The Soul Kitchen is arguably the premier club-style music venue in Mobile. Compared to others, it has definitely shown hip-hop an overwhelming amount of love. Acts that five or six years ago would have never had a reason to visit the sleepy city have rocked shows at the Kitchen more recently. Emcees such as Big K.R.I.T., Curren$y, Yelawolf and even Snoop Dogg (or Snoop Lion, whatever he goes by nowadays) have graced the stage, giving hip-hop heads round the city reason for elation.
But the Soul Kitchen is also home to a lesser-known gem of hip-hop culture: The monthly ELEMENTS showcase. While it may lack the notoriety of having big name artists, it is slowly becoming a fixture in the local hip-hop scene with its format to encourage both homegrown and regional acts to sharpen their craft, grow their fan base and take the necessary steps to advance their career.
“I have been putting on ELEMENTS since January of 2012” Seth Maness, the man responsible for the showcase, said. “So almost three years now.”
Although the program is still developing, Maness is no newcomer to Mobile’s hip-hop scene.
“I first became involved when I started attending an open mic called Diversity,” he said. “It was held at The Bubble Lounge on Old Shell Road. Being a bar, it meant I had to wait ‘til I was 21 to attend … before that it was rappin’ at house parties and living room sessions.”
Maness said his spinoff opened the door to more than just music, and its namesake is the culture itself.
“I chose (the name ELEMENTS) for the fact that word represents the true hip-hop culture. As in the four basic elements of hip-hop are DJing, B-boy or breaking, graffiti art and emceeing” he said.
The show runs deeper than the title, however. While emceeing (or rapping) will always be the center of a hip-hop showcase, ELEMENTS often features a sub-theme highlighting other aspects of the culture. In March, they had a beat battle/DJ showcase. In May, they held a graffiti edition, taping off space on the side of the main stage and giving various street artists a platform to display and sell their work. Their latest showcase in September was the B-Boy/Girl edition, giving all break dancers the chance to show off some of their moves.
Unbeknownst to some: ELEMENTS did not actually start at Soul Kitchen.
“It was birthed from what was the center of the Mobile music scene at that time, the Alabama Music Box,” Maness said of the show’s origins at the now vacant building further down Dauphin Street. “The environment of that venue allowed me to reach out to a broad spectrum of people in and out of the city.”
Although the Music Box would later reopen at its new location upstairs from Alchemy Tavern on Joachim Street, Maness saw an opportunity to relocate his successful showcase.
“When AMB was in its last days at the original location, I decided to keep ELEMENTS alive by switching locations to Soul Kitchen.”
The change was in fact the most feasible possibility. As an employee of Soul Kitchen, Maness asked management if he could mix work and play and “they were totally open to the idea,” he said.
Since, ELEMENTS has continued to grow but remains less about flashy, big names and more about giving local, lesser-known talent the push that it needs.
“We are opening doors that 10 years ago would not have been possible (to open),” Maness said.
As for the artists? They have nothing but praise for the showcase Maness started a little more than three years ago. Soul singer/emcee Indyah Rashaud, a member of the Alabama collective Nu Nation, credits ELEMENTS for helping her stage presence.
“If I learned anything from being involved in the ELEMENTS showcase, it’s how to handle myself on a stage,” she said. “One thing Seth told me is to have a relationship with the sound man. That relationship can be the difference between a good show and a indecipherable show.”
A poorly organized show can be a nightmare for an artist. Timing delays, an unprofessional staff and favoritism towards other artists can each cause major headaches for up-and-comers who are just trying to get their foot in the door. But Rashaud said ELEMENTS puts a shared emphasis on everyone.
“Compared to other showcases, The ELEMENTS is tops as far as professionalism and structure. Every artist received equal opportunities to shine. Overall (it’s) a great environment to cultivate the art of organic hip-hop.”
Poet/Emcee Baron Amato, also a member of the Nu Nation collective, lives in New Orleans. But ELEMENTS is one of the few things he doesn’t mind making the two-hour commute to catch. He echoes the sentiments of his colleague on the quality of the showcase and tips his hat to the staff.
“Everyone involved with ELEMENTS is very hands-on and they provide great feedback as fans, artists and promoters on what went well and things that could be enhanced,” Amato said.
Beamin, half of the local hip-hop duo Beamin and Timmy, also touched on the showcase’s role in helping to expand the group’s network.
“For me, there’s nothing better than a collective group of underground hip-hop artists collaborating to put on a great show,” he said. “The ELEMENTS movement has grown so much. We have linked up with artists from Pensacola to Biloxi and even New Orleans to Baton Rouge.”
Indeed, a strong performance at the showcases can also lead to bigger opportunities.
“There will always be great hip-hop getting slept on (in Mobile),” Maness said. “I feel that those of us who are on that vibe are only starting to notice each other. When we can get this music to the masses then we might have a chance to see the change. When conscious hip-hop is selling out Soul Kitchen, then I will believe our city feels what we feel. In the immortal words of Sam Cooke, ‘Change is gonna come.’”
Meanwhile, Maness said he was always keeping his eyes and ears open for new talent.
“I keep an eye on who is putting in work,” he said. “Those who appreciate and help support get put in rotation more. I reach out to new artists, as well as they reach out to me. You might not be on stage today, but tomorrow is a whole new chapter.”
According to Maness’ Poet Tree Ent. Facebook page, the last ELEMENTS showcases of the year are scheduled Nov. 28 and Dec. 26.