Evan Nabavian once found the Yeti.
Memphis rap rewards diggers. Look past the canonical works of Three 6 Mafia and 8Ball & MJG and you’ll find troves of inadequately catalogued Juicy J and DJ Paul tapes. You’ll meet Memphis godfather Kingpin Skinny Pimp and his Gimisum Family. You’ll encounter Lady Bee who online commenters believe was just Skinny Pimp pitch-shifting his voice. And you might meet Lil Gin whose work is so obscure that his 1995 debut is often represented by the wrong title and cover online.
The Serpent’s Stepson does a lot considering it’s an independently released tape by a 14-year-old. Lil Gin raps with preternatural technical skill, comfortably metering syllables across flows. It’s not hard to imagine him shaming rappers ten years his senior after school. Juicy J, DJ Paul, and south Memphis’ MVP produced the tape, which has heist tales, pimp talk, paranoia, and “Shake Junt,” a strip club anthem for the ages. Readily available information about the tape and Lil Gin ends there, so I got in touch with him online and called him on a Sunday morning to learn more.
Gin has the unassuming air of someone whose music rarely, if ever, left his hometown. He hails from north Memphis’ Hurt Village and his Facebook photos show a small figure of around five feet. When he was twelve, he started rapping with Skinny Pimp, who parlayed the success of his early tapes into a club called Skinny’s Place and a record store called The Dungeon, according to a 2007 profile in The Commercial Appeal.
Gin met Skinny Pimp at Skinny’s club, which led to Gin recording his first song. “Me and a couple of my friends, we used to have this little rap group and whatnot. And we had went up there, and [Skinny] told us to come back. But they never did come back, so I’m the only one that came back up there. And that’s when we had did a song called ‘Glock in My Draws,’ me, him, and DJ Paul.” The track features a prepubescent Lil Gin counting money and jumping fences while an early DJ Paul beat rattles and menaces. “Glock in My Draws” appears on his Junts We Choke single, of which there is scant mention online.
Skinny Pimp coined the name Lil Gin. “It was supposed to be Lil Gin and Juice, a girl named Juice, but she ended up not being a rapper, though. She didn’t cut it, so it was just Lil Gin,” Gin said. Gin joined Skinny Pimp’s crew, Gimisum Family, alongside a young Yo Gotti, then going by Lil Yo. “He probably won’t admit it, but back in the day, a long time ago, I was rapping before him and Skinny’s the one who did [Gotti’s] first underground tape back in the day. A lot of people don’t know this.” He continued, “Gotti wanted to be like me as far as the rapping thing. This is a long time ago.”
Skinny Pimp opens The Serpent’s Stepson as narrator and announces Gin as “the youngest, hardest, rapper from Humes Junior High,” which counts Elvis as an alumni and where Gin used to sell his tapes in the hallway. Raps about sexual prowess and drug deals gone sour beggar belief coming from a middle-schooler. One would hope Gin wasn’t drinking cognac and brandishing shotguns at 14. Skinny acknowledges the act on “Once Again It’s Lil Gin” when he says, “The writer bring it to Lil Gin and Lil Gin bring it to you hoes.” Gin told me Skinny Pimp helped him write The Serpent’s Stepson.
The tape’s centerpiece strip club anthem apparently didn’t require exaggeration. “I came up with the song because back in the day when I was real young, I was the only one that ever got in the shake junt at twelve years old. That’s why on the song, I was like, ‘Tell them folks I’m a midget so I can get in the shake junt,’” he said. The experience isn’t strange to him in hindsight. “At that time, I felt like I was grown. I mean really grown, because I came from the projects. And my father had died, so I had been jumped off the porch.” When Gin was around eight, somebody killed his father. “Somebody robbed him and shot him in the stomach,” Gin said.
“Shake Junt” has more in common with Miami bass than Three 6 Mafia. It pulses with “Planet Rock” and Uncle Luke samples at a much faster clip than today’s Magic City anthems. Gin said skateboarders have claimed the song—there’s even a California skate shop with the name. The tape’s cover commonly found online with the Superfly artwork is a fake of unknown origin. The other highlight is “Midnight Hoez,” a Skinny Pimp solo track and a pimping manifesto. Skinny Pimp is restless and scathing. He distinguishes his pimp talk with a brutally efficient flow and the unsparing, vivid detail of a natural storyteller. “And it’s a true story,” said Gin.
Gin demurs on the violence toward women pervasive in Memphis rap. “In Memphis, we’re the home of the pimps and shit like that,” he said. “That’s just how it was as we were coming up. It’s not like that now. I’m not saying we were violent towards women or nothing like that, but the way we grew up, that’s how we saw it. That’s how it went down. We just called it like how we saw it.”
Today, Gin is 36 with a wife and four daughters and he has work besides music. He made two more albums, The Professional and Blockin My Shine and has another on the way. His old cohorts have since won Oscars and recorded with Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry. Gin has long since fallen out of touch with Juicy J, but he ran into DJ Paul at a video shoot in 2015 and you can watch the encounter on Facebook. Paul reacts like a teacher meeting an old student, “Lil Gin, what the hell? And he’s still little!”