Tommy Wright III Credit: Courtesy of Artist

Polite but excruciatingly thorough Canadian music interviewer Nardwuar likes to bring his subjects gifts inspired by obscure details of their lives. During his September 2018 interview with Miami MC Denzel Curry, the rapper got so flummoxed by the hyperspecific questions that he asked if Nardwuar was with the feds—but when Nardwuar handed him a cassette copy of Genesis, a 2000 greatest-hits compilation by Memphis rapper Tommy Wright III, his reaction was pure excitement. In the 90s, Wright released a series of albums that helped shape the city’s humid, funky, sometimes sinister gangsta sound, which reached the national stage thanks to the likes of Three 6 Mafia and 8Ball & MJG. He became known for his southern twang, his swinging double-time raps, and his ability to transform raw, lo-fi sounds into loose but smoldering grooves that felt like they could go on forever. Throughout the formative years of this style in the 90s, Memphis rappers and producers relied heavily on cassettes sold through car-stereo shops, which helped the subgenre grow (and helped its creators pay rent and beef up their home-recording setups). But local support couldn’t always boost an artist to success outside the scene, and only two of Wright’s six albums were released on CD, even while that format was at its peak. According to a recent Red Bull Music Academy profile, in the 2000s Wright became destitute following financial disagreements with distributor Select-O-Hits and a four-year stretch in prison. Though he’d resigned himself to obscurity outside his hometown, Wright’s music has been circulated and celebrated in the 2010s by European fans trading rips of obscure rap cassettes, American skateboarders, and YouTube archivists. His tracks have also become a blueprint for Denzel Curry and practically every other Soundcloud rapper with a taste for raw, mosh-worthy production. Now in his early 40s, Wright is starting to tour outside the Memphis area for the first time, and according to his Facebook page, he aims to post his original tracks to Spotify soon. I can’t be the only one hoping that new listeners getting turned on to his music will entice an enterprising label to reissue his entire catalog.   v