Most of us would agree that a musical performance is not just centered around the tunes. The stage, the lighting, the audience itself—even the pre-show ambient sounds— bring their own flavor to the production pie, and Aaron James of Unapologetic is teaming up with Estes and the Kio House to put together a series of shows where there is synergy between the artist’s vision and the atmospheric vibes.
“I don’t want to just play shows, I want to create experiences,” James said. “The Kio House is kind of a blank canvas for creatives to come and do what they want, but I’ve noticed that nobody has ever gone to great lengths to transform that space to fit their own tone. From a genre standpoint, they host a lost of shows, so I think our MUSIC is accessible to the community they reach, but it’s going to be our visual transformation of the space and our message that I believe is going to set us apart from any other show hosted there.”
Singer, songwriter, and Memphis transplant Aaron James moved to this city from Pennsylvania in 2013 to attend the University of Memphis. While there he became fast friends with Kenyan Harden, a Chicago native who would go on to be Kid Maestro, one of 13 members of IMAKEMADBEATS’ record label, Unapologetic.
“It’s a crazy, but not so crazy story. I met Kid my freshman year of college while playing on an intramural flag football team. It was one of those things like, ‘Hey, we are in the same program, we both don’t have any friends yet, and we want to go to all of these events, but don’t want to go alone. Yeah- let’s be friends.’ When I returned to school for junior year after spending summer break at home, Kid told me he’d met some guy name Nemo, James Duke/ IMAKEMADBEATS, who was doing this thing called Unapologetic and I should start coming around. I ended up interning there and quickly realized that these were the people I should be surrounding myself around.”
Underneath the part-record label-part-production company umbrella that is “Unapologetic” are local artists like Don Lifted, Preauxx, C Major, A Weirdo From Memphis, and Cameron Bethany to name a few. While many are under the impression that Unapologetic focuses solely on hip hop artists, James made it clear that it’s not about the genre, it’s about the journey.
“I’m an indie folk artist, which I know sounds super hipster *laughs*, but the journey of figuring out who I want to be as an artist through Unapologetic has been a very special process for me. Unapologetic is primarily hip hop centered, so people look at me and think that I don’t belong, but it’s more than that. To put Unapologetic under the umbrella of hip hop is way too small. It’s not about how the music sounds, it’s about the journey we are all on. It’s about the stride to be as much of yourself as possible. Everybody in our group feels like we can be unapologetically ourselves and still be together.”
While Aaron and Unapologetic focus on being unapologetically themselves, Estes is “a band with a mission to be honest.”
“For me, being honest has a lot to do with looking inside yourself and seeing walls that you need to overcome,” said Andrew Isbell. “These can be societal, physical, mental, or really anything that holds you back from your full potential. When I think of being honest with myself, it usually pertains to undoing or unlearning insecurities or walls that I built for myself over time. I think the “honesty” that Estes speaks to has mostly to do with genuine introspection and consistent growth. This is something I’ve really tried to embrace over the past few years, and I know everyone involved in the Estes project feels the same.”
In addition to being true with themselves, Aaron and Estes won’t give up any opportunity to use their music to bring together different communities— gathering those who may not normally be seen in the same room, and connecting under the umbrella of good music.
“I went to high school with one of the girls who helps run Kio House, Lauren McFerrin. She and the other girls in that house have done something truly amazing with that space, and I have a massive amount of respect for it. I think one beautiful thing about partnering with them is their flexibility and creativity. We’ve found a way to maximize each space that we’re using (including Kio itself) and let it bring our music to life even more. Basically, we found a simple way to play on the strengths of the different musical sets by utilizing the coolest parts of the different venues we’ll perform in.”
With a dynamic line-up of shows scheduled, Aaron James and Estes aim to offer something for everybody while showing support for some of their favorite local artists and organizations. The first show on Friday (10/18) is an acoustic show enclosed in an intimate, meet-and-greet atmosphere where Aaron and Estes invite you to get up close and personal. Local singer-songwriter Olivia Nutt will open up the night, and the rawness and vulnerability will follow.
Show number two is all about collaboration. On November 16th, they are taking to Sounds Good Memphis and bringing several local artists along for the ride: hip hop artists PreauXX and She’Chinah of Unapologetic, folk singer/songwriter Bailey Bigger, and more. The show kicks off with a pre-show that will feature several pop up shops from local clothing brands.
They’ll bring it home with show number three on December 5th as Aaron James and Estes rock out to their fullest. All proceeds go to Memphis Rox, a rock climbing facility in Soulsville with the mission of “building a renewed sense of hope to challenged communities by providing programs to foster relationships across cultural, racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.”