Wednesday, July 26, 2006

How Come Nobody is Talking about the New Outkast?

I will review this movie once it comes out in theatres

I finally got around to watching the BET Awards last night (I was about 50/50 in my predictions). The last awards presenters of the night were rappers Big Boi and Andre 3000 of Outkast.

'Kast have been and always will be one of my favorite music acts, period. Their innovation has always been the key to their success, a rarity in this sometimes contrived and copycat musical artform called hip-hop.

When everyone else was gangsta in the early to mid-90s, they were rapping about aliens and Cadillacs, and Andre was wearing a turban.

In the late 90s, everyone else in rap was flossed out and rapping in shiny suits with bottles of crystal in hand. 'Kast rapped about civil rights leader Rosa Parks and Andre was rocking silver wigs and shoulder pads.

When the game switched to players and pimps and hustlas in the Y2k-plus, 'Kast got to redefining black rock and soul music and Andre was dressing like a prohibition-era Southern gentleman/barbershop quartet singer, or something like that.

Actually,I'd be remiss in trying to define Andre's style at all.

So, anyways, they were on the BET Awards announcing the video of the year, and Andre jokingly announced the winner as "Idlewild." With perfect comedic timing, Andre uttered "Nah, we're just playing," and they let it be known that the movie and soundtrack would be dropping in late-August.

That's right, 'Kast is releasing a movie and an album, both reportedly titled "Idlewild," or some variation of that name.

I've heard the first singles, Big Boi's "Morris Brown" and Andre's "Idlewild Blues," seperate songs released at the same time.

The songs make good use of each MC's strengths: "Morris Brown" bops along with a marching band drum line and horns, while Big Boi just settles into the groove as "D-A-double-D-Y Fat Sacks." I love rap songs that use marching bands (like Trick Daddy's "Shut Up" and TI's "Bring Em Out"). More rappers should use this sound.

"Idlewild Blues" is a straight up blues song with a thick drum track underneath. Andre sings with a little more authority than I've noticed, compared to his past singing efforts. It's definitely a different feel from the Big Boi single.

The release of two separate, solo singles is the same strategy they incorporated with their last album(s), "The Love Below/Speakerboxx." That effort was a double-disc that could have worked as separate, stand -alone projects. This time, they promise to release a cohesive album as a unit.

The one song I've heard featuring both rappers is called "Mighty O." It's a synth-driven, foot-stomping, hip-hop blues banger. Andre actually raps, which is a relief (I can't say I'm a big fan of his Prince-style falsetto). Big Boi does his usual pimp strut flow, and all seems well on the planet Stankonia.

But it's weird that less than a month before possibly their riskiest release (and that's saying a lot given the experimental vibe of their last album) I haven't seen a whole lot of public anticipation.

No big ads on TV or radio. No magazine covers. No posters at record stores. I have only seen the movie poster once, and that was a few weeks back. When they announced "Idlewild" on the awards, my friend turned to me and asked "What's that?" When I told him that it was their movie/soundtrack, he looked perplexed.

It sometimes takes a minute for the hype machine behind big releases to get going,so in two weeks this post could be a moot point. At the same time, this is Outkast. Everyone should be talking about their upcoming release like now.

I wonder if the surprise success of "The Love Below/Speakerboxx" prevents them from really being able to sneak up on people with a release. In other words: the public feels like they've already seen the group at it's riskiest, so nothing will be quite surprising anymore.

So, given all of their past non-conventional approaches, maybe the Outkast schtick has run it's course. We expect them to be different and envelope-pushing and brilliant. We don't need to hype them up because they're all but guranteed to deliver.

I'm probably wrong in all of this, but it's still interesting that a group whose career has been defined by the art of mystery and intrigue may have run out of surprises for its audience. Regardless, I'm still eager to see what they come up with this time around.

Read more!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Ms. Lauryn Hill in SC

This is the Lauryn Hill I choose to remember, not the alien clone currently performing at a club near you

I didn't go to see Ms. Lauryn Hill in Santa Cruz on July 15. I couldn't go due to personal reasons, but in reality I couldn't bear to watch.

Press credentials were a no go. "Ms. Hill has asked that no press be put on the guest list," read the e-mail response. The booking agent was apologetic, but it's understandable. I was more bugged out that he referred to her in the e-mail as Ms. Hill (I've read stories that she insists on being called this by everyone; the marquee outside The Catalyst, where she performed, read "Ms. Lauryn Hill").

And so it wasn't meant to be. I didn't have the $50 to spare a ticket, and aside from that, a prior engagement prevented me from commiting to the one-off show even if I did come out the pocket.

But really, it was the apprehension from a previous show, about five years ago that left me quite traumatized (I'll get to this in a minute). The memory of that debacle prevented me from putting aside everything, plunking down half a c-note and watching one of my former idols give a surprise performance in Santa Cruz, of all places.

Performing in SC made sense. The grandfather of Hill's children, the late great Bob Marley - Hill has three kids from Marley's son, Khymani (edit: a more informed reader corrected me on this point; Hill has four sons from Rohan Marley; no excuses, my bad, y'all) used to visit SC when he toured the states. Prior to the SC shows, Hill did two spots in San Francisco, also last-minute dates in a small venue.

San Jose Mercury News music writer Brad Kava gave glowing review of the show. You can read all about it here.As good a writer as Kava is, I don't know him personally, so I can't say I'm with him on the account. His review reads like someone who is viewing Hill from a differed point of view. His is the view of someone who is only semi-acquainted with hip-hop and, more importantly, the impact Hill had on the culture.

My boy Demone, a homie from San Jose who knows what hip-hop tastes like, gave me the real run down.

"Dude, it sucked," he told me over the phone. I believe him.

He reported, much like Kava, that Hill was two hours late, pissing off the crowd to no end. There was no opening act, no dj, just a bunch of fans sitting around, waiting for the performance of a lifetime.

When she did come out, she was directing the band like they were practicing. Demone described the sound as "ska versions" of her music. That does not sound good to me at all.

And then, she veered off into foreign territory. She did a rendition of "Do You Know The Way to San Jose." Demone left at that point.

"I couldn't stand for it anymore," he said.

Which brings me to my last experience with Hill, five years ago, during the Smoking Grooves Tour. Hill was one of the co-headliners. There was a band set up and it looked like she might do some live stuff.

I was hype. Hill was my favorite MC at that time. Note, not female MC, or east coast mc, but MC period. I just thought she was the best at her craft in the whole entire world.

Then, she came on stage carrying a guitar. And she started playing and singing. For 45 minutes.

It was agonizing.

They say for most artists, performing is like therapy, only cheaper. Hill exercised her demons, playing the same four chords while shrieking at the top of her lungs about her poor sap life and love dramas.

It wasn't that the singing was bad, or that she didn't know the chords. It was the fact that she felt she could get away with doing some half-finished acoustic songs and her true fans wouldn't realize what was going on. It was the fact that she thought people wouldn't notice that none of the music had any sort of transition. I can't play a guitar note to save my life, but I can tell when someone is strumming the same chord for an hour.

What really got to me was that the crowd ate it up. It was a mostly white, college age audience. They cheered for her like she was playing something new and exciting. I knew better.

My opinion on Ms. Hill was forever jilted.

So hearing my homie's unsavory review made me glad I didn't waste my money to watch my former favorite MC fall further from grace. The artist formerly known as Lauryn Hill is all but dead to me. I just can't bear to watch it.

Read more!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Live: Lateef Tha Truthspeaker at Moe's Alley in Santa Cruz

True hip-hop (if there is such a thing) exists on the fringe, dangling by a string from the thread of commercialism that confounds purist whack jobs like myself. It's not quite as archaic or maligned as punk rock, but it's not all that far off either.

The one thing that will constantly remind me of how great it can be is small shows that rock when you least expect it. Take Thursday night's show at Moe's Alley in Santa Cruz, where Lateef the Truth Speaker actually lived up to his billing.

Lateef is a member of the SoleSides/Quannum crew, the Bay Area collective that started out at UC-Davis and wound up taking over Nor-Cal hip-hop during the late 90s. Blackalicious, Latyryx (of which Lateef was a member) and most famously, DJ Shadow helmed this movement, which was incorrectly pegged as avant-garde hip-hop when in fact it was more throwback rap: dope lyrics and dope beats you could move to.

Lateef''s contribution to this movement was his non-stop, stream-of-consciousness flow that was similar to pouring liquid from a pitcher, the more it went, the more it built up in the cup, until you wound up with a full glass brimming with substance. On Thursday, he managed to translate his recorded content to the stage, inspiring a small but enthusiastic crowd.

Moe's Alley is one of my favorite venues, really small and cozy with decent sound. The place doesn't get too packed, so you can move around pretty effortlessly and get a drink at the bar without having to wedge your way through a pack of people.

Opening act The Serendipity Project gave a stellar performance, their mix of live funk and hip-hop getting better with age. I got there in time to watch a freestyle-jam that lasted a little over 20 minutes.

The group has added two female singers since I last saw them about a year and a half ago. My favorite member is the bassist, this tall, mohawk-sporting wild man who goes ape shit every time he's performing. He was wearing an astronaut jump suit, which was totally odd and cool. Sample the funk at

Lateef came through with a DJ and nothing else, displaying the runaway train flow over the 'Apache' breakbeat. This moved right into 'Lester Hayes,' the club-banger from the Maroons album (Lateef also belongs to Maroons, another off-shoot group within the Quannum fold).

DJ E Da Boss was completely in sync with Lateef, seamlessly blending the beat from Kanye West's "Heard 'em Say" during the opening number. Lateef showed true command on the mic while maintaining his smoothness. It would be a foreshadowing of the night's performance.

Most hip-hop shows are pretty standard: throw ya hands in the air, say yeah, DJ scratch, cue the next song. Lateef stuck to the basics, but still managed to keep it fresh with some old fashioned charisma and enthusiasm. There were probably as many people there on Thursday as there were at the Fatlip concert I had attended the previous week, which is to say there weren't that many people. But that didn't matter one bit. Lateef proved one thing on Thursday, it's not the size of the crowd, it's the size of the crowd's enthusiasm.

And so when he ran through the typical "Make some Noise" routine that all rappers attempt during live shows, he did so without falling into cliche. Demanding that everyone use their energy from a long week, whether it was a crappy job or a mean boss or a messed up love relationship, Lateef summoned everyone's inner spirit, and the outpouring of crowd noise and excitement betrayed the small numbers. That's how you rock a show.

Songs like "Side to Side," and "Back to the Essence," his duets with Blackalicious, as well as "Top Rankin'" off the Quannum Spectrum album, displayed a depth of catalogue. But it was my personal fav, "Lady Don't Tek No Mess," that showed a new side to Tha Truthspeaker.

The song, which uses elements from Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" and Grand Master Flash's "The Message," is a silky, sultry ode to that girl. The ladies started grinding, and I realized for the first time that Lateef might be Quannum's unofficial sex symbol. The raspy flow, the slightly off-key singing, the green eyes. This guy can get the ladies on the dance floor.

"Lady Don't..." also has one of my favorite lines in any song, talking about his girl and how much people lover her, he sings "Little kids wanna jump in your lap/Girl I wanna do that myself." I get a smile on my face every time I hear that one.

Lateef ended the night on the political tip, the song "If" questioning the government's sketchy foreign and domestic policies. He then ran through a buffed-up political rant that used the "Badder than Bad" line from the Public Enemy song "Bring The Noise." He finished off with a "F---- Bush!" for good measure, which deviated from the show a little bit. After all, he's not Boots from The Coup, even though his intentions are good.

And despite the out of place ending, it did drive home the point: hip-hop, when done the right way, can incite ass-shaking and thought-provoking movement. You just have to look past the mire to find it.

Read more!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Check out The West Coast Slam Poetry Championship in Big Sur

Me and my boy Frank Sanchez performing at the 1999 Big Sur Slam (that's me on the right, about 50 pounds ago!)

Spoken word poetry could be the savior of underground hip-hop!

I'm exaggerating a little bit, but it's an argument worth having. Given that "underground Hip-Hop" is either a label of defiance or a punchline, depending on who you're talking to, the spoken word has emerged as the essence of the underground, eschewing all things commercial and cliche in favor of a puritan aesthetic - no one is getting rich off of spoken word.

Not Russell Simmons, who despite launching both Def Jam Poetry on HBO and on Broadway, hasn't seen much return financially (the cable tv show and Broadway production have both been in indefinite hiatus). Spoken word's biggest star, Saul Williams, still toils on the outskirts of famedom. Luckily, his art has not suffered for it.

And so, it is with this righteous ambivalence to corporate exploitation that a show such as The West Coast Poetry Slam Championship can exist almost completely under the radar. This weekend, the 9th annual incarnation goes on as scheduled at The Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, a poet's oasis if there ever was one.

The slam championship is a Peninsula poor-man's literary event; on the same weekend rich well-to-do's will shell out hundreds of dollars for tickets to see the Bach Festival or Bill Cosby perform in a movie house, dozens of poets from up and down the left coast will converge to throw down in the woods. At stake: $2000 in prizes, along with bragging rights for Wessyde supremacy.

My homie/mentor Garland Thompson puts on the annual showcase, inviting teams from Nor and So-Cal to whip it out and see who's got the baddest verse. For those that don't know, slam poetry is a form of competitive poetry, wherein the contestants square off to see who gets judged with the highest score.

Judges, chosen randomly from the crowd, rate the poets on a scale of 1-10, taking into consideration style and content as well as performance. Poets have to be on point in both their words and their presentation, so you get skilled wordsmiths displaying Shakesperian-level performance skills.

The best part is that there is no set form, so poems can be as hype as battle raps. And that's what is so hip-hop about the event, the fact that the poets themselves can run through their verse with the same intensity of an MC going for theirs.

I've been to four of the events, and this weekend will mark my fifth appearance. This will be the first year I am not participating as either a competitor or featured poet. I'm a bit bummed, but the show must go on.

In the past, Def Jam Poets have been on display, with exciting artists like Beau Seiu, Poetri, Rives, The Suicide Kings and Mighty Mike McGee grabbing the mic. The ladies represent hardcore as well, with goddesses like Meliza Banales and Emily Kagan solidifying their reps at the championship.

So, if you're in Big Sur this weekend and you feel like being inspired, check out the slam. For more info, visit the Web site

Read more!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Local content: Check out the Web sites and

One thing that makes the internet so great is the artificial sense of community building that develops at certain spots. Years ago, when I started visiting The Roots Website,, I had no idea it would become an online community that would spawn record labels (okayplayer records) and propel little known artists (Little Brother) to major label contracts.

It's even better when it happens at the local level, where internet communities can network with real-life community members, resulting in community building. Houston's emergence in the rap world, along with the success of artists like Paul Wall and Chamillionaire, owed a lot to internet savvy. Ditto for the Bay Area.

In Monterey County, two Web sites are at the forefront of the local movement, and, more recently,

There are plenty of web sites with local artists (check any number of myspace band pages) to choose from, but these two separate themselves because they aim to connect people and promote all forms of local hip-hop artists through discussion forums and artist interviews. is the elder statesman, having been online for the past few years. Administrator Gabriel "Gypsy" Avalos designed the site, while local rappers Doom the Original and Gemini serve as on-site administrators.

The heart of the site is the discussion board, where local rappers hype recent releases, most produced in their bedrooms or at local studios. Parties, shows, events and various news items are discussed, dissed and discussed some more. Most of the time, the discussion is on local talent.

One recent in-person discussion with Gemini revealed some of the drawbacks of moderating a site that allows locals to discuss and sometimes talk trash about one another. Despite the administrators best efforts, delicate egos can be bruised with each posting. It's a fine line between constructive criticism and straight up dissing.

Overall, the site is a nice look into the local scene and the passion with which a lot of the up and coming artists approach their work. is fairly new. Launched a few months ago by members of the Seaside-based crew Tha Undahoggs, the site is a nice companion to

Artist interviews are the main highlight, giving folks like Doom and Gemini, along with other local rappers, a bit of star-treatment. The coolest thing on the sight is the streaming collage of album artwork from locally-produced artists.

A quick scan of the album covers revealed one of the first local albums I ever hear, a maxi-single by the group Seaside Posse (I had a copy of that cassette in high school!). There were at least two dozen album covers, and possibly even more than that, on display. The non-stop stream gives an impressive view of the quantity of product being pumped out of the Central Coast.

Equally impressive was the streaming radio, which features dozens of songs produced by Monterey County residents. Songs from artists like Tha UndaHoggs, Mista English, DEA, AK, Fury, Billy Bud Toker (the site's administrator) and others are bumped non-stop, giving folks a chance to sample the 831 funk.

With the abundance of underground talent looming along the Central Coast, Websites like and are helping to bring that talent to a wider audience, one that appreciates the efforts of local do it yourself-ers.

Read more!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Fatlip of Tha Pharcyde, Live in Santa Cruz

Pity the fallen rapper, that tragic figure upon which cautionary tales are framed and the true nature of the entertainment industry is revealed.

Fatlip, former Pharcyde affiliate and homie of music video/movie director Spike Jonze, might certainly qualify as such a sadsack tale, but he's not about to sing a sad song.

Performing in the atrium of The Catalyst on Monday night, Fatlip delivered an appropriately short set, dipping in and out of the sparse crowd like he was a paid patron himself. The only thing to differentiate him from the rest was the mic in his hand and the staticky sound of his voice booming through the muffled PA system.

Given the venue (the atrium is usually reserved for local acts) and the big top event in the main room (Steel Pulse played to a packed crowd in the next room, spelling imminent scheduling doom) on a Monday night, no less, Fatlip could have just phoned it in and accepted his sideshow status. But he stopped just short of that.

Instead, he put his best foot forward, going through a non-stop set in front of about 30 people. At some points, he simply went through the motions. At others, he showed a quick glimpse of the showmanship that he was known for during his run with The Pharcyde.

"Live and let live and just let it be," he pronounced during one song, almost a mantra given the context of the night. "Tell it like it is from the grown ups to the kids."

All of the songs were new and unfamiliar, fast-paced and seemingly devoid of the flawed charisma he was known for early on in his career. When he started out with the Pharcyde, Fatlip seemed to separate himself from the other members of the crew with his breathy flow and self-depracating steez.

There were no signs of that on Monday. Even though it was a real impossibility, I still half-expected him to do maybe his verse from "Passing Me By," just to throw the crowd a friggin' bone. Those who were dedicated enough to shell out 14 bones deserved at least that.

Opening act Trek Life also did his best to make the most of a salty situation. Despite his enthusiasm, he couldn't get most of the crowd to stand up out of their chairs.

But if Fatlip is indeed a fallen rapper, he's not complaining about it. Later on in the night, I caught him walking down Pacific Street, all alone, just like any other regular dude. I hollared his name, but he didn't even turn his head. Perhaps he's content being a person rather than a personality.

Read more!