Laying the tracks that lead out of town
By TONY GREEN
LARGO -- There's more to a community than buildings and roads.
Ridgecrest, an unincorporated, largely African-American community west of Largo, has seen some definite improvements recently: new community organizations, buildings and facilities. Some gains, however, are less visible.
An up-and-coming production company/record label called Crest Entertainment has begun providing an outlet for the community's untapped musical talent.
"People think there isn't anything here but crime," president/producer Terrance Davis said. "For example, you drive through here, and you'll hit two police substations. We want people to know that there is more than that here."
Davis' snug backyard studio is home to a growing roster of Largo talent. There are hip-hop crews Wild Childz and Gemstones and solo artists AK and Ern, among others. Davis, 26, also is producing a release from a still-unnamed R&B group.
"There's a lot of talent around here," he said. "But most of the time, the people aren't doing anything but hanging out. And when they do want to do something, they have to go out of the area -- to Clearwater, St. Pete or Tampa -- to get their music made. I want to put up a power base right here."
Davis is willing to take some hits to accomplish that. Sometimes he'll offer his studio and production services for free. "If they have skills and lyrics and want me to put them on, I'll give them a break," he said.
That's important, said Anthony Dorsey, a musician with the Wild Childz. Putting out just an EP, between studio time and post-production work, easily can cost thousands of dollars.
"Most people around here don't have the funds to come up with product of their own," he said.
But music is as much pleasure as business for Davis, who supplements his Crest income with a lawn-care company.
His father, Solomon Davis, owned and deejayed at a local club called the Moonstop. Terrence started making hip-hop beats back in 1992, when he bought his first drum machine and began recording tracks in his bedroom.
Soon after, he formed the group the Crest Boys with fellow hip-hopper Shawn Johnson and released Livin' Dirty on a Tampa label in 1997. After a business dispute, the pair left the label and self-released the album. That went well enough for Davis to buy some new equipment and regroup with a new roster of artists, who turned up on The Diary of Ridgecrest last year.
Their sound has evolved, from the slower, bass-heavy hard-core styles on Diary of Ridgecrest to the modern electro-hop of the Wild Childz single Skate with It.
But none of the artists feels comfortable aligning themselves with any one rap style. They aren't hard-core like Trick Daddy or Khia, yet not candy-coated pop-rap a la Nelly or Bow Wow.
"We are trying to bring something new to the table," said Dorsey, who goes by the stage name CYP. "That's the best way to make sure that people remember your area is to rep it with a style that is original. That's what we are trying to do."
Because his artists "just rap about what we see and what we live and see every day," Davis said, the best way to create a new sound is to expand their range of experience. By giving young musicians a chance at getting their work heard, Davis hopes he's also giving them a chance to see the world beyond Ridgecrest.
"The situations people are in, a lot of that has to change," Davis said. "I've seen people go away to college then come back to the same old thing they left before. We're trying to fix that."
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
North Pinellas desks