A landmark tower and factory, vacant for 20 years, in the historic Black neighborhood of Orange Mound in Memphis, is now getting a makeover — into an ambitious mixed-use development for Black art, entrepreneurship, retail, and housing. Even The New York Times took notice, featuring the project on the cover of its Business section.
In this new episode of Urban Consulate Confidential featuring Black city-builders across the U.S., host Orlando P. Bailey invites Orange Mound Tower co-developer James Dukes (aka IMAKEMADBEATS), CEO of Unapologetic, to sit down at The Cochrane House in Detroit for a candid cross-city conversation about their journey to convert this vision into reality.
Watch their conversation here:
“For me, the ultimate fail of this project would be if it only happens here,” says Dukes. “I knew what I could see in my community. I knew what I would hope would happen. I never thought it would be me doing it. But I feel like the more we can demystify this process, the more we inspire people in Black and brown neighborhoods across the country to do the same.”
Recognized as an “entrepreneurial unicorn” for his innovative approach to all things art and business, Dukes is a music producer, film composer, and founder of the Unapologetic company and label. Raised in Orange Mound, the oldest black neighborhood in the United States, he left home and landed at Manhattan’s legendary Quad Studios, where he became a go-to ghost producer, scoring for film and television, then went on to provide music for companies including NBC, ABC, HBO, DC Shoes, and artists including Talib Kweli, Solange Knowles, and Ludacris.
Upon returning home to Memphis, Dukes founded Unapologetic to “allow creatives of all kinds to represent themselves and their ideas unapologetically.” That work has landed him on billboards, international media and a TEDx stage — yet never losing sight of the collective.
(Rendering via Unapologetic)
Today, his dream is for his city to understand that it is “Black AF” and invest in opportunities for Black ownership and real estate development, in Orange Mound and beyond.
“For me, my version of success initially was getting out of poverty and doing the thing that I love. But eventually that turned into, ‘Yeah, but is this success if I can’t help others do the same?’”
“Best believe we’re taking the most notes ever.”
Urban Consulate brings people together to share ideas for more just and equitable communities. This episode of Urban Consulate Confidential was produced in partnership with Afrochine, The Cochrane House and Building Community Value. Made possible thanks to support from the Ford Foundation. To learn more, visit UrbanConsulate.com and follow @UrbanConsulate.
Urban Consulate brings people together to share ideas for better cities. Urban Consulate Confidential is presented with Next City and made possible by the Ford Foundation.