Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Beat Q & A: Xzibit

Hard to believe it's been 10 years since I first heard of Xzibit on the West Coast underground circuit.

Back then, he was regarded as an up and coming LA MC, down with Tha Alkaholiks crew. Gruff voiced with lyrics to go, his big hit was a song called "Papparrazzi." The video and song were an indictment of fake gangsta posers, and Xzibit took a strong stance against gangsta rappers in general, although he has since backed off of that a bit.

From those lean years as a West Coast backpacker MC to his discovery by Dr. Dre to his current gig as host of the popular MTV series "Pimp My Ride," Xzibit's career has taken numerous turns.

He has a new album out, dubbed "Full Circle." It's his first release under a new distribution deal he has with Koch Records, through his own record label "Open Bar Entertainment." His latest movie, "Grid Iron Gang," debuted at no. 1 in the box office, and new episodes of "Pimp My Ride" are airing on MTV. Xzibit is a full-fledged triple threat, musician, actor, TV host.

Mr. X-to-the-Z took some time to talk to "The Beat" in anticipation of his Wednesday night show at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz. He talked about the new album, his TV gig and the evolution of his career:

First off, thanks for talking to The Beat.
No, thank you. I appreciate it.

I've been a fan since way back, since the Paparazzi days.
Good looking, man.

Just going back to that time, it's been 10 years that you've been in the game
Yeah, a full decade.

That type of longevity in hip-hop is rare. I'm sure you cherish it.
Yeah, I relish it. It's been an amazing race (laughs).

First things first. The thing the readers want to know abut is “Pimp My Ride.” Can you comment on the success of that show and how long you plan on going with it?
Nobody could have told me that the show as going to be what it was. It was amazing to me that the shit I do on that show, people actually find funny (laughs). Because that's what I do around my house and talk to my friends about and what not.

This show came long after my music career started. It feels like a side of my personality that you don't get to see in my music and videos. And (the show) was kind of like that extra step forward as a natural progression in my career, because it's like I was introduced to broader, different audience, but in a whole different way. It just added a whole new dimension to what I'm already trying to do as an artist. It was an avenue that wasn't there for me that all of a sudden was there it, and it came out all over the place

How many seasons have you been doing the show?
This is our seventh season.

Seventh season? That's incredible.
It's (been so long) because we uploaded two seasons so we could (produce) my record and get it out and tour. So those seasons are debuting now. And we just started again to shoot new episodes for January, so I could go to Europe and tour for Full Circle.

That's cool that MTV allows you to do that.
Don't trip, they're making their money (laughs). That's why they're making it so convenient.

With the success of the show, you've reinvented your image. You were this underground MC, got the big break with Dr. Dre and Aftermath, and now you're the nice guy TV show host who does movies on the side. Does that force you to make any changes when you record? How do balance the two, your image as a rapper and your image as a popular TV show host?

That's the thing, because I'm still an underground rapper. Just because I'm more visible, does that mean that my views and opinions have to change as an artist? No.
I think images can be manipulated, images can be boosted, images can be torn down. First of all, my image has never been a fabrication. How I am as a man is how I am in the public. I have a television career, I have a music career and I have a movie career. They all can compliment each other, but they don't have to control each other. Because you see me on TV being able to relate to my fellow man does not mean I am not going to be the same artist that I was when I stepped into the studio 10 years ago.
You shouldn't look for Pimp My Ride in Full Circle and you shouldn't look for Full Circle in Grid Iron Gang. It's three different things. But I think that hip-hop has the stigma that you can only be one dimensional. It's like "Oh man, if you can make me laugh, than you ain't gonna bust no guns." I don't know (laughs) IIII don't know about that.

Was 8 Mile your acting debut?
My acting debut was in an old movie called The Mix. Me and Dub-C (WC from Westside Connection) robbed a liquor store. It's not one of my most shining moments.

8 mile was the one I remember you from.
Well let's start there then (laughs).

You've gone from that point to co-starring with The Rock in Grid Iron Gang. Is that something that you will pursue, being a working actor?
I would love to do more films, but there is a real lack of strong roles for black men in Hollywood. After coming off a film of “Grid Iron Gang's” magnitude, I don't want to jump into something like “Soul Plane 2” or some shit like that. I would rather wait until everything I'm working on sets the tone, so afterward we'll have a better way to pick something that has some girth to it.

What's next in the chamber as far as acting. When can folks expect to see you on the bigs screen?
Right now, I'm just really focused on the music. I haven't accepted any scripts. I'm pretty sure my film agent isn't happy about that (laughs). I'm an MC, man. I feel good. I just got on the (tour) bus and I've been doing what I have to do

Tell me about the new album and your new label situation. Is this the second album on Koch?
No, it's my first one.

Tell me about it.
It's my sixth album, but it's my first independent record. I own the masters. This is an imprint, because it was going through Open Bar Entertainment/Koch, who is doing the distribution.
It feels great. I had to put a lot of my own money where my mouth was in order to get the video done, in order to get the songs done the way I wanted them. But it's mine and why not? After 10 years of being in the industry and knowing the ups and downs, the pitfalls, having a fair amount of knowledge and experience with that, I think it's time to put that to work. That' where this album came from, knowing that the only way to get everything I want to get from this music and make it how I want to make it without no red tape or bullshit filters, that I had to do it this way.

It's a lesson for folks that want to get in the music biz. Sometimes you have to go a different route. Even established artists such as yourself have to switch it up as your career progresses.

Yeah, if you know, because I'll be damned if I sign an other artist deal. In 2006, you kidding? It took me forever to get out of the first one I got, and they held me to that shit like my life was written on a piece of paper. I'll never do that again, ever.

It's that deep?
Yeah, for real. But I hate when artists have trouble in their careers and they make it everybody's business. Like every problem they have in their life, they talk about it. The public isn't for that. The public wants to hear music. Of course, they want to be able to relate when you're going through your hardships. But, fuck, dude, it's like, my struggles , if it don't have to do directly with the crowd, I'm not going to involve the crowd. Too many rappers do it.

You haven't been back to Santa Cruz in a while?
Yeah, I'm coming out there to tear it down.

Anything to say to the locals?
Just come out, be prepared to hear a little bit of the old, a little bit of the new. And we're going to have some fun.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Heads Up, 7-UP: Upcoming local hip-hop/punk shows

I had these great plans to start out the week. I was going to interview Xzibit over the weekend and present it as a Q&A teaser for a large feature in Tuesday's paper. No dice.

Then, in the event I didn't get the Xzibit interview, I was going to transcribe an old Jeru Tha Damaja interview I had stockpiled for a rainy day. Of course, I never bothered to check the tape, and when I did, I found out it was an inaudible mess, where only my voice could be heard clearly. Strike two.

So, with no shows to review over the weekend, I will simply list a few upcoming shows this week, as a heads up. And hopefully Xzibit's people will call my people (no ride-pimping involved, sadly).

Wed. Oct. 25 - Para La Gente performs the first of several local shows in support of its ep release, "Hurricane America." Showtime: 9 p.m. E3 Playhouse, 435 Front St. & Cathcart, Downtown Santa Cruz , CA, Cost: Free.

Friday, Oct. 27 - Local rappers AK & Big Spank, Pezy, MIke Dolla and Philthy Rich take the stage at Planet Gemini in Monterey, part of a Halloween house party sponsored by International Music Group and Mix n' Spin Productions. Showtime: 9 p.m. Planet Gemini, 625 Cannery Row, Suite 301, MOnterey. Cost. $8.

Saturday, Oct. 28 - 10/28: Halloween costume party with Wasted Noise,Para La Gente + DJ Mitto. Prizes for best costumes so be sure to dress up. Tickets can be purchased at California Collision, 245 Front St., Salinas. Call 751-9131. Location: American Legion Post 593, 8300 Prunedale Road North in Prunedale . Cost: $10

And Rum & Rebellion has a trio of shows this weekend:

Friday, october 27, at the Gilman Street Project, 924 Gilman Street, Berekeley, with The Achievement, Trainwreck Riders, Genghis Khan. $5, all ages.

Saturday, October 28, at the Edinburgh Castle Pub, 950 Geary St., San Francisco, with Two
Gallants and Trainwreck Riders.

Sunday, October 29, 5 p.m., Thee Parkside, 1600 17th street, San Francisco. with Sunday Twang. Free afternoon show. all ages. about 5 p.m.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Method Man Performs Own Stunts, Rocks the Crowd in Santa Cruz

For a short period of time during the mid-90s, Method Man was the hottest thing going in New York City and, essentially, rap music in general.

This was around the time that he had released his debut album, "Tical," and was busy becoming the unlikely sex symbol and all-purpose darling of the Wu-Tang Clan. He had a solo deal with Def Jam and was in the midst of a highly creative and profitable collaborative venture with another east coast behemoth, Redman. Their partnership would garner, in order, an album, a stoner comedy and a failed television series.

But the Method Man of the mid-90s was an up and comer full of potential for greatness. To some, Method Man didn't fulfill that potential, whether it was a string of lackluster follow up releases (every album after "Tical" managed to be more lackluster than the previous release) or the overexposure (dude almost became a fixture on TRL, posing for pics with the likes of Britney Spears).

Or maybe it was the simple fact that for all of his gritty, underground leanings early on, Method Man always has been and likely always will be a pop star.

So I set up all of this to come to my point: pop star or underground MC who never lived up to the hype, Method Man is a bonafied performer. As he put it, no MC out today works harder to give the fans what they want, and he proved this Friday night in Santa Cruz.

Performing for a packed house at The Catalyst, Method Man was a shotgun blast of energy and charm, holding the crowd in the palm of his hand and then, literally, allowing them to do the same for him. He played his classic joints, he was flanked by OG members of the Wu-Tang Clan, he cooed for the ladies, and even hung from the rafters. It was an impressive, if not unexpected, display of showmanship.

Getting the crowd into it early, Meth performed his older songs first, with joints like "Method Man," "Ice Cream," and "Bring The Pain," getting the crowd early. It was a smart move on his part, as veteran artist with a deep catalogue, he can afford to take such a risk without worrying about running out of material.

But it wasn't just the song selection that got the crowd; the way he prowled around the stage, his voice still booming with the scratchy bellow of a chain-smoker since birth. When he busted out the song "What The Bloodclot," with its chamber music piano keys and distorted bass shifts, it wasn't just the song that got you hype, it was the way Method Man swayed back and forth with the mic in his hand, in the zone, breath control and gusto in tact.

He brought out his fellow clan members for a hype rendition of "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nothing to #$%! Wit." Inspektah Deck and Masta Killah ran through their verses, and dozens of Wu-Tang hand signs went into the air.

Meth played the crowd some new stuff that sounded decent enough. When he asked the crowd "How many of y'all bought my new album," a large roar ensued. Judging by the poor album's poor sales, most were either lying or had downloaded it illegally, in my estimation.

Then again, judging by the way the crowd screamed and cheered mightily during his set, I wouldn't be surprised if most indeed had purchased the disc. And in supporting Meth, the rapper kept to his word that he would give the energy right back.

Meth ran into the crowd and performed numerous times, sometimes standing, and other times while being held up during a stage dive. He's a big dude, more than six-feet tall, but the way he surfed on the crowd while rapping was quite a site.

Then, in one of the truly great scenes at the Catalyst this year, Meth ran up on the balcony area, set himself over the railing edge and rapped from the second floor! The crowd went nuts, while dozens of camera phones (mine included) went up into the air to grab a shot. I've never seen anything quite like it.

At the end of his set, Meth cued up the beat to "Tha Rockwiler," the Cypress Hill homage he recorded with Redman. Again in the crowd, he hoisted himself straight up, standing tall, legs stretched, arms to the air, hands displaying the Wu-Tang symbol. It was pretty awesome. The crowd held Meth in the palms of their hands.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Beef: The Series

It's been a slow news week locally( although I'm going to check out Method Man Friday night, so that should be interesting). I missed the local showcase held Wednesday night in Santa Cruz, which sucked because it's like the third time I've missed it. I even hit up AK on his myspace and messaged him that I would go, only to flake out (If you're reading this, I'm sorry AK. I just had some last minute work stuff that prevented me from going to see your show live).

And so there I was on Wednesday night, bored with some time to kill, when I decided to actually watch some TV. Wouldn't you know it: I managed to catch the new episode of "Beef: The Series" on BET.

For those of you who don't know, the "Beef: The Series" is an extension of the DVD series titled "Beef," produced by QD3, aka Quincy Jones III, the son of Quincy Jones. QD3 has made a career of producing LA rappers like IceCube and Warren G. He's also carved out a niche doing faux documentaries about high-profile street rappers. His DVD about 2Pac, subtitled "Thug Angel," got decent response from fans and the industry, enough for him to get the green light on the Beef series.

In the DVD, "Beef" dissects hip-hop feuds, from high-profile confrontations like 2Pac vs. Biggie to minor squabbles, like D-12 vs. Royce Tha 5-9. The series garnered some controversy when a segment on Eminem vs. Benzino was removed from the third DVD, reportedly because The Source Magazine's production company, which was indirectly owned by Benzino, had signed on as a producer. Couldn't have the boss the subject of the series, especially if it was in an unflattering light, or so the thinking goes.

Now, the television series is a weekly half-hour that focuses on rap feuds, although from all sorts of angles. Wednesday night's episode focused on three beefs: Dame Dash vs. Jay-Z, Kanye West and rappers vs. George Bush and Jacki-O vs. Foxy Brown.

Of the three segments, Jacki-O vs. Foxy Brown represented the only legitimate rapper vs. rapper beef. And it really wasn't much of a beef: to hear Jacki tell it, Foxy showed up at the Miami studio where Jacki was recording one night and started getting indignant. Jacki did what any self-respecting female rapper protecting her turf would do - she knocked Foxy out with the one hitter quitter.

There was one diss song recorded as a result: Jacki-O's "TKO" was another lights out knockout blow that took aim at the Brooklyn femcee Foxy Brown. My favorite line from that joint was something like "You get served back and forth like a tennis ball," or something like that. I never much cared for Jacki-O, a Miami rapper who I felt was trying to come off as a more sultry, sophisticated and vulgar version of another Miami rapper, Trina.

But Jacki's diss track, along with the fact that she didn't bow down to the veteran Foxy, were both signs of a killer instinct that I had no idea she possessed. I probably won't buy a Jacki-O album as a result, but I might turn up her song when I hear it on the radio.

The beef that seemed to possess the most curiosity was the Kanye vs. Bush segment, although it was presented as "Rappers vs. The president." And it only alluded to Kanye's "George Bush don't care about black people" statement in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, circa Sept. 2005; instead it showed a bunch interview clips with the likes of Talib Kweli, stic.man of dead prez, David Banner and even H-town Mexican MC Chingo Bling, who had a hilarious freestyle that ended with "Hey Kanye, Bush don't like Mexican's either!" Classic stuff.

The coolest footage was of Mos Def performing his song "Katrina Clap" in front of Radio City Music Hall at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards. The song is a dedication to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, sung over the beat to "Nolia Clap," by Juvenile's UTP crew.

Mos dedicated the song to the victims of Hurricane Katrina on the one-year anniversary of the storm. He performed unannounced on a flat-bed truck, and was later arrested for not having a permit. Nice guerrilla stunt, and it was a reminder that sometimes, hip-hop can be a form or protest art.

The Dame Dash vs. Jay-Z segment seemed cooked, strictly showing Dash's side of the story (in the producer's defense, it seems likely that Jigga wouldn't participate in such a segment given that he has repeatedly denied that there was any friction between him and his former partner in Roc-A-Fella records).

Dame comes off as a scorned partner in some parts, disbelieving friend in others. He doesn't outright diss Jay-Z, but seems more hurt and baffled. This whole segment made Jay seem like a single-minded opportunist working toward getting his own business pursuits off the ground and cutting his ace partner out of the action, which seems somewhat viable.

The only problem with that is it's hard to be sympathetic for Dame Dash, who in every other interview and print article, not to mention his failed BET series "Ultimate Hustler," comes off as a complete asshole. I won't feel any more sympathy for Dame Dash, who plays himself as a black Donald Trump-model, than I would for t he white Donald Trump. Business is business, so get over it already.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Aesop Rock: The Beat Q & A

A few months back, I had the chance to interview Aesop Rock, in anticipation of his Santa Cruz show in August. It was an interesting conversation, with Aesop sharing some of his personal thoughts; the recently married, 30-year-old rapper moved to the Bay Area this past year and is settling down into married life.
But he's still a beast on the mic, as evidenced by his Santa Cruz show, which was all gritty and chain-smoking cough underground hip-hop. Still, it was cool talking to a dude who sounds like your typical newlywed underground mc who just moved to a new town.
Here's an excerpt from the interview. Enjoy.

You ready to talk man?
I just woke up in time for it (laughs).

I appreciate that man. Thanks for taking the time to talk to The Beat.
Oh, of course. No problem.

Have you performed in Santa Cruz before?
No, I haven't. I've done San Diego, LA, San Francisco, but for some reason I never get to these other California cities. So this is my first time.

It's a different scene out there, more of a surfer vibe. It's cool, though.
Yeah, yeah, that's what I heard.

You moved out to the Bay Area in the last year or so.
That's true

Have you adjusted to that? How was the transition coming from the east coast?
It's pretty good so far. I lived in New York my whole life, so it's definitely a switch up. But so far, it's totally different.

What are the differences?
The weather for one. Right now, it's like 104 in New York, and I'd be fucking dying. It's just weird, like, different ways that people approach other people. It's hard to put into words. Things I never noticed when I was here because I was only out long enough for a show or something. But now that I've been here for along time, people just have a different attitude. It's not a better or a worse attitude, but it's just kind of funny how... when interactions go down it's completely different than they would in New York...

At this point I'm like, I could be kind of anywhere. I just do my work, have my wife and a few friends, that's all I need. When I was younger, I was running around in New York and taking advantage of the city and... I kind of don't do that anymore. Now, I'm just enjoying the weather.

It sounds like you're getting grown (laughs). Are you recording right now in the Bay?
Yep, we're just doing shows a couple times a month. But for the most part, we're just recording, trying to prepare a release for next year.

I wanted to ask you about this children's book with Jeremy Fish, can you break down how that came about?
The project, it's called "The Next Best Thing." Basically, me and Jeremy, and I don't know how familiar you are with his work, but I was familiar with his work before I got here. I own one of his prints. We both have friends in common. He contacted me. He was offered a chance to pitch a cartoon to a television network. He wanted to know if I would do the music and I said "fuck yeah." And then the cartoon went on the backburner, some of the people at the network left. But we just became friends and I was like "I'm moving to San Francisco in a week." I came out here and he was kind of the first person to show me around the city and we got to become pretty good friends. We started talking about other ways to collaborate, we were fans of each other.

The actual idea for the book was... we both feel that kind of like, musicians and visual artists never collaborate enough, or rather to an extent that's kind of cool. A lot of times when you're making a record, and it comes time for the art work, you work on the record for1- 2-3 years, however long it's taken and when it's time to come out you're like "Oh shit, I need some artwork." So by the time it comes out, at the last moment you just kind of whip something up.
We were just trying to go through ways that people in the past have combined art and music, and we brought it back to the 70s. How Disney was making the storybooks of like "Peter and the Dragon," and there would be a little book and in the back, it's a 7-inch record. You put on the record and you hear the sound effects to turn the page, the little chimes...it seemed like the perfect marriage for visual art and making some music.

I'm not familiar with Jeremy's work, but I am familiar with yours, and the thought of an Aesop Rock children's book seems so off the wall.
The idea was taken from these Disney books that were children's books...It's not necessarily geared towards the youngest audience. We sort of put an adult take on these children's books.

So it's kind of tongue in cheek?
It's not tongue and cheek. It's the format of a children's' book, but the drawings in it are real cartoony. Jeremy's work has really, kind of cartoony elements to it, but it also has some evil elements to it. It will be skulls mixed with some kind of weird, cuddly, funny animals. It's got this funny give and take, when you look at it first it's like a children's book, but you look further into it its got some aspects that are not for kids. It's adult content and things that you wouldn't let your kids read.

What is the story about?
It's our version of... we're trying to sell a cure for creative block, writer's block. Or creative block if you're an artist and you can't think of something to draw (laughs). Like kind of a generalized thing, because we talked about it, sometimes we get writer's block and he said sometimes I do this and I said sometimes I do this, and it was this little kind of strange thing. It's hard to explain, but basically, it's our cure for writer's block.

Is there a central character?
Yeah, there's a central character, but he's unnamed. It's just kind of in the song, I'm saying "I", I'm saying "You." It just can be any person who's an artist or a musician who does something creative.

When you're collaborating with someone like that, where you're coming from music angle and Jeremy's coming from visual art angle, how do you go about doing that? Do you guys shoot ideas back and forth? How did that work?
That's actually one of the reasons I ended up being happier with this project than I thought I would be because it really was a collaboration. It wasn't like I gave him a song and he drew a song or he drew a bunch of pictures and I made a song for it. We came up with the idea, of course, through a couple of sitdowns, and I was like, "alright." I was going out to write four bars of the lines, or eight bars of the lines, something equal to maybe 2 pages of pictures. And then I would send them to him and say, "This is where I'm at right now," and he would say, "This is cool" and "Yeah, I like this," and he would start drawing based on that.
As I was writing my part I would kind of hand it off to him and go through the text, go through the lyrics with him. He would kind of direct things, and we definitely went back and forth over the course of the writing of this four-minute song or whatever. It was really like a true collaboration, as opposed to you doing your half and me doing my half, you know what I mean. We did consult with each other the whole way.

The new record, any ideas on the name of the album, what stuff you're hoping to address with the record?
I don't have a title, and all of the songs I have don't have the right titles on them. I have got seven or eight songs that are keepers at this point. I'm just trying to be really picky about what I keep.

There's a bunch of stories on it, like more story lines than I ever did. At the risk of sounding corny, it's a little reflective. Not reflective, but there's definitely stuff that takes place that's kind of a just fun shit I did in high school and junior high school, that kind of stuff. There is this song that's almost like a "Children's Story" kind of song. Just stuff that kind of is just about growing up from age 1 to age 30, where I am now. It's going to be different songs that have to do with every couple years of your life kind of thing.
There's definitely more stories. I was never battle oriented, but when I did my kind of battle shit, I did my version of battle. There's kind of less of that and more of my stories that paint a scene, or kind of doing "This is what the city was like"...Just different characters and things like that. I don't know, I'm just trying to get real visual and really kind of... Originally I was going to do all stories, but I decided I couldn't' do all stories...

Has the change of your environment and your move west been reflected in your music
I'm sure people will say it will, because this definitely doesn't sound like anything I've done. And there's probably stuff on there that does sound like stuff I've done. I think people will be like "He moved to California, that's why he made this song." But I don't know. I tend to think that everything changes all the time anyway...It's not like I'm coming out with some G-Funk record or something. Your environment reflects what you do.

Any dream collabos?
There are some(pauses) actually, not really. If I think somebody is like a hero to me, I probably wouldn't want to collaborate. I'd rather them just maintain a hero. Be a hero in my eyes, because it's all too often you take someone who's the illest or that you look up to and then you meet them and it turns out they're an asshole (laughs).
Collaborations for me is I like to go with people that I know. I try and pick people that everyone's familiar with. I obviously have heroes from the underground all the way up to the top. But I don't think that I'd ever be the guy that pulls Redman aside and pays him a few g's to kick a verse or something. I want him to just be a hero.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Boom Boom Kid at The Black Box Cabaret

I hosted the Boom Boom Kid show Thursday night at CSU-Monterey Bay. It was a total last minute thing, for a show whose headliner was not supposed to even be there (bureaucratic red tape prevented the university from advertising that Boom Boom Kid, on tour in the U.S. on a non-work visa, was performing on campus).

So it's weird that I'm writing this entry for a number of reasons: I was an active event participant, an automatic conflict of interest from an objective journalistic standpoint; I didn't take any notes, which prevented me from taking down set lists or quoting lyrics; and then there's the whole publicity gag order, which I don't even want to get into.

But Thursday night's show was noteworthy for a number of reasons: Boom Boom Kid is an Argentinian punk rock madman who has forged a solid bond with local bands like Los Dryheavers and La Plebe, whose former guitarist now fronts BBK's U.S. touring band. He opened a 30-plus city U.S. tour in Salinas, at punk rock haven La Perla Restaurant and
Thursday's show was the second of a long-winding thrash through Norte America.

In person, he is a bit bewildering: 5-foot-2 inches in heals, with a bleached mop of hair that may or may not be dreadlocks. Either way, you get the sense that dude just doesn't wash his hair. Yet there's something graceful about his presence, due in part to the easy going nature he seems to possess.

At the Black Box show, BBK was a mix of punk rawness and elaborate showman. He squealed and pranced without any sense of irony, yet managed to avoid coming off like an ass. And his music was exciting: he could pull off straight forward Spanish punk and then ease back into a thrashing Ritchi Valens cover (or at least I think it was Valens, I didn't take a notebook so I'm going off of memory).

But it was the theatrics that really did it. At one point, he busted out a boogie board, threw it into the crowd, then jumped on top while the gaggle of fans held him high, triumphantly. He struck a pose and held his balance. You couldn't help but cheer.

BBK brought with him an old 45-player, one of those portable ones that look like it's about a million years old. I joked that it was an "Argentinian iPod." He played dance music and salsa and punk; one of the record sleeves was for New Kids on the Block. Somehow, it all made sense.

Opening act Los Dryheavers kicked off their usual mix of blue-collar punk. These guys are serious working class punkeros, performing each song with the diligence of a unionized construction team. I've mentioned them in past blogs, but I will have to do a complete review of their shows sometime in the future. In the meantime, check out their myspace page at www.myspace.com/losdryheavers.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Woodpile: Racist or Radical?

Hip-hop just gets more and more strange.

Take this story from the LA Times. Rap Group Woodpile is an Arizona-based thug rap outfit who rep hard for the White Pride prison gang The Woods (short for peckerwoods). Woodpile consists of three white rappers, Diesoul Ether Bunny, Crisis and Critical.

I have never heard their music, so it's hard to say what they truly represent, but it just seems odd. The LA Times writer puts it:

The three burly, skin-headed members of the hip-hop group Woodpile want a bigger audience, but they know the odds are long.
They have no hope of cracking mainstream radio or MTV with songs like "They Hate Us" or "I'm a Wood," in which they rap menacingly about blasting enemies with shotguns. Further limiting their commercial prospects, their August album, "The Streets Will Never Be the Same," boasts of the group's affiliation with the Woods, a white power prison gang.

The band has since admonished some of the reporter's facts, saying the Woods, and in essence, Woodpile, are a "White Pride" outfit, not a white power group. They are not racist and, in fact, belong to a rap label owned by an African-American rap artist (more on that in a second).

In the story, the writer states that the group is in opposition to white power prison gangs like the Aryan Brotherhood and the Nazi Lowriders. On the group's myspacepage (www.myspace.com/woodpile), the group says they are indeed not against those groups, claiming "We're down for all the (pecker)woods." Say what?

And if the idea of a white pride rap group marketing to white prison gangs isn't enough to furrow your brow, here comes the kicker: the group is signed to West Coast Mafia Records, owned by Sacramento rap legend C-Bo, a black man.

C-Bo is riding hard for these guys, promoting them on his label's and personal myspace page, as well as performing a short list of tour dates with the group.

Now, I love C-Bo. His album "Tales From the Crypt" is one of those West Coast gangsta classics that anyone, from street thug to college frat boy, can appreciate. He's been in legal battles for writing rap lyrics, recorded music with the late great 2Pac, and helped Sacramento maintain a foothold in the West Coast rap market. But this is just crazy.

The group is marketing to prisoners, which is nothing new. Groups like Darkroom Familia and the rapper X-Raided have been doing this since the 1990s (in the case of X-Raided, he recorded music while locked up at Salinas Valley State Prison, a maximum security institution). And rappers with penitentiary credentials have been a hot commodity, from Mac Dre to Tony Yayo to Pimp C. Anticipating an artist's album upon his or her return from prison has become a marketing ploy unto itself.

It's just a bit odd to me that a respected rapper like C-Bo would go out on a limb to promote a group that could be mistaken as racial instigators, in this case the dangerous ground that the so-called "White Pride" movement these guys are promoting. I have no clue as to the racial politics the group or the gang represent, but it seems risky nonetheless.

Even though these guys are obviously not skinheads or rapping racist lyrics, how hard would it be for someone, say a young white kid uncertain about his own racial ideology, to jump to that sort of conclusion. Or worse, this violent music could become the anthem for racists who mistakenly take their music as white superiority pabulum. It's a risky endeavor either way.

Of course, I have to listen to the music before I draw any conclusions. And I'm convinced that C-Bo is a smart enough guy to consider all of this and in fact, use the controversy to his advantage. His marketing and promotional strategy have helped him become CEO of his own record company, with an office in Beverly Hills to boot. That's nothing to turn your nose at.

It will be interesting to see where this prison marketing campaign, and the group Woodpile itself, winds up. I hope C-Bo knows what he's doing.

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