee, as well as singer Gentrae' Rodgerz. It was ladies' night, which Unknwn said was super dope.
"It made me feel like I guess I belong," she said. "It's OK to be here and performing because the caliber of artists is so dope. So me being on it and being first is like you got a little something. You might be good enough."
Even though Unknwn said she wants to stay away from the fame, she sees the event as a great way to gain attention as a new artist.
"I think it's dope because even though we get the same people coming to the Exchange, we still get new people coming, so they get to be exposed to us," she said.
The Exchange came about after Rapper Dolla Black's friend and rapper Alfred Banks, a performer for the first Quarter Exchange, contacted him about doing a show together. Dolla was in charge of putting the show together, something he had never done before, he told the Jackson Free Press. However, through the process, he got the idea to put on an event of this caliber every quarter of the year.
"What if I was able to do a show more often and be able to give a platform to other artists as well? That's really what it derived from," the rapper said.
"The inspiration that has kept me going is seeing how much the generation that's here now doesn't have as far as performance opportunities compared to what I had when I decided I really wanted to do music."
Back when Black first started doing music, there were six venues where independent artists could perform, he said, but today he doesn't see as many open mics for new artists to form their base.
"I wanted to give a creative platform where the artist will be able to sharpen their tools and get a consistent supporting base of consumers, not just artists," Dolla said.
The 4th Quarter Exchange is the last of 2019, and Dolla said he was intentional in making it an all-female event, as the ones before, excluding the first event in February, were all male.
"I wanted to be intentional in making sure that it can't be said that this platform doesn't support female artists," he said. "I wanted to be intentional in giving them their own Exchange so that way they can have the opportunity to indulge in the culture as well."
The rapper calls the event a "social networking experience between consumers and artists."
"It's the artists' job from the time you walk through the door at the Exchange to make sure you're rubbing everybody elbows, you're taking pictures with people, getting people's Instagram," Dolla said.
The consumers, whom he calls superstars, have a job as well—to pay attention to the artists by purchasing or downloading their music and following the artists on various social-media platforms.
"You came to be exposed to new creatives, so that's why I labeled it the Exchange. It's truly an Exchange between artists and the consumer," Dolla said.
After a brief music break, Greenville rapper Remidee, whose hard, aggressive rap style is reminiscent of Lil Kim and Trina, rocked the mic.
In her all-pink outfit, she bounced and two-stepped while rapping her new single, "Work It Out."
Remidee has been rapping for three years now after transitioning from promoting and managing artists. Dolla Black invited her to perform, and she is honored that her talent was recognized, she said.
"Once I saw I was on the headline with Vitamin Cea, I was like 'wow' because she is known, and she is a good artist," Remidee said in a recent interview.
The rapper said the Exchange helps bring together different types of art and artists with different styles and promotes networking. Remidee, who is signed to Smokehouse Entertainment in Jackson, said she released her first project, "Applying Pressure," in 2017 and plans to release a new project in 2020.
True to Dolla's intentions for the event, Remidee said the energy from the crowd was different from what she is used to because they interact with the artists. "You don't get that at all your events," she said.
Although Remidee says most of her support comes from Jackson, she still wants to be a positive representation for her hometown. "I choose the name Remidee because I feel like I'm going to be the first female rapper to make it out of my city. I'll be the remedy of bringing some light on my area with the music," she said.
It was the first time rapper Vitamin Cea performed at the Exchange, and she found the experience and energy from the crowd surreal.
"I can tell it's some people out there that don't even know each other, but people are communicating, and so that changes the atmosphere of the type of energy that you get when you go out there," she said.
The crowd rapped along as Vitamin Cea rapped "Lessons" off her 2017 album "JoyFULL Noise." The rapper dedicated the song to her grandmother, Gloria, who recently passed away and who she felt was with her as she performed the song.
"It's like heavy, but at the same time knowing that she's good, like she's where she needs to be," Vitamin Cea said. "I feel that peace. If it was anything else, I would feel sad and down."
Her grandmother was a boss, someone who spoke her mind, she said.
"Even just observing her as a child and seeing how confident she was, that helped me to realize that it was OK to 100% be myself and be bold in it. So I feel like that's her legacy for me," the rapper said.
Vitamin Cea said sharing the stage with so many talented black women is historic, she said, adding that she is grateful to be apart of it.
"Thing is, people act as if things like this don't happen here, when in reality, you just have to know, you have to be listening," she said. "We even have to do better at pushing it because we be thinking people know, and people have no idea that type of energy that we bring to one place."
'Growth From All Angles'
Dolla said he hopes that the Exchange is adding to the artists' value as people like Unknwn and Vitamin Cea should be recognized and heard beyond Jackson.
"It's my way of attempting to have a collective group of people show our artists that they're worth the price of admission and more," he said. "If we can collectively grow to show that day in and day out, I think that we would have a lot more artists to transcend and get to the next level."
As far as the event's impact on the arts scene in Jackson, Dolla said he has heard that the Exchange is a breath of fresh air and needed.
"I can only appreciate the fact that I'm here to experience it, as well as assist with putting it on," he said. "So far, throughout the year, a lot of people have been introduced to new artists from Jackson (and) outside of Jackson."
In the future, Dolla Black said he wants to host more events and partner with other brands and artists to help them put on concerts.
"I just see growth. That'll be the best answer. It can really be growth from all angles," he said.
Dolla Black said the next Exchange event is tentatively scheduled for the first quarter of 2020. To keep up with the event, people can like the Exchange Jxn Facebook page and follow @ExchangeJxn on Instagram. They can also visit the website, exchangejxn.com, for updates on the event.
'Like A Switch'
Yung Jewelz, a rapper and host of the event, took a different approach than her peers, starting her performance among the crowd, while rapper Bigg Josh rapped his verse from their song together "Bigg Jewelz (Lsmr)" The energy and confidence Jewelz displayed was transformative, making the crowd just as hype as she was.
"It's like a switch. I swear it is," she said later. "It's what I love to do, so I turn into a whole nother person. Then I feed off the crowd. With that, it just makes me hype even more to know that I'm performing and people want to hear me and watch me."
Yung Jewelz performed at the first Quarter Exchange, where she was the only female performer. She said she was honored to headline an all-woman-led show.
"It's getting to the point where when you think of females, my name comes up now, and so that's always a blessing to be mentioned," Jewelz said.
"Every female that performed tonight in their own style, their own way, (are) really about to run sh*t. We really already are, but it's really about to be crazy," she said.
The Exchange makes people aware of what is going on, musically, in Jackson, she said, and without it some people may not have been noticed or performed this year. "It introduces people to other artists and introduces other artists to other artists. It's just a connection," Jewelz said. "It's a great networking opportunity for everybody. You can go and interview somebody right now, if you wanted, that didn't perform, but they're an artist and they're in here."
Kosciusko, Miss., native and singer-songwriter Gentrae' Rogerz was the last act of the night. The singer said she was nervous because she hadn't performed since April. Her godbrother, Jo'De Boy, talked to Dolla Black about her, and Dolla then invited her to perform at the Exchange. The fact that the show was all women really piqued her interest, the performer said.
"That was one of the things I was really intrigued about because I've never been in an all-female show. I love it. Empowerment," she said.
Rogers said she has been doing music since she was 4 years old, and it seems to run in her blood. All the women in her family can sing, and her grandfather, Jimmy Lewis, was a blues singer and songwriter.
"I really started writing when I was in elementary school, and that's when I knew this was my passion. This was my first love," she said.
After four years in San Diego, Calif., Rogers moved to Columbus, Ga., where she started to connect and network with people who have taught her how to engage the crowd and sell her music. As the only singer performing, she saw it as an advantage and an attention-grabber, she said.
All eyes were on her and her backup dancer as she sang her "Get It Together," a fusion of trap and R&B. She wore a colorful ensemble of a navy-blue jacket; a peach ruffled, off-the-shoulder blouse; and neon yellow shorts. Her shoes were metallic platforms, and her hair a fiery red.
"They were paying attention. When I looked out, I could see people watching," Rogers said. "I watched the reaction from the rappers, everybody is turnt up. But when it's a singer, they're listening."
The singer is working on a project due out February 2020 and hopes to move closer to Atlanta. She has met a lot of people by networking at the Exchange and through this, she sees the arts scene in Jackson growing.
"We have so many talented people. so see all the talented women tonight, that was huge," Rogers said.
Follow Culture Writer Aliyah Veal on Twitter at @AliyahJFP. Send story tips to [email protected].