This blog entry is a look back at one of New Orleans's more obscure hip-hip labels, Tombstone. Tombstone Records was a notable New Orleans Rap label in the 1990s that released a handful of high caliber releases that sold over 100,000 albums around the South in three years before abruptly ceasing operations after a series of cataclysmic misfortunes.
It was founded by Elton “June” Wicker Jr. Most of the production was done by Merrill “Real Roc” Robinson, who also worked for Mobo. Other production was done by Ice Mike and the one-and-only Mannie Fresh. The label's biggest commercial success was the uncontested "Queen of Bounce," Cheeky Blakk, whose 1996 album Let Me Get That Outcha was a massive local hit for Tombstone before she jumped ship for Total Respect. Tombstone apparently operated on a shoestring budget with pleasingly dinky synths, cheap album covers and no music videos -- but unlike many local New Orleans labels of the 1990s, Tombstone seems to have been more fully committed to the compact disc format than most of their peers, forsaking the cassette for almost every artist.
Wicker attended Joseph S. Clark High School and Americo Technical Institute and he started dating his future wife Kim when she was thirteen. They ultimately had two children, Elton III and Kerrionne. Wicker wasn't necessarily a saint in the eyes of the law at first. There was an aggravated assault charge in 1990 and a charge of possession and distribution of llello in 1991. But he seemed to turn a leaf, working at Southern Scrap and Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits with the dream of starting his own record label. That label was Tombstone, named after the George P. Cosmatos film starring Val Kilmer and some other people. After that, not only did Wicker run Tombstone Records, he also founded the Tombstone Basketball League and Cool Spot Baseball League for neighborhood kids, volunteered for the Goretti Saints and bought Christmas toys for the kids on the block.
The first Tombstone release was Da Mobstas' sole release, Tripple Beam (sic -- epitomizing their casual approach to spelling). Da Mobstas included Lil Boo, High Top, Y.G. and Big Elton himself. The production is pretty groundbreaking, moving away from sampling toward dinky keyboards, courtesy of the legendary Merrill "Real Roc" Robinson. The rapping is adequate, if a bit wooden and dated sounding today.
After previously appearing on Full Pack's 1993 album, I Like To #@*¤!, 9th ward's Lokee released his debut on Tombstone. With a criterion delivery and flow, why Lokee isn't more widely known is one of life's great mysteries. After releasing Gots 2 Be Cheeky on Mobo Records, Cheeky Black dropped her classic EP Let Me Get That Outcha, produced by Mannie Fresh aka Willis... Cheeky's probably the highest profile rapper that worked with Untouchable, and for good reason -- she truly took bounce to a higher level, especially on the touching narrative "Child Hood," which talks about Mobo and Pimp Daddy among other things. The always serviceable and underrated L.O.G. released G's & Soldiers. Felony released "Gangsta Tail" ...which I haven't heard, being on tape as it is. is the title a misspelling or a pun? The world may never know.
The perpetually French-inhaling Lokee released his second and to this day final album, the truly masterful Voodoo Gangsta Funk -- in addition to his appearances on a couple of RedRum releases (Dolamite and Big Heavy) and at Untouchable (L.O.G. and Donkey Boyz). The production on about half the tracks was done by veteran New Orleans producer Ice Mike (Bust Down and Joe Blakk) and, appropriate to the title, most of the lyrics and music have an eerie, even ghostly supernatural bent with deep, trunk rattling beats underpinning it all. If you like New Orleans rap at all, do yourself a favor and find this album. Oh yeah, it features Magnolia Slim.
After a single the previous year for TTH, 2 Blakk released Represent For Life, which is a truly enjoyable gangsta bounce album with some very inventive production that nonetheless remains true to classic bounce. As a bouncehead, this is naturally one of my favorite Tombstone releases and an actual artistic highpoint of a genre never much thought of as very artistic. Cheeky Blakk released another Mannie Fresh production, F**k Being Faithful before moving to Adversity, then Righteous.
After a quiet year which saw no new Tombstone releases, the label's 23-year-old vice president, Sandy "Patrick" Price Jr, was shot and killed on November 14 as he ran from three men attempting to abduct him from his home in eastern New Orleans. He left behind a fiancee, Elgier 'Wonderful' Coleman and three sons, Patsion P. Price, Patrick Morrison and Edwin Walter, in addition to his father, Sandy Price Sr, his stepmother, Ethel Wicker and his sister, Toni R. Price.
In 1998, 32-year-old Elton Wicker Jr. was planning on releasing his debut, tentatively-titled Downtown Shotcallers. However, in April, after walking out of Roosevelt's on North Claiborne, he stopped when a stranger asked for a light. When he stopped, a car drove by spraying bullets and Wicker died.
Tombstone was reorganized as DangerZone Entertainment and released II Loaded's Don't Play No Games. II Loaded vacilates between Juvenile and Choppa-esque hooks and quick deliveries. Unfortunately, he's not as nimble as Mystikal and often sounds like he's tripping over himself and inadvertantly ends up sounding like Silkk the Shocker. The incomparable Merrill "Real Roc" Robinson's production, however, is, as always, top drawer, but for some reason overall it just doesn't quite gel.
As a post script, in 2007 Elton Jr's son (Elton III) was was wanted for his involvement in a New Orleans home invasion and the shooting of a NOPD officer and his wife, and for an armed robbery of a man in Algiers.