Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Mic Check One-Two... Is This Thing On?

I am a self-styled hip-hop nerd. Please try to understand.

It goes back to third grade in Mrs. Villegas' class at Bardin School. The kids would gather at lunch and have breakdance competitions. One day I joined in, a 2-foot-tall pop-locker who shocked the lunchroom crowd with his joint-breaking moves.

That moment would be the portal to a universe of graffiti art and broken slang, of beats, vibes and life. I haven't looked back since.

And so, now, I'm a full-grown, socially conscious features writer who never got over my love affair with the boom-bap rhythms that originated in the 1970s Bronx neighborhoods in New York City. And that is what I will present to you fine readers every week in this blog, a mix of concert, performance, movie, DVD and CD reviews, both local and out of the area .

Now, not every entry will be about hip-hop. I will try to embrace all different aspects of pop culture, whether it's rocking out with the local indie punks and rockeros, or reviewing some funky spoken word show in the Bay Area. But please believe me when I say that it will all be filtered through my hip-hop pathos, with a little east Salinas homeboy twist.

I promise it will be a fun ride full of rhyme and reason (probably a lot more of the former than the latter). And every week, I'll do my best to keep you informed and entertained, as long as you all understand where I'm coming from.
And so, without further ado, I present to you my first review (hey, I oughta be a rapper or something...)

Searching for Free Love in hip-hop is about as far reaching as trying to find a shred of blue-state liberalism in country music.

Yup, it's that bad.

Still, when the love is there, it makes for interesting performance art. Particularly when the love children involved are Brooklyn MC's Mos Def and Talib Kweli, along with a special appearance by the unofficial pimp daddy of hip-hop free lovin’, Ghostface of the Wu-Tang Clan. The veteran rappers stormed the Catalyst nightclub in Santa Cruz as part of the "BreedLove Oddyssey" tour, a roughly 20-city excursion sponsored by Sony PlayStation.

The fact that the Santa Cruz show was taking place on Halloween night seemed to ensure that the crowd would be at its freak-daddy mojo-ist. Thus, it was up to the artists to set the mood, and for most of the night, love was indeed in the air.
Opening up with the old school soul jam "Sitting in the Park," Ghostface proclaimed his as "Soul Music for those of you that don't have any soul." That feeling wouldn't last long, however, as the Staten Island MC ripped into a frenzy of his more sinister cuts, including "Ice Cream" and "Run," the former performed with particular crassness aimed at the ladies.

Still, the lyricist dubbed "Pretty Tony" managed to keep it lovely later on. He charmed an army of females onto the stage to "shake that a--" for the poppy number "Cher Chez Le Ghost."

Talib Kweli came up next, dressed in a puse polo shirt that looked like it was a hand-me-down from Kanye West. Mixing old classics such as "Good to You" and "The Manifesto" with new material from his forthcoming album "Right About Now," Kweli found a comfortable balance between street knowledge and good vibes.

That balance peaked during his performance of the Just Blaze produced "Never Been In Love," when even the most hard-knock, doo-rag sporting homeboy was moved to sing the song's butter-soft chorus. But Kweli couldn't hold on to the moment, and quickly lost
momentum on his next song, The Beatles 'Elanore Rigsby'-sampling "Lonely People."
The Mighty Mos Def showed up to wild applause during his partner Kweli's signature song, "Get By." Sporting a green shirt that read "I am not a Rapper," Mos grabbed the mic and uttered, "I have nothing to prove" before the keys came on to his opening number, a numbing, rambling song he called "The Undeniable" that consisted of him singing (off-key) "Oh me, Oh myyyy" for close to five minutes.

The crowd was confounded, Mos was in the moment, and the "love" was so thick you could cut it with a shank.

For the rest of his set, Mos went back and forth between the party-going, freewheeling Brooklyn MC he started out as and the earthy, esoteric artist he has become.

One moment, he was singing a song with only one lyric that went, "There is a Way, No matter what they say;" the next he was teaming up with Kweli on such classic Black Star fare as "Respiration" and "Re:Definition."

Bringing it back to the night's theme, Mos was particularly quixotic while doing his most catchy song, "Ms. Fat Booty." Trailing off into the Gregory Isaac's song "If I Can't Have You," Mos the crooner surfaced, serenading the ladies with an incense-toned proposition. Later, the Black Star duo performed the sultry "Brown Skin Lady" for the mostly-white girl crowd. Despite the seeming inequity, the song still resonated.

Aside from the headliner's spasmatic approach, Mos and his cohorts managed to be captivating, if somewhat alienating, to the sold-out crowd. And while true love may be hard to find, the night proved it's an attainable goal in hip-hop terms, with a sexy groove to match.