Alternate Route: Phillip Rollins's OffBeat
With a new location - 109 North State Street - and space to welcome even more customers, Offbeat's Phillip Rollins - DJ Young Venom - looks back on the last eight years and the hopeful future of Mississippi's only Black-owned record and comic book store.
The idea for Offbeat was born from Rollins' invitation to be a part of the Mississippi Black Leadership Institute (MBLI), which inspires, connects, and uplifts forward-thinking black professionals across multiple disciplines. "At the time, I worked at the ACLU as a Youth Justice Organizer, and all of my classmates [at the Institute] were doctors, lawyers, councilmen, and so on. I walk in, and they're like, 'Oh yeah, you're a DJ,'" Rollins laughs.
At the close of the Institute, members were tasked with creating a product that positively impacted the community. Whereas most of his peers went on to run for public office or start a practice, Phillip wanted his contribution to be more hands-on. To him, there wasn't a much better or more diverse gathering space than a local book and record shop that also acted as an art gallery for emerging minority artists.
"At the time, I was going to a lot of places in Fondren and around Jackson, and I was noticing the fact that we have two HBCUs, and our city is 80 percent black, but there's hardly any black artists' work on the walls," Rollins said. "That was one of the driving forces behind OffBeat because I wanted to make sure that these people had an outlet to showcase and sell."
Rollins recalls his childhood years growing up in the larger Jackson area and Madison County and the cultural and musical influence of his godparents, particularly his godfather.
"My godfather was big into music and taught me where samples came from," Rollins said. "My grandmother listened to the Blues, but no one in my family was listening to jazz. Once I was a teenager and college student, I wanted to listen to that and alternative rock and hip-hop. Those sounds are what inspired my work as a DJ, which was mostly self-taught. It was also one of the major catalysts behind Offbeat, where there could be one collective space to find all of those genres and more."
His other passions - sketching and drawing - motivated him to pursue a career in graphic design. However, Rollins attributes growing up in the South to stricter standards of what constitutes a viable trade. "I grew up hearing I'd be a starving artist," Rollins said. "I think that goes back to our culture in this part of the world; your parents wanting you to thrive, and not viewing art as a thing that allows for that. Ever since OffBeat's beginnings, I've wanted it to help other creatives sell and showcase their work and show that you can find success in being an artist."
At Offbeat, Rollins is broadening what constitutes art in the world of alternative culture, from vinyl and artwork to clothing, comics, Japanese toys, model builds, games, and more.
"At one point, some of the only places you could get this kind of work would be in cities like New York, L.A., and Miami. I wanted to see if I could bring some of those things down here and inspire people, and also display our local talent," Rollins said.
"[Jackson] is a blank canvas. We can create anything we're missing." Rollins
Rollins points out the Bearbrick (rendered Be@rbrick) figures on display, which are collectible toys designed and produced by the Japanese company, MediCom Toy Incorporated. This so-called child’s play stands at the intersection of art, fashion, and innovation, featuring colorful designs from the likes of Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, David Bowie, and more.
"In other states, those are in museums, and we carry them right here in Jackson for sale," Rollins said. "It's getting the public exposed to all of these things, and showing that everything in this shop can be a form of art to be appreciated. Someone had to draw, paint, design, screen print, or storyboard to come up with these concepts. And that's a powerful thing."
Rollins is quick to point out that Jackson gets knocked for lack of this or that, but a deeper look reveals what the city does have.
"A customer might come in looking for a certain thing, but be inspired to check out something new on the way out. We have so many talented artists here, and I hear all the time how Jackson has nothing 'cool' to do. It's not that - it's a blank canvas. We can create anything we're missing."
To keep up with Offbeat's artist meet-and-greets, store events, and merchandise, check out their website and social media.
Phillip’s Top Spots In Jackson
Mississippi Museum of Art - "I would say the Mississippi Museum of Art is very underappreciated. They've got some really good exhibits and installations that people definitely need to check out."
The Eudora Welty House & Gardens - "I think everyone needs to go see her house, at least once. There's also a cool coffee spot over there while you check things out."
Eddie & Rubye's Snack Bar - "It's a little hole-in-the-wall takeout spot right by Jackson State University. Their Catfish and Pantrout Fridays are always packed. You're going to go there and get a plate full of fish and fries. It's amazing."