Friday, December 29, 2006

The Beat's 2006 Year-End Awards

Year-end awards time, second annual edition. The votes are all in, and the winners are:

I Done Came Up Award: Keak Da Sneak and Mistah FAB (tie)- Bay Area rap was all over the radio this year, thanks in large part to these guys. Keak came on strong in the first half, thanks to "Tell Me When to Go," with E-40. He got a good look nationally. FAB kept the momentum going in the second half with "Ghost Ride The Whip," which is still getting radio luv. All in all, the Yay Area's two strongest foot soldiers raised the hyphy flag and waved it proudly for the rest of the hip-hop nation to salute. Honorable Mention: Nas, Lupe Fiasco, Will.I.Am.

Biggest L Award: Tupac - This isn't a diss so much as a sigh of relief. I want to see Pac's legacy remain strong, but folks need to let him rest in peace, ie stop releasing 2Pac records! His latest album, "Pac's Life," did poor sales wise, and it was a thrown together compilation mixing his unreleased material with new production and lyrics from artists he might not have worked with in real life. It's time for Pac's spirit to be laid to rest, and for the music he released while he was alive to be celebrated. Honorable Mention: Lloyd Banks, Lil Jon, Fat Joe, Atlanta's hip-hop scene.

Best Local Artist: A Lee
- I've been singing her praises of late, but A Lee and her musical partner Jon Bo are the truf! Her album "The Channel" is a musical mural that would do Diego Rivera proud, with it's lush soundscapes and colorful blends. As a lyricist and singer, A Lee is pure fire. Here's hoping ya girl has a big 2007 in store. Honorable Mention: Lil Jordan, MC Lars, Wasted Noise.

Best song: "Lost Ones" Jay-Z - Am I biased? Your damn right. But nothing compares to this scorcher from Hov, produced by Dr. Dre. The production is instant classic material, but what takes it over the top is Jay's introspective lyrics, lamenting the loss of his best friends, his girl, and his nephew. It's the ultimate emo-hip-hop record, from the guy who can't leave rap alone because the game desparately needs him. Honorable Mention: Tell Me When To Go - E-40 w/Keak da Sneak; One Blood - The Game; Crazy - Gnarls Barkley; Long Time - The Roots; Hyphy Juice (remix)- Clyde Carson; What You Know - T.I.; I Gotcha - Lupe Fiasco

Next To Blow Award: Stat Quo and Bobby Creekwater of Shady Records

Best Verse: Black Thought of The Roots, "Clock With No Hands."

Best Show I Went To - Keak Da Sneak in Santa Cruz

Worst Show I Went To -Fatlip (formerly of The Pharcyde) in Santa Cruz

Best Music Movie - Dave Chapelle's Block Party

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Friday, December 22, 2006

My Top 10 Albums of the Year

I'll be brief: here's my gratuitous Top 10 albums list in this order:

1. The Roots - Game Theory: I'm biased up front - The Roots are my all-time favorite hip-hop band. They can do no wrong in my eyes. So "Game Theory," their debut on Def Jam Records, was probably going to be somewhere on is list regardless.
What makes it the best album of the year is the dark vibe throughout: there is not one sparkling radio single for miles. The lead single, "It Don't Feel Right" is so deeply involved in its paranoia that it threatens to suffocate the earth. For a band who has been doing it so well for more than a decade, this album is an artistic triumph. It's been nominated for rap album of the year Grammy. It deserves to win.

2. TI - King: T.I. earned the right to call himself the king of the south this year. He has the business savvy of a young Russell Simmons along with being one hell of a rapper. Not only that, but he his ear for beats and penchant for making word sounds rhyme (he makes rhyming "Nike" with "Lightening" sound like a genius work of aliteration). T.I. has cranked out no less than five singles out of this album, and he could work it for another two or three if he so chose. Call it king shit, because T.I. wears the crown.

3. J-Dilla - Donuts: Geez, how can I put the legendary Dilla at number 3? This genius reached a creative crescendo with an album orchestrated on a dime-store digital sampler, while he bravely fought for his own life in a Los Angeles hospital. "Donuts" isn't a typical hip-hop album: it's a sound collage of found rhythms and impossible breaks that weave into one another. Dilla didn't produce a record, he knitted a blanket to keep the world warm in the wake of his absence.

4. E-40 - My Ghetto Report Card: The nation wasn't ready for the hyphy movement, and rightfully so. It's not as formulaic as a snap dance or walk it out anthem. What 40-water did on this album was hint at the culture, whether it was the fascination with "Muscle Cars" or the anthemic rallying call to the "Yay Area." The entire album was way too long, but overall, the stand out songs overshadow any filler. And the skits were hilarious to boot!

5. Ghostface - Fishscale: A contender for album of the year that barely cracked the top 5! Ghostface would have gotten the top prize hands down any other year, but this was a pretty good year for hip-hop albums. All I can say is this: anyone who can get MF Doom and the entire Wu-Tang Clan together on a track is a brilliant artist.

6. Lupe Fiasco - Food and Liquor: Hip-hop is back, and even if Lupe didn't get a platinum plaque, he still had heads checking for him. I don't care if he flopped sales wise, the only reason he isn't number one on this list is because there were so many choices to choose from. I'll just put it like this: "Food and Liquor" takes the best elements of Mos Def's "Black on Both Sides" and Jay Z's "Vol. 2: Hard Knock Life" and mixes them together. Hotness.

7. Game - Doctor's Advocate: Alright, so I ate a little humble pie with this one. I didn't think Game could recover from being kicked out of G-Unit. But I got to admit, when he's on his namesake, he's a force. Extra props for the Just Blaze produced "Remedy," which outright jacks the beat from one of my favorite songs of all time, "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos."

8. Jay-Z - Kingdom Come: Quite possibly the most overhyped record of the year, but it was a necessary comeback for the king of hip-hop (don't front, Jay is that dude). The tracks with Just Blaze and Dr. Dre banged, as they were supposed to. Despite some radio-friendly filler (see collabos with Usher and Beyonce), songs like "Lost Ones" and "Minority Report" revealed a vulnerability 99 percent of today's MC's are afraid to reveal. Props for that alone.

9. Snoop Dogg - Blue Carpet Treatment: The West Coast Don stayed true blue to his Cali roots on this hefty release. Radio songs like "That's That S---" and "I Wanna Love You" became drive time staples in spite of their raunchy titles (check the CD for the real song titles). But more importantly, after Snoop's son mentioned to him that Cassidy had a better flow, pop's took it as a personal challenge. The result: Snoop's improved rhyme skills on full display, which is always a good thing.

10. DJ Heat: My Block - The Bay (Hosted by Sway): My choice for mixtape of the year. This CD featured all of the Bay Area slaps, slumpers and hyphy tracks that kept dance floors jam packed in the Yay this year. From Clyde Carson's "Hyphy Juice" to Too $hort's "Blow The Whistle," DJ Heat lived up to her namesake on this tape.

Honorable Mention: Nas - Hip-Hop Is Dead; Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury; Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere; Madlib - Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2; IceCube - Laugh Now, Cry Later ; Outkast - Idlewild

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

A.Lee Voted Most Likely To Save Hip-Hop, Class of '06

While most hip-hop album release parties are dog and pony shows, Seaside hip-hop soulstress A Lee's CD release party was truly a celebratory affair.

Held Friday night at Monterey Live in downtown Monterey, the club was at capacity, with folks getting turned away at the door. I was one of the unfortunate left in the brisk downtown chill, but after some patient chatter with the doorman, I got into the club midway through the band's set (next time I'll make sure to get my tickets well in advance).

By the time I got there, the crew was well into its jam, but there was still plenty to go. I didn't bring my notebook with me, so I couldn't get a proper set list, but what I saw was memorable enough.

The uptempo rhythm of the musicians, most notably the drummer and lead guitarist, complimented keyboardist/producer Jon Bo's fluid arrangements. It added a newfound bounce and depth to the recorded material, which is already pretty potent.

A Lee and her fellow MC kept the crowd captivated. A Lee gets more and more comfortable on stage every time I see her (not that she was ever uncomfortable, but there is progression in her presence). She even took time out to tell a joke involving Clint Eastwood and his fly whip. I thought it was pretty funny.

And of course, she blacked out on the mic all night, eliciting shreaks of "Seaside" and "We Love You, A Lee" in the same breath. This girl could go places if she gets the right guidance and connects. She's young ( just a biscuit over 21), talented and photogenic, which adds up to a hot product.

A. Lee's debut "The Channel," is easily the front-runner for local hip-hop album of the year. But calling it simply a hip-hop album is almost a disservice. There are tons of musical influences, from acid jazz to lounge to down tempo to even a little bit of trip-hop, and all are sometimes contained within the same track.

The title track knocks with a thick, fudge-pudge bass line, which lends itself to ALee's thick delivery. Hearing her spit on record, I sometimes mistake her for a conscious Brooklyn-bred word slinger, as opposed to a Seaside/Monterey artist. That's a very good thing.

Jon Bo's exquisite piano play fills in the gaps, making this a truly melodic excursion. The young virtuoso displayed his skills on the grand piano at the record release party, and you could imagine him in a bow tie and tails, getting his conceirto on at some symphony hall someday.

If nothing else, "The Channel" reveals A. Lee and her crew as being bigger than hip-hop. This is well timed, well-delivered musicianship with a social conscious. I've been calling it neo-soul in print, but that's too easy a label. A. Lee is food for the soul, and with any luck, she'll be feeding the masses in due time.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tonight in Monterey: Rubber Chicken Poetry is a Howl

Just got this e-mail from my boy Garland Thompson, host of the Rubber Chicken Poetry Slam:

Hey bro,
Just wanted to drop you a line and invite you down (Wednesday) nite. I'm doing a feature tribute to Ginsberg's "Howl" with Bill Minor and bassist Heath Proskin (the Suborbitals) over at the Rubber Chicken. I'm attaching a pdf of the poster for you to dig.

Hope you can make it!


Tonight, Garland will host the slam as a tribute to Alan Ginsberg's "Howl." Ginsberg's poem is one of those legendary scrolls that every college poetry professor inflicts on first-year creative writing students. It's long and loud and rambling.

The story of the poem goes something like this: Ginsberg debuted it one night in San Francisco, during a performance event where Jack Keroac ran around the crowd serving everyone wine and the best poets on the east and west coast converged for a huge meeting of the minds."The Six Gallery reading" took place on October 7, 1955.

Ginsberg's opening line, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness," cemented his legacy as a beat poet and prophet. Tonight, my boy Garland will recreate this momentous piece with musical back-up.

Tonight's reading takes place at East Village Cafe (formerly Morgan's Coffee and Tea), 498 Washington street (on the corner of Abrego St. and Washington) downtown Monterey. Cost is $5. Hope to see you there.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Decade Later, Ozomatli Still Sounds As Good As The First Time I Saw Them

As far as first time concert experiences go, none can quite match the first time I saw Ozomatli live.

The Los Angeles 8-piece band (or is it 10?) are my generation's War and Malo: a continuation of Chicano funk funnelled through hip-hop, salsa, cumbia and any number of musical styles they might pick up that day before the gig (this week it's middle eastern).

The first time I saw them live was in 1997, at a tiny bar in Sacramento. I also happened to be performing with my teatro troupe for the first time that night.

At that point, they were unknown (to me at least), but they brought the noise like a warrior's symphony. Then-DJ Cut Chemist masterfully mixed DJ scratching with straight-forward cumbia. Rapper Chali 2na (who would go on, along with Chemist, to further his fame as a member of Jurassic 5) spit baritone heat.

The horn section had the soul of a Motown review, while band leaders Wil Dog and Raul Pacheco orchestrated the chaos. I was immediately converted.

In time, I would run into the band at various gigs, even so far as to be invited on stage to spit a verse or two. I would talk the band up every chance I got, telling whoever would listen to check out their show.

All of these memories flooded back to me Friday night, as I went to watch the band almost 10 years after seeing them for the first time.

Playing a gig at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, Ozomatli simply brought the noise like they always have and always will.

I got to the gig late and regretfully missed openers Crown City Rockers (shame on me!). As I got in, I recognized the familiar thump, the salsa grooves grating against James Brown drums and funky horns. I ran through the sold-out crowd to get as close as possible, and saw the band on stage, commanding the crowd, jamming out at full blast. The audience ate up every morsel.

Standards like "Cumbia," "Feo," and "Como Vez" got the crowd jumping up and down. The latter two songs came as the big finish, a mega-mix that featured CCR keyboardist Kat joining in the fun.

A Spanish ballad by Pacheco also served as a big number, the type of arena rock, lighter-flicking tune that any great rock band a has in their arsenal.

As I stood watching the band from the upstairs balcony, my mind bounced back and forth between my first experience with them and now. I have literally seen them more than a dozen times, along with hundreds of other live concerts, since that first time. All through this, I have never quite had a moment that matched that first Ozomatli show.

Perhaps it was the music itself, which to me was a revelation - who knew back then that a band could so effortlessly mix traditional Mexicano and Latino rhythms with hip-hop boom bap?

Plus, the added treat of watching a band that I knew was bound to blow up was gravy. I felt like I had discovered a grand treasure first. Over the years, I've watched the group progress, switching members, switching sounds, winning Grammys, showing up in movies ("Never Been Kissed") and television shows ("Sex and the City").

Not to mention the added bragging rights of having performed with the band. It's enough to make me feel like I know some celebrities.

So Friday night's show was a re-visit with some old friends, not a concert review. If you haven'd done so already, go check out Ozomatli next time they come to town. The first time is always the best.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Freak-A-Leak Vol. 3.0: The X-Mas List

It's the holidays, which means record labels are pushing their big records for the shopping season. Already, we've seen albums from Jay-Z, The Game, Clipse, Shady Records, Snoop Dogg and Fat Joe.

But there are still some albums that are set to drop in the next few weeks. To build a buzz, they've been leaked to the music-downloading public, so record labels can gauge listener reaction. That's how the industry works nowadays.

Here are some quick reviews of four albums that leaked in the last week and-a-half.

Nas - Hip-Hop Is Dead: I've only listened to three-fourths of the album, but judging from what I've listened to so far, it's a banger.
Nas is fully confident for the first time in a long time, holding back nothing. The album's concept, the artistic death of hip-hop music, is prevalent throughout. Songs like the title track and the ensuing song "Who Killed It?" take no prisoners, indicting the record labels, artists and fans who have turned their back on the music's roots.
"Carry on the Tradition" is a rallying mantra for the true meaning of the music, while "Where Are They Now" name checks rappers of old, from K-Solo to Oaktown 357 (!), asking what happened to the old school artists who first brought to life hip-hop's soul.
I fast-forwarded to the final track, an acapella joint called "Hope." The song brings it all back with a somber spirituality, saying that there is hope yet for the music. With this album, Nas has proven that he is a big part of that hope.

Ghostface - More Fish: It's strange to me that Ghostface would release a second album in the same calendar year (He released "Fishscale" in the spring). Even more strange that it would appear to be mostly outtakes from the first album. An album of leftovers, if you will.
But "More Fish" has some tasty leftovers, and a more appropriate title might have been "Cold Pizza." Ghost sticks with a lot of the same producers he messed with on "Fishscale" - MF Doom, JDilla, Pete Rock. Those are considered underground elite.
Songs like "Alex" bang with the old soul grooves that have made Ghostface the most relevant and celebrated Wu-Tang Clan member. "Josephine" is another soul song that tells the sad, tragic tale of a young female crack addict.
Ghostface has always been a soulful, personable artist, and he flexes those muscles once again on "More Fish."

Mos Def - Tru3 Magic: I'm not sure if this is the official album, as it has two mixtape joints. "Dollar Day" was released last year in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a song in which Mos implores every person on planet earth to donate a dollar to the victims of the hurricane. "Crime and Medicine" jacks the old GZA song "Liquid Swords," with Mos singing the hook.
The entire album is filled with Mos singing and rapping. His voice is interesting enough to go back and forth and pull it off over 14 songs. His Brooklyn accent and low tenor carry a low-fi, almost indy rock sensibility.
It's the musical accompaniment that keeps the pace movinging. When he's not rapping over sonic thump on songs like "A Ha," he's crooning over '70s acid funk like "Sun, Moon, Stars" and "There Is A Way."
The latter is a song I've seen him perform twice over the past year. Hearing it in recorded form adds a smooth sophistication to the mix, with it's simple lyrics becoming a complicated chorus. This guy still has the magic touch, as far as I'm concerned.

Young Jeezy - The Inspiration: Thug Motivation 102: Of all the leaks, this one was possibly the most disappointing.
Jeezy is capable of monster singles, and he has a few on this album ("Mr. 15, "I Luv It" and "J.E.E.Z.Y." are dramatic, soulful ear grabbers). But Jeezy doesn't challenge the listener, sticking with the same ad-libs and vocal stylings that made his first disc a smash hit.
Jeezy manages to bring in a few up and coming producers that bring out the best in him, but his hired guns end up shooting blanks. The song with super producer Timbaland ("3 A.M.") sounds like a Missy Elliott throwaway track, and the collaboration doesn't work.
The lazy "I Got Money," featuring T.I. and Kanye West, is a tired concept that sounds pasted together.
When Jeezy has it, he has it, but this album is lacking the depth of his street classic debut.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Wasted Noise Defeats Darth Vader To Win Rock Wars

Friday night's Rock Wars at Club Octane in Monterey was a coming out party for Salinas band "Wasted Noise."

The thick crowd of 100-plus was literally there just to see them. This was evidenced by the mass exodus once the band played its final note. There were also the loud chants of "Wasted Noise!" leading up to the performance, and the emergence of a band homeboy on stage rallying the crowd in anticipation of the set.

Wherever they go, these guys bring their own party, that's for sure.

Of course, they won the contest, with a whopping 122 votes. I don't have the numbers for any of the other acts competing, but I doubt it was close.

Their set was a high-impact, guitar-skanking rush of garage punk/ska, the type practiced in an auto shop garage (where the band rehearses). The horn stabs and rapid fire rhythms got the crowd wildin' out. A definite adrenaline rush.

Girls danced along furiously to the irresistable beat, perhaps none more so than the mother of lead singer Milo. She gushed with pride while two-stepping on a dance block in the back of the crowd.

It's hard to pinpoint just one attribute that has helped boost band's profile since I first saw them rock out more than a year ago, but one obvious factor could be the band member arrangement. The band previously had a lead singer/drummer, a weird front man situation that didn't last.

The personnel switch over the past year has included the ascension of Milo from percussionist to darling front man (with his stylish hats and neck-ties); a new drummer who maintains the band's aggressive pace; and a two-horn section comprised of members from another popular Salinas band, Dubwize (what up Moni!).

I've been keeping tabs on the band over the past few months. I was extremely impressed when I caught a suprise one-off show in the fall at the Fish House in downtown Salinas (the band was playing at a birthday party).

Talking to bassist Hankie Macias, a long-time friend and a very distant relative (he's my cousin's distant cousin, which in Mexican culture makes him a compadre or something), I could tell that the band was on the verge of a breakthrough. Their work ethic and devotion was bound to payoff.

They may have found it on Friday.

Their myspace page ( was full of well wishers comments after the show. Milo sent out a thank you to everyone who attended. You could tell the band is loving every minute of it.

Battle of the bands events function as a popularity contest. Friday, Wasted Noise showed they have their own built-in audience and they know how to rock it. It'll be fun to see what the next year has in store for them.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Can Rev. Jesse Jackson Stop the N-Word?

So the big story last week was the videotaped blow-up of Kosmo Kramer, aka Michael Richards, using the uber offensive n-word (mind you, with an -er at the end, rather than the somehow more socially acceptable -a suffix).

Mainstream media jumped on the story, and Richards immediately appologized. As part of his image readjustment campaign, Richards set up meetings with Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson to ease the tension.

Richards tirade brought about renewed interest to the issue of use of the n-word, and when, if at all, it is appropriate. Shortly after meeting with Richards, Jackson held a press conference asking for entertainers to end their usage of the word. Among those on board were comedian Paul Mooney, who was a co-writer of Richard Pryor's famous comedy album "Bicentennial N-----"

So the next question is, who is going to take the weight? Can the word be banished from hip-hop at all?

In hip-hop, use of the n-word is as ubiquitous as an 808 bass drum or dj scratch. Thousands of song titles and album skits have included the word, and one of the genre's groundbreaking acts, N.W.A., appropriated the word into its band name. The word has been used as both a form of empowerment and a deregatory comment, depending on who you're talking to.

The most telling, and possibly heinous, outcome of the word's association with hip-hop is the free-usage it has achieved amongst non-blacks. The first time I heard a non-black person use the word was on a rap record, on the self-titled debut from Cypress Hill. The lead rappers in the group, B-Real and Sen Dog, are both of Cuban descent. Both used the n-word several times in different songs, and soon thereafter the word was being thrown out all over the place (at least from my vantage point).

I have always had a weird relationship with the word. As a fan of hip-hop music, it's hard not to use when I'm singing along to the lyrics of my favorite songs (I am not one to try and change lyrics even if I'm just singing to myself).

I am embarrassed to admit that there was a short period in my life when I felt comfortable with it's usage among my friends, black and non-black, during my late teens. But I grew out of that, and I can honestly say the word has been eliminated from my vocabulary for quite some time now. I just think it's an ugly word that no one should use, especially non-blacks.

At the same time, it's hard not to recognize the simple fact that it is a word inherent in American culture, good or bad. Private school kids use it. Surfer guys use it. Kosmo Kramer (ab)used it.

I really hopr Rev. Jackson gets this thingkick started, but he needs the right messengers. Mooney was good, but how about Dave Chappelle getting up and saying he won't use the n-word (and just as importantly, the b-word) in his routine.

Or what about rappers like Jay-Z or Snoop Dogg? (Snoop tried doing something like this, replacing the n-word with nephew, a few albums back, but he's since abondoned his stance). They might be the right leaders for this type of movement.

The only way to make a real change is to get folks at the top to admit that it is a bad thing. They have to begin by admitting that the word's usage has gotten out of hand, as well as into the wrong ones.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Zion I and The Grouch Save The Universe, Rock Out at CSUMB

Zion I and The Grouch would seem to be an appropriate pairing. Both have roots in the Bay Area (Zion was born there, while Grouch is an LA transplant who got his break in Oakland). Both are pretty tall in person (which I think is kind of essential for most good MC's) and both have garnered pretty decent reps as underground rap stalwarts.

So when Zion talked about working with Grouch during his interview with The Beat, I was excited. But watching them last night at CSU-Monterey Bay's University Ballroom, I got a weird sense that the chemistry these guys would seem to have on paper hasn't exactly transferred to the stage.

Now, there were a number of pros and cons to the Wednesday night show: a live crowd was definitely in effect, and both MC's stalked the stage with a workman-like presence that hinted at their wealth of experience. The pair entered the stage to massive applause, easing through a pair of tracks that had a "one-two" chant in the chorus. Really solid stuff, kind of what you'd expect, and the crowd ate it up.

But in watching the show, I got the sense that these guys haven't necessarily developed a rapport on stage. Not that they didn't rock the crowd, but their combined energy didn't match up, it wasn't cohesive enough. Case in point: during the four songs or so following the intro, both MC's seemed to divide the stage in half and stick to the side of the stage they had manned. Rarely did they interact with one another enough to make it look like a completely united front.

That may be due in part to the freshness of the collaboration. The pair have not been performing together as a unit long enough, and this was most evident when they each performed their solo material.

The crowd jumped up in a frenzy when Zion I went into "Bird's Eye View," and got even more rowdy when Grouch busted out "Simple Man." Those two singles were easily recognized by the audience and served as almost comfort food, a way to stay the crowd. I especially loved Zion's rendition of "The Bay," which got the crowd jumping like Kriss Kross (hip-hop crowds do not jump enough at shows these days).

Another obstacle was the venue, which is basically a humongous meeting hall with nice carpeting. The space was good given the crowd size (between 200-300 by my own estimation), but it's so cavernous you can't really connect with the performers. When music performances are held in the ballroom, I get a sense that I'm at a high school dance, not a live show.

The opening acts were all solid. I caught the tail end of Rubicon's set, but I'm determined to catch these guys on their own for a proper review. M7 was on point, delivering straight-forward lyrics about revolution and Chicanismo. A.Lee was a revelation, rocking a large crowd with the verve and style. Living Legends producer/lyricist Bicasso rounded out the opening acts, getting the crowd hype for the main event.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Zion I, Grouch, M7, ALee and Rubicon at CSUMB tonight!

I missed the Lady Sovereign show in SF last night (I was too tired to make the trek to the bay, my bad). But there is a backup plan.

Tonight at the CSU-Monterey Bay Unversity Center Ballroom, Zion I and Grouch will perform a hot show. Doors open at 8 p.m., admission is $7.50. For more information, checkout this flyer.

Zion I and Grouch, two of my favorite emcees, are performing in support of their new album, Heroes in the City of Dope. You can get all the info at their myspace page,

And not to be outdone, my folks A.Lee and M7 will be performing as the opening act. I've also heard good things about Rubicon, although I have yet to see them perform live. All in all, it should be a good show.

Full concert review in The Beat tommorrow. I promise.

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Republicans Lose House, Congress Same Week The Beat Turns 1 Y.O. (concidence?)

So, last week the Demos demolished the Repubs in a true display of voter power, symbolically ending the Bush administration's stranglehold on national politics and turning George Dubya into a very lame-duck chief commanding officer.

Not a bad way to pre-celebrate one year of hip-hop blogging for The Beat.

This week marks the first anniversary of The Beat. But it's not about politics or the hope of a better America that has driven me to dutifully churn out 70 posts during the past 12 months. The Beat started out as a cool idea by my editorial superiors, hungry to bring in a young demographic that will, supposedly, stick around to check out what else my newspaper is covering.

However, I took it as an opportunity to provide left-of-center coverage to local and national stories involving urban pop culture, particularly where hip-hop music was concerned. I've done so with concert reviews, trendspotting, Q&A's and general observation pieces. I'd like to think I've achieved some success in each of these endeavors, along with a modest net following (since we started keeping track of blog traffic in May, The Beat has averaged 700-900 hits a month).

Sure, I've come out the side of my neck with a of my statements - I dissed The Game to my undoing, mistaken one Marley brother for another - but that's the way the blogging game goes. On top of the corrections, I've been called a racist and told that I have no idea what I'm talking about, albeit by people who were probably racists themselves and had no idea what they were talking about.

All of that is cool and the gang, because I'm not afraid to admit my mistakes and, more importantly, I'm not afraid to go out on a limb and speak my mind. To borrow a quote from one exiled opinion personality, former KNBR radio host Larry Krueger, "I'm often wrong, but seldom in doubt."

In taking stock of the good, I realize there's been plenty to go around: my trendspotting on local hip-hop groups and Web sites has led to cover articles in rival publications (it's all good if you use my blog to get story ideas, just make sure you spell it C-A-B-R-E-R-A); I've managed to do interviews with several artists whom I respect and admire (M-1 of Dead Prez, Zion of Zion I and Aesop Rock come to mind) and I've gotten to see a ton of free shows! But I'm not bragging.

So, as 2006 comes to a close and 2007 veers on the horizon, I will make a sophomore year campaign promise to continue my honest coverage of urban culture, be it local, national or international.

This next year I hope to include even more coverage of local artists, but y'all have to help me out on this one. If you know of anyone out there looking for a show review or who has a new album, hit me up.

I hope my hit numbers can increase, so again, I'll need your support. Tell a friend about The Beat, and let everybody in on the action.

Who knows, if we play our cards right, we may get The Beat elected to the Oval Office by 2012.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Game has proven me wrong, and I'll be the first to admit it

I was so ready to write the guy off, but I was probably wrong. Almost certainly.

Looks like The Game will win this rap race after all.

Earlier in the year, I made allusions to the fact that the Compton rapper's career was over, caput, fin del mundo. After being blackballed by 50 Cent and ignored by Dr. Dre, the Game seemed like a young prize fighter whose time had flashed before him with one unseen left hook. It wasn't a pretty sight.

But somehow, someway, Game has managed to offset the hatred by delivering an album that critics are hailing as the best in hip-hop this year. He's managed to sidestep the fact that he named his sophomore release, The Doctor's Advocate, after a man (Dr. Dre) who doesn't even appear in the album credits, outside of the obligatory liner note thank you's. And he has done it by going the old school route: a street-record posse track with a thick lineup of popular MC's.

I'm referring to the official remix of "One Blood," the album's lead single that not only wedged it's way onto pop radio and music video rotations, but has now become an unofficial street anthem.

But back to the remix. There's literally more than 20 MC's on the track. And the list is pretty incredible: TI, Snoop, Nas, The Clipse, Kurupt, E-40, Chamillionaire, Bun-B, Slim Thug, Juelz Santana, Lil Wayne, Jim Jones, Jadakiss and Styles P, Fat Joe. All contribute verses, and those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head.

Another 10 more rappers appear, with the show-stealer coming from none other than Ja Rule - yes, I said Ja Rule, the other dude whose career 50 Cent supposedly ended. And Ja comes through with a decent verse of his own.

All of the MC's come hard with their verses, and listening to the track, you get the sense it's an organized front against 50 Cent and G-Unit, although none of the MC's reference any direct beef. Still, with folks in the mix like Jada, Fat Joe and Nas, who have all openly beefed with G-Unit in the past, it's hard not to consider it as an attack.

Game bats fourth before surrenduring the track to the thick roster of MC's, and it's a good look. He lets everyone catch a little wreck, adding only a few "Remix, Remix" chants to let everyone know that it is indeed his track.

Of all the MC's on the song, I like The Clipse best, followed a close second by Jadakiss and Styles P (I'm biased to both of these guys, though, full disclosure). Rick Ross and Chamillionaire also check in with stellar 16's.

The song stretches out more than 10 minutes, almost unheard of in the formulaic, verse-hook-verse-hook song structure popular in modern hip-hop songs. And there's no real hook, save for the Sizzla vocal breakdown that was on the original song.

All in all, Game may have not only saved his career, but provided the first real threat to 50 Cent's rap takeover. The album has leaked and is already being bumped in a hood near you, but I'm going to wait until the release date to give it a spin. I'm pretty sure I'll be proven wrong about this guy's demise, once again.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

In Defense of the Features Department

Shots have been fired, as they often are in the territorial enclave of local journalism. Those folks at the MoCo Weakly are talking shit again.

This time, they're attacking one of my generales, Mr. Mac McDonald. Something about a trike-riding contest and racing helmets. Stuart Thornton thinks he can beat our GO! Editor.

Not so fast Stuey! (that could be his new nickname) Mac will most certainly prevail, and do so with class and style. In fact, I got five bucks on El General Mac. Who's in?

Yeah, that's what I thought. Gentlemen, start your trycicles! It's on!

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

K-Fed and Lady Sov voted Least Likely to Save Hip-Hop, Class of 2006

Perhaps it's an appropriate sign of the times that Lady Sovereign and Keven "K-Fed" Federline released their debut hip0hop albums on the same day.

Tuesday marked the release dates for K-Fed's "Playing With Fire" and Lady Sov's "Public Warning," almost 13 years to the date that another famous late October release date brought us the classic hip-hop albums "Midnight Mauraders" from A Tribe Called Quest and "Enter the 36 Chambers" from the Wu-Tang Clan.

That date seems like it was a hundred years ago, compared to the Tuesday releases.

Lady Sov and K-Fed are two sides of the same coin: both are rappers who come from foreign lands (Sov is from London, K-Fed from Fresno County), both have aliases that represent authority figures (Sovereign means chief of state in a monarchy, while Federline may be the first rapper ever to incorporate anything with "Fed" into their MC monikor), both are white but allow little to no reference to that fact in their respective music.

(Reading up on the two, I've been surprised by the amount of media coverage they've recieved. In fact, two stories on the news wire appeared today only one story apart, separated, appropriately, by a story on Keith Urban)

But that is where the comparisons end. Reading wire stories on both artists this week, I'm reminded of how times have changed, yet at the same time, almost nothing surprises me regarding hip hop anymore. The fact that these two will share shelf space in the hip-hop section at Best Buy is everlasting proof.
For those keeping score at home, Lady Sovereign was Jay-Z's big find, a London raptress who would appear to be the anti-Fergie. Sov is hyperactive, noisy, and possibly the rap rookie of the year. Her song "Love Me or Hate Me" shot to number one on TRL, and she's about to blow. Oh, and she's an indy rapper with some credible talent.
K-Fed, on the other hand, seems to have the talent of a man who has made a living getting other people to do stuff for him. He's been framed as the ultimate tailcoat rider, and the world's second-biggest kept man (behind only that guy from the AAMCO commercials who bagged Barbara Streisand).

While K-Fed may or may not possess actual rap skills (I only heard the leaked single "PopoaZao" and, not surprisingly, I was left quite unimpressed) he does have the wherewithal to hire people who do have credible rap skills. Namely, Bay Area rapper Ya Boy is among those who were enlisted to write K-Fed's rhymes. K-Fed also hired producer XL, who has worked on some of The Game's mixtapes and songs.

Ultimately, what this weird release date signals is that anyone who puts even the most minimal amount of effort into it can release a hip-hop CD. Sovereign is a cockney high school drop out who came up under UK grime and is now recording tracks with Missy Elliott; K-Fed just got lucky with the right teen pop queen and is now trading verses with some of Oakland's hyphy elite.

Maybe one day, when I release my rap album, I'll reach out and get Lady Sov and K-Fed together on a track. It'll be a remix to my first single, "Everybody and They Momma (or Famous Baby Daddy) Can Do This Rap Thang." Barbara Streisand's husband will produce the track, and Britney will make an uncredited appearance on the hook.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Beat Q & A: Xzibit

Hard to believe it's been 10 years since I first heard of Xzibit on the West Coast underground circuit.

Back then, he was regarded as an up and coming LA MC, down with Tha Alkaholiks crew. Gruff voiced with lyrics to go, his big hit was a song called "Papparrazzi." The video and song were an indictment of fake gangsta posers, and Xzibit took a strong stance against gangsta rappers in general, although he has since backed off of that a bit.

From those lean years as a West Coast backpacker MC to his discovery by Dr. Dre to his current gig as host of the popular MTV series "Pimp My Ride," Xzibit's career has taken numerous turns.

He has a new album out, dubbed "Full Circle." It's his first release under a new distribution deal he has with Koch Records, through his own record label "Open Bar Entertainment." His latest movie, "Grid Iron Gang," debuted at no. 1 in the box office, and new episodes of "Pimp My Ride" are airing on MTV. Xzibit is a full-fledged triple threat, musician, actor, TV host.

Mr. X-to-the-Z took some time to talk to "The Beat" in anticipation of his Wednesday night show at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz. He talked about the new album, his TV gig and the evolution of his career:

First off, thanks for talking to The Beat.
No, thank you. I appreciate it.

I've been a fan since way back, since the Paparazzi days.
Good looking, man.

Just going back to that time, it's been 10 years that you've been in the game
Yeah, a full decade.

That type of longevity in hip-hop is rare. I'm sure you cherish it.
Yeah, I relish it. It's been an amazing race (laughs).

First things first. The thing the readers want to know abut is “Pimp My Ride.” Can you comment on the success of that show and how long you plan on going with it?
Nobody could have told me that the show as going to be what it was. It was amazing to me that the shit I do on that show, people actually find funny (laughs). Because that's what I do around my house and talk to my friends about and what not.

This show came long after my music career started. It feels like a side of my personality that you don't get to see in my music and videos. And (the show) was kind of like that extra step forward as a natural progression in my career, because it's like I was introduced to broader, different audience, but in a whole different way. It just added a whole new dimension to what I'm already trying to do as an artist. It was an avenue that wasn't there for me that all of a sudden was there it, and it came out all over the place

How many seasons have you been doing the show?
This is our seventh season.

Seventh season? That's incredible.
It's (been so long) because we uploaded two seasons so we could (produce) my record and get it out and tour. So those seasons are debuting now. And we just started again to shoot new episodes for January, so I could go to Europe and tour for Full Circle.

That's cool that MTV allows you to do that.
Don't trip, they're making their money (laughs). That's why they're making it so convenient.

With the success of the show, you've reinvented your image. You were this underground MC, got the big break with Dr. Dre and Aftermath, and now you're the nice guy TV show host who does movies on the side. Does that force you to make any changes when you record? How do balance the two, your image as a rapper and your image as a popular TV show host?

That's the thing, because I'm still an underground rapper. Just because I'm more visible, does that mean that my views and opinions have to change as an artist? No.
I think images can be manipulated, images can be boosted, images can be torn down. First of all, my image has never been a fabrication. How I am as a man is how I am in the public. I have a television career, I have a music career and I have a movie career. They all can compliment each other, but they don't have to control each other. Because you see me on TV being able to relate to my fellow man does not mean I am not going to be the same artist that I was when I stepped into the studio 10 years ago.
You shouldn't look for Pimp My Ride in Full Circle and you shouldn't look for Full Circle in Grid Iron Gang. It's three different things. But I think that hip-hop has the stigma that you can only be one dimensional. It's like "Oh man, if you can make me laugh, than you ain't gonna bust no guns." I don't know (laughs) IIII don't know about that.

Was 8 Mile your acting debut?
My acting debut was in an old movie called The Mix. Me and Dub-C (WC from Westside Connection) robbed a liquor store. It's not one of my most shining moments.

8 mile was the one I remember you from.
Well let's start there then (laughs).

You've gone from that point to co-starring with The Rock in Grid Iron Gang. Is that something that you will pursue, being a working actor?
I would love to do more films, but there is a real lack of strong roles for black men in Hollywood. After coming off a film of “Grid Iron Gang's” magnitude, I don't want to jump into something like “Soul Plane 2” or some shit like that. I would rather wait until everything I'm working on sets the tone, so afterward we'll have a better way to pick something that has some girth to it.

What's next in the chamber as far as acting. When can folks expect to see you on the bigs screen?
Right now, I'm just really focused on the music. I haven't accepted any scripts. I'm pretty sure my film agent isn't happy about that (laughs). I'm an MC, man. I feel good. I just got on the (tour) bus and I've been doing what I have to do

Tell me about the new album and your new label situation. Is this the second album on Koch?
No, it's my first one.

Tell me about it.
It's my sixth album, but it's my first independent record. I own the masters. This is an imprint, because it was going through Open Bar Entertainment/Koch, who is doing the distribution.
It feels great. I had to put a lot of my own money where my mouth was in order to get the video done, in order to get the songs done the way I wanted them. But it's mine and why not? After 10 years of being in the industry and knowing the ups and downs, the pitfalls, having a fair amount of knowledge and experience with that, I think it's time to put that to work. That' where this album came from, knowing that the only way to get everything I want to get from this music and make it how I want to make it without no red tape or bullshit filters, that I had to do it this way.

It's a lesson for folks that want to get in the music biz. Sometimes you have to go a different route. Even established artists such as yourself have to switch it up as your career progresses.

Yeah, if you know, because I'll be damned if I sign an other artist deal. In 2006, you kidding? It took me forever to get out of the first one I got, and they held me to that shit like my life was written on a piece of paper. I'll never do that again, ever.

It's that deep?
Yeah, for real. But I hate when artists have trouble in their careers and they make it everybody's business. Like every problem they have in their life, they talk about it. The public isn't for that. The public wants to hear music. Of course, they want to be able to relate when you're going through your hardships. But, fuck, dude, it's like, my struggles , if it don't have to do directly with the crowd, I'm not going to involve the crowd. Too many rappers do it.

You haven't been back to Santa Cruz in a while?
Yeah, I'm coming out there to tear it down.

Anything to say to the locals?
Just come out, be prepared to hear a little bit of the old, a little bit of the new. And we're going to have some fun.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Heads Up, 7-UP: Upcoming local hip-hop/punk shows

I had these great plans to start out the week. I was going to interview Xzibit over the weekend and present it as a Q&A teaser for a large feature in Tuesday's paper. No dice.

Then, in the event I didn't get the Xzibit interview, I was going to transcribe an old Jeru Tha Damaja interview I had stockpiled for a rainy day. Of course, I never bothered to check the tape, and when I did, I found out it was an inaudible mess, where only my voice could be heard clearly. Strike two.

So, with no shows to review over the weekend, I will simply list a few upcoming shows this week, as a heads up. And hopefully Xzibit's people will call my people (no ride-pimping involved, sadly).

Wed. Oct. 25 - Para La Gente performs the first of several local shows in support of its ep release, "Hurricane America." Showtime: 9 p.m. E3 Playhouse, 435 Front St. & Cathcart, Downtown Santa Cruz , CA, Cost: Free.

Friday, Oct. 27 - Local rappers AK & Big Spank, Pezy, MIke Dolla and Philthy Rich take the stage at Planet Gemini in Monterey, part of a Halloween house party sponsored by International Music Group and Mix n' Spin Productions. Showtime: 9 p.m. Planet Gemini, 625 Cannery Row, Suite 301, MOnterey. Cost. $8.

Saturday, Oct. 28 - 10/28: Halloween costume party with Wasted Noise,Para La Gente + DJ Mitto. Prizes for best costumes so be sure to dress up. Tickets can be purchased at California Collision, 245 Front St., Salinas. Call 751-9131. Location: American Legion Post 593, 8300 Prunedale Road North in Prunedale . Cost: $10

And Rum & Rebellion has a trio of shows this weekend:

Friday, october 27, at the Gilman Street Project, 924 Gilman Street, Berekeley, with The Achievement, Trainwreck Riders, Genghis Khan. $5, all ages.

Saturday, October 28, at the Edinburgh Castle Pub, 950 Geary St., San Francisco, with Two
Gallants and Trainwreck Riders.

Sunday, October 29, 5 p.m., Thee Parkside, 1600 17th street, San Francisco. with Sunday Twang. Free afternoon show. all ages. about 5 p.m.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Method Man Performs Own Stunts, Rocks the Crowd in Santa Cruz

For a short period of time during the mid-90s, Method Man was the hottest thing going in New York City and, essentially, rap music in general.

This was around the time that he had released his debut album, "Tical," and was busy becoming the unlikely sex symbol and all-purpose darling of the Wu-Tang Clan. He had a solo deal with Def Jam and was in the midst of a highly creative and profitable collaborative venture with another east coast behemoth, Redman. Their partnership would garner, in order, an album, a stoner comedy and a failed television series.

But the Method Man of the mid-90s was an up and comer full of potential for greatness. To some, Method Man didn't fulfill that potential, whether it was a string of lackluster follow up releases (every album after "Tical" managed to be more lackluster than the previous release) or the overexposure (dude almost became a fixture on TRL, posing for pics with the likes of Britney Spears).

Or maybe it was the simple fact that for all of his gritty, underground leanings early on, Method Man always has been and likely always will be a pop star.

So I set up all of this to come to my point: pop star or underground MC who never lived up to the hype, Method Man is a bonafied performer. As he put it, no MC out today works harder to give the fans what they want, and he proved this Friday night in Santa Cruz.

Performing for a packed house at The Catalyst, Method Man was a shotgun blast of energy and charm, holding the crowd in the palm of his hand and then, literally, allowing them to do the same for him. He played his classic joints, he was flanked by OG members of the Wu-Tang Clan, he cooed for the ladies, and even hung from the rafters. It was an impressive, if not unexpected, display of showmanship.

Getting the crowd into it early, Meth performed his older songs first, with joints like "Method Man," "Ice Cream," and "Bring The Pain," getting the crowd early. It was a smart move on his part, as veteran artist with a deep catalogue, he can afford to take such a risk without worrying about running out of material.

But it wasn't just the song selection that got the crowd; the way he prowled around the stage, his voice still booming with the scratchy bellow of a chain-smoker since birth. When he busted out the song "What The Bloodclot," with its chamber music piano keys and distorted bass shifts, it wasn't just the song that got you hype, it was the way Method Man swayed back and forth with the mic in his hand, in the zone, breath control and gusto in tact.

He brought out his fellow clan members for a hype rendition of "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nothing to #$%! Wit." Inspektah Deck and Masta Killah ran through their verses, and dozens of Wu-Tang hand signs went into the air.

Meth played the crowd some new stuff that sounded decent enough. When he asked the crowd "How many of y'all bought my new album," a large roar ensued. Judging by the poor album's poor sales, most were either lying or had downloaded it illegally, in my estimation.

Then again, judging by the way the crowd screamed and cheered mightily during his set, I wouldn't be surprised if most indeed had purchased the disc. And in supporting Meth, the rapper kept to his word that he would give the energy right back.

Meth ran into the crowd and performed numerous times, sometimes standing, and other times while being held up during a stage dive. He's a big dude, more than six-feet tall, but the way he surfed on the crowd while rapping was quite a site.

Then, in one of the truly great scenes at the Catalyst this year, Meth ran up on the balcony area, set himself over the railing edge and rapped from the second floor! The crowd went nuts, while dozens of camera phones (mine included) went up into the air to grab a shot. I've never seen anything quite like it.

At the end of his set, Meth cued up the beat to "Tha Rockwiler," the Cypress Hill homage he recorded with Redman. Again in the crowd, he hoisted himself straight up, standing tall, legs stretched, arms to the air, hands displaying the Wu-Tang symbol. It was pretty awesome. The crowd held Meth in the palms of their hands.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Beef: The Series

It's been a slow news week locally( although I'm going to check out Method Man Friday night, so that should be interesting). I missed the local showcase held Wednesday night in Santa Cruz, which sucked because it's like the third time I've missed it. I even hit up AK on his myspace and messaged him that I would go, only to flake out (If you're reading this, I'm sorry AK. I just had some last minute work stuff that prevented me from going to see your show live).

And so there I was on Wednesday night, bored with some time to kill, when I decided to actually watch some TV. Wouldn't you know it: I managed to catch the new episode of "Beef: The Series" on BET.

For those of you who don't know, the "Beef: The Series" is an extension of the DVD series titled "Beef," produced by QD3, aka Quincy Jones III, the son of Quincy Jones. QD3 has made a career of producing LA rappers like IceCube and Warren G. He's also carved out a niche doing faux documentaries about high-profile street rappers. His DVD about 2Pac, subtitled "Thug Angel," got decent response from fans and the industry, enough for him to get the green light on the Beef series.

In the DVD, "Beef" dissects hip-hop feuds, from high-profile confrontations like 2Pac vs. Biggie to minor squabbles, like D-12 vs. Royce Tha 5-9. The series garnered some controversy when a segment on Eminem vs. Benzino was removed from the third DVD, reportedly because The Source Magazine's production company, which was indirectly owned by Benzino, had signed on as a producer. Couldn't have the boss the subject of the series, especially if it was in an unflattering light, or so the thinking goes.

Now, the television series is a weekly half-hour that focuses on rap feuds, although from all sorts of angles. Wednesday night's episode focused on three beefs: Dame Dash vs. Jay-Z, Kanye West and rappers vs. George Bush and Jacki-O vs. Foxy Brown.

Of the three segments, Jacki-O vs. Foxy Brown represented the only legitimate rapper vs. rapper beef. And it really wasn't much of a beef: to hear Jacki tell it, Foxy showed up at the Miami studio where Jacki was recording one night and started getting indignant. Jacki did what any self-respecting female rapper protecting her turf would do - she knocked Foxy out with the one hitter quitter.

There was one diss song recorded as a result: Jacki-O's "TKO" was another lights out knockout blow that took aim at the Brooklyn femcee Foxy Brown. My favorite line from that joint was something like "You get served back and forth like a tennis ball," or something like that. I never much cared for Jacki-O, a Miami rapper who I felt was trying to come off as a more sultry, sophisticated and vulgar version of another Miami rapper, Trina.

But Jacki's diss track, along with the fact that she didn't bow down to the veteran Foxy, were both signs of a killer instinct that I had no idea she possessed. I probably won't buy a Jacki-O album as a result, but I might turn up her song when I hear it on the radio.

The beef that seemed to possess the most curiosity was the Kanye vs. Bush segment, although it was presented as "Rappers vs. The president." And it only alluded to Kanye's "George Bush don't care about black people" statement in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, circa Sept. 2005; instead it showed a bunch interview clips with the likes of Talib Kweli, of dead prez, David Banner and even H-town Mexican MC Chingo Bling, who had a hilarious freestyle that ended with "Hey Kanye, Bush don't like Mexican's either!" Classic stuff.

The coolest footage was of Mos Def performing his song "Katrina Clap" in front of Radio City Music Hall at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards. The song is a dedication to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, sung over the beat to "Nolia Clap," by Juvenile's UTP crew.

Mos dedicated the song to the victims of Hurricane Katrina on the one-year anniversary of the storm. He performed unannounced on a flat-bed truck, and was later arrested for not having a permit. Nice guerrilla stunt, and it was a reminder that sometimes, hip-hop can be a form or protest art.

The Dame Dash vs. Jay-Z segment seemed cooked, strictly showing Dash's side of the story (in the producer's defense, it seems likely that Jigga wouldn't participate in such a segment given that he has repeatedly denied that there was any friction between him and his former partner in Roc-A-Fella records).

Dame comes off as a scorned partner in some parts, disbelieving friend in others. He doesn't outright diss Jay-Z, but seems more hurt and baffled. This whole segment made Jay seem like a single-minded opportunist working toward getting his own business pursuits off the ground and cutting his ace partner out of the action, which seems somewhat viable.

The only problem with that is it's hard to be sympathetic for Dame Dash, who in every other interview and print article, not to mention his failed BET series "Ultimate Hustler," comes off as a complete asshole. I won't feel any more sympathy for Dame Dash, who plays himself as a black Donald Trump-model, than I would for t he white Donald Trump. Business is business, so get over it already.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Aesop Rock: The Beat Q & A

A few months back, I had the chance to interview Aesop Rock, in anticipation of his Santa Cruz show in August. It was an interesting conversation, with Aesop sharing some of his personal thoughts; the recently married, 30-year-old rapper moved to the Bay Area this past year and is settling down into married life.
But he's still a beast on the mic, as evidenced by his Santa Cruz show, which was all gritty and chain-smoking cough underground hip-hop. Still, it was cool talking to a dude who sounds like your typical newlywed underground mc who just moved to a new town.
Here's an excerpt from the interview. Enjoy.

You ready to talk man?
I just woke up in time for it (laughs).

I appreciate that man. Thanks for taking the time to talk to The Beat.
Oh, of course. No problem.

Have you performed in Santa Cruz before?
No, I haven't. I've done San Diego, LA, San Francisco, but for some reason I never get to these other California cities. So this is my first time.

It's a different scene out there, more of a surfer vibe. It's cool, though.
Yeah, yeah, that's what I heard.

You moved out to the Bay Area in the last year or so.
That's true

Have you adjusted to that? How was the transition coming from the east coast?
It's pretty good so far. I lived in New York my whole life, so it's definitely a switch up. But so far, it's totally different.

What are the differences?
The weather for one. Right now, it's like 104 in New York, and I'd be fucking dying. It's just weird, like, different ways that people approach other people. It's hard to put into words. Things I never noticed when I was here because I was only out long enough for a show or something. But now that I've been here for along time, people just have a different attitude. It's not a better or a worse attitude, but it's just kind of funny how... when interactions go down it's completely different than they would in New York...

At this point I'm like, I could be kind of anywhere. I just do my work, have my wife and a few friends, that's all I need. When I was younger, I was running around in New York and taking advantage of the city and... I kind of don't do that anymore. Now, I'm just enjoying the weather.

It sounds like you're getting grown (laughs). Are you recording right now in the Bay?
Yep, we're just doing shows a couple times a month. But for the most part, we're just recording, trying to prepare a release for next year.

I wanted to ask you about this children's book with Jeremy Fish, can you break down how that came about?
The project, it's called "The Next Best Thing." Basically, me and Jeremy, and I don't know how familiar you are with his work, but I was familiar with his work before I got here. I own one of his prints. We both have friends in common. He contacted me. He was offered a chance to pitch a cartoon to a television network. He wanted to know if I would do the music and I said "fuck yeah." And then the cartoon went on the backburner, some of the people at the network left. But we just became friends and I was like "I'm moving to San Francisco in a week." I came out here and he was kind of the first person to show me around the city and we got to become pretty good friends. We started talking about other ways to collaborate, we were fans of each other.

The actual idea for the book was... we both feel that kind of like, musicians and visual artists never collaborate enough, or rather to an extent that's kind of cool. A lot of times when you're making a record, and it comes time for the art work, you work on the record for1- 2-3 years, however long it's taken and when it's time to come out you're like "Oh shit, I need some artwork." So by the time it comes out, at the last moment you just kind of whip something up.
We were just trying to go through ways that people in the past have combined art and music, and we brought it back to the 70s. How Disney was making the storybooks of like "Peter and the Dragon," and there would be a little book and in the back, it's a 7-inch record. You put on the record and you hear the sound effects to turn the page, the little seemed like the perfect marriage for visual art and making some music.

I'm not familiar with Jeremy's work, but I am familiar with yours, and the thought of an Aesop Rock children's book seems so off the wall.
The idea was taken from these Disney books that were children's books...It's not necessarily geared towards the youngest audience. We sort of put an adult take on these children's books.

So it's kind of tongue in cheek?
It's not tongue and cheek. It's the format of a children's' book, but the drawings in it are real cartoony. Jeremy's work has really, kind of cartoony elements to it, but it also has some evil elements to it. It will be skulls mixed with some kind of weird, cuddly, funny animals. It's got this funny give and take, when you look at it first it's like a children's book, but you look further into it its got some aspects that are not for kids. It's adult content and things that you wouldn't let your kids read.

What is the story about?
It's our version of... we're trying to sell a cure for creative block, writer's block. Or creative block if you're an artist and you can't think of something to draw (laughs). Like kind of a generalized thing, because we talked about it, sometimes we get writer's block and he said sometimes I do this and I said sometimes I do this, and it was this little kind of strange thing. It's hard to explain, but basically, it's our cure for writer's block.

Is there a central character?
Yeah, there's a central character, but he's unnamed. It's just kind of in the song, I'm saying "I", I'm saying "You." It just can be any person who's an artist or a musician who does something creative.

When you're collaborating with someone like that, where you're coming from music angle and Jeremy's coming from visual art angle, how do you go about doing that? Do you guys shoot ideas back and forth? How did that work?
That's actually one of the reasons I ended up being happier with this project than I thought I would be because it really was a collaboration. It wasn't like I gave him a song and he drew a song or he drew a bunch of pictures and I made a song for it. We came up with the idea, of course, through a couple of sitdowns, and I was like, "alright." I was going out to write four bars of the lines, or eight bars of the lines, something equal to maybe 2 pages of pictures. And then I would send them to him and say, "This is where I'm at right now," and he would say, "This is cool" and "Yeah, I like this," and he would start drawing based on that.
As I was writing my part I would kind of hand it off to him and go through the text, go through the lyrics with him. He would kind of direct things, and we definitely went back and forth over the course of the writing of this four-minute song or whatever. It was really like a true collaboration, as opposed to you doing your half and me doing my half, you know what I mean. We did consult with each other the whole way.

The new record, any ideas on the name of the album, what stuff you're hoping to address with the record?
I don't have a title, and all of the songs I have don't have the right titles on them. I have got seven or eight songs that are keepers at this point. I'm just trying to be really picky about what I keep.

There's a bunch of stories on it, like more story lines than I ever did. At the risk of sounding corny, it's a little reflective. Not reflective, but there's definitely stuff that takes place that's kind of a just fun shit I did in high school and junior high school, that kind of stuff. There is this song that's almost like a "Children's Story" kind of song. Just stuff that kind of is just about growing up from age 1 to age 30, where I am now. It's going to be different songs that have to do with every couple years of your life kind of thing.
There's definitely more stories. I was never battle oriented, but when I did my kind of battle shit, I did my version of battle. There's kind of less of that and more of my stories that paint a scene, or kind of doing "This is what the city was like"...Just different characters and things like that. I don't know, I'm just trying to get real visual and really kind of... Originally I was going to do all stories, but I decided I couldn't' do all stories...

Has the change of your environment and your move west been reflected in your music
I'm sure people will say it will, because this definitely doesn't sound like anything I've done. And there's probably stuff on there that does sound like stuff I've done. I think people will be like "He moved to California, that's why he made this song." But I don't know. I tend to think that everything changes all the time anyway...It's not like I'm coming out with some G-Funk record or something. Your environment reflects what you do.

Any dream collabos?
There are some(pauses) actually, not really. If I think somebody is like a hero to me, I probably wouldn't want to collaborate. I'd rather them just maintain a hero. Be a hero in my eyes, because it's all too often you take someone who's the illest or that you look up to and then you meet them and it turns out they're an asshole (laughs).
Collaborations for me is I like to go with people that I know. I try and pick people that everyone's familiar with. I obviously have heroes from the underground all the way up to the top. But I don't think that I'd ever be the guy that pulls Redman aside and pays him a few g's to kick a verse or something. I want him to just be a hero.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Boom Boom Kid at The Black Box Cabaret

I hosted the Boom Boom Kid show Thursday night at CSU-Monterey Bay. It was a total last minute thing, for a show whose headliner was not supposed to even be there (bureaucratic red tape prevented the university from advertising that Boom Boom Kid, on tour in the U.S. on a non-work visa, was performing on campus).

So it's weird that I'm writing this entry for a number of reasons: I was an active event participant, an automatic conflict of interest from an objective journalistic standpoint; I didn't take any notes, which prevented me from taking down set lists or quoting lyrics; and then there's the whole publicity gag order, which I don't even want to get into.

But Thursday night's show was noteworthy for a number of reasons: Boom Boom Kid is an Argentinian punk rock madman who has forged a solid bond with local bands like Los Dryheavers and La Plebe, whose former guitarist now fronts BBK's U.S. touring band. He opened a 30-plus city U.S. tour in Salinas, at punk rock haven La Perla Restaurant and
Thursday's show was the second of a long-winding thrash through Norte America.

In person, he is a bit bewildering: 5-foot-2 inches in heals, with a bleached mop of hair that may or may not be dreadlocks. Either way, you get the sense that dude just doesn't wash his hair. Yet there's something graceful about his presence, due in part to the easy going nature he seems to possess.

At the Black Box show, BBK was a mix of punk rawness and elaborate showman. He squealed and pranced without any sense of irony, yet managed to avoid coming off like an ass. And his music was exciting: he could pull off straight forward Spanish punk and then ease back into a thrashing Ritchi Valens cover (or at least I think it was Valens, I didn't take a notebook so I'm going off of memory).

But it was the theatrics that really did it. At one point, he busted out a boogie board, threw it into the crowd, then jumped on top while the gaggle of fans held him high, triumphantly. He struck a pose and held his balance. You couldn't help but cheer.

BBK brought with him an old 45-player, one of those portable ones that look like it's about a million years old. I joked that it was an "Argentinian iPod." He played dance music and salsa and punk; one of the record sleeves was for New Kids on the Block. Somehow, it all made sense.

Opening act Los Dryheavers kicked off their usual mix of blue-collar punk. These guys are serious working class punkeros, performing each song with the diligence of a unionized construction team. I've mentioned them in past blogs, but I will have to do a complete review of their shows sometime in the future. In the meantime, check out their myspace page at

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Woodpile: Racist or Radical?

Hip-hop just gets more and more strange.

Take this story from the LA Times. Rap Group Woodpile is an Arizona-based thug rap outfit who rep hard for the White Pride prison gang The Woods (short for peckerwoods). Woodpile consists of three white rappers, Diesoul Ether Bunny, Crisis and Critical.

I have never heard their music, so it's hard to say what they truly represent, but it just seems odd. The LA Times writer puts it:

The three burly, skin-headed members of the hip-hop group Woodpile want a bigger audience, but they know the odds are long.
They have no hope of cracking mainstream radio or MTV with songs like "They Hate Us" or "I'm a Wood," in which they rap menacingly about blasting enemies with shotguns. Further limiting their commercial prospects, their August album, "The Streets Will Never Be the Same," boasts of the group's affiliation with the Woods, a white power prison gang.

The band has since admonished some of the reporter's facts, saying the Woods, and in essence, Woodpile, are a "White Pride" outfit, not a white power group. They are not racist and, in fact, belong to a rap label owned by an African-American rap artist (more on that in a second).

In the story, the writer states that the group is in opposition to white power prison gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood and the Nazi Lowriders. On the group's myspacepage (, the group says they are indeed not against those groups, claiming "We're down for all the (pecker)woods." Say what?

And if the idea of a white pride rap group marketing to white prison gangs isn't enough to furrow your brow, here comes the kicker: the group is signed to West Coast Mafia Records, owned by Sacramento rap legend C-Bo, a black man.

C-Bo is riding hard for these guys, promoting them on his label's and personal myspace page, as well as performing a short list of tour dates with the group.

Now, I love C-Bo. His album "Tales From the Crypt" is one of those West Coast gangsta classics that anyone, from street thug to college frat boy, can appreciate. He's been in legal battles for writing rap lyrics, recorded music with the late great 2Pac, and helped Sacramento maintain a foothold in the West Coast rap market. But this is just crazy.

The group is marketing to prisoners, which is nothing new. Groups like Darkroom Familia and the rapper X-Raided have been doing this since the 1990s (in the case of X-Raided, he recorded music while locked up at Salinas Valley State Prison, a maximum security institution). And rappers with penitentiary credentials have been a hot commodity, from Mac Dre to Tony Yayo to Pimp C. Anticipating an artist's album upon his or her return from prison has become a marketing ploy unto itself.

It's just a bit odd to me that a respected rapper like C-Bo would go out on a limb to promote a group that could be mistaken as racial instigators, in this case the dangerous ground that the so-called "White Pride" movement these guys are promoting. I have no clue as to the racial politics the group or the gang represent, but it seems risky nonetheless.

Even though these guys are obviously not skinheads or rapping racist lyrics, how hard would it be for someone, say a young white kid uncertain about his own racial ideology, to jump to that sort of conclusion. Or worse, this violent music could become the anthem for racists who mistakenly take their music as white superiority pabulum. It's a risky endeavor either way.

Of course, I have to listen to the music before I draw any conclusions. And I'm convinced that C-Bo is a smart enough guy to consider all of this and in fact, use the controversy to his advantage. His marketing and promotional strategy have helped him become CEO of his own record company, with an office in Beverly Hills to boot. That's nothing to turn your nose at.

It will be interesting to see where this prison marketing campaign, and the group Woodpile itself, winds up. I hope C-Bo knows what he's doing.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Death of 2Pac: 10 Years Later

It's been 10 years since the murder of Tupac Amaru Shakur, the West Coast rap legend who was gunned down on the Las Vegas strip Sept. 7, 1996. He died six days later on Sept. 13, a violent end to a brilliantly flawed artist whose star seemed to loom larger in death than it did in life.

In fact, Tupac's death seemed to usher in a scary trend of the posthemous rap artist as marketing tool. While he was certainly a star in his own right while he was alive, his death lionized his legacy. Dead at 25, Tupac became a legend, and a profitable one at that.

Since his death, dozens of albums, most of them unauthorized, have been released under his name. The handful of official releases have routinely debuted in the top 10 album charts, and Tupac has wedged his way into the top 10 all-time profitable dead celebrities list (joining the likes of Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and Bob Marley). In his death, Tupac became the first official hip-hop icon, a brand name whose image along with his art has achieved broad mainstream public appeal.

At the same time, Tupac's death brought out possibly one of the worst practices in hip-hop marketing: the posthumous album. Albums released by dead rappers have become a cottage industry within itself, beginning with 2Pac's "Makaveli - Don Killumaniti: The 7 Day Theory," and then followed closely by The Notorious BIG, who was gunned down in March 1997, six months after Tupac's death.

Since those dark days in hip-hop, posthumous albums, street records, mixtapes and even collaborations amongst dead rappers post mortem, have been released. Big L, Big Pun, Mac Dre, Eazy-E and Souljah Slim have all had successful record releases in the afterlife.

In the song "We Gon Make It," New York MC Jadakiss sums it up by saying "You know dead rappers get better promotion." For all of Tupac's cryptic posturing on his last official release (Tupac's "Makaveli" album was played up as foreshadowing the rapper's own staged death), the album's success - it was a multi-platinum record - was due in large part to his recent killing. This gave record companies the misguided conception that murder was a form of "keeping it real," and dead artists could turn a profit.

Rappers now use this as a means of gaining public acceptance, notoriety and for the achievement of record sales. 50 Cent's much ado'd mantra of "I got shot 9 times" earned him 5-times platinum sales. Songs dedicated to dead homies (Puffy's "I'll Be Missing You") have become number one hits. In short, violent and unnatural death, and the allusion to it, have become a marketing scheme in rap music.

And it's silly to think that this only happens in hip-hop; Bob Marley was shot during heated social times in Kingstone, Jamaica, his wife Rita Marley took a bullet to the head; African musician Fela Kuti had his family murdered, his mother thrown from a second story window, by racist African police. Both artists achieved iconic status post mortem, although it was due in part to their pursuit of social justice and equality through music and political action.

But in hip-hop, 10 years after the death of its most controversial figure, it seems that little has been learned from Tupac's death. Just this year, Detroit MC Proof and Houston veteran Hawk were killed by gunfire. Busta Rhymes' bodyguard was murdered at a video shoot attended by dozens of rap artists. The cycle continues.

And likely, it will stay that way, until someone heeds the Tupac lyric "Damn a n#@$! tired of feeling sad/I'm tired of putting in work/I'm tired of cryin while watching my homies leave the earth."

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Win Tickets to meet and greet Teddy Geiger and Lifehouse

Teddy Geiger and Lifehouse are performing Sept. 29 in Monterey. To be honest, I know very little about either group.

But that doesn't mean I can't hook it up for Monterey County fans who want to meet the band in person.

That's why I'm holding a contest. School me on the finer aspects of each act. Tell me what makes them so good or , dare I say, great. And do it with brevity - 100 words or less. Your words could win you a chance to meet either Lifehouse or Teddy Geiger.

So, here's the deal: The Monterey County fan who can give me the best description of each act's work, in 100 words or less, wins a prize: two passes to the concert, along with a chance to meet and greet each act before the show.

All entries will be accepted by e-mail only. Send your entries to Contestants can enter as many times as they want, but only one prize will be awarded per contestant. Deadline is 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 26.

To whit:

Lifehouse is a multi platinum selling rock band, who have number one hits and a large following. I know almost nothing about them. Likewise, I'm pretty clueless about Teddy Geiger. I've been reading up on him, and from what I can tell, he's an up and comer who was featured on the short-lived CBS drama "Love Monkey." The show was cancelled by the television network, but briefly revived by VH1 (the cable network aired the entire first season).

Tell me what makes them great, and one lucky Lifehouse fan will get to take a friend to meet the band and watch them perform Sept. 29 at Monterey Fairgrounds (tickets are still available at, or the Fairgrounds box office, 372-5863). Likewise, one lucky Geiger fan who gives me the best short essay on why he is such a good performer wins two passes to the concert, along with a chance to meet the artist before the show.

Good luck, and may the best fan win. Visit "The Beat" for updates as the week progresses.

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Live: Rum & Rebellion's Last Salinas Show

There was a moment last week during Rum & Rebellion's show, when the Salinas cow-punk outfit let the crowd sing its songs for them.
Lead singer George Sanchez stepped away from the microphone and started singing to noone in particular, as the crowd picked up baton and started singing along. It was one of those moments when a band finds its stride with the crowd, a fleeting occurance when artists work becomes a rallying call.
Rum & Rebellion played, potentially, it's final show in Salinas on Friday night at La Perla Restaurant. I say potentially because while Sanchez is leaving the area, two of its other members, drummer Scott McDonald and bassist Mark, are staying put in the Salad Bowl.
And so, Friday night's show was attended by a small throng of die-hards, myself included, giving the band one last big send-off. Tight as ever, the trio ran through its set with workman-like efficiency. Sanchez name checked all of the local bands the group has shared bills with, including openers The Achievement.
The songs sounded crisp, especially so in a tricky venue like La Perla, where the sound bounces everywhere and unknowing bands can play ear-piercing sets if their amps are turned up too high.
And then there were the moments for the friends/fans. Towards the end, the band grooved through "This Sin," a bluesy-ballad of adultery that was recorded as a duet between Sanchez and his SF homegirl Sunny. Again, the group let the crowd take over, which by this point had circled around the band like a campfire sing-along. Some in the audience even attempted to hit the whistful high notes that Sunny effortlessly achieved on record (most to no avail, on the crowd's part). The band loved every second of it.
And so it was, a quiet ending to a curious era in Salinas cowpunk. Rum & Rebellion will play some dates next month in the SF Bay. There's talk of a record release, time-willing, in the distant future.
But for friends/fans of the band, there will always be the moments, like Friday, when everyone gets to sing along and just take stock of it all.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

'The Beat's' review of Idlewild

"Idlewild" is a movie for Outkast fans who will recognize every song and reference to their music within the film. But that doesn't mean it successfully translates the group's musical talent to the screen.
The movie is a beautifully rendered but sometimes poorly fleshed out adaptation of the duo's last album, "Speakerboxx/The Love Below." A double disc of solo offerings from group members Big Boi and Andre 3000, it was packaged as a group album even though each disc could have stood alone as a solo effort.
The movie takes elements and, in some cases, whole songs from the album and structures parts of the narrative around the song. The movie itself is about a fictional small town in Georgia called "Idlewild," where Rooster (Big Boi) runs a speakeasy called "Church." Rooster hires his childhood running mate Percy (Andre 3000) to play piano.
Rooster is a renaissance man of sorts, a bootlegger and club manager and ladies man who is the resident singing star at "Church." He's also a family man who can't quite keep his promises to his wife and five kids.
Percy, meanwhile, is the son of a mortician who is the opposite of Rooster. An introvert who isn't above throwing up while on stage, Percy wouldn't have much ground to stand on were it not for his homeboy Rooster.
Percy and Rooster make a great team onstage, with Percy writing the songs and Rooster taking the lead. Songs like "Bow Tie" and "Throw Your Neck Out" get great visual treatment from director Bryan Barber, who turns the rap songs into swinging prohibition-era dance numbers. Big Boi's music works well on screen.
Things get complicated when a goon named Trumpy takes over the club. Played with particular menace by Terance Howard, Trumpy keeps Rooster on edge, while Percy deals with a brooding father and his newfound love interest Angel.
The story stutters between music numbers and an uneven plot. Howard starts off great, but runs out of things to do by the middle of the movie. And Percy's character is bogged down with a bit too much pretense that takes too long to develop. By the time you figure out the reasons for his depression, you pretty much don't care.
In fact, it's Andre 3000's performance as a whole that kills the movie's momentum, surprising when you consider that Andre was supposed to be the character of the group. His turn as Percy is on the surface brooding, but so stilted that he's almost completely unengaging. His romance with Angel creates no real spark and the musical numbers are boring. It isn't until the end, when Percy does a big band routine, that you get any sense of life from Andre 3000.
In contrast, Big Boi carries the movie with both swagger and vulnerability. Although his pimp with a conscience routine falls short at times, it's not for lack of trying. Rooster is a fully realized character, and proves to be a better actor than his counterpart.
In all, Idlewild is a hit or miss at best. Visually, it's a stylistically stunning update of the musical set to a hip-hop groove. But that doesn't save it from being a clunker of a movie that doesn't live up to all of its, and the groups, promise.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Rock The Bells Festival with Wu-Tang Clan, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, De La Soul and Redman

I attended Sunday's Rock the Bells concert strictly for leisure purposes. I made no attempt to get press passes or set up artist interviews.

I wanted to enjoy the show without the hassle of bringing along a notepad and scribbling down every damm thing that I saw (honest, this show review gig is fun, but you look mad nerdy when you're in a dark club taking notes).

But the show was good. Damn good. Too good to pass up talking about in my little blog space.

For those of you that don't know, Rock The Bells festival has turned into an annual event in California, in it's fourth year. Hosted by Guerrilla Union, it has turned into one of the most exciting hip-hop festivals in the country. An all-day event, the artists on the lineup were some of myf avorites: De La Soul, Black Star, Wu-Tang Clan, Heiroglyphics, Zion-I, Redman.

I joked that they should have changed the name to "Marc The Bells."

So, since I didn't take any notes, I'll just filter through some of the highlights from my day. Next year, I will go ahead and hit up those publicists for a more in-depth look.

- We got to the show at 2 p.m. (four hours late) and left at approximately 9 p.m. (about a half-hour early). We still managed to see seven hours of non-stop music, which was pretty good for the $40 ticket price.

- Got to the venue in time to catch Immortal Technique, the Harlem rapper who reps for Latinos to the fullest. He was flanked by members of the Watsonville and So-Cal Brown Berets. It was pretty wild to see the Berets khaki'd up and passing out literature/fliers. Que Viva La Raza!

- De La came on stage and just absolutely wrecked it! I've seen them a few times before, but this time, they pulled out all of the stops. Brought out Dres from Black Sheep and Phife from A Tribe Called Quest (although I was looking around for Q-Tip. Oh well, I guess I'll have to track them down when they perform in Berkeley next month).
De La did this freeze tag thing at the end of their set. They performed the song "RocKokaine Flow" and at the part where the beat breaks down into a stuttered crescendo, they froze on stage in tune with the beat. They repeated this three times, each one building on the momentum of the last. It was some nice showmanship on their part.

- Living Legends came on and were just okay. Probably the only let down of the night (for me, at least). Murs rocked a nice live set to open up, but their music was just too slow. On a big stage like the Pavillion, you need extra-hype music. I give them props for doing their thing, but next year, they might want to shorten up their set by only doing portions of songs instead of running through the whole thing (their set dragged a bit due to some songs that lasted 4 or 5 minutes). They all looked good on stage together.

- Redman did a hyper active set, lots of funk tracks and Red just sounded great through the large sound system.

- Talib Kweli came out and got the crowd the loudest to that point. He brought Dave Chappelle out during his set. Chappelle grabbed the mic for a quick second and yelled "Hyphy, Bitches!" to uproarious laughter.
Kweli seemed to lose steam for the Black Star portion of his set. Joined by Mos Def, Kweli seemed reserved, almost holding back. He's on the road a lot, especially for a solo rapper, so I imagine he was trying to pace himself. It kind of took away from the Black Star set, but Mos made up for his partner's lax delivery.
Mos shined like a superstar. He played beats from his new album, titled "Tru3 Magic." He sang a lot, told everyone he wasn't doing interviews with hip-hop magazines or tv shows (he didn't give a reason as to why). He performed songs from both of his solo albums, and during "Ms. Fat Booty," he flipped from Gregory Isaac's "If I can't Have You," to a dubbed out rendition of "Bonita Applebum" back into his song. His DJ also did a nice break-beat set, mixing breaks from some of the artists of the night. Mos sang the Fat Lip verse from the Pharcyde's song "Passin' Me By." He ended his night with "Umi Says," which got everyone to singing.

- Wu-Tang finished up with a rowdy set, but had to deal with sound problems all night. Capadonna's mic was turned down for both of the songs he performed. Method Man got he crowd the most hype when he ran through the length of the floor seats. The gave a tribute to ODB, inviting his mom on stage. They followed this up with a raunchy version of Ghostface's "Cher Chez Le Ghost."
Ghost killed it, along with Raekwon, on songs like "Ice Cream" and "Incarcerated Scarfaces." There was only one real problem: The RZA was nowhere to be found. It wasn't a full clan reunion, but it'll have to do for this year.

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