The son of Louisiana blues player and club owner Tabby Thomas, King
- he added the surname in the early '90s - grew up jamming with
stars like Buddy Guy and Slim Harpo. He absorbed all the
traditional blues techniques, but knew from his teen years that he
wasn't interested in being a Muddy Waters knockoff. "My friends and
I were more likely to listen to Rick James than Skip James," he
By 1993, after releasing a couple of fairly traditional blues
albums, King was ready to chart his own course with a record called
21st Century Blues ... From Da Hood, peppered with hip-hop beats
and King's rapping. But King's record label, Warner Brothers,
balked upon hearing the demos. According to King, the music was
seen as "ghettocentric," a charge that baffled the singer.
"I told them this is the blues that people are experiencing now,"
he says. "It's not the sharecropping and cotton-picking and Jim
After a sojourn in Europe, King finally got 21st Century Blues
recorded, but the incident left him disenchanted with music
industry "gatekeepers" who define and categorize music that, King
believes, they don't understand. "A lot of young African-Americans
get pushed away from the genre because they don't dress
appropriately for the gatekeepers," complains King. "They say you
can't bring that turntable, you can't have braided hair and baggy
pants. That's not the blues, they say."
King believes that if the blues is to remain a living art, the
music must reflect its culture. He points to a song on his newest
CD, Dirty South Hip-Hop Blues, called "9-11 Interlude."
"If the music doesn't reflect the culture it comes out of, it
becomes useless," says King. "I mean, when cars and telegrams were
new, people wrote songs about that. But if you mention the Internet
in a blues song, some people say, 'Hey, that's not the blues.'
Well, what do you mean? If I'm trying to e-mail my woman and she
won't e-mail me back, that's the blues."