Marc Cabrera has nothing better to do than watch a lot of movies and television, and listen to a lot of music. Luckily, he has a job that pays him to blog about local and national arts, entertainment and pop culture. He can be reached at email@example.com.
One thing about hip-hop shows in Santa Cruz: there's bound to be tons of white college kids in the crowd (yeah, I said it). There's just no getting around it.
Thursday night was no different, as the Cali Comm Tour rolled into SC at the Catalyst. Lotsa Brads, Todds and Brittney's in the building. And that's not a bad thing, because everyone brought a genuine energy which lifted the half-full venue on a Thursday night (the small attendance was perhaps due to the fact that it was the third hip-hop show in as many days, following visits by Damien Marley and The GZA/DJ Muggs, respectfully).
The tour itself is a special treat for west coast underground heads, i.e. fellow hip-hop nerds, who are unmoved by mainstream radio rap and seek a more refine brand of hip-hop. This is the alternative hip-hop culture, where MC's like the Legends, Acey Alone and some guys called One Block Radius (a band I've never heard) get a chance to shine.
I missed the first act (those One Block Radius guys), but got there in time to catch Milpitas-born DJ Peanut Butter Wolf. Ridiculous name aside, Wolf is actually one of the more forward-thinking businessmen in the game. His label, Stones Throw Records, has put out some of the best hip-hop material of the past decade. Oh, and he can spin his a-- off too!
Wolf played a bunch of g-funk and gangsta classics, mixed with new school boom-bap to appeal to the nerds. He also brought out one of his MC's, a guy whose name I couldn't remember (forgot my notebook on this one), but got the crowd going with some old school call and response. Wolf gave shout outs to George Bush and Pee Wee Herman, which was awkward and almost off-setting, but his show rocked regardless.
Acey Alone came up next. A member of the legendary Freestyle Fellowship and Project Blowed crews, I've seen this cat about a dozen times over the past 10 years, no joke. Every time he brings something unique. This night, he rapped with no DJ (a first for me), just a laptop that was programmed by one of his hype-men.
The crowd did its best to rock along to songs like "I'm a B-Boy" and "Sidelines," and Ace-One kept them enthralled for the most part. However, sloppy song cueing and crappy mic levels prevented everyone from dumbing-out completely. His set was still a nice respite from anything on BET's 106 and Park countdown (except that 3-6 Mafia song, "Stay Fly," that's number three right now).
But the night clearly belonged to the Living Legends, a veteran crew that is more than 10 years in the game yet still tours harder than your average punk rock outfit.
I remember seeing these guys hustling on the Telegraph Ave. in Berkley in like 1995, selling copies of their 'zine, "Unsigned and Hella Broke," and hosting showcases in the dingiest of dive bars in Oakland. Now, they're touring the world and riling up all the skater and stoner kids in SC.
Six of the group's eight members showed up: Grouch, Luckiam.PSC, Sunspot Jonz, Bicasso, Aesop and Scarub. The other group members, Eligh and Murs, were nowhere in sight. Still, the ones who made the trek gave it their all, and displayed wicked showmanship to boot.
Aesop dressed up like a french mime complete with black top hat and matching jacket. Bicasso, the resident artist, painted live artwork during the show and spit like a certified gangsta. Grouch, the crew's token caucasion, got the most love during his solo songs, which the melanin-deprived audience mouthed word-for-word.
The other cool thing about these guys is that they have a huge catalogue of material that translates real well on stage. I couldn't recognize half the songs, but I still nodded along for most of the night. And the ones I did recognize banged with added depth.
The tour was a chance for true believers of hip-hop culture to unite and share their love. It was also a chance to celebrate west coast's talented underground scene.
And regardless of the crowd make-up, everyone in the house represented Cali love to the fullest. I can't be mad at that.