Marc Cabrera has nothing better to do than watch a lot of movies and television, and listen to a lot of music. Luckily, he has a job that pays him to blog about local and national arts, entertainment and pop culture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One thing I can't stand about most g/gangsta/thug/turf (or whatever the kids are calling them these days) rap concerts is this: it's all one big karoake show.
Usually, what happens is the lead rapper will go on stage flanked by about 40 dudes. Everyone is shouting into the mic, and the "DJ" (usually just some dude or a younger cousin or something) will press play on the CD. They basically rap over their own CD, which is hardly worth the price of admission (might as well just buy the CD and play it in the car).
This was most definitely the case Friday night at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, where Keak Da Sneak, San Quinn, Mista F.A.B., Jacka, Nump, and a whole bunch of Bay Area rappers came through to do a hyphy show. Now, I'm writing a bigger, more general article on the "hyphy movement" later on this week, but in anticipation of that, I decided to check out the show, and it could have been a contrived cliche like the scene I just described, except for one thing - the place was packed with people and the energy was amazing.
I got the show in time to see Nump, one of the more random Bay Area rappers on the bill. His song "I Got Grapes," is an infectious ode to the high-potency marijuana that is popular in Northern Cali because of its purple strain. The bass was turned up ridiculously high, and sometimes overpowered the vocals, but when Nump did the opening refrain to the song's hook (Pulled up turned the scraper in a circle/hit the block one time/trying to see who got purple/who got purple) it was hard not to respond with "I Got Graaappes." But he did the song for exactly one minute, which was just way too short for my liking (and also an indication of things to come).
As the night progressed, the crowd got more and more wild. Grown men dancing like they were going through convulsions. Girls shaking their mid sections in calculated thrusts that looked somewhat painful. Definitely a wild-out vibe. And this was while the DJ just played CD's!
Then Keak came on at a little after 10 p.m., dressed in a long white tee, black jeans and a white Oakland Raiders cap. He hit center stage with a Cheshire cat smile and the swagger of a young Jeffrey Osbourne. Seeing him interacting with the crowd, full of confidence and energy, it was hard to deny his potential star calibre. Keak could end up being the young gun who helps the Bay get over in the '06.
He also knows how to please a crowd, playing the Mac Dre song "Feeling Myself," a regional hit that resonated with the crowd. His more well-known songs, most notably "T-Shirt, Blue Jeans and Nikes," also got the party jumping, even though those annoying backing vocals echoed over his voice.
As the momentum picked up steam, Keak dropped the boom with "Tell Me When to Go," the latest Bay Area anthem and possibly the first song to get national attention. A video was released on MTV2 earlier this week, but the song has been on heavy rotation in the Bay Area for months now.
The crowd responded in kind with pure bedlam. One Mexican homie started crowd surfing! Girls had various limbs flying in the air, and guys were dancing in large groups, "going dumb," as it were.
Keak's closer was the mega-single "Super Hyphy," an instant Yay classic that he performed twice! The song was a good cool-down closer, as the audience grooved along a slower pace in tune with the song's sultry, slinky vibe.
And as soon as it had started, the show was over. Although a few troopers came back on stage in an attempt to hold on to the crowd, the show was essentially done before 11 p.m. As me and my camera guy left, we wondered how it was possible to pack so much explosiveness into a tiny window of time.
Although it was still more "rapping with the stars" than all-out hip-hop, the undeniable energy and adulation of the crowd made up for some shaky performances. But only hair-splitting, dissatisfied music nerds such as myself could find exception to such undeniable synergy.
In my opinion, these yet-to-be-stars in the making, these underappreciated Bay Area rappers still have to step their game up if they want to take it to the next plateau.
Sometimes in the hip-hop nerd universe, forseen events unfold that shake the very foundation to its core, releaseing a wealth of possibilities that spell new hope for the destitute few who walk the path.
Such an event is upon us. Thus, the seal has been broken. Shattered. Into a thousand tiny pieces. Or something like that. I'm not too sure.
In any event, are you ready? Okay, here it goes: Nas has signed to Def Jam, and Jay-Z will executive produce his next album.
Yeah, I know. Take a moment. Let it all settle in.
For those of you who are wondering what in the good lord's name I am talking about, well, I'm talking about a hip-hop miracle. It's kind of like when Hulk Hogan and Randy "Macho Man" Savage, two former, bitter rivals in the World Wrestling Federation, made ammends and joined forces to battle the evil letches of the WWF during Wrestlemania 4.
Or like when Kobe and Shaq shook hands on Martin Luther King Jr. Day last week, at the bidding of Bill Russell, showing black unity for everyone.
Or maybe it's something else. I 'm not too sure.
Regardless, it's big. Enormously big.
These two guys were just a short four-years ago, embroiled in the greatest hip-hop battle ever. Now, before you go screaming Biggie/Tupac, let's get one thing clear: that wasn't a public battle. Though 'Pac fired a few shots, Big never responded directly (subliminaly, that's another blog for another day).
Jay-Z/Nas was another level of public beef. This was a battle for the right to be called "King of NY," which is essentially King of Hip-Hop. How so? Simple: hip-hop started in the Bronx, which is one of five buroughs in New York. Although you don't necessarily have to be from the Boogie Down to hold the crown, you do have to claim some rightful domain over that territory. And he who holds it down in the city that birthed a nation essentially controls the nation.
So, in 2001, Jay-Z wrote a song called "Takeover," claiming he was the rightful king of the city. His lyrics were to the point: This town can only have one king, and I'm going to air out any fake royalty who think they can "throw rocks at the throne."
He debuted the song at New York's Summer Jam, the biggest hip-hop concert in the city. He showed a large-screen image of one rival rapper named Prodigy dressed up as a ballerina, essentially ruining that rapper's career and destroying any and all street credability.
Then, he lowered the boom by going after Nas, who at one point was considered by many to be the best rapper on earth, pound-for-pound. But Jay called him "garbage" in a verse and it was over.
Jay said that Nas had never seen a gun before he met Jay, but soon after was rhyming about keeping a "Tek on the dresser." Jay said that Nas didn't get any money when Jay sampled his voice on a song. Jay said that Nas' bodyguard rapped better on his own song.
In New York speak, Jay "sonned" Nas.
Then, something even more miraculous happened: Nas, who to that point was regarded in hip-hop circles with as much respect as one would give a starving jackal, reclaimed his throne. Nas recorded "Ether," quite possibly the greatest diss record in hip-hop history.
Nas said Jay-Z had fat lips that were used to steal other rappers lines. Nas said Jay got "murdered" by Eminem on Jay's own record. Nas said his burough, Queens, controlled Jay's burough, Brooklyn. Nas "sonned" Jay to the second degree.
So out of all of this came a few more records, a few million more records sold for both artists, and the stuff of hip-hop legend.
And now, four years later, we have the union.
It's part Wrestlemania because two lyrical warriors with theatrical personas have united to form a solid front in on a staged entertainment medium.
It's part black unity because two brothers from the street who at a basic level were engaged in a typical 'hood beef squashed it, and now everyone else should follow suit.
Hopefully from this point on it's all to the good for both parties, and hip-hop in general. Nerds, rejoice. Let's pray that the ultimate result is a dope album and a brighter future for the music and the cause.
Or something like that. I'm not too sure.
"The Beat" has a lot of fun at work. Let me tell you.
How many folks can honestly say that they have to clock in at a punk rock show before blasting off to the Peninsula to catch a bonafide hip-hop legend in action? "The Beat" can say it, and in less than 1000 words to boot.
Friday night's festivities kicked off at The Cherry Bean in downtown Salinas, where The Achievement, Static Eccentric and Los Dryheavers rocked out. The crowd was a thick mix of shaggy skater punx and doe-eyed, Hot Topic-obsessed teeny-boppers, all pepped up on caffeine.
I missed the Achievement, and got to the venue towards the end of Static's set, which was loud and very loud. The entrance was blocked by a wall of on-lookers, so I scooted around to the back entrance. I walked in to find the lead singer on his knees, face purple, screaming into the microphone, looking like an indy-rock mess.
Los Dryheavers were greeted with all of the anticipation of a punk rock pep-rally. They looked at once road weary yet ready to rumble.
The lead singer publicly flirted with members of the other bands, made jokes about methamphetamines (saying one skinny member was on the "Jenny Crank" diet) and basically ripped a hole into the middle of old town, sending the crowd into a vertigous spiral of power punk chords and one-and-a-half-minute anthems.
By the end of the night, several youngsters were lifted to the rafters; mosh pits turned into free-for-alls, and a few guys did that funny-looking two-step dance that you always see people doing at punk and hard-core shows. I'll have to devote an entire review to their next local show because these guys kick a** in so many different ways (plus, I didn't take very good notes during the show).
Soon after the dust cleared, I was on Highway 68 heading towards the Peninsula and, more specifically, Club Octane. Normally, I don't go to super clubs : there's usually an overload of people, the drinks are always over-priced, and I hate anyplace that requires grown-ups to dress according to their standards. But the exception was this: Slick Rick was coming to town.
Yes, that Slick Rick. "La-Di-Da-Di," "Children's Story," a million gold chains and an eye patch-wearing MC Ricky D. It's rare when a hip-hop icon comes to my neck of the woods. When it happens, I'm all over it like plaque on a pair of rusty gold fronts.
Now for full disclosure: any top-name rapper/R&B singer making an appearance at a club in a small market (Monterey qualifies as a small market) is there for one reason alone: appearance fee. They're usually either on their way to a bigger show or have just gotten out of a big show and are making a little bit of extra cash because "the promoter knows a guy whose cousin owns a club, and could you please make an appearance and we'll hook you up-whoompty-whoomp."
So knowing that, I expected Rick to do 10 minutes, tops. He surprised me by doing about 20. I wasn't mad.
Slick Rick came out looking a lot more slight in person than he appears on television. Short and noticeably slim, the 200+lbs of gold and platinum jewelry seemed to weigh down his every step. He also sported a diamond and platinum encrusted eye patch, which is quite possibly the single-greatest conversation piece ever assembled by man.
On the drive up, me and my boy questioned whether Slick Rick had enough songs to rock a complete show. Although he's a legendary rapper and arguably hip-hop's greatest story-teller, we reasoned that he had four, maybe five songs tops, that a general club crowd would recognize.
Rick dove head first into his recognizable hits: Mona Lisa, La-Di-Da-Di, The Show, The Art of Story Tellin', and Lick The Balls. He sounded pretty clear with no backing track, and, amazingly, no hype man. The routine was seamless, and despite his ultra-laid back delivery (man, this guy makes it all look so easy) had the crowd waving and singing along from jump street.
But, going back to the whole appearance fee, he pulled off the ultimate performance faux paus: he kept asking the crowd "How you doing San Jose!" Not once, not twice, but three times. The first time, the crowd did its best to ignore it. The second time, you could see people turning to one another saying "Did he just say San Jose, again?"
The third time, folks pretty much slowed their roll and lost a little of their groove. Somebody from his camp must have tapped him on the shoulder and told him, because shortly thereafter he apologized.
It wasn't a Southwest Airlines "Wanna Get Away" type of moment, but it was uncomfortably close.
Rick ended the night with Children's Story, which I imagine, had half the crowd wondering when the hook from "This is How We Do it" was gonna come in. I bailed midway through the song: the mixture of smoke machine fog and jetlag got to me.
So on a Friday night in January, I got to run the full gamut of Monterey County's music scene, from quasi-Santa Cruz punk to cheesy night club fare. For "The Beat," it was another job well done.
My camera guy din't show up, so I had to use this stupid photo
So Carlos Mencia showed up in Salinas on Friday night, and boy did he clean up.
By my estimation, there were anywhere from 800 to 1200 people in attendance. At $33 to $37 a pop, performing two sold out shows, he probably made more in one night than i'll see all year (and that's after taxes).
Oh, and he sold merch before and after the show, which meant more cha-ching and, ultimately, more bling for the toad-looking comic.
Still, judging by the crowd response and the long line at the merch table before and after the show, folks in Salinas seemed more than happy to shell out the dough. And Mencia, to his credit, made sure they left feeling like they got their money's worth.
Mencia's show played like a low-rent hip-hop/rock concert, with booming bass, a raucus crowd and even some booty shaking. He had five opening acts, including his pisca brother Joe, who asked the crowd "Are jew reddy for tha cho" in an accent so thick I swear the nopal on his forehead was poking people in the first row. But that was what made it so damn funny.
Joe is the guy on Mencia's show who advertises "Wetback English" instructional tapes for gueros who can't get a job because they speak relatively good ingles. He did about five minutes before his brother's show to get the crowd hype, and his schtick was perfect for the working class Salinas Valley crowd that showed up looking for a good time.
(An aside about the crowd - only in Salinas will you see tailgate partying before a comedy show in the rain! I rolled up into the parking lot and saw at least three different groups huddled up, Coronas in hand, clouds of smoke emerging from the center. It looked like a bunch of Indian tribes communicating through smoke signals.)
Back to the show. The other comics included a self-depracating Chicana who clowned a few heckling male audience members("I f**** you last Thursday, you weren't that good") A white guy named Ted Zeppelin who played drums and bragged about living in the barrio; a little person who did one hell of a Mexican hat dance; and Steve Trevino, Mencia's head writer on the show and a pretty mean C-walker himself.
And then there was Mencia. Dressed in a simple red t-shirt, sweats and tennis shoes, he played to the locals right off the bat, sniffing the air and saying "Watsonville's here. I can smell you guys." He then proceeded to name check Monterey, Santa Cruz, and Castroville. He even referenced King City (!) in a joke about white people that really was only funny if you're from the area.
His jokes were mostly on point, and seemed to be pretty new (at least compared to those on his DVD stand-up special). He riffed on blacks, whites, mexicans, asians, and, particularly, Middle Eastern-ers. He had some harsh observations on Middle Eastern people who complain of profiling at airports, suggesting they keep quiet and take the abuse the same way blacks and Latinos have since the country was first colonized.
Mentally retarded and disabled people were not spared either. During one extra funny bit, Mencia talked about a trip to Magic Montain where he unleashed his frustration with losing his place in line to a person in a wheel chair. Later, he said he was forced sit next to the same person he dissed, and ended up punching the guy when the parapalegic kicked him with one of his failed limbs. But it was all good after that, and Mencia and the wheel chair guy ended up hanging out for the rest of the night.
All through the set, Mencia kept it on the verge of tastelessness and outright disdain. He crossed the line more than once, but stayed true to his assertion that "At some point, I will say something that will make you say "That's f*** up."
Never was this more evident than during his bit with the disabled guy at Magic Mountain. The girl next to me, who had been roaring through the first half of his set, suddenly sat marbelized, as if the jokes were just too messed up to laugh at.I looked at her and realized that Mencia wasn't just trying to be funny, he had seriously touched a nerve with some people.
At the end of the show, Mencia took the time to thank his crew and the audience, and then treated them with a staged dance off between Trevino and the little guy. Trevino did a honky tonk dance. The little guy did the centipede. It was even more funny than it sounds.
Mencia invited a girl on stage to get a special lap dance, during which time Mencia dropped his drawers and sat on her lap. It was even more gross than it sounds.
But the fact that he invited the girl on stage and had a realy active audience participation spoke well for Mencia. He seemed like a pretty cool guy, and for those that paid, it was money well spent.
The show ended with Trevino exclaiming "Thank You Salinas. We'll see you next year." Judging by the long line of folks waiting to buy his merchandise after the show, Mencia and his crew can't afford not to.
What up! The Beat is back for the 0-6, and the jumpoff was at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, where Barrington Levy and The Expendables set it off proper like.
Sunday night in Santa Cruz brought the unlikeliest of pairings: SC-bred ska-punks The Expendables and Reggae legend Barrington Levy. Whereas The Expendables bring the ruckus with thrashing melodies and mood swing-ish-transitions, Levy comes off like the definitive veteran reggae showman, complete with stern delivery and butter-smooth vocals.
Still, the juxtaposition was seamless, and both acts revved the crowd's collective engine with a burst of showmanship and big finishes.
I got to the show about four songs into the Expendable's set. A buddy of mine said the show kicked off with the Eek-a-Mouse slumper "Ganja Smuggling." Off the bat, their sound was a mixture of surf-reggae and punk that was similar to 311 (I don't know if the band would appreciate that comparison).
The crowd was a funky mix of skater and moto-cross looking scenesters, countered by a flood of brown-faced rastas in all variety of red, gold and green apparel. They were live enough, if a little bit thin. I wasn't too familiar with the band's music, so I didn't get to keep track of the song names. That's always a drawback when you're trying to do a review, but oh well.
The lead singer, who looked like a young Richie Sambora from Bon Jovi, was a true rock-star-in-training. During one crucial moment, he asked the crowd if they liked weed and, after a quiet murmur in response, declared "This song is about weed." The faithful cheered mightily and, as if on cue, large plumes of smoke filtered the perimeter. I moved to the back to avoid a contact buzz (I was on the clock, after all).
This band has the pull to headline the Catalyst on their own, but seem more suited to open for bands of their ilk, like Slightly Stoopid or Bad Brains (both of whom they have opened or will open for in the future).
They have a bit of a So-Cal vibe, but stick to their SC roots with a lot of thrashing punk that is segued by these light, floating riffs. The last time I saw these guys, they did a mostly punk set at a small dive in Prunedale called Jim Dandy's (which served as a tow-truck company when it wasn't converted into an all-ages music venue. it's now condemned).
This show was decidedly different from the last one I saw, until the very end.
That's when the lead singer started pumping his fist and raising his guitar to the rock gods, just like he was trained. Then the band, as if possessed, spun into a throbbing whirlwind of monster riffs and head banging. The pit, which was pretty lax most of the night, erupted. Devil's signs were thrown in the air. Quite an exciting, big finish.
After an all-to-brief cigarette break, Barrington Levy came out and the crowd seemed to double in size.
Dressed in a modest white t-shirt, sensible blue jeans and Timberland boots, Levy wasted no time getting the crowd in his mighty grip. He rolled into a signature tune, "Under Mi Sensei," three songs in.
Levy had the whole crowd screaming "Yo-OHH" for about three minutes, which would set off a theme of call and response. His opening bit was 15-minutes of uninterrupted reggae bliss, inciting the crowd to sing along to his "Shiddy-Biddily-Diddily-Whao" choruses, like a mixture of Cab Calloway and Ned Flanders from the Simpsons.
The crowd, which was passively obedient most of the night, sached along, not missing a beat. Even the guitarist got in on the action, echoing Levy's baritoned choruses riff for riff on his axe. It was an impressive display of interaction that had the whole crowd in awe.
Levy's popular songs got everyone going, although you might have to be a bit of a fanboy to know the hits. "Collie Weed," "Murderer," and especially "Black Roses" got the cholas from Watsonville in the back of the club up on their feet.
His one top-20 song, "Bad Boys," is actually just him singing a chorus. The song, recorded by former Bad Boy rapper Shyne, sounded refreshing live, more organic and sinister than the recorded version. Levy managed to turn a four-bar chorus into five minutes of funk.
The highlight of the night occurred during his encore. After a stirring-rendition of his hit "Here I Come," Levy lowered the boom with the Bob Marley standard "Roadblock." Now, anytime a reggae artist attempts a Marley cover, it's hit or miss. But Levy had the pedigree and, more importantly, the chops to claim it as his own.
The song rocked even harder than anything played all night. And given the seeming disparity in the two acts on the bill, it was the ultimate big finish.