by Tony D'Souza
Big time, old school hip hop headlines a weekend of top tier rap acts with 8Ball & MJG and Bun B at the Ambassador in North County this Saturday night (6 p.m., $25-$40). Yo Gotti and his I Got That Sack tour is at the Ambassador on Friday (6 p.m., $35-$75), and Yung Joc is at Posh late on Saturday (11 p.m., free).
8Ball & MJG and Bun B is the fourth huge show put on this year by St. Louis-based party, nightclub, and concert promoter Jonathan Burns, through his company JBPresents. The Ambassador offers one of the largest spaces in town; Burns has repeatedly packed it, bringing in famous acts such as Young Jeezy, Rick Ross--recently named MTV's 2012 Hottest MC in the Game--and T.I., through his connections to Young Money Entertainment, Def Jam, and Grand Hustle Records.
Best known for their collaboration with the Academy Award-winning Three 6 Mafia on 2005's Stay Fly, Memphis-based 8Ball & MJG's platinum career has spanned twenty years. Today's generation of young rappers grew up on their music; Bad Boy Records says, "8 Ball and MJG are to down South what Biggie was to New York and what Tupac was to the West Coast." Houston's Bun B, formerly of UGK (UnderGround Kingz) with the late Pimp C, has worked with everyone, and released his third solo album in 2010, receiving a 5 Mic 'Classic' rating from The Source.
RFT Music caught up last week with JBPresents' Jonathan Burns at swank Club 360, atop the Hilton-Ballpark, to talk about his career as a promoter and the big acts he's been bringing to St. Louis. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Tony D'Souza: The names you've been pulling to The Ambassador this year have been incredible. You're a young guy (35). How did you get started?
Jonathan Burns: I grew up in the Central West End, graduated from Clayton High School, and studied biology and chemistry at UMSL. In high school, I started throwing house parties with DJ Cut and charging $2 or $3; I made a little money. I went to Atlanta and saw all the pro teams, the music, the clubs like the Velvet Room and The Compound. I took the MCAT and got into SLU to study medicine, but...(laughing).
Then you opened a club. Over the past ten years, you've owned or promoted The Living Room, Plush, Society, Envy, most of them to instant success. What have you learned about running a club in St. Louis?
In Atlanta, I saw a guy running a club making $1,000,000 in one night; 5000 people in one room with no fights. St. Louis is not Atlanta; we live in a very violent city. You know what happens when you get a whole bunch of people together with liquor and life issues. I'm a security freak, I don't want anybody hurt. Security can make or break you. It takes teamwork with police.
Is that why you've tried to keep some of your clubs upscale?
If I was to open a new club downtown, I would make it totally upscale, a dress code to the T, 30 years old and older. It's hard. At Plush (since closed, and no relation to the current Plush on Locust), we were real 'bourgie.' But how do you tell a guy spending $5000, $10,000 that he can't wear what he wants? You relax your dress code and your club becomes very urban. Once your crowd shifts, that's who you have to ride with.
Your recent shows at The Ambassador have been drawing buzz. Backstage at T.I., people were saying Nelly was going to show, Jermaine Dupri was going to show--even though they weren't on the bill. Were you happy with how that one went off?
Nelly got sick. They said Jermaine Dupri was coming. T.I. could have done more songs. The artist is so funny acting these days. I try not to piss them off (smiling).
Jeezy, Rick Ross, T.I., you're bringing in some of the hottest acts today. Why 8Ball & MJG and Bun B?
I've done 8Ball like a hundred times. I love the music; I grew up listening to it. UGK, I love them, too. This is a personal concert for me, outside of the mainstream, going back to my roots.
Are you still going to be featuring local hip hop talent before the big names take the stage?
I've got JB Music Group; a pop girl, a couple rappers. Those guys are going to be opening. If I can get a reality show and go to different cities filming stuff, I can get them signed.
Good luck, JB! See you at the show.