Friday, May 26, 2006

Lupe Fiasco live in SF

Lupe Fiasco crammed five months of buzz into a five-song, 25 minute set in San Francisco on Thursday night. It was engaging, sometimes exciting, but all too an abrupt ending.

The Chicago MC, who is either a Kanye West protege or hired gun, depending on how you look at it, has endeared himself to a cross section of hip-hop fans due to his chameleon-esque persona: a nerd/skater/street/lyrical MC, marketed just in time to be a boon for the generation.

He stole the show on West's second single, "Testify," and the first single from his album, a catchy ditty called "Kick, Push," has slowly caught on with both taste maker hip-hop snobs and BET-watching teeny boppers, all enthralled with his understated cool and straightforward approach.

And so on Thursday night, performing at Mezzanine in front of a packed house, Lupe did what all good stars in the making do: he left the crowd wanting more, lots more.

The night was hosted by some guy named Ant Marshall, who purported to be co-founder of the Lyricist Lounge in NYC (I'll have to google his name later on to get all the facts). The opening acts were locals trying to establish themselves, probably performing their biggest gigs in their short careers that night.

Prophet was a pretty cool SF emcee with a sorta sing-songy flow (more straining that harmonizing, but still carrying a note here and there). His DJ Dozier (hope I'm spelling that right) had a bit of a hard time adjusting to the mixer, and was openly ecstatic when he finally got it going. The fun in watching locals open up for bigger name artists is in seeing those moments unfold, when an artists humanity shows through for a quick second.

Elemnop, a four-mc, two-dj crew, got the party heated. These guys, who appeared to be predominantly Asian/Filipino, rocked a breathless set, with songs running into one another. They never missed a beat, and apparently brought out a large contingent of followers with them to celebrate. These guys could be worth watching over the next year or so (check their Web site,

Lupe came out to the beat from Nas' "Thief's Theme," looking really skinny and scholarly. Rocking Ben Franklin bifocals and a white LRG t-shirt, Lupe treated his set like a 40-yard dash, with barely a moment to catch your breath.

The opening freestyle was followed by his verse from "Blood Diamonds," the West-jacking mixtape song that supposedly inspired Kanye to record "Diamonds are Forever" remix. That remix included lyrics about the blood diamond trade in Sierra Leone.

Lupe quickly jumped into his big hit, "Testify," milking his 16-bar verse and the chorus for all it's worth. It worked, as the crowd seemed to jump up in jubilation at the Curtis Mayfield-sampled horns. One dude charged through the crowd screaming, cutting through me and my homeboy in an odd moment. A few minutes later, that same dude staggered through the crowd. I reasoned to my buddy that the guy was probably some sort of crowd plant hired by Lupe to perform such theatrics.

Lupe stood triumphant after that song, and declared "They say hip-hop is coming back, y'all!" As if he were the one that was responsible for such an insurgence. The audacity. I'd call it swagger jacking, but he's co-signed by Jay-Z (who is executive producing his album), so Hov probably requires such confidence in his artists.

A high-speed song whose title seemed to be "ERRRNNNGGHHHH" — mimicking the sound of an engine on a race car passing by— was next. It was appropriate in the muscle car-loving Bay Area. But mid-song, he flipped into a Chi-town bounce track, slowing down the lyrics but not the intensity.

And then came the show-stopping "Kick,Push," which was literally, a stop to the show. Lupe insisted on dropping then re-dropping the intro horns four times. Four Times! Talk about getting the most out of your music. Luckily, he had enough quiet charisma to keep it going each time he "pon da replayed" the beat. A lesser artist might have dropped the crowd momentum, which was considerable.

After doing the song and the "Kick,Push" dance routine (which consisted of a simulated skateboard kick to the floor in time with the beat), Lupe made like he was going to do "ERRRNNNGGHHH" again, then decided to cut out. No explanation, barely a word of thanks to the crowd, and the DJ Apollo (local legend who also ripped it that night) came out to spin some more, thus leaving no chance for an encore.

It was short, sweet and to the point. Which leads me to believe that this guy could very well be that dude once his album drops in the summer.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"The Beat's" 2006 BET Awards Predictions

I'm not one to handicap music awards shows (or anything else, for that matter), but the allure of guessing the winners of the BET Awards is too great to pass up.

The nominees were announced today, and the leaders are an unsurprising quartet of Black Star Power (as the network once heralded itself): Mary J. Blige, Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott and Jamie Foxx predictably lead the way with four noms each. All four have either released or will release a new album within the year.

The awards show is still in its infancy stages (what is this, like the fourth annual installment?). Still, it's produced some memorable moments: M'onique doing the Beyonce booty quake to the tune of "Crazy in Love" while 'Yonce watched with terrified glee; Rick James performing with Teena Marie and then announcing the girl in the back who didn't recognize him "I"m Rick James, Bitch!"; Marie's over-the-top eulogy to James a year after their performance together, complete with spoken word delivery and dark-skinned white girl moxie.

With that said, let's take a look at the nominees and my predictions for this year's awards:

Female Hip Hop: Missy Elliott, Lil’ Kim, Remy Ma, Shawnna, Trina.
Let's see, Lil' Kim has a show on BET, ther videos still get play on 106 & Park, and I'm pretty sure she'll be all over the network once she's released from prison later this year (call her the Martha Stewart of hip-hop, minus the domestic skills). Prediction: Kim, easy.

Male Hip Hop: 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes, Common, T.I., Kanye West.
An interesting field. Common has a snowballs chance in hell of winning, but it's a nice gesture anyway. Veteranos 50 and Busta could cancel each other out, leaving T.I. and Kanye to do battle. A win for T.I. could solidify his standing as "Kang of the Souff," but then Kanye might throw a total BF. Prediction: Kanyeezy, for sheezy.

Collaboration: Beyonce featuring Slim Thug, ‘‘Check on It’’; Bow Wow featuring Ciara, ‘‘Like You’’; Busta Rhymes featuring Mary J. Blige, Rah Digga, Missy Elliott, Lloyd Banks, Papoose and DMX, ‘‘Touch It-Remix’’; Jamie Foxx featuring Ludacris, ‘‘Unpredictable’’; Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx, ‘‘Gold Digger.’’
Foxx is nominated twice, once as the main attraction and once as a feature, so odds are in his favor. Standing in his way: Busta-Bus' NYC resurrection/all-star jammy-jam "Touch It" has been in the 106&Park Top 10 for a hot minute, and could steal the show. Also, I wouldn't count out Bow Wow and Ciara's cute coupling/publicity stunt collabo. Prediction: Kanye "We Want Prenupt" West and Jamie "Don't Call Me Ray" Foxx for "Gold Digger."

Female R&B: Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Keyshia Cole, India.Arie.
Any other year, 'Yonce would probably be the front runner, but she only came with that Pink Panther single this year (Next year, this award is hers). In the meantime, we have an interesting battle between the 'hood Queen, Mary J., and the new ghetto princess, Keyshia Cole. I nominate Cole as the heir to Mary's ghetto-goddess throne, but head-to-head, it's no match. Prediction: MJB tha MVP.

Male R&B and New Artist: No need to list the nominees in these categories. Anyone not betting on Ne-Yo to sweep both is just playing themselves.

Group: Black Eyed Peas, Destiny’s Child, Floetry, Mary Mary, Three 6 Mafia.
I can't remember seeing a Black Eyed Peas video on BET at all this past year, so their nom is a bit of a shock. DC could get the sentimental vote, but BET has been plugging Three 6 Mafia's Oscar win, so they are my darkhorse. Prediction: Them Memphis Boys from the Triple-Six Mafia.

Gospel Artist: Yolanda Adams, Kirk Franklin, Mary Mary, Smokie Norful, CeCe Winans.
There is some unwritten rule that Yolanda Adams should win this award every year. I think it was written by god herself. Prediction: Yolanda Adams.

Video of the Year: Beyonce featuring Slim Thug, ‘‘Check on It’’; Mary J. Blige, ‘‘Be Without You’’; Busta Rhymes featuring Mary J. Blige, Rah Digga, Missy Elliott, Lloyd Banks, Papoose and DMX, ‘‘Touch It-Remix’’; R. Kelly, ‘‘Trapped in the Closet’’; Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx, ‘‘Gold Digger.’’
Hype Williams directed two of the video nominees and both were gorgeous. But let's be real: "Trapped in the Closet" was secretly everyone's favorite song/video last year. I just want to know which part is being nominated (I vote for part 1, but parts 2-57 were amazingly canny in their own right). Prediction :Kells (wonder if he's gonna wear that creepy Zorro mask?)

Actress: Tichina Arnold, Taraji P. Henson, Thandie Newton, Queen Latifah, Alfre Woodard.
It's hard to predict this one because the nominees aren't recognized for any single work (what was Thandie Newton in last year?). But on blind faith, I'll say Taraji has the best shot. Her performance in "Hustle & Flow" was so overlooked (possibly because her character was so vulnerable, which played to one too many female stereotypes). Prediction: Taraji "It's hard out here for a pimp's wife" Henson.

Actor: Chris ‘‘Ludacris’’ Bridges, Don Cheadle, Jamie Foxx, Terrence Howard, Denzel Washington.
Nice touch nominating Luda for his breakout performance in both Crash and Hustle and Flow. But c'mon, we all know Howard takes this one, easy. It'll be nice to say he beat both Jamie and Denzel in an acting category. Prediction: Terrence "I don't like rap music" Howard.

Female Athlete: Laila Ali (boxing), Chamique Holdsclaw (basketball), Lisa Leslie (basketball), Sheryl Swoopes (basketball), Venus Williams (tennis).
Venus had a down year, so she doesn't deserve to win. Laila is overrated, and neither Chamique nor Lisa Leslie did anything other than keep their names respectable to get a nomination. Therefore, I'm picking Sheryl Swoopes, who quietly has made a case for herself as the greatest female basketball player of all time (sorry Cheryl Miller, but it's true). Her bold move of outing herself as being lesbian deserves some quiet recognition as well. Prediction: Ms. Swoopes, if you're nasty.

Male Athlete: Kobe Bryant (basketball), LeBron James (basketball), Shaquille O’Neal (basketball), Tiger Woods (golf), Vince Young (football).
Like Ne-Yo in the music categories, LeBron's name should be the lone one in this category. Have you been watching the Cavs-Pistons series? Geez. I didn't think he'd penetrate the Big 3-D (Ben and Rasheed Wallace, Tayshon Prince) like that. Prediction: Lebron "I'm really 31 years old" James.

BET J Cool Like That: Eric Benet, Anthony Hamilton, Heather Headley, Kindred the Family Soul, Corinne Bailey Rae.
Eyes closed, I'll just take a guess. Ummm... Anthony Hamilton. Phew, that was close. Viewers’ Choice: Chris Brown, ‘‘Excuse Me Miss’’; Busta Rhymes, ‘‘Touch It’’; Mariah Carey, ‘‘Don’t Forget About Us’’; Keyshia Cole, ‘‘Love’’; Ne-Yo, ‘‘So Sick’’; T.I. ‘‘What You Know.’’
Ya girl Keyshia deserves something and this is where she should shine. No one has been more popular with young black girls on 106 & Park than Cole. They sing her songs verbatim, with heart, whenever she shows up. Not bad for an Oakland native. Prediction: Ya Girl Keyshia.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

"The Beat" Q&A Interview: MC Zion of Zion I

Seems like for the past two years, Zion I has been carrying the Bay Area's underground indy hip-hop scene on its back. As veterans of the Bay Area's hip-hop scene, they have managed to remain relevant and fresh four albums into their careers, a coup in the hip-hop universe.

Back in 1998, when they released their critically praised debut "Mind Over Matter," the group was lauded for their east coast-styled beats, MC Zion's nasal-toned delivery and high impact lyrics, and DJ/producer Amp Live's experimental beats (mixing drum n bass with old school boom bap). The group has maintained that quality control through their recent album release, 2005's "True & Livin." They have also established themselves as road warriors, performing between 150 to 200 shows a year.

MC Zion, the group's frontman, recently took time to talk to "The Beat" before the final stop on their recent tour (show review can be viewed below). He talked about hyphy, touring non-stop, and the group's upcoming projects with Bay Area underground and turf rappers.

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

You just finished a long tour? How many dates?
All together like 28 shows.

You guys tour a lot?
For the last couple of years we've just been out there.

It seems like a lot of mainstream rap artists, specifically street and gangsta rappers, don't tour as much as the indy cats. Can you speak in general about the benefit of being such a road warrior as an indie hip-hop artist?
It really, for us, has always been one of our best ways to market ourselves and our music to our fans. They have a close attanchment than if they see a video or hear you on the radio. It's been one of the main ways to get a fan base or to expand our fan base. We stuck by it and pounded it out and kep going on tours and trying to make our show better.

You guys have one of the livest shows I've seen. Is that due to the constant touring?
It's also like, it's definitely a conscious effort to try to make it hype and keep it live. The years of doing it doens' hut, it adds to it.

A lot of it is that we spend a lot of time practicing. Some shit is not hype, other stuff isn't, and you find a way to clip the stuff that's isn't and get witht the stuff that is...

(the phone cuts off; after several attempts at redial, we finally hook up again...)

What was the best show on the recent tour?
The best show? There were a lot of good ones. I thought Vancouver (British Columbia) was dope.

What stood out with that show?
I just didn't expect it. I didn't expect it to be hot, and I didn't expect people to show up. And when they showed up,they showed up in droves, they knew all the words to the songs.

That one, Madison, Wisconsin was dope. The show in Boston was dope. The show in Seattle was dope... It was a dope tour for us. I have no complaints whatsoever.

You guys are from the Bay, and I'm sure you've noticed the whole hyphy thing is kinda blowing up now in the mainstream, what's your impression?
I like it, some of them cats do that music for my peoples. I think it's great for The Bay to lay claim to something new and fresh. For a long time, we've been slept on. And not just the G-shit, even indy cats.

I think it's good the youngsters have created something dope and different and new. And it's good to see a vet like E-40 has championed it. Hopefully it will make a young cat come up and make a name for themselves and make it a tradition. It's fun to dance to in the club. It's a good time regardlesss.

You did a remix of your song "The Bay," that had street/turf rappers like Balance, San Quinn and Turf Talk. Is there room for more intermingling between the bay's hyphy/turf rappers and its indy rappers?
I definitely think so. I don't think everyone can do it, but to me it's all hip-hop and its your perspective on what's going on around you. I feel like generally speaking, good hip-hop comes from a unique place, your unique vision on life in general.

We're definitely planning to make a whole mixtape dedicated to that idea, mixing turf cats with indie cats. After we finish this album with the Grouch and Zion I, we'll do that hopefully for the summer.

We're trying to push the boundary for what people will expect It's all music to us. I'm an old school hip hop cat. When we first got on to hip hop, it was Totally different. You had A Tribe Called Quest doing songs with Mobb Deep, and it's a different perspective but it totally work. That's the view we're on right now.

Which musicians, hip-hop or otherwise, influenced you coming up?
Early on, cats like Earth, Wind & Fire, The Gap Band, Rick James, just funk based stuff. When hip-hop came around, I got into jazz, stuff like Coltrane, Rakim, Bob Marley, Nas, Outkast ,A Tribe Called Queat, Run-DMC. Just a lot of the golden age stuff.

Any new projects we should be looking out for?
The Zion I/Grouch album.

That sounds cool.
Yeah, it sounds pretty cool, the album itself. It's a good look right now, wer'e a little more than halfway finished. We should be out by September or so. After that we're working on the Zion I album for next year. Our distribution company closed down, otherwise we'd have stuff out now.

We have this album called The Alpha, it's a bunch of songs from the old school days, pre-Mind Over Matter. I don't know when that will come out, we'll see... Amp Live has a new mix CD, it's a bunch of mash ups. I have a solo joint, Baba Zumbi, The Science of Breath part two, that's like my own mixtape, alter ego type of thing.

What's up with Duece Eclipse?
He just dropped his album, Radio Plantation, he's got an album out right now, check it out.

Anything else you wanna throw out there?
Check out the weebsite, We hav a new video online on blastro, it's just basic stuff. Check it out.

Thanks again for taking the time to talk to us in Monterey County.
For sho, man.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Music Does Exist in the City of Salas

So much of my recent stuff has revolved around music and events happening outside of my hometown that it's easy to forget there's a scene in Salas. This weekend, I got a fresh reminder.
Although the Cinco De Mayo weekend had a lot to do with it, there were actually two shows in town to speak of: punk rock fare at La Perla in Downtown (which has become the hot spot for indy rock/punk in the absence of The Cherry Bean) and dub-rock/roots reggae across the street at the American Legion Hall (of all places).
I ventured into the smokey confines of the American Legion (motto: "Don't be fooled by the whole crusty old guy motif, we do have some hip stuff going on"). On stage, the homies from Wasted Noise, a five-piece ska/punk outfit from Salinas, were setting it off pretty good.
I've seen these guys do random shows around town (The Cherry Bean, Lava Lounge, La Perla) and get better and better with each set. Their sound is par with the dub-rock sound that seems so popular around these parts; lots of skank guitar and one drop drum patterns with heavy bass and catchy lyrics. It would be easy to put them in a box and compare them to 311, Slightly Stoopid or any other so-Cal skank-rock artist, but the vibes are similar.
What impressed me was the solid groove they all settled into towards the end of their set (I got there midway through the set, when everyone was kind of just standing around and afraid to get on the dance floor). Their second to last song got all the fly heinas on the dance floor doing their thing, and the lead singer/drummer seemed to conduct the band from behind a thick wall of speakers (you could barely see the guy). He somehow managed to stand up and sing, play the drums, and lead the audience in a call and response all at once. And the rest of the band kept pace, never once dropping a riff (as is the tendency of new bands playing unfamiliar venues) or missing a beat. Definitely a strong finish.
(The cutest thing: after the show, the mom of one band member came up to me and asked if I would do a feature story on her son's band. Look for an article in the near future, thanks to mom).
My boys Cali Nation batted second. Full disclosure: I did join the group for a song, the buffed up cover of "Hotel California" mixed with a little "California Love." But watching Cali navigate a show is always a fun time.
These guys have been playing together so long, the songs almost fall into one another seamlessly. Their set definitely kept the energy of the night going, and set the table for Dubwize' homecoming.
And Dubwize delivered a typically solid set, mixing high-traction dub riddims with quicker dance numbers. These guys are like rasta-revving combustible engines that hum with smooth efficiency.
The whole point of this blog isn't to necessarily size up the artists that night, nor try and write some sort of wild-eyed fan boy love letter praising the evolution of a sorely needed music scene in my hometown. It's simply to put it out there that live entertainment can happen in Salinas like clockwork, with little to no promotion and unnecessary authoritative presence (both shows went off without a hitch, and everyone was respectful of the venue and the music).
And regardless of whether or not there's ever a legit "scene" in my hometown or not, music will always have a presence. This week, Vicente Fernandez makes a return trip to town, probably the 20th time he's come through. He loves Salinas, and Salinas loves him, and that's why he always makes it a point to come here. He could easily sell out HP Pavillion or something (and I'm sure he will at some point this year) but he chooses Salinas because the fan base is there, and folks do just want to come out and have a good time.
That's what it's supposed to be about.

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Freak-A-Leak: Vol. 2.0

A buddy of mine was lamenting the availability of hip-hop albums that are leaked on the internet. "I feel guilty," he said. "And it's always hip-hop albums that get leaked."

True, the leaked album seems to be a hip-hop phenomenon, dating back to bootlegged cd's sold in advance of an album's release at local swap meets and flea markets, or by big city bootleggers on street corners. And honestly, it's unfair to the artists: their hard work sometimes compromised by greedy hangers-on or shady studio employees looking to make a quick buck.

But they are also a guilty pleasure of mine. I confessed in my last leak issue that I sometimes roam the internet late at night in search of album leaks. That was a bit of an exaggeration (my late night internet sessions are usually reserved for free video poker). In any event, I seem to stumble across leaks by accident. So I figure, I might as well share them with y'all.

Here are a few reviews of the latest bunch I've come across (and don't worry, I plan on buying each of these the first week they are out in stores, when record labels gauge most rap records marketability).

Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere: Last Freak-a-Leak, I reviewed a nameless, seven-song leak 'Gnarls Barkley' (sic) that I felt particularly lucky to have scored. This time I scored the whole thing, and I got to say, it's just as good as I had anticipated.

So good, in fact, that I've decided not to listen to the whole thing, as not to completely spoil the anticipation of buying the album when it is release (May 9). But I have listened to the seven songs that were on the original leak, and they are definitely more polished (plus I have names to go with the tracks now).

My second favorite song on the leak, "Who Cares," sounds crisper, and with a different hook ("And I could go on and on and on/But Who Cares?"). It's a more complete song.

And the lead single, "Crazy," well, it's become a hit in the UK, which is promising. Cee-Lo's crooning is Al Green-esque (my sister said so), and Danger Mouse's production is a smash. I even had a friend e-mail me the other day trying to figure out the name of a song he had heard and couldn't get out of his head. The song was "Crazy." Nuff said.

Buy this album this week. Buy two copies, one for you and one for your moms on Mother's Day (I know she's a big Cee-Lo fan).

Lupe Fiasco - Food and Liquor: This is one of those tragicomic leaks. Lupe is a Kanye West protege, signed to Mike Shinoda's (of Linkin Park) record label, and his album was one of those hot, highly anticipated, critical darling-in-the-making type of debuts that was set to change the game and earn him a lot of groupies (male and female alike). Then, the bottom fell out a few weeks ago when his album leaked.

Lamenting the premature release on, Lupe sounded sad but resigned: he was pissed that he would have to re-do the entire album, but at the same time he invited fans to give it a listen and let him know what they thought.

Well, you don't have to tell me twice. I found the sucker and boy, is it a banger. I know I usually give positive reviews of stuff on this here blog, but that's only because I only write about stuff I like (why waste time complaining about bullshit? I want to enjoy this stuff). That being said, this Lupe Fiasco is the ish.

It reminds me sort of Nas' debut, Illmatic, not because of the quality of the material (Illmatic is a certified classic, after all), but because it's pretty much just Lupe on his own, riding beats from some known and unknown producers. "You My" sounds like a Neptunes-produced, breezy punch to the ribs. I'm not sure if that's Pharrell doing the falsetto hook, but it works just as well as anything Skateboard P has freaked.

"Never Lies" is an emo-jam with Lupe spitting furious rhymes over a rock and roll rhythm. "Hustla's Song" is a stone cold groove that takes a refreshing, remorseful look at the coke rap craze hip-hop can't seem to get past. And of course, the single "Kick, Push" is a revelation: a song about a young, black skater in the ghetto dealing with the trials and tribs of young love, rebellion and identity. It's a simple song with a complex design, and Lupe rides the groove smoother than a Stevie Williams kick-flip ollie.

Q-Tip - Live at the Renaissance: Q-Tip and Andre 3000 collaborate on a song!

Do I need to continue? Okay, if you insist.

This leaked a couple of weeks ago, and it's supposed to be the new album from Q-Tip, post Kamaal The Abstract (the album he recorded some four years ago but was never released due to label drama/dissatisfaction). And Tip actually raps on this one, after Kamaal The Abstract reportedly had Tip singing.

As for the Tip/Dre collab, well, it's almost too sexy in an Antonio Banderas-keep-ya-shirt-on type of way (no homo). Andre 3000 sings the hook, and the bridge, doing his best to get his Prince on. Its a thorough funk jam, complete with sweaty R&B guitar skank, shakers, and a pulsating thump. I don't know if the boho ladies are ready for this one.

The rest of the disc is a jazzy, subtle cruise, with Tip displaying his player card for all to see. "Say Something For Me" is for the ladies, as is "Lisa," Feelings," and "I Believe," which features the estranged okayplayer D'Angelo singing a gospel hook.

But Tip also brings some boom-bap for the heads, in the form of the J-Dilla sounding production "Official" (Dilla's off-kilter scratch hooks and staticky but sharp percussion are in full effect), and on the incredible "I'm Not Gon Have It." On that song, Tip actually sounds hungry and aggressive, over a slow-rolling, distorted funk track. Tip boasting "I'm fiery, lucid and fast/ you can't dart me."

I don't know if this will ever see the light of day, but it's damn good, that's for sure. Q-Tip sounds refreshed, and considering A Tribe Called Quest is my second favorite hip-hop group of all time (behind only De La Soul), it's a relief to hear him back to his usual quality self. Now if we can only see an official release, I'll be happy.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Zion-I and Deuce Eclipse Live in SF

Dateline, San Francisco. Friday night. Zion-I and the crew return home to a hero's welcome, and for one night, Bay Area hip-hop doesn't revolve around muscle car stunts and spastic dancing, synth-driven keyboard beats and designer drugs.

Zion-I and Deuce Eclipse performed at the Independent for one of the livest shows I've been to in a while. And, yes, they did get hyphy with it (to a degree), but really, they transcended the Bay Area's latest craze in exchange for true artistic showmanship and craft. Enough to make the backpacker crowd go dumb.

My homie DJ Worldwize served as an opening act, getting the crowd all yellow-bus stupid with Yay Area bangers like "Hyphy Juice" by Clyde Carson and "Blow the Whistle" by Too $hort. Ya boy knows how to move the crowd on the wheels (I gotta get him in here for an interview, pronto. Dave, if you're reading this, h@yb!).

Deuce Eclipse rolled up next. This Nicaraguan nightmare is a beast on the mic, boasting a breathless flow and indigenous estilo. He busted out with a freestyle from the Zion I mixtape "Family Business," claiming he's "The Oywalk/Never with no toy talk" and meaning it (I still don't know what Oywalk means, or if i'm even spelling it right).

Later, he proclaimed "We doin' it Straight for Nicaragua," and then flipped as nimbly in the King's English as he could in Espanol. He even implored the crowd to get hyphy before running through a tongue-twisting freestyle in bilingual tongue, rough and sinister at once.

"When it's Dia De Los Muertos/You'll see me with a mask on" was one of many lines that caught my attention through the night. I went to buy his new cd, "Live from the Plantation," but they didn't have any on display at the merch table. Somebody hook me up with his new disc, please!

As the night wore on, it became a large-scale Bay Area celebration. Everyone from E-40 to Crown City Rockers was getting props from the show's host. And just when it looked like the smoke was starting to settle, Zion I came onstage to a large roar form the crowd.

MC Zion sported fresh dreads and a T-shirt promoting the group's last album, "Tru & Livin'" (which was one of my top 10 picks for 2005). Amp Live, the group's DJ/Producer, manned a work station that included turntables, CDJ tables, a groove box, and other noise making contraptions, giving him the appearance of a mad scientist working a nuclear silo.

Live, Zion's voice is a commanding rebel yell, contrary to the helium-balloon-inhaling tone he sports on record. They stuck mostly to tracks off of "Tru & Livin'" and the "Family Business" mixtape, although the song "Cheeba Cheeba" from their second disc showed up three tracks in.

Amp Live did his patented beat-switch, sound-selector movida, going from the recorded track to an improvised beat performed live on his drum machine. It's a brilliant display of low-fi beat-matching, something that more rap group's should strive fore. Songs like "Temperature" and "Poems for Postmodern Decay" got this transformative treatment, going from a live song to a jazz-inspired sonic experiment in the flip of a switch.

As the show hit its stride, I realized that Zion I has singlehandedly carried the Bay Area underground scene on its back for the past two years. No other underground group has produced as much dope material and toured as extensively as this duo, and it shows in both their stage show and crowd interaction. These guys get love in their home turf for a reason.

The energy reached a crescendo with "Bird's Eye View," the first single off the "Tru & Livin'" album and a showstopper. Lots of heads bouncing in the front row. Watching from an elevated view, the place looked like it was ready to take off.

Deuce joined the crew on stage to spit some light-speed fast freestyles over a beat that sounded like JJ Fad's "Supersonic." The way the crew drew energy off of one another, it was like an old school revival, where the dj played the beat and the MC's got the crowd hype.

The group did an encore to showcase a new song, then got into their tribute to the place they live, the single "The Bay." The remix of the song featured a synthesizer-driven remix that was perfect for the club, and the trio of MC Zion, Deuce and hypeman DUST (along with a chicano MC who I swear looked like bay g-rapper Mr. Kee) got down for the crown.

It was a perfect ending to a hype night of Yay Area funk, proof that the area's talent pool is deeper than one hot for the moment trend.

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