Last month saw the unfortunate closing of Southpaw, one of New York City’s most beloved music venues. With a wide range of artists, exciting vibe and great sound, its ten year run was one of many great memories. Southpaw also had a reputation for giving New York hip-hop a home, even at times when it wasn’t popular to book MCs in the city.
We spoke to Clarence “Jah C” Fruster, one of the names synonymous with the venue, to reflect on Southpaw’s decade of dynamite.
In 2002, what was the genesis of Southpaw?
When Mikey Palms & Matty Roff purchased a 99 cent store and converted it into a venue with a vision for music and nightlife in New York City. That was unparalleled at the time.
How different were the shows when Southpaw first opened compared to now?
The Rub was always at the core of the club’s monthly calendar, from start to finish, so when you hear people speak of the venue not having hip-hop roots, they are full of shit. The Rub held it down and helped pay the bills, every month.
Aside from that the booking skewed towards legendary rock, country, soul and hip hop acts. Then, it grew to be able to break indie rock bands, as well as some Americana. In the last 5 years, emerging hip-hop and more urban musics took hold through the changes in the neighborhood necessitating that shift, as well as my booking as a result of ownership believing in my abilities.
One of Southpaw’s most celebrated features is how it would bring in many classic hip-hop artists who seldom get the chance to rock proper shows in the city. Who was the first old school artist you brought in?
The first old school act I ever booked was CL Smooth, but that was when the owners of Southpaw bought Galapagos and asked me to take my smaller works and expand it into a monthly at Public Assembly, which it was renamed as. When I took on larger shows at Southpaw the first old school act I booked was Nice N Smooth.
Does any particular show or moment stand out that first made you realize Southpaw was something special?
When I first attended The Rub, prior to my working there, Justin “Kray” Cox of Southpaw, Nuk Fam, & EVR’s Chances With Wolves would invite me out and I’d come and have the time of my life, affordably and safely, without pretension.
My mind was blown.
What’s your favorite show that you’ve seen at Southpaw?
I love way too many musics to be able to answer that properly. My answer to that changes daily. Just to throw some out there I’d have to say Kendrick Lamar’s New York headline Debut and The Menahan Street Band
One thing I’ve always loved about Southpaw is the look and feel of the venue. The posters of previous shows and record sleeves on the wall really emphasized how special music is. Where did the idea for this layout come from?
I have no idea honestly. Kevin Omen, my former bandmate and the stage manager at Southpaw for 6+ years would put up posters and line the green room walls with the bands set lists. The records on the wall and much of the artistic “salvaged” design comes from the venue’s original manager who ran the place for the owners for some 8-9 years, Kenan “Kool Kear” Juska of EVR’s Chances With Wolves.
With Southpaw closing its doors, what made you decide on the final artists for the go home?
The closing event was a mix of people who reached out to me, it came together rather organically and we pulled together a versatile pool of talent from various corners of hip hop with very little time or notice. The closing was abrupt with about three weeks notice for everyone on the staff, which was crushing.
There were a mix of artists who were always supporting my work at the club, always requesting to play, some who were mainstays & some who I had wanted to book and needed to get up there. Talking with Jessica Estevez of iHeartdilla and Justin “The Company Man” Hunte, my co-hosts/partners on the event, made the decision very simple. That was the one song event.
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