Hilton Head Island rap duo Spritual Gangsters — Anthony “Baby Joker” Johnson and Quintin “Q. Smalls” Smalls — have been touring up and down the East Coast for the past two months performing tracks from their self-titled mixtape. In December, they’ll take their rhymes to New York, where they’ll continue to spread the message about what they see happening on their island — a vanishing Gullah culture, one they feel has been kicked to the side by town officials and developers.
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Theirs is the story of young artists trying to be seen and heard, looking for their big break. And their journey is a grassroots effort, one made possible because of financial support from their community.
But their supporters — such as Tai Scott — in the Gullah community see an opportunity for more: island-wide support of local artists with a message and a chance to showcase Hilton Head’s talent.
“This is the unseen part of Hilton Head,” Scott said Tuesday morning. “This is the dirt road. ... This is the oyster roast. People don’t get to embrace the Gullah side. Here’s an opportunity.”
Scott was standing in the Frosty Frog Cafe in Coligny Plaza on the island, watching Johnson and Smalls shoot a video for the joint, which features in a soon-to-be-released song from Johnson’s forthcoming album, “Jokers Wildin on Gullah Island.” The album will feature more Gullah-inspired tracks and couple them with the go-go sound — think Big Tony from Trouble Funk, Johnson says — found in Washington D.C.
Spiritual Gangsters’ supporters raised about $800 to help send them to that city, where they performed Nov. 9 at Red Lounge as part of the Cradle Records Single Release Party presented by the Next To Rise Tour. Their community raised about $1,000 to help send them to Raleigh a month earlier, Johnson said.
Smalls, 24, a Native Islander, and Johnson, 32 — who grew up in D.C. but whose family’s roots trace back to one of the island’s first families — paid for the trip to Atlanta themselves.
“Oh, man, it’s awesome,” Robert Singleton said Tuesday as he sat near Scott and watched the duo film the video for “Frosty Frog.”
“It feels so good to get it out there — what they’re speaking is very truthful,” Singleton continued. “And I hope they can change some things one day.”
Singleton said he’d donated to Spiritual Gangsters’ tour. Johnson and Smalls had come out in support of him as he and others challenged attempts to rezone his property on Bradley Circle. The land had been in his family for decades, and Singleton said rezoning it would diminish its value.
“Most of the Gullah, we get kicked around on the island, like we’re not here,” Singleton said. “The prices of the taxes run us off the island.”
Like Scott, Singleton has hopes for unity between Hilton Head’s Native Islanders and those who move and vacation here. But they want to see more opportunities — and less restriction — on Gullah business development. And they want to see the Gullah-Geechee culture highlighted more in the island’s tourism economy.
Scott sees that culture as an economic driver for the area. Supporting artists such as Spiritual Gangsters — who can tell a different story about Hilton Head — is a way for all islanders to stimulate interest in their home.
“The idea would be for other local businesses to see the potential here,” Scott said.
“You’ve got some local guys here who can put together the language — let’s get this!”