Friday, February 24, 2006

Matisyahu live in Santa Cruz

If Matisyahu gets recognized only for his beat-boxing skills, then your boy is going to be a star.
Making his Santa Cruz debut on Thursday night to a sold out Civic Auditorium, the 26-year-old Hasidic Jewish reggae/rap wonderkind was clearly the main draw for the night.
Prior to the show, much was said about Santa Cruz homies Soul Majestic performing for the home team, and even the return of headliner Gregory Isaacs was also hyped up.
But for reals, this skinny Jewish kid from upstate NY, with his crow's nest for a beard, black yarmelkuh and stoic gaze, was about as anticipated as Barry Bonds taking a turn at a spring training batting practice.
That's not to say that the buzz surrounding "Matis" has been entirely positive. Most of the message board postings I've seen on have regarded whether his music can be taken seriously in spite of his spiritual imagery. The Village Voice used his album cover as the main artwork for its 15 worst music moments of 2005.
But watching him perform live, I questioned whether the editors has even bothered to crack their copy of the CD open.
Dressed in a wide brim hat, long-sleeve button up shirt with straps hanging from the bottom, and practical black slacks, "Matis" was greeted by a large roar from the crowd. His band, a five-piece that played with an inspired tightness, got the grooves going from jumpstreet.
As the crowd swelled with life, Matis would shift during his songs from a long breakdown and start singing acapella. Deftly, he would flip back into his patented scat/rap, which owes a little debt to Damian Marley. "Don't you see," he waxed. "That's not the way to beee."
Giving shout outs to Jeruselum and inviting German-born R&B/raggamuffin Gentleman to share the stage, Matis carried a universal irie vibe that was infections.
As heartfelt as his music was, he talked in a funny, almost shy nasal tone between songs. It revealed a certain humanity, sincerity that made you think this guy really isn't trying to be some sort charicature. But he brought me back to reality when he announced that his album was dropping March 7. Fortunately, he didn't try to beat the crowd over the head with the release date.
And then, when the crowd was taking a second to catch its breath, he drove into another musical breakdown and started beatboxing. Slow at first, then driving the beat until it sounded like a spit-kicking windmill. Mixing tongue-twisting melodies with deep bass drops, you got the feeling that he might be talking in tongues to alien b-boys. It was that rad.
The rest of the night preceded and proceded almost mechanically. Gregory Isaacs followed up Matis' set with a worman-like set. Dressed in a shimmering burgundy silk suit, he was a good compliment to his openers eyebrow raising talents. Isaacs reminded everyone how sexy they could be, and how reggae should be.
All swaying hips and rudeboy coo', he exuded smoove, even if he looked like he could be a grade school principal if he dressed more conservatively. Watching Isaacs, you got an image of what reggae is, while Matis gave you a glimpse of what reggae is about to become.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

I Really Don't Hate The Game. Honest.

For some reason, folks on here have gotten the impression that I hate The Game (meaning the rapper, not the mythical reference rappers use to describe the music industry).
In all honesty, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jeason Taylor, aka The Game, a Compton-born MC who was brought up by Dr. Dre and G-Unit before being kicked out of 50 Cent's posse and essentially black balled from the music industry.
The beef with 50 stemmed from several factors, most notably the impending release of 50's album "The Massacre" in early 2005. Game's CD had dropped about two months prior and, looking for a good marketing gimmic, 50 took aim at The Game after the west coast rapper refused to get involved in his boss' beef with rival MC's. Game was excommunicated from the group, 50's album went nearly five times platinum, and both rappers careers have gone in seeming opposite directions.
Which brings us to The Game's DVD release, "Stop Snitchin, Stop Lyin." Released almost a year to the date that his first LP, "The Documentary," this self-produced and distributed disc finds The Game hot on 50's trail, "From LA to Farmington, Conn." as Game mumbles in the intro.
The video is two-fold: provide true fans with a glimpse into The Game's personal life, including scenes filmed in his lush Beverly Hills sky-rise, footage of his trips to the East Coast, and even some on-the-scene shots of his arrest in North Carolina (which could possibly be used as evidence if he ever pursued a police brutality case against the arresting officers).
The other aim of the film is to discredit every member of 50's posse, which includes rappers Tony Yayo, Lloyd Banks, Young Buck, Ma$e, and R&B singer Olivia.
Game gets supposed ex-cons who did time with Yayo to mouth off on the rapper, claiming that he was a jailhouse recluse who was too scared to walk in general population. Lloyd Banks gets it in the form of a blurred image of a gay porn star who supposedly strikes an alarming resemblance to Banks (the porn star has since come forward to clear up the confusion).
Probably the funniest diss is aimed at Ma$e, a former r&b rapper turned preacher turned gangster rapper. At one point during his diatribe, Game wonders aloud about the seeming hypocracy of such extreme career turns before the screen states flatly "Ma$e is going to Hell," a sentiment plenty of hip-hop fans have shared over the past few years.
50 fares no better, as his name is tossed around in various court documents that suggest he was covorting with federal agents or police detectives. But Game uses lame re-enactments to illustrate those alleged documents, none of which come off as funny but more like they're reaching.
The film is a mess of quick cut documentary style footage mixed with interviews that reveal a somewhat reflective Game. But the true revelation comes in the form of "hip-hop police," which follow Game around during his travels.
Using superimposed arrows to point out his stalkers, Game runs into these police detectives, part of a New York precinct's undercover outfit that reportedly follows rap stars around to monitor their every move. Game machs these guys from the get, and at one point gets one of them to fess "Hey, I'm just doing my job." It's an eye opener that these guys not only exist, but are determined to shadow their prey.
As the film progresses, we get more and more shots of Game trying to find 50 Cent. He travels to his hometown of Queens, NY, as well as Harlem, and the images of hundreds of fans crowding him and one girl breaking down and crying at the sight of Game is pretty moving.
As his travels eventually lead to 50's gated mansion in Connecticut, the movie reminds me of a ghetto version of Roger and Me, Micheal Moore's documentary that followed his pursuit of Chrysler president Roger Smith. Where in that movie Moore is stopped short of a face to face with his prey at a public board meeting, Game shows up at 50's house and a hilarious encounter ensues.
Although the film is entertaining at times and revealing in others, it does reveal some of Game's weaknesses: at one point, his own CD image is blurred from the screen, proving that he does not have any control over his contractual situation at this point in his career (all images of Aftermath/G-Unit artists are blurred out due to copyright restrictions).
He also shares that he paid for his fourth video out of his own pocket, further proof that his record label is not supporting his commercial endeavors.
And although Game himself seems somewhat affable and open, he falls into the same rut as his predecessors, putting too much weight on image and profiling. The excessive shots of his fleet of cars, guns and money stacks are just too over the top to be taken seriously.
Nonetheless, for true fans, this is sure to be a good argument in his favor. Further proof that one should hate neither the player nor The Game.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

RIP: J-Dilla

Now that I've had a minute to catch my breath after a decidedly hectic week, I can focus some attention on a very sad moment in my life: the passing of hip-hop wonderkind Jay Dee, aka J-Dilla.
Jay Dee, born James Yancey in Detroit, was a quietly brilliant hip-hop producer/rapper who was almost completely ignored by mainstream hip-hop fans. His work was pretty groundbreaking, as far as hip-hop standards go, based on his production techniques and wicked ear for new and different sounds (once in an interview, he explained how he had stretched a rubberband across a turntable and used the sound of the record playing as a track sample).
He always stressed creativity and exploration in his music, and his body of work showcased that creative pursuit.
I originally learned of Dilla when he signed up to produce A Tribe Called Quest's last two records. He had teamed up with Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammed to form the production trio "The Ummah," which I think in swahali meant unity or brotherhood.
It was a significant union in the late 90s, because Tip and Ali were already established forces in hip-hop, and Dilla's inclusion signified a passing of the torch. Jay Dee was that dude.
Interestingly enough, his most famous commercial work book-ended most of his catalogue. He came on the scene as the main producer for The Pharcyde's second album, "Labcabincalifornia," orchestrating the singles "Drop" and "Runnin." Last year, he produced three tracks on Common's opus "Be," the songs "Love Is" and "It's Your World." He co-produced the single "Be," which was featured in a Team Jordan commercial featuring Carmelo Anthony and Terrell Owens.
But simply listing his career highlights and his creative approach isn't enough to encapsulate his work. Simply put, the brother changed the game. How so? Well, to me, the most obvious was in his ability to make true listeners of hip-hop music actually care about snare drums.
Yes, snare drums.
As his career began to define itself, Dilla began finding different ways to signify his production, but he did it in a subtle manner. One of those ways was in his use of snares, which, for a novice music listener, are the sharp drum tones that usually follow the deep bass kicks on most standard hip-hop songs (like boom-snare, boom-snare).
Dilla would make his snares sound so crisp, so sharp, that he became known for them. You could always tell a Dilla track by the clean sounding snare, which was similar to a whip-cracking. You had to listen closely, but the snare was in there on all of his tracks.
Other up and coming producers, from such big names as Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes to underground heroes like 9th Wonder of the group Little Brother, began to follow suit.
In fact, Williams once referred to Dilla as his favorite producer when asked on an episode of BET's teeny-bopper countdown show "106 & Park." Show hostess Free looked at him in bewilderment, asking "Is he someone new." Williams, a closet undergound hip-hop fan, just laughed and explained that Dilla was one of the best around.
But that moment pretty much summed up Dilla's legacy : beloved by his fellow hip-hop contemporaries, but pretty much unheard of to the general public. But that's okay, because true fans will remember Jay Dee as one of the GOATs, one of the Greatest of All Time.
And though this is overall a happy period in my life, I can't help but feel a sense of loss that such a brilliant musician has left the hip-hop universe too soon. RIP James Yancey. Hopefully, the rest of the world will come to know how dope you were.

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

AT&T Tournament Coverage: Days 3 & 4

I was way, way, waayy too tired to try and blog something on Friday night (literally went to bed as soon as I got home). But a lot went down, so this entry comes in two parts, Friday and Saturday (it's long, so bear with me).

Friday, Feb. 10

The day started off pretty good. They were serving steak and potatoes in the media tent, so I loaded up. I was bummed because I had meant to bring some tupperware and ziplock bags for extras (hey, it's a gourmet spread, for crying out loud).
I got to Spyglass Hill and the fog was thick, the wind was cold. I was squatting on the first hole with a Herald sports writer and a local boxing promoter, waiting for George Lopez. My assignment was to follow him for the day (yes, I'm a professional stalker, get over it).
As I'm standing there waiting for Lopez, Bill Murray rolled through, wearing a hat that looked like a bonnet. As he walked through the gallery and we caught eyes. Then, in what will go down as one my coolest moments as a professional writer, he pointed at me and gave me a quick head nod, as if to say "Nice story, kid." I nodded back. It was awesome.
Lopez rolled up about 20 minutes later. He put on a neon-orange fleece that his caddy had bought on the spot at the pro-shop. He asked the crowd "Does this make me look gay?" More than one person nodded an affirmative.
Lopez was paired up with Andy Garcia, in what I'm assuming was the event organizers attempt to corral all of the Latino entertainers and spectators into one group (it was probably easier to keep an eye on all of us that way).
Despite being almost completely silent for the whole day, Garcia was pretty damn cool. He reminded me a little bit of Ricky Ricardo, minus the bongos and the black suits and the loud-mouthed red-head. But boy did he stink it up on the course.
On the sixth hole, Garcia knocked a shot that banked off a tree and lined straight at some girl's purse. Later on, he hit a tee shot about 100 feet, a look of disgust on his face that cut through the thick fog like a prison shank. Celebrities are no fun to watch when their game is sucky.
Lopez was having a tough time on the course too, but he still managed to have some fun. At one point, he hit the ball a good 200 yards, a real solid shot.
"I think some caca came out on that one," he joked.
Later, after shanking a drive on the 9th hole, he casually strolled down the course and signed an autograph for a fan.
"You know you're cool when you can hit a shot like that and still sign an autograph," he said to me, giving me a pat on the back.
I like Lopez, and had a fun time talking to him and watching him play. You can read all about the good stuff here.
Toward the end of the day, I went over to introduce myself to his wife. She was a beautiful Latina with auburn hair and light brown features. I told her I was a writer for The Herald and I was doing a story on her husband. This set off a red flag really quick.
"Who was the guy who did the story about my husband and Bill Murray having beef?" she asked me with a serious look on her face.
I bluffed and said that it was a sports writer whom I didn't have much contact with, even though I knew it was a good friend of mine. The story raised the question of why Murray and Lopez hadn't had more interaction with one another during the tournament. Was there funk between the two?
Lopez had explained to me prior that there was some static, but the two were "starting to talk." I played it off with Mrs. Lopez that everything was cool, but she insisted on making her point.
Finally, George told her to calm down. "There is no beef," he said.
"Yeah, but that's a bunch of bull****" she said, as I got a little more nervous.
"Well, everything in the paper is bull****" he said, and we all laughed (although mine was a tad bit nervous).
Still, the situation haunted me on the drive home. I told my editor about the exchange, and we both agreed it was best to leave it alone. I'm only blogging it now to have some personal record of the incident. I hope The Lopez family doesn't catch wind of this blog (then again, there's probably nothing they can do about at this point).

Day 4: Saturday, Feb. 11

My assignment is to talk to fans and find out who they are there to see, which means I'm not on stalker duty today. I am free to roam around Pebble Beach and be with the people.
This allows me to rock some tunes and catch some serious vibes. Here is my Pebble Beach Day 4 iPod playlist:

On the Ride up - Kanye West, "Diamonds From Sierra Leone": This song was appropriate for the ride up. Knocking hard through my whip's stock speakers, security guards and old ladies heads turn at the loud noise. A song about the blood diamond trade in Sierra Leone, Africa should put all of these richer than rich folks on alert that a righteous homeboy has arrived at their country club party, and he ain't playin' games!

On the first hole - Rage Against the Machine, "Down Rodeo": The original lyric goes "So now I'm rollin' down Rodeo with a Shotgun/These people ain't seen a brown skin man since their grandparents bought one." I switch it up to fit my needs: "So now I'm rollin down Pebble on a quote-look/these people ain't seen a brown skin kid with a press pass and a notebook."

On the Fourth hole - Dre Dre, "The Day the N****z took over": Now I'm starting to feel it. Nothing like some fight music to get me all riled up. I swear, if one of these rich folks looks at me funny, I'mma go off on them... I need to calm down though. If I'm not careful, I could end up as a classic case of "When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong."

On the Ninth Hole - Notorious B.I.G., "Mo Money, Mo Problems": Now, this is just perfect timing. No matter how good I think these rich folks have it, I remember that one line "It's like the more money we come up on/ The more problems we see." Big up to Bed Stuy.

On the 17th Hole - Al Green, "Tired of Being Alone": This one is more of a cool down song, as I head to the 18th and final hole. I think about my new fiance and how I wish she was here with me to see how nice Pebble Beach really is. She doesn't quite grasp my assignment or what the tourney is all about, so she trips out when I give her the rundown. This one's definitely for her.

In the Media Tent after the tourney - Talib Kweli, "Get By": As I sip on my coffee and eat my peanut butter cookie after a long day, Kweli helps me get my head straight. It's hard to get by when you're on assignment in a foreign territory. Good music, and peanut butter cookies, help put it all inperspective.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

On Location at the AT&T: Round 1

On location at the AT& T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Tournament this week. It's my special assignment, as I'm the color guy for our newsroom coverage (which basically means I'll be doing the light-hearted, "fun" pieces, as opposed to the hard-hitting "coverage" that sports is handling).

Basically, the tournament is a chance for celebrities to show just how much they suck at golf. I mean, I know Bill Murray sank a 90-foot eagle on a wedge today, and Carson Daly is a former amateur champ, but I'm pretty sure I can take Kenny G on the links - and I've never golfed a round in my life (Tiger Woods 2005 Challenge on PS2 doesn't count, right?).

But the tourney is a chance to do some celebrity gawking, and I'm not one to pass up a chance to mix it up with the likes of James Woods, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Wahlberg, Justin Timberlake and George Lopez. Here's the lowlights from my first day on assignment:

- Got to huddle up with George Lopez, who explained why he doesn't do shows in Salinas anymore. "There's too many girls popping gum," he said. "I went there last time and there were one hundred girls popping gum at once."

- Justin Timberlake revealed the subtext for his role in the film "Alpha Dog," which debuted at Sundance a short while ago. "It's kind of complicated... I play a gang member."
Yeah, I know. I laughed too.
But he's gotten some good reviews, and lord knows there's nothing tougher than a skinny whiteboy from The Mickey Mouse Club (do mouse ears count as gang paraphenelia?).

- Two foxy blondes kept walking back and forth on the links, drawing stares from guys and girls in the gallery. I later learned that one of them was Dennis Quaid's fiancee. Who knew "The Rookie" was a veteran mack!

- Standing on the greens near the second hole, Bill Murray kept staring at me out of the corner of his eye, but didn't utter one word. My barrio-senses started tingling, and I swore he was mad dogging me. I didn't flinch, giving him the standard East Salas "Whatupvato" head nod, just like I was taught. He looked away right-quick.

- George Lopez got into a pretty rough exchange with the announcer guy. At one point, announcer guy said "I studied Mexican in College, and I still don't understand you." Lopez retorted with "It's always the old white guys who talk the most s***." Lopez won.

- I was kicked off the green before I got a chance to hit up Mark Wahlberg. I am so pissed I didn't get to tell him "It's because of YOU that fools will call me Marky Mark for the The Rest of My Life! Do you know how much that sucks... But I love Entourage. Turtle is the s***" (and Four Brothers wasn't bad either).

- Another missed opportunity: I wanted to ask Sam Jackson to point at all of the rich, snooty folks and yell "Yes they deserve to die, and I hope they burn in hell!" I bet folks would have been scared out of their cardigan sweaters.

- Poor Kenny G. He went through the whole day almost unnoticed (even Huey Lewis was getting more love from the local press). And his Sideshow Bob hairstyle looked uncomfortably hot in the baking sun. He needs to get a fade.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Hyphy 101: An unofficial introduction

I just thought this picture was hella funny

Savvy readers of "The Beat" will note that I have devoted a generous amount of blog space to the impending "Hyphy" national phenomenon. Now, don't get it twisted: by no means am I trying to get my Nostradamous on, nor my Walter Mercado on. It's just something I have noticed bubbling on the surface, and especially since the Yay Area is only an hour and a half drive away from Salinas.

But it looks like the Hyphy movement (why do rappers insist on calling any sort of trend a movement?) is getting some legs. You can see the first end to end burner here, in the form of the new video for E-40 and Keak da Sneak's mega-single "Tell Me When to Go."

The video, filmed in stunning black and white with black cinema screen borders, is a winner: stoic shots of 40-water and Keak on some true artsy ish, along with slo-mo treatment to the popular dance and car maneuvers that have been the ground work for the Hyphy movimiento.

Probably the best article pertaining to the hyphy movement is available on Go here to check it out. MTV VJ Sway, a Bay Area native who hosts the legendary "Wake-Up Show" on behemoth radio station KMEL, helped produce the piece, so it's pretty legit.

So at this point in the article, half of you are probably following along in full command of this ever-evolving movement I speak of. The other half are probably wondering aloud "What the heck does hiffee mean? For those of you that know it is pronounced high-fee, you can skip the next few paragraphs. The rest of you, come with me:

"Hyphy" is a form of music and dance, along with allusions to car club culture, originated in the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area. The term was coined by Oakland rapper "Keak da Sneak," a gravel-toned turf-rapper who originally belonged to a group called 3XKrazy. It is short for "Hyperactive," and used in a sentence, might sound like "That kid was getting hyphy all up in the club, fashizzado (another superlative meaning "For Sure.").

The dance is pedestrian,and the more the merrier. Folks who "Get Hyphy" (see also "Get Stupid," "Go Dumb," "Do the Yellow Bus") display spastic, uncontrolled body movements not unlike those seen by someone experiencing a seizure. Theirs is a mishapen rhythm, usually in tune to the thunderous bass that is the metronome for most of the music.

Attached to the hyphy movement is an underground car culture that has existed in the Bay Area for several decades that is both extremely popular and extremely dangerous. Known as "Side Shows," folks take their customized cars (usually late 70s-80s American-made models) and in random intersections, dead ends, and parking lots, begin doing donuts, spin-outs, and other dare devil stunts.

Others, beit folks off the street or fellow cruisers, will gather around and egg on the drivers. This will sometimes result in great bodily harm and, in some extreme instances, death to those who stand idly, as these untrained stunt drivers lose control of their vehicles once they careen into crowds. It's not uncommon for folks to sustain serious injuries, be they drivers or on-lookers, at your typical Side Show.

But the music is the focal point: while the standard Roland 808-bass thump permeates throughout most hyphy music (songs that fall under the hyphy genre are often referred to as "slaps," signifying the way the heavy bass "slaps" the listener), the signature is in the sometimes chaotic, urgent basslines, punctuated by sonic computer bleeps and other high-tension noises.

The music is different from most of the slow rolling g-funk that was previously popular on the West Coast. It sounds like a mix of G-Funk synth patterns and early 1990s Bomb Squad production, the sound that was popularized by Public Enemy and Ice Cube at that time. It also has some liking to the Neptunes early production sound, with lots of grinding electronic bass chords and a wall of drone underneath it all.

One of the more alarming elements regarding hyphy is the assertion that it is "crack baby music." This music is inspired by the generation of crack babies that are now in their late teens in the Bay Area. Alot of them suffer from such conditions as ADD and have problems with coordination and various learning disabilities. The movement's themes of "going dumb" and "Getting stupid" fall in line with those conditions. No attempt is made to hide this fact.

Now, folks will invariably compare "hyphy" to "Crunk," and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The energy is the same, all machismo and hard-party style. But the dancing is what drives hyphy over the edge.

Crunk was like all-out war, mosh-pit style thrashing inspired by punk rock and skater attitude. Hyphy is driven by the Bay Area's underground dance music/rave scene, where hard partying, staying out all night and dancing with reckless abondon is a given. There is also a tinge of trance and drum and bass mentality in some of the music, although I'm not one to try and detail that.

It's yet to be seen whether "Hyphy" can get some national attention, at least not in the way Houston's syrup and Cadillac culture caught on at about this time last year. Hyphy is very much a regional phenomenon, and because all of the rappers are independent artists who shun the corporate record label system, the theory is that they aren't likely to get much national attention.

But that could soon change. Last year, the song "Super Hyphy" by Keak got spins outside of the Bay Area, most notably in Los Angeles, a major music market. When music gets play in other regions, it's a good sign.

And possibly by the end of this year, we'll see little kids in Harlem going dumb and getting hyphy. Or thugs in Atlanta doing tight ones in their scrapers, pimpin' a white tee and stunner shades. Or maybe not.

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