How Artists Are Unapologetically Building Black Futures, Today

Sponsored: Urban Consulate sits down with Orange Mound Tower co-developer James Dukes to discuss building Black futures.

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.

Led by a visionary collective of artists from Unapologetic and Tone, this multi-acre site is no small undertaking. How are they making it happen?

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 of Orange Mound Tower

(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.”

Watch the full episode here.

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 and follow @UrbanConsulate.

Like what you’re reading? Get a browser notification whenever we post a new story. You’re signed-up for browser notifications of new stories. No longer want to be notified? Unsubscribe.

 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.

Tags: sponsoredmemphis

Next City App Never Miss A StoryDownload our app ×

You've reached your monthly limit of three free stories.

This is not a paywall. Become a free or sustaining member to continue reading.

  • Read unlimited stories each month
  • Our email newsletter
  • Webinars and ebooks in one click
  • Our Solutions of the Year magazine
  • Support solutions journalism and preserve access to all readers who work to liberate cities

Join 1067 other sustainers such as:

  • Jon in Cleveland, OH at $10/Month
  • Anonymous at $60/Year
  • F in El Cerrito, CA at $5/Month

Already a member? Log in here. U.S. donations are tax-deductible minus the value of thank-you gifts. Questions? Learn more about our membership options.

or pay by credit card:

All members are automatically signed-up to our email newsletter. You can unsubscribe with one-click at any time.

  • Donate $20 or $5/Month

    20th Anniversary Solutions of the Year magazine

has donated ! Thank you 🎉