Yesterday after work I stopped by Ugly Mike’s Records
, on 12th Street between Holy Cross Baptist Church and the Family Dollar. People prone to hang out in record stores here are probably plenty familiar with the Arkansas Record & CD Exchange and Been Around, but Ugly Mike’s occupied a different sort of role in its heyday, and I went wondering what exactly that role is today.
You may recognize the store as having once been a crucial component of the city’s hip-hop scene, both a gathering place and an open market. More recently, you may have seen the name on concert flyers or heard it on Power 92 as the spot where tickets to rap and r&b shows are sold. Walk into the store today, though, and you’ll be confronted by stacks of warped records, unused space and retail chaos—it’s like a brick and mortar music store from 2002 was frozen in time, with a film of dust covering just about everything for sale. I was pretty thrilled by the selection, but that’s only because I’ve been meaning to pick up a cassette copy of the first So So Def Bass All-Stars compilation
(from 1996); anybody wanting new music is essentially out of luck. A sign on the door reads, in black marker, "I AM WORKING UPSTAIRS, come and get me or halloo real LOUD."
Local artists once made a point to drop off copies of their new releases here, turning the “Local” CD rack into an index of the scene’s sense of community and collective identity, but this tradition apparently stopped years ago, and the "Local" rack now looks dire. “Nobody’s brought me any local stuff in a long time,” the store’s owner and sole other inhabitant, Mike, told me. “I guess nobody’s doing anything.” I offered that people might just be putting their mixtapes online these days, and Mike shook his head and said, “Whatever."
If you're looking for a semi well-known disco 12" or a Teddy Pendergrass greatest hits CD or a latter-day Geto Boys album, you'll find something to like here. And though prices are probably steeper than collectors would prefer, there are real opportunities to find strange and rare stuff—it's ideal for this in some ways, with forgotten Pen & Pixel
covers scattered among Gregory D and Nice & Smooth tapes. But this place deserves better, and it could be better. So please, local artists, take your new tape to Ugly Mike's. And maybe buy something while you're there.