Is it a record label? Is it a collective? Maybe something in between? Unapologetic may defy specific labels, but one thing’s for sure: It is redefining the Memphis music scene through genre-smashing hip-hop.
At the center of Unapologetic is IMAKEMADBEATS, the producer and guru behind a solid group of artists who lay down their funky styles at Dirty Socks recording studio. IMAKEMADBEATS is a native son returned from a journey that took him to the epicenter of East Coast hip-hop and back.
Growing up in Orange Mound, IMAKEMADBEATS—a.k.a. James Dukes—was exposed to a wide array of the ingredients that make Memphis so soulful. Although his father had an almost encyclopedic collection of records that spanned soul, blues and jazz, Dukes found himself most drawn to the inherent randomness of jazz and how order was created out of disorder. With just one listen to the music IMAKEMADBEATS produces, you can hear those influences clearly.
His father’s eclectic tastes were passed down to Dukes, whose musical favorites set him apart in high school. While he and his classmates were often found exclusively booming Three 6 Mafia, Dukes gravitated toward Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest and Gang Starr, with a dash of UK Techno.
“When I got on the Orange Mound Bus to go to school… I had to be playing Three 6, or nothing,” said IMAKEMADBEATS of his high school days. “If it ain’t that… You were weird.”
Finding that sound
Not long after high school, IMAKEMADBEATS moved to New York City to spread his musical wings. He landed a gig as an engineer at Quad Recording Studio in Manhattan, rubbing elbows with MCs like Talib Kweli, Common, Missy Elliott and Ludacris. In 2009, he recorded “The Transcontinental,” but before long, family ties pulled him back to Memphis.
Upon arriving home, Dukes holed up in his sound lab and honed his craft. Before long, he felt the tug to share his creations with the world, and Unapologetic was formed after he met kindred spirits in the Memphis hip-hop scene—artists like PreauXX, another core component of what Unapologetic is all about.
A triumphant return
“Better Left Unsaid” was IMAKEMADBEATS’ first EP on his new label, featuring his intricately layered and unmistakable instrumental hip-hop styles. Beyond IMAKEMADBEATS, Unapologetic has a whole stable of artists taking over the Memphis hip-hop scene. Cameron Bethany dropped his “YOUMAKEMENERVOUS” EP in early 2017”. Cameron’s groundbreaking EP encompasses many styles and influences, a sound all its own that he has dubbed as Mod Fusion.
With those releases now in the rearview mirror, it’s clear Unapologetic has nothing to be sorry for as it continues its genre-bending journey.