PEARL — If it’s a punch you need, Lawrence Harris can pack it. Musically, that is.
Harris, a.k.a., M.C. Low, a musician, radio deejay and former entertainment editor for The Clarion-Ledger, and his wife, Tomika Harris, opened Flava House, Rankin County’s first store and recording studio, earlier this month.
Musically, Low has been packing a punch since his Navy days, when he was half of a rap duo in Chicago with Ettionew Stuckey, a Clarksdale native, and a fellow Navy man. Referring to themselves as M.C. Low and Ed Nutt, the duo didn’t land a record deal, but it sparked a desire to make music, he said.
“I’ve always had an interest in not only making music, but producing music as well,” he said. “Anytime I saw a new innovation tied to music, I learned how it worked. When I was getting ready to open our recording studio, I watched other studios in big markets, like New York and Los Angeles. In the last couple of years, I bought a computer, the software and other equipment and played with it until I turned out a high-quality product. Then, I was ready to open for business.”
Tomika runs the record store that represents “all genres of music;” he runs the studio. Their seven-year old daughter and only child, Victoreea Harris, sometimes helps mom at the cash register. The family-run business, located in a 1,200 square foot facility, spins the kind of service not often found in larger chains. Want to hear a CD? Ask Tomika to pop one in the listening station.
The two met in 1990, when she was about to complete her duties with the Navy and he was en route to his next assignment.
“We exchanged phone numbers and a year later, I called her,” he said. “We stayed in touch writing letters and on a couple of leave days, I went to California to visit her and have been with her ever since.”
Tomika Harris, the daughter of a gospel singer and religious writer, grew up in California, spending much of time in the church. At the age of seven, she learned to play the piano. Soon after, she began leading the church choir. “I’ve always had a love for music. Always,” she said.
“The first time I saw him, Lawrence was coming out of a gym on the base,” she said. “One of my friends told me he rapped. Being interested with music, I wanted to rap, too. But it wasn’t just that. It was his looks — exotic looks — that took me. I told my best friend I didn’t know his name, but that I was going to marry him. She laughed at me then. We still laugh about it.”
In 1994, the couple moved to Mississippi, where his grandparents lived, so the two could attend Jackson State University, primarily for the school’s mass communications program, he said.
“In 1994, after we moved to Jackson, I made the rounds talking to night club owners and other popular deejays, trying to find work,” he said. “I hooked up with one guy, Michael Harris, who many people know as Deejay Mike Swifff. Mike saw potential in me, took me under his wing and plugged me into the underground music society in Jackson. He hosted weekend shows and asked me to help him. We did that together for two or three years until he had a chance to switch to a commercial radio station, which folded a couple of months later. He never went back to 90.1 so by default, I stayed on. I’ve been hosting ‘Saturday Afternoon Megamix’ from 1 to 4 p.m. since March 1994 on 90.1.”
To pay his rent in college, Harris worked as a deejay at wedding receptions, high school proms and military balls on weekends and weeknights.
“One thing I made sure to do in the record store was to sell vinyl,” he said, with a chuckle. “Some people think vinyl is gone, but it’s not. Most of the club deejays use vinyl for club music — rap and dance.”
For $35 an hour plus $25 for the finished product, Harris makes demos of local bands and singers in the studio. Many times, people bring him tracks made in other studios to record voices in his studio, he said.
“I’m one of few people in town that masters,” said Harris. “I work on songs that need a punch.”
Much of his work can be heard on the local airwaves, such as Mista Naked’s “Big Bodies,” commercials for musical artists and promotions for musical events coming to town. His own CD, titled “Mud Funk Vol. 1,” produced entirely in his studio, has been a hot seller in Mississippi. He’s working on “Mud Funk Vol. 2,” he said.
“We make music. If you come in humming a tune, my wife can pick up on it. Have a favorite song on old record or tape not in circulation? We put many on CDs for customers.”
So far, adding a business venture to the marriage has been a complementary mix, Tomika Harris said.
“When I married him, I married the music,” she said. “He has one advantage over everyone else. He puts his heart and soul into his music. He doesn’t just churn it out. That’s what keeps him a head above the rest.”
Open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday, Flava House is located at 505 Gulfline Road in Pearl.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1018.