Friday, March 31, 2006

Steel Pulse Live in Santa Cruz

Steel Pulse's Thursday night show in Santa Cruz was too short.

I'm not talking about the Oakland rapper. I'm talking about the fact that they were on for maybe an hour and a half, tops, and though they managed to make it a strong hour and a half, a legendary band such as theirs simply can't run through their extensive catalogue with that type of time constraint.

And I'm not complaining at all about their performance. These legends have the tools to take any reggae fan to school. And their following is so strong that everyone in the crowd seemed to sing along to every selection.

And for full disclosure, I did get to the show a bit late, and caught them right before they got into one of my all-time favorite songs, "Blues Dance Raid." So I missed them playing "Steppin' Out," (which, judging from past performances I've seen, is usually their opening number), "Your House," and the ultimate loss, "Worth His Weight in Gold."

Yes, I could kick myself, but for all I know, they might not have even played those songs.

Still, the chance to see Steel Pulse is always one worth taking. Hearing the familiar tune of a song as beautiful as "Ravers," with it's nonsensical lyrics (Whoops, upside ya head... Boogie to ze music..."), takes me back to when I first discovered reggae music as a wanna-be cholo at Alisal High School. Freshman year, when I fell in love with the irie rhythms that haunt me to this day oh so right.

And watching the band perform so effortlessly was just as inspiring. The lead singer had a dread so thick, it hung on his back like a sling of arrows. I swear, that thing was so lumbering that dude could have claimed it as a dependent on his taxes.

The aging keyboardist was just as cool, too. With streaks of grey in his shaggy beard, he still rocked a camouflage outfit and matching baseball cap, which covered a doo-rag. I asked my girl if I could be so cool as to pull off that look in my mid-50s. She said yes, but I think she was just being nice, because I know I'm not that cool.

And even though I may have missed some of my favorites (or maybe not) I still got to hear classics like "Chant a Psalm," which was performed semi-acoustic. The slower pace and timbale drums took the crowd to church, and I testified right along with them.

And the band got their politico on as well. Addressing the recent protests in response to harsh immigration reform across the nation, the lead singer challenged the government's definition of an "Illegal Immigrant."

"If that's the case, the entire damn population of America is illegal," he said. "Except the Native Americans..."

They ended the show with "Roller Skates," which was the song that introduced me to them as a youngster. And then they were gone before 11 p.m. And that one old reggae music promoter whose been at every single reggae concert I've ever been to in my life did everything but apologize to the crowd for the abrupt departure. Even the band looked somewhat confused about the short exit, but the rumor around the building was that the music had to be cut off at 11 p.m., per some sort of city ordinance.

Now, I know that performers always want to leave their audiences wanting more. But when the groove is that solid, it's almost a crime to cut it off so quickly. Life is too short to have to endure such disappointment.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Interview: M-1 of dead prez

I grew up in the era of Public Enemy.

In high school, when most everyone else was listening to bass music or oldies or freestyle, I bumped "Fear of a Black Planet" religiously, and wore t-shirts with the famous silhouette of a b-boy, arms crossed, standing defiantly in the eye of a sniper target.

That was my punk rock. That was my rebellion with a cause.

And that was 15 years ago, which in hip-hop, is almost like the dark ages. Today, rap music (or what passes for mainstream, at least) is nothing like the boot stomping, foot-to-the-rear-end-of-the-man razor's edge that PE represented. It's as if political rap never existed.

Luckily, folks like dead prez have not forgotten those times. And one half of the rap group, M-1, has taken it upon himself to make sure that the general public knows that political rap still exists. Thank goodness for that.

M-1 took some time to talk to "The Beat" after his tour stop Saturday night in Santa Cruz. Currently on tour with Ghostface, M-1 has an album out, "Confidential," that is available at your local record store. Cop that joint: the revolution needs to be subsidized by the people.

What's up, thanks for taking to time to talk to "The Beat."
Naw, naw, naw, it's okay. That's what I do.

So what's up with the new album? Why did you decide to do a solo?
The opportunity, more than anything. I was just really wanting to see more revolutionary culture out here in the world, and it's not represented, in my opinion. Just observing the situation that dead prez is in, in the world, I felt like it was a change for people, from what they would normally expect from dp. But I felt it was also a way to express who I am. You might not even know the real me. You might know dp, but it's a chance for people to get to know me.

Can we expect a dead prez album anytime soon?
Oh yeah, of course. You can expect an album, definitely. The new dp album well be out June, July, August. I don't know, but you
can look out for it. Me and, we working on it right now.

I was personally confused by your group's origins. You claim Brooklyn, but are you originally from the south?
I live in Brooklyn. I started out in North Carolina, and my partner is from Tallahassee, Florida, and that's where we met. I was in college at that point. But i do have roots in NC.

Are you in Cali right now?
I'm in LA, as we speak.

Have you been paying any attention to the walkouts and protests in Cali and across the nation this past weekend?
You mean around the immigrant protests.

I've heard about it, but I haven't been in it or witnessed it or been involved. I'm watching it as it happens.

Just to bring you up to speed, basically, a lot of Mexican and Latino activists have banded together to protest immigration reform that could include the felony criminalization of undocumented immigrants for simply being in this country.
Wow. That's real.

For us in Cali, it's kind of a repeat of Proposition 187, the anti-immigration law that passed in 1994 that made it illegal for undocumented immigrants to receive social services.
Word. I know about Prop. 187. We did a concert for prop. 187 in Oakland, right on the steps of city hall.

One of the things I like about you guys is your constant props to Black and Brown. Can you elaborate on the similarities in social struggle and consciousness between the two groups.
We are all that there is on the planet and we are the oppressed masses. Everywhere you look, you see us making things happen, and it's for a reason...
Without us, there would be almost no way to turn their natural resources into goods and services, without who we are, without the work that we do. The unity between black and brown is imperative to our civilization at the end of the day...
I'm not running around, yelling "Ya Basta," trying to romanticize something. I try to tell it as a revolutionary slogan. I don' t want people to think I'm romanticizing Mexico, or the image of that land and those people. I want people to know that this is something we need now
One of the most important meetings of our time, for black and brown, was between (Black Panther leader) Fred Hampton Sr. and Cha Cha Jimenez (sic)... After they met in prison, Cha Cha formed the Young Lords Party (a New York organization that was the Puerto Rican equivalent of the Black Panthers or the Brown Berets) and of course, Fred went on to do his thing.

You brought out Fred Hampton Jr. to give a speech during the "Dave Chappele's Block Party" film. How did that union come about?
Fred is everywhere right now. This is a political animal, this guy. When you talk about what he has to bring to the table, it's a lot, his history and everything.
I just did what history told me to do. My relationship with him was the work i did on the Campaign to Free Fred Hampton Jr. This was when he was apolitical prisoner from 1991 to 2001...
When he was free from behind enemy lines, we decided to work together. I see him as an ally. He's developed a organization called the Prisons of Consciousness Committee, which I claim to be a representative for because of him. He's a fantastic organizer and he's a leader.

I always ask an industry insider question when I do Q&A's, to give folks insight into the business aspect. Your question is: At this point in your career, do you make more money from CD sales, or from tickets and merch sales on tour?
I say, at this point in my career, as M-1 going around touring, I probably get more money from the record sales. As dead prez touring, I get much more money touring than as far as royalties from dead prez. But with the way my album deal was structured where I get more of a take of the profits, I'm trying to do it all and get more of a take.

Where do you think you and your group see yourselves in the pantheon of political rappers like Public Enemy or X-Clan. Are you coming along those lines, or are you trying to carve out a different identity for yourself, like a new coming of political rap?
I don't regard myself as a new revolutionary coming at all because it's in the process...The reason why revolutionary hip hop has not been the most important thing in the world is because hip hop is controlled by the industrial corporate interests. And they don't want to recognize the revolutionary work that some of it's most important artists contributed...
I look at Public Enemy, they had a lot of revolutionary work. Tupac had some very revolutionary work, which a lot of people don't' recognize. I just follow it down that line.

Have you seen the documentary "Inventos" by Eli Fauntauzzi?
Yeah, my brother Eli. Inventos.

What are your thoughts on the hip-hop movimiento going on in Cuba and South America in general?
Man, that was an experience that took me to another level in my career. I became more of an international African political animal. Just for me to watch the peoples process of growth, watch the development , that was totally enlightening to me. I can't say enough about Cuba.

It sounds like it was a pretty profound experience for you
I went three times, and I went once by myself. My partner stic didn't see the ramifications of how important it was at first. But when we went down there and saw the movement, we both realized how big it is...
I recently went to Venezuela, and Hugo Chavez, he's the truth. That's all I can say man. Hugo Chavez is the truth.

Is there anything else you want to throw out there or plug
I just want to say that the album "Confidential" represents M-1's new effort to embrace revolutionary culture. This is an RBG (Revolutionary But Gangsta) affiliated project, and I just want to let people know that we're not going nowhere. Even if we're not on the TV screen, not up in the videos, we're not going nowhere. We're right here, we're organizing and we're alright.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ghostface and M-1 Live in Santa Cruz

Militant rap is such a rarity in today's hip-hop universe. Whether it was the LA battle cries of NWA or the Strong Island political shotgun blasts from Public Enemy, hip-hop's streak of rebellion has been halted in the mainstream for close to 20 years now.
But like any great movement, the pulse has moved underground. And though M1 of Dead Prez and Ghostface Killa of Wu-Tang Clan offer contrasting styles, their militant leanings and anti-authoritarian messages make for a unique performance experience when coupled together.
Playing Saturday night at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, M-1 opened up for Ghostface in what seemed like an inspired tour pairing. M-1 showed up rocking a rhinestone camouflage army jacket, looking like a rock star activist.
He opened up with the track "War," off of the dead prez "Turn off the Radio" mixtape series. Hearing him bellow "George Bush coming out his mouth, that's War!" over the Black Rob "Whoa" beat was a good way to kick things off, as folks got to bouncing and throwing bows from the jumpoff.
M-1's set was paced evenly with a quick-cut setlist. He never spent more than three minutes on a song, and often did just one or two minutes. But for a guy who belongs to a group with less than five years on the hip-hop radar, he came off poised like a veteran prize fighter. Songs like "We Need a Revolution," "Tell Me Are You Down," and the hard rocking "Hell Yeah" showed a depth of catalogue that I wasn't prepared for.
"Hell Yeah" was also an interesting selection because it argues (somewhat convincingly) in favor of credit card and welfare fraud as a revolutionary act of defiance. I know folks will get all sad that I just said that, but when M-1 spits it on stage, you kind of get swept up in the frenzy.
And though he didn't close his set with "Hip-Hop," dead prez' official street anthem, his rendition was chest-pounding force to be reckoned. He cut out the beat for the second verse's attack on mainstream hip-hop commercialism, and basically justified the existence of all of the street soldiers who were rocking military fatigues and caps that night (and there were a lot in the crowd).
He closed with "Walk Like a Warrior," which sounded molotov cocktail smooth with M-1's silky yet rapid-fire midwest flow. One thing I love about this revolutionary but gangsta steez, these guys know how to flip the tongue and the middle finger at the same time.
Ghostface, by contrast, was a ruckus showman, like a circus ringleader with thick platinum chains and a hulking frame. Entering the stage to the chants of "Wu-Tang! Wu-Tang!" the night suddenly went from freedom fighter to street fighter.
Thirteen years after the Wu-Tang Clan warned punk herbs to "Protect Ya Neck" on wax, Ghostface has emerged as the clan's top lyricist. With a back catalogue that boasts four classic albums (Enter the 36 Chambers, Wu-Tang Forever, Only Built for Cuban Linx and Supreme Clientele) and numerous near-classics, Ghostface pretty much had an arsenal of weaponry at his disposal.
That wealth of material allowed him to perform a hip-hop classic like "Ice Cream" three songs into his set, and make album tracks like "Fish" and "Biscuits" sound like hip-hop plutonium. Even with a crappy-sounding mic, he can make a surfers paradise like Santa Cruz seem like a throwback to the golden age of New York street rap.
"I was a part of 1970," he said matter of factly to the crowd, shouting out Al Green and Stevie Wonder while prepping the young crowd for a lesson in soul-music. "I'm an old school cat. I carry a lot of soul." And with that, Marvin Gaye's "Distant Lover bumped through the speakers. I watched more than one couple clutch each other tight.
As he ran into "Holla," his old school tribute that features Ghost spitting viciously over the Chicano oldies staple "La La Means I Love You," it made me realize that Ghost has maintained his relevance by simply staying put. He's always been, for lack of a better term, the most felt Wu-Tang-er. When he crouched on the middle monitor to do "All That I Got is You," I was reminded of the video for that song: Ghost sitting at a grand piano, looking like he wanted to be Billy Joel or Barry Manilow, just a New Yorker with so much soul.
And the more introspective moments made the hard-rock bangers all the more bangable. "He requested a moment of silence in memory of ODB before tearing into "Shimmy Shimmy Ya," which got everyone going stupid. And he spit his new label mate Nas' verse on "Verbal Intercourse," completely bypassing his own lyrics on the song.
Crappy sound and some sloppy sound cues sapped some of the energy from the show, and Ghost did that retarded practice of rappers bringing on all the females in the audience to dance (I really hate that s***). But even that moment was saved when two girls vied for his attention at once. Ghost sang to one of them while putting his arm around the other. Ya boy is a veteran mack from way back.
And at the end of the show, he invited a trio of poser-looking Wu-Tang fans on stage to say what's up, which was a classy move. He also told the crowd to call him and "I'll come running back for y'all," which he probably says to all of the crowds he rocks.
But it was enough to make even the most militant-minded street soldier crack a smile.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006


Ahhh, wonderful internet. The grand equalizer. Proprietor of myspace web pages, hardcore porn, and my personal fave, the album leak.

Part of record industry marketing strategy in recent years has been the internet leak, which has replaced the bootleg leak as a gauge of consumer response in the wake of an album release.

In hip-hop, it is ever-present: when Jay-Z's "Black Album" leaked two weeks before it's release in 2003, Roots drummer ?uestlove, a friend and sometime musical advisor for Jigga, urged his minions on to list their top three favorite songs in an effort to have some say in the release of Jay-Z's second single.

Adversely, when Talib Kweli's second solo album was leaked six months before its release on the same web site, it reflected horribly on the artist. The music was muddled and unmastered and, more pointedly, fans of the web site weren't feeling it. When Kweli posted a scathing response to the leak on the site a few days later, he alienated some folks, causing a back lash on the web site that is still felt to this day.

I am one of those who lurk the internet late at night in search of album leaks. It's fun, although sometimes time-consuming. I've had a tough make of it lately, since no longer allows its users post entire albums, but here are a few album leaks and mixtapes preceding album releases that I have had the pleasure of listening to:

Gnarls Barkley - 8-track album leak: This 8-song sampler was leaked a couple of months back, and the cruddy sound means the music probably hadn't been engineered when it was released. But it's a banger.

Gnarls Barkley is a collaboration between producer DangerMouse and Goodie Mob veterano Cee-Lo. It's an odd couple, for sure, but the music is a great mix of soulful crooning with space-age beats.

The version I got had no track listing, although I have been able to verify one album track, the first single "Crazy." The song has a chunky bass line with Cee-Lo harmonizing "I remember when, I remember when I lost my mind." The song's angelic hook taps Lo's gospel-esque vocal leanings.

My other favorite song is track 4, which I have not been able to identify (the tracklisting is on the net, but I havent' had the time to match up songs with titles). The lyrics are an exercise in irony: "Basically I'm complicated/ I have a hard time taking the easy way."

I will cop this album when it drops.

Ghostface - Fishscale album sampler: This isn't a leak per-say. This five-song sampler is in anticipation of "Fishscale," which will drop sometime at the end of the month (i'm also too lazy to bother with release dates right now).

The best song on here is the Pete Rock produced "Be Easy," a jittery, head-nodding banger that features funky tuba stabs and Ghost boasting "I'm like the Boogie Man, I'll get ya." This song has been on mixtapes for a year now, but its still fresh to death.

Ghost has a funny song with Def Jam wonderboy Ne-Yo called "Back Like That." The song features Ghost's signature soul sampled beats, and Ne-Yo crooning a sad song about a girl who gets back at her man by showing up on the block with the dude who wanted to kill him. It could be a single, but what do I know about those type of things?

Rhymfest - Blue Collar 8-song leak: This one I'm not too sure about. Rhymefest is an Indianapolis MC who is down with Kanye West ('Fest co-wrote 'Jesus Walks'). His album, "Blue Collar," is scheduled for release in July, and these songs are supposedly from that album.

One track, "Build Me Up," features the late ODB singing the the hook from the song "Build Me Up, Buttercup." Singing is a bit of an overstatement; he's more like straining. I will refrain from completely dissing the song because, well, ODB is dead.

Kanye shows up on "Brand New," and "More," songs that more than anything reveal that Kanye has borrowed a lot of his steez from a scribe called 'Fest.

The best song on this leak is the Just Blaze-produced "Dynomite." It's signature Just, with echoing siren horns, hard drums, and a scratch chorus to boot. 'Fest rhymes like an animal, claiming he's "Hot like Mexican meals" and ending each stanza with "Open my palm, bitch, I got the world in my hand," like he really means it.

Dr. Dre - Look Out for Detox mixtape: This is not a leak, but a mixtape billed as songs scrapped from Dre's supposed final album, the seven-years-in-the-making "Detox."

It sounds more like songs that were scrapped from Dre's last album, 1999's "The Chronic 2001."

Lots has been written about Detox: It was supposed to be a hip-hop opera, with Denzel Washington narrating. It was supposed to be Dre's last album, and a collaborative effort with all of the artists he's developed, from IceCube to Snoop to Eminem to The Game.

Well, hearing the songs that definitely won't make the album makes the listener fiend even more for a fix from the good Doctor. A lot of the production sounds like slightly tweaked updates of the beats Dre has been giving to G-Unit and The Game the past three years. "Here We Go Again" has The Game getting some subliminals over Dre's signature two-bar piano key melodies.

"Hard Liquor," another track featuring Game, has Dre employing sinister bar room piano notes while in-house hook singer KoKaine does his best George Clinton impression.

The best song is the King Tee featured "The Chron." King Tee, an old school LA rapper predating even NWA, sounds like a seasoned vet riding Dre's computer bleep guitar skank. The hook, "I got the Chron, talkin' bout the bomb," is a West Coast masterpiece.

Will somebody please lock Dre up in a studio with a pound of that West Coast stick-icky and force him at gunpoint to release a new album. That way, annoying writers like myself won't have to comb the far reaches of the 'net to get their prescription illegally.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

"The Beat" Interview: Traxxamillion

"Traxx you a fool, boii!"

That's the opening utterance to "Grown Man On (remix)" the latest slap from Dem Hoodstars produced by Traxxamillion, San Jose's Hyphy representative and one of a stable of Bay Area producers who are quickly putting their stamp on the game.

Armed with an arsenel of keyboards, drums and vision, Traxx has seen his career take off since the release of "Super Hyphy," the banger he produced for Keak da Sneak. That song was a regional hit, and helped Traxx establish himself as a pivot-man for the Yay's top artists.

Catching up with your boy was a bit of a task. Steady grinding, he finally found a minute to talk to "The Beat" about beats, rhymes and life. Oh, and for a sneak peak of the funk, check his myspace page,

Thanks for taking the time to talk to "The Beat."
It's all good baby

So, what's good with you? What are your current projects?
The new project right now, basically what I'm working on is "The Slap Addict" project, which is basically my baby. I guess it's a producer's album, at first I was going to call it a compilation, but I decided to call it a producer's album. Basically, its a reflection of me as far as my muisic goes.
I got all the elite Bay artists on there, everyone from Dem Hoodstars up to E-40. I got a couple of joints on there right now with me spitting a verse... It's more of a chance to display my creative side.
It's slated for a summer release. It's big and I'm happy about it, and I can't wait to unleash it on the world.

Will it be released independently?
I got a couple of majors looking at it right now. I got some people from Def Jam Records, some people from Atlantic Records and some people from Universal Records looking at me. Right now, everyone's been in a wait and see mode as far as the Bay is concerned, so we'll just wait and see.
I was going to put it out indendently, basically out of my own pocket, but now that everyone is on a wait and see, we're gonna have to make it happen that way.

Where does the name come from?
Traxxamillion came from a cat I used to mess with named Donnie Hackit (sic). He said "You should name yourself Traxxamillion". I started saying it over my raps, and it just stuck.

What's it been like since "Super Hyphy" jumped off?
It's been crazy. A roller coaster ride. I got an influx of calls and business coming my way. Before Super Hyphy, I couldn't get a call. I couldnt' get nobody to rap over my beats. Now, I'm the quote unquote "Go to Guy."
A dude from Universal Records said "It seems like you're the go to guy as far as hits go. You and Rick Rock." It's a boost. For those that don't know, a boost is a good thing. It's boosting my name and exposure out there.

What's it like being in the thick of the whole "Hyphy" scene?
It feels good. It's a postive experience. I'm juiced my damn self. It's good to get recognized on any level.
A lot of people say that I had a hand in making the bay area hot, so that feels good. To know that I helped make the area hot and bring some attention on a national scale.
The world needs to see what the Bay Area is doing right now. I believe this whole hyphy movement is a vehicle to bring the Bay to the forefront. I'm trying to be a pioneer in San Jose, I'm trying to be that guy. We've had a few pioneers, but I'm trying to be the one that brings exposure to this town.

What's up with your rap group, The High?
The High is still in motion, still in action. My man Iz-Thizz, my man Schmitty, those are the two members that comprise The High. I've taken a back seat to the microphone, just to get this production thing cracking. We're going to do some stuff to reinject ourselves in the game. Everyones' playing their role.

You started out as an underground artist. Are you still interested in that type of music?
I'm not against it. The whole reason I moved away from the underground is because it wasn't sounding appealing to me. I believe the production got dirtier, and people were more hooked on the lyrical side than the music side.
After a while, the underground wasn't sounding good to me, that wasn't cutting it for me. I just moved away from it. But i'm not against it. I like some underground shit too. I'm real selective, but I ain't hating on nothing.

What type of equipment do you work with?
I use a Triton studio. I was using the Motif (sic) at one time. I got Reasons, but usually I just use the Triton. I do everything with the Triton, everything I can think of I can do with the Triton.

Are you a trained musician or do you just play by ear?
I just play by ear.

For our readers, can you give an insight as to how you get paid? How do you collect royalties?
As far as royalties go, people get the misconception that "I made a song, let me get it published and get the copyright and do all this paperwork." It's good to do the paperwork and get the copyright, but if your s*** ain't getting played on the radio, you ain't getting paid.

So you get paid everytime the song is played on the radio?
Everytime it gets played on the radio, I get paid. It might be 3 cents, 4 cents and up to 7 cents a spin, but it adds up over time. Especially if you get national play.

Are you more interested in producing or rhyming at this point in your career?
Right now, I'm more interested in producing because that's what's hot and that's what people want

Any final thoughts?
Vote for Traxxamillion, producer of the year. I'm really trying to put it down. A lot of people think San Josehas a curse. I'm the dude trying to lift that curse, and trying to bring justice to our region, the South Bay.
Keep your eyese open for Traxx, and if cats want to buy a beat from me, hit me up on the Also, if any of them cats happen to be in the San Jose area, they can come up to the studio. They can hit up They can make a hit with Traxxamillion.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

MC Lars Is Not Punk Rock - Psyche!

If MC Lars isn't careful, he could become a one-hit wonder. How crazy would that be?

"Some of you may have heard this song on Live 105," he exclaimed to a crowd of about 100 die-hard MC Lars fans Wednesday nightat "Bottom of the Hill" bar/nightclub in San Francisco.

The song, "Hot Topic is Not Punk Rock," has been getting some love from the Bay Area's biggest "alternative rock" station (do folks really say "alternative rock" anymore?).

It's a good song, full of crunching, hyper-speed guitar riffs courtesy of The Matches, a very legit punk outfit repping for the Yay Area. And the lyrics, " Hello Kitty iPod cases are not Punk Rock!...Led Zeppelin air fresheners are not punk rock!" are so gosh darn catchy, one can't help but sing along and share the sentiment.

So with the song blaring, the band going off, the crowd in a frenzy, it occurred to me: this guy could end up being a one-trick pony if he's not careful.

How can he possibly follow up such a time-appropriate anthem (it's about time somebody took aim at Hot Topic, and I'm not even into punk rock) with anything short of a top-40 pop tune? The only place left to go after getting punk rock street cred like this and a song on the radio is pop sensibility sell-out or become another case of when keeping it real goes wrong.

The rest of his show was almost a send-up a typical rap concert. He nodded his head with the beat, but looking like those "Night at the Roxbury" dudes. His hype-man was so amped up he reminded me of Carlton leading an aerobics class.

And when he wasn't doing tongue in cheek hip-hop parody, he was appealing to the geeks. Lars ended one song with the beat from the classic Game Boy title "Tetris," mimicking the game play for dramatic effect.

Later, he did an ode to Stanford's exit exam "Stat 60" which got all of the Cardinal alumni in a frenzy. Call it Ivy League rap if you must, but the nerds were really happy to see one of their own blowing up.

Watching the whole thing go down, you got the feeling that you were at a quirky dorm room talent show where the RA's were getting gully.

Lars isn't the most adept lyricist. Heck, my little sister would serve him in an MC battle (no joke). He raps with the kind of simplistic, sing-songy delivery one would expect of a child rapping the ABC's. His voice is pre-pubescent at its deepest, and Steve Erkel on uppers at its highest.

But he has a friendly, awe-shucks demeanor that is engaging and, to my surprise, endearing. It would be easy for me to spin dude as "another example of a whiteboy getting over," but I honestly am proud of the kid.

My first interview with him three years ago, I was skeptical. A Carmel Valley-reared, Stanford undergrad trying to school people on hip-hop music was a sure sign of the appocalypse at one point in my life. But Lars struck me as a genuinely good person with an honest agenda and love for the culture. How could I write him off when he was trying so hard?

And now, three years later, he's packing indy-venues in the Bay, and getting ready to play the side stage at the Vans Warped Tour in the summer. Rolling Stone wrote him up as an artist to watch. He even recorded a song with hip-hop original Ill Bill of Non-Fixion. He's legit.

And he could be a one-hit wonder, which would somehow be strangely appropriate. Although if I wrote songs for him, I might write something like "Stanford Grads That Wear Nintendo Jackets are not Hip-Hop!" But then I'd be wrong.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Pretty F***** Awesome: Three 6 Mafia wins an Oscar

So, hip-hop won. It wasn't pretty, but the music won on Sunday.

Three 6 Mafia, a group of savage rappers from Memphis, Tennessee, some of the most original, stay-true artists in hip-hop, took home the oscar for best song on Sunday night for their jam "It's So Hard Out Here For a Pimp," and they did it with beguiling style and class.

Not that you'd expect some brothers who have been in the game for 13 years to act an a** on live television, but this is the Oscars we're talking about here. And this is Three 6 Mafia, authors of such bugged out, rowdy and mysoginistic fare as "Tear da Club Up" and "Late Night Tip," both songs off their 1997 album "When The Smoke Clears," which was a CD my neighbor homie Diego would bump non-stop.

I thought these guys were clowns at the time, but their music bumped, and folks were listening back then in my hood.

On Sunday, they stole the show for a quick second. It was fun to watch.

They thanked their mommas and George Clooney. The showed genuine pride and accomplishment without being cheesey or over the top. And everyone watching was genuinely proud of them for it.

And their performance (which u can view here), although cluttered at times, used the appropriate theatrics. A mini "Pimp Revue" strode across stage, with hoes and the men who pimp them dancing in slow motion, like the "screwed-up" style of slowed down beats that is popular in the south.

And who knew Taraji P. Henson could really blow. She gave "It's So Hard Out Here For a Pimp" so much soul, you wanted to slap your own a**. That girl can sang.

All in all, it's a cool accomplishment for some Tennessee boys who grinded non-stop and are now achieving unimagineable success. Like Stewart said, it's still 3-6 Mafia 1 oscar, Martin Scorcessee 0.

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Friday, March 03, 2006

Go See Dave Chappelle's Block Party... Right Now!

I'll be the fist to admit that I went into Chappelle's concert/documentary fully anticipating to love every minute of it. But could you blame me for my bias?

Seriously, this was like a dream lineup of all my favorite rappers and musicians: Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Kanye West, The Roots, Erykah Badu, Cody Chestnutt, Jill Scott, even Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap show up (more on that later). Hosted by the funniest guy on the planet (sorry, Chris Rock, but it's true). How could it not be great?

So the trick in doing this review is to not review it at all. What passes as my review is this: The movie is fantastic, from the hilarious intro where Dave pokes in on two unassuming men trying to get their car started,to the closing that shows Dave saying "This is the single best day of my career."

The cameras follow him around on his week-long journey leading up to the concert, as he prepared to re-create Richard Pryor's "Wattstax" concert, another ambitious attempt by a comic to meld musicians and comedians into one urban affair (I'll do a blog on that sometime in the near future to explain Wattstax and it's influence on "Block Party").

In leiu of a review, I'll simply list the highlights, and remind you to go check out this movie (I'm already planning on seeing it again this weekend with my girl):

- In the opening scene, Chappelle walks through Dayton, Ohio, and hands out "golden tickets" ala Willie Wonka. Recipients recieve them and get travel and lodging to the concert in Brooklyn, NYC. At one point, two lucky ticket winners tell the story of how they didn't beat up a white guy who called one of them the N-word, because they didn't want to miss the concert. "We didn't whip nobody's ass for you, Dave," they shreik.

- The music scenes are particularly inspiring, although the bill's biggest star, Kanye West, is rarely seen. He does a furious number with Common and Kweli, "Get 'em High," and later, an intense rendition of "Jesus Walks" with the Central State University marching band. But he's gone within the first half-hour.

- Black Star doing "Re-Definition" live with The Roots backing them up. One word: Whoa!

- Although the movie has no real plot, there is some dramatic buildup when Dave invites the CSU band to the show. The band leader has to call the school president, who comes to the band rehearsal to meet with Chappelle. When the band leader announces that they will be making the trip, the ensuing celebration scene is pretty moving.

- Chappelle does this really cool bit explaining how much he loves Thelonious Monk because of his timing, and then draws a corrolation between a musician's timing and a comedian's timing. It's actually pretty informative.

- Favorite scene in the movie pt. I: After Chappelle does a Mexican Lil' Jon impersonation (Que? Siii!), Dead Prez come on and do the "Ya Basta" sign made famous by Zapatista leader Subcommandante Marcos. M-1 explains the meaning to Dave, and he uses it to say "Have you had enough potatoes? Ya Basta. I've had enough!"

- Chappelle visits Biggie's old neighborhood, since he's shooting in Bed-Stuy, where Notorious BIG was from. Lil Cease explains how his friendship with Biggie and the Junior Mafia was "bigger than hip-hop" which segues perfectly into the Dead Prez anthem "Hip-Hop."

- Erykah Badu's wig starts to fly off, so she just pulls it off completely to reveal some nappy roots underneath.

- Erykah and Common join one another for the song "Love of My Life," which they recorded when they were a couple. Neither looked particularly comfortable during the spot, and I got a flashback of when Cher reluctantly joined Sonny Bono on the David Letterman show to sing "I Got You Babe" like 20 years ago.

- Michel Gondry (the movie's director) asks Jill Scott if she's nervous about going on after Erykah. She laughs loud and asks "Have You seen ME perform?" No, Michel, she's not nervous.

- The Roots (my favorite rock band of all time) do the song "Boom" with Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap. This is significant because: 1) the original version features rapper Black Thought doing an impressive impression of both rappers and 2) Kane gets greeted like a retired boxing champ coming home from glory, while barely a ripple happens when G. Rap grabs the mic.

- Chappelle does a funny bit about the power of a James Brown hit. "If you go into a meeting for a raise, you might get more money, like "I want more money, bitch! *dunt* You might get the raise."

- Favorite scene in the movie Pt. 2: Jill Scott and Erykah come together to sing "You Got Me" with The Roots. This song always makes me want to cry, and seeing both of these ladies sing together seriously got me all 'motional and stuff.

- Fred Hampton Jr. shows up to spit some knowledge. It's a nice sentiment, but it almost doesn't fit in with the flow of the show.

- The Fugees reunion was an added bonus. Although they were already billed in the movie, the way Dave introduces them, you get the feeling that you are there to see them perform live for the first time in years. L-Boogie kills "Killing Me Softly," but we don't get to see her do "Lost Ones," which was originally a diss aimed at Wyclef. Print reports of the performance say that was the knockout punch right there.

- The film ends with Dave yelling "We shook up the world!" This is hip-hop history, y'all, so your boy is right (now only if he'd get his act together and do a new season of Chappelle's Show, everything would be alright).

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