Teflon Don puts in work to make rap career stick

By Mark Jordan
Posted May 28, 2010 at midnight

When local rapper Donald Askew, aka Teflon Don, was turned away from performing during the official Memphis In May festivities a few years back, the artist, as he has done for most of his career, took matters into his own hands.

“We started our own event, but we put a date on it to let people know it’s nothing doing with what they got going,” says Askew of last year’s Hard Rock Café event. “We packed the place out. I wasn’t really the headliner either. All my fans came and it looked like it was my main event, but it was really Taco & Da Mofos’ event. I was the co-promoter.”

Teflon Don, aka Donald Askew, earned notice on the strength of last year's 'God, the Government, the Game' album and the single 'M.E.M.P.H.I.S. Grizzlies.'

Tonight, Askew will host the second annual Hard Rock event, “Memphis In May 2010,” a showcase event produced by his own Soul Star Entertainment and featuring a roster of hot independent rap and R&B talents, including Askew’s cousins Big Face Mike and Da Ladie of the female rap collective Royal Hustlaz, underground veteran Tom Skeemask, and producer, singer and dancer Antonio Cooke, who is featured on Askew’s new single, “3 In the Morning.”

In addition to the music, Askew is teaming with TV personality Young Brink for a model talent search. Prospective models in the Top Notch Model 2010 contest should e-mail young_brink@hotmail.com for entry information.

“This showcase is about uniting the community and doing something real different,” says Askew, whose community outreach efforts also include an annual celebrity basketball tournament, “Heal The Hood,” which will be held June 12 at Ridgeway High School. “Most of these acts have really been working hard, and they deserve wider recognition.”

Meanwhile, Askew has more than earned his status as headliner of this year’s event. The Memphis native came to the rap game relatively late. At 18, he entered the U.S. Army and served three years plus another five in the Reserves. It was during his stint in the military that Askew began to write in earnest.

“When I was in Iraq, I got a chance to write lots of music,” says Askew, who saw combat in Tikrit and Baghdad among other places. “There were just a lot of things to jot down. It was a different lifestyle, a whole other scene. Whenever I had downtime, I jotted something down. I wrote every day.”

Besides giving him the time to write, Askew’s tour in Iraq shaped his artistic world view.

“It was a life-learning experience,” says Askew, who describes his hitch as “terrible.” “It teaches you to cherish the small things in life. One minute a person can be here and the next they’re gone. All that hatred and all that is below me now. People who follow me see I’ve got too much love for people. I try my best to help others.”

Back stateside, Askew broke into rap via a series of self-released albums and mixtapes. In 2008 he won a showcase competition sponsored by the website memphisrap.com. Then last year, he released God, the Government, the Game, an autobiographical album notable for its social commentary. The record earned Askew a nomination for Best Indie Rap Album of the Year at this year’s Southern Entertainment Awards.

Askew has since followed up with a more carefree single, “M.E.M.P.H.I.S. Grizzlies.” The ode to the city’s National Basketball Association franchise has become the team’s unofficial anthem, and this spring Askew performed the song live during a game at FedEx Forum.

The success of God, the Government, the Game and the Grizzlies song recently caught the attention of California-based manager Michael “Miami Mike” Sykes, manager of Soulja Boy, among others.

“(Askew) doesn’t use foul words, he’s a gentleman, and he’s very humble,” says Sykes, who is negotiating a management contract with Askew. “He is a grinder, and he tries very hard. I like artists that work hard and don’t sit back and wait on the manager to do everything.”

Besides “3 In the Morning,” Askew has already released another single from his follow-up to God, the Government, the Game, the Kurt Clayton-produced “Salt Shaker,” which is available for free on limewire.com. The new record, which Askew says is a more professional production, will be called 3 G, part 2.

“Since Part 1 did good, let’s keep going with it,” he says.

“Memphis In May 2010”

Featuring Teflon Don, Big Face Mike, Tom Skeemask, Royal Hustlaz, and Antonio Cooke. Begins at 9:30 p.m. today at Hard Rock Café, 315 Beale St. Admission: $5 at the door. For more information, visit Teflon Don on Facebook.com.

© 2010 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.