When asked if he had already picked out his set prior to the March installment of his Grits & Biscuits party at Southpaw, DJ Square Biz–a.k.a. Maurice Slade–feigned incredulity. It was 10:15 p.m. Young women in heels trickled onto the dance floor, bobbing their heads and two-stepping with vodka drinks. Twenty-five with a full beard and wearing a retro Houston Rockets cap, Slade scanned the small crowd. His wide smile made him appear both amused and disturbed by the question. “Man, I hate when DJs be doing that,” he drawled, stepping back from his equipment as if he was about to deliver a sermon. The most fun parties, he said, are spontaneous, devoid of any master plan (although he does have suggestions for first-time attendees).
Grits started as the brainchild of Maurice Slade and his brother Alzo, along with business partner/friend Erika Lewis; collectively the trio is known as E.Z.Mo Breezy. Southern crunk music has never been shy about its ass-shaking imperative and neither have they. “We’re all, I think, trying to change the world,” Alzo Slade said of the people that come to Grits. “But there ain’t nothing wrong with shaking your ass at the same time.”
Last year, Alzo and Lewis were driving around when she suggested they throw a no-frills, college-style party with nothing but crunk music. An email was sent out: “For all of you folx who grew up in the South, went to school in the South, got kinfolx from the South, or just love the Dirty South Swag…..*July 31st* is your night!” Those who showed up at Southpaw received paper fans, like the ones used by worshipers at overheated church services. “People thought that was a marketing ploy,” Alzo Slade said. “We were, like, ‘No, it gets hot in here!’ ” Ploy or not, the party was a huge success, and thanks to word of mouth spreading quickly, a franchise was born.
By 11:45 p.m. that night in March, Southpaw was at capacity. More than a few people on the dancefloor were dripping with sweat–going hard in the paint, to use a Flockaism. Most had bought their tickets in advance, although others swarmed the door clamoring to get in, asking for a hookup.
From the way the party’s marketed (the May 7 party’s promotional flyer is a play on a Krispy Kreme coupon) to its allegiance to black southern folk culture to its young, attractive crowd, Grits has remained true to itself and its core audience while getting much bigger. But its move on Saturday to the cavernous Music Hall of Williamsburg raises an uncomfortable question: Will Grits lose its soupy, sweaty soul?
“We were very particular in the place wanted to move it to,” Maurice Slade explained. “Music Hall of Williamsburg still has that grimy feel. There’s no neon lights, no velvet ropes or anything. Really, it’s just a bigger Southpaw.”
A venue which, he admitted, was tough to leave. “It was kind of that family feel, you know? Not the just people that came but also the owners of the venue itself.”
In July, Grits & Biscuits celebrates its one-year anniversary. (“We got some tricks up our sleeve,” Maurice Slade said.) And while the party’s selling out, the people behind it are still getting the word out there; Maurice was hanging with friends in Fort Greene when he introduced himself to three twentysomething women. His two-minute party pitch, about as deft and unrehearsed as one of his sets, worked like a charm. If Grits accomplishes the same feat on Saturday, it’ll sell out again and again–but only in the literal sense.
Grits & Biscuits: A Dirty South Set takes place at the Music Hall of Williamsburg tomorrow, May 7, at 10 p.m.