Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Beat's Year End Review: Top 25 Songs

The second part of my year-end review. Next up, Best Albums. (These are in no particular order)

Keak Da Sneak - "That Go"
Shop Boys - "Party Like a Rockstar"
Talib Kweli ft. Nora Jones - "Soon The New Day"
Jay-Z - "Roc Boys"
50 Cent feat. Diddy, Jay-Z - "I Get Money Remix"
Kanye West - "Barry Bonds"/"Good Life"
Turf Talk - "Sick Wid It is the Crew"
T.I. - "You Know What It Is"
UGK and Outkast - "International Players Anthem"
Pacha Massive - "Don't Let Go"
Rich Boy feat. Andre 3000, Jim Jones, Murphy Lee, Polo Da Don, The Game -
"Throw Some D's Remix"
Fabolous feat. Ne-Yo - "Make Me Better"
The White Stripes - "Icky Thump"
Peter Bjorn and John - "Young Folks"
Arcade Fire - "Keep The Car Running"
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - "Weapon of Choice"
Rihanna - "Shut Up and Drive"
Common ft. Lily Allen - "Driving Me Wild"
Amy Winehouse - "Tears Dry On Their Own"/"Valerie"
Mark Ronson ft. Daniel Merriweather - "Stop Me (If You Think You've Heard This
One Before)"
Talib Kweli/Madlib - "Engine Runnin'"
Aesop Rock ft. John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats - "Coffee"
4Hero - "Morning Child"

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Beat's Year End List: Best Shows of 2007

As '07 winds down, it's a time for reflection. For me, it's a time for making lists of my favorite music-related things. An abbreviated version of this appears in this week's Go! magazine, but you can read my full top 10 below. On deck: Top Songs and Albums of the Year. Enjoy:

1. Mary J. Blige at Salinas Sports Complex: Hip-hop soul's reigning queen was supremely excellent opening up Big Week.
2. The Roots at Monterey Music Summit: Gotta love a hip-hop band that ends its set with a James Brown tribute.
3. Rakim/Ghostface Killa at The Catalyst: Two of the best MC's ever on the same bill. Brilliant!
4. Rock The Bells Tour: Wu-Tang Clan and Rage Against the Machine were cool, but the triumphant return of the mighty Public Enemy was the real reason to celebrate.
5. Mista FAB at The Catalyst: Even if Hyphy is so 2005, it was cool to watch Fabby Davis Jr. dumb out and spit some hot fiyah.
6. Rushad Eggleston and the Magic Wizard Band at Ol' Factory Cafe: Dude with the electric cello is nuts!
7. Greyskull at The Catalyst: Opening up for Atmosphere, this multi-culti crew ripped through a set with workman-like precision.
8. Novela at Moe's Alley: A couple of Alisal High grads making soulful rockabilly grooves. Say word.
9. Too Short at Club Octane: Because it's Too Short, and because I got in free without a press pass (thanks!).
10. Poison at Salinas Sports Complex: Aww, fuck it. Those guys still rock.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Live in Monterey: Spoken word poet Ed Mabrey

Ed Mabrey called out Kanye West for letting his momma die from plastic surgery. Dude is sick with it.
Not that I necesarily agree with his stance on Kanye's momma, but you gotta give it up, dude's got some steel reserve. Performing Wednesday night at the Rubber Chicken Poetry Slam at East Village Coffee Lounge in Monterey, Mabrey gave a powerful yet understated performance. Whereas the stock image of a screaming, pantomiming world-saver/doom forcaster is the avatar of the modern day spoken word poet, Mabrey manages to tone down that sort of posturing and still be as in your face effacing.
(For samples of his work, visit his myspace page at
Setting it off with a take on the Pharcyde's "Passing Me By" that lead into Mos Def's "Umi Says,” Mabrey gently tugged the audience into his cypher. His words spilled over and created a river of social commentary aimed at the state of Black America in particular and negative stereotypes in general. Lowering the boom on Kanye, he questioned the drive of young men who pull weekly six-figure salaries yet don't have foresight to protect their mothers from the risky cosmetic surgery. I couldn't hold back the erge to utter "ewww" as he delivered his stone faced critique.
Later, he shared a poem inspired by the experience of having watched a movie with Kurt Cobain (true story). Revealing equal parts remorse, regret and revalation, the piece was punctuated by the description of Mabrey's 8-year-old son walking in on his dad rocking out in tighty-whiteys and singing the lyrics to "I don't Care.
"What am I supposed to do with this Image,” is the son's question, a puzzled expression on Mabrey's face driving the image home.
Since I didn't take notes, it's hard to do a proper review of Mabrey's entire show. But he covered a lot of ground, including a cover of a Taylor Mali poem with spot-on timing and moving ode to a friend lost to breast cancer. In a stoic yet playful baritone, Mabrey comforted the crowd into his wheelbox, coaxing them with clever wordplay and genuine appreciation for the audience.
Like a slick-talking yet serious arms dealer, Mabrey dealt his lethal tomes with wicked glee. Kanye's momma, bless her soul, would have approved.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Rabbit Season/Duck Season

Every morning, Monday through Friday, I get into my cozy corner open-cubicle and begin my hunt for blog material like a rifle-toting Elmer Fudd.
Actually, the blog-subject process begins before that, when I first wake up and start scanning the music channels (like this morning, when I finally saw the new Snoop Dog video where he's miming Prince and Al Green). If I have time, I'll go online and check a few Web sites to see if there's any fresh downloads I can drop on my iPod (, and are pretty reliable for those sort of things).
I get into the newsroom and my hunt continues, first through the news wires, then the national Web ( and finally regional (the sound of young america at and When nothing else happens, I fudge it and come up with my own topics (such as superfluous entries about my blog-writing process).
And I get paid to do this. Our paper has put a premium on web content. I have to deliver. It's a tedious chore, but I get a kick out of doing what I do.
Happy hunting, y'all.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Listen To My Voice! - The Beat Podcast with Jorge Santana and Malo

Jorge Santana is Carlos Santana's brother, but he's a good musician in his own rite. As a member of Malo, the Latin Rock band who wrote such hits as "Suavecito" and "Nena," Santana got his own shine while working to define Latin Rock on a parallel plain opposite his big bro. I got a chance to talk with Jorge Santana, who was really nice and opened up about his music and his brother's influence. You can download an mp3 of the podcast here.

Arcelio Garcia was the lead singer of Malo. His butter-smooth vocals laced the Chicano classic "Suavecito" as well as the majority the band's music. He is pretty up front about the band's influence in Latin Rock. I talked with him, and you can download the MP3 here.

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Freak-A-Leak Week: Hi Tek's "Hi-Teknology Vol. 3"

Going a little different on the Freak-A-Leak reviews, I'm giving a track by track breakdown for the final installment of "Freak-A-Leak" Week. For this one, we'll break down producer Hi-Tek's "Hi-Teknology 3: The Underground."
Life to Me ft. Estelle: Estelle is a young London-based R&B/Hip-hop artist. On here, she opens the set with a blast. Hi-Tek wanted to use this album as a platform for new artists, and he nails it with this opener.
Play My Piano ft. Dion, Raekwon and Ghostface Killa: Hi-Tek spits some nice lines, while Rae and Ghost come through and blast lyrical shots. Dion sounds like a damn sample, very tight, with muted guitars and lite drums filtering the beat.
God's Plan ft. Outlaws and Young Buck: Outlaw's give a eulogy to Pac, they keep asking me is Pac alive/ i say hell yeah, n----, u can see it in my eyes. Young Buck comes on with a more reserved flow, but no less passionate. he gives props to soldiers, while saying bush is just drinking grey goose, and pays homage to his 22 yo cousin who is serving life. Buck sounds better on here than he did on Buck the World. the track uses brevity
Ohio All-Stars: Introduces a fleet of talented street rappers, with a chest-thumping, Hi-Tek synth beat, complete with a deep "Ohio" bark punctuating each verse. This is the most distinct Hi-Tek sounding track, similar to his work with 50 Cent on The Massacre.
Back on the Grind ft. Riz, Kurupt and Dion: A g-funk, lowrider groove. Kurupt lays down his gangbanger drawl on a song that laments the lifestyle of crime and bad living that plagues the average hustler. Newcomer Riz sounds like a younger, more energetic Fabolous. Dion's hook is hypnotic only in its pronunciation: sometimes his singing sounds lazy.
I'm Back ft. Rem Dog: Rem Dog is an A-town affiliate, Jeezy - lite. He has a relaxed drawl, his style yells A-Town. Lots of violent gangster posturing, which is kind of played. Hi-Tek gives him a syrupy pimp track to get his gangster on, but Rem Dog is only interested in redoing tired gangsta dujour. His hook includes "These n----- don't want no problems," channeling another A-town rapper, Lil Scrappy.
Kill You ft. Push Montana: Push Montana knows how to have fun on a killer track. Even when he's threatening to kill you, and detailing how he's going to do it, he does it like he's in on the joke. lines like "I'mma introduce this loud n---- to the silencer" I put it in, everybody know/he was in the pen, he shoulda gotta know/" Hi-Tek gives him some eerie blues to mess with.
Handling My Bizness: Hi-Tek gets dangerously close to two-step/lean wit it rock wit it snap tracks on this one. M-1 shows up and gets his g-roll on.
Come Get It ft. T-Pain: T-Pain shows up on a smoky, wind chimey instrumental track that is absolutely gorgeous. Hi-Tek has the musical inhibitions of DJ Quick, able to fill in beats with charismatic piano sprinkles and data-processed digital melodies. This has him sounding like Roger Troutman as well.
Step Ya Game Up ft. Little Brother and Dion: Tek hooks up with underground stalwarts Little Brother, harkening to the producer's underground hip-hop pedigree. Dion gets his Al B. Sure on and steals the show, sounding more relaxed and sexy by finding the pocket on his solo. It's clear to see that him and Tek have a good chemistry when they get beyond hook singing. Dion needs an EP of Hi-Tek music (not sure if he could carry a whole album).
Know Me ft. Jonell: Jonell, the star of the original Hi-Teknology hit "Round and Round," gets her solo. As good as Tek is producing rappers, he absolutely kills it when he's coupled with a talented female. Know me doesn't have the sonic contagiousness of "Round and Round," but Jonell knows how to sink into the tracks. Tek really needs to produce for more female R&B acts. Amerie, Nina Sky or Mya would sound right on a Hi-Tek joint.
Time ft. Talib Kweli and Dion: Tek and Kwe reunite for some of that Reflection Eternal steez. This is a nice funk track, but someone needs to kidnap these two and lock them in a room underneath the Hoover Dam or something. It's been way too long.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Freak-A-Leak Week: Wu Tang Clan's "8 Diagrams"

Some might be inclined to call Wu-Tang Clan's new album "8 Diagrams" incomplete because one of its most popular members, ODB, died four years ago. In a group of 10 rappers (counting Capadonna), the guy they called Dirt McGirt didn't carve a niche so much as he ice picked a gaping wound within the group dynamic.

"8 Diagrams" includes not one, but two ODB tribute tracks, the somber, heartfelt "Life Changes" and the gritty throwback "16th Chamber ODB Special."

The former is anchored by an eerie, charging soul sample and piano chords that give the MC's room to reflect on the moment they found out about ODB's death. Most poignant is GZA's verse “now Im in the booth 10 feet from where he lay dead/ I think about him on this song and what he might have said.” With each passing eulogy, the mood shifts, until RZA's verse. As the piano fades out, the bass thump increases and RZA, who was ODB's cousin, lowers his baritone to six feet below, detailing ODB's struggles and triumphs in a mournful verse.

The latter sounds like an outtake from the Clan's salad days, with a Method Man verse later used on "Release Yo' Delf" and ODB sounding young and hungry, before he had full command of his style.

It's the melding of past and present that is evident throughout "8 Diagrams, whether it's the lurching, chain-gang rumble of the opening track "Campfire" or the lyrical urgency on tracks like "Rushing Elephants" and "Gun Will Go."

On each track, there is some register of the classic Wu-Tang Style, be it near undecipherable rhyme schemes, bare-bones production courtesy of RZA, or the classic Kung-Fu movie samples.

At the same time, "8 Diagrams" is a full update of the Wu-Tang profile. The tracks carry a more polished, melodic weight, with subtle note changes and progressions that weren't as prominent on previous Wu-Tang efforts, RZA-produced or otherwise. Even the kung-fu samples are more pronounced, if not a little more obscure, than on previous releases.

While there are no definite singles, one standout track is "The Heart Gently Weeps" featuring Erykah Badu, John Fursciante and Dhani Harrison, son of George Harrison. An update of Beatles song "As My Guitar Gently Weeps." RZA has been boasting it is the first time the Beatles authorized a sample of their music, thanks in part to Dhani Harrison.

The song, a patented Wu-Tang street narrative with tribal story tellers Raekwon and Ghostface leading the way, is all spooky guitar squeals and minor keys, centered around a fluctuating Badu vocal. If there were such a thing as hip-hop folk music, this might be a point of reference.

Throughout "8 Diagrams," the clan carries this mournful vibe to artistic heights. Perhaps the death of ODB has taken the past four years to digest, and even now that vacuum remains. As the Wu-Tang trudges on, minus one of its key foot soldiers, the other Clan members have crafted a solid, complete effort in honor of theor fallen brethren.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

RIP Pimp C

So, how do you eulogize a gangsta rapper?

I'm not prepared to do such a thing, but in light of the news that rapper Pimp C was found dead in Los Angeles Monday morning (read the LA Times story here), I've got to wonder wonder, how do you go about remembering a young man who died mysteriously and was a fixture in a scene, in this instance, gangsta rap, that is constantly being criticized as an instrument for social ill.

Pimp C, real name Chad Butler, was born 33 years ago in Port Arthur, Texas. He founded the legendary group UGK along with Bernard Freeman, aka "Bun B." The group released eight CD's, most recently "Underground Kingz" which debuted in the No. 1 spot on Billboard Top 200 charts in August.

Despite his success, Butler's life was beset with missteps: he served time in a state penitentiary, battled alcohol abuse. His partner Bun B was left to weather the storm as a solo artist (a feat he managed with on the surface ease), and the UGK brand became a symbol of Southern rap pride. At one piont, "Free Pimp C" became a mantra, and the rapper was viewed in his native land as a street martyr of sorts.

But anytime a musician is found dead in a hotel room, it is not a good look. His record label asked that the news of his death not be left to rumor or speculation, but like the recent passing of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor and recent news of rapper Spice 1's shooting on Monday(read the SF Bay Guardian blog here), it's fair to say that this will serve as another tragic circumstance involving a black man, this time a rap artist, who died too young.

It wasn't like Pimp C was a murderous thug who rapped about killing on every track. His style was akin to his namesake, and he rapped about pimping women and selling drugs with equal aplomb. In the realm of gangsta rap, his style was actually pretty tame compared to others (including Spice 1). And by rap standards, Pimp C was considered "Old School" by his southern counterparts. While he certainly maintained his relavence, Pimp C was a hardened veteran who had found his way back into rap's heirarchy and appeared to be doing well.

So the eulogy might go that Pimp C, Southern Son, gangsta rap role model, father, brother, mentor, lived life according to his own rules. He was not the victim of his haunts so much as a man who struggled with freedom, struggled with himself. He fostered an image that he may or may not have been able to live up to, but in the process inspired a legion of fans, friends and colleagues to seize the day, live strong and don't give up on your dreams.

Hopefully, somewhere, Pimp C is finally free. RIP.

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Freak-A-Leak Week: Ghostface Killa's "The Big Doe Rehab"

Ghostface Killa has built a solid fan base behind a mix of critically acclaimed releases, constant touring and straight up ghetto appeal. His newest release "The Big Doe Rehab" adds on to his legacy and serves as a terrific closure to his tenure at Def Jam records (this was the final album on his contract).

Like a big hitting free agent going for broke on a contract year, Ghostface delivers his stock grandiose swagger on this album. From the jump, we get the rawness of “Tony Sigel” a rap geek dream collabo featuring Ghostface and Beanie Siegel. Like A-Rod and Vlad Guerrero batting 3-4 in the all-star game lineup, Tony Starks and Beans combine for a ferocious duet that concludes with Beanie declaring "you're gonna have to cut me out the track like cancer" before he continues rhyming breathlessly as the track fades out.

From there, we get the street narrative "Yolanda's House" where Ghost, Method Man and Raekwon run through three side of a story of a drug runner eluding cops, his friend begrudgingly letting him hide out at his house while he's in the middle of some afternoon delight, and the drug kingpin who wants his money.

The production is a barrage of the usual Ghostface sound, a mix of echoed guitar riffs, extra-large soul samples and low-fi drum breaks. I haven't been able to find production credits (anyone care to share?), but the beats fit Ghost's style like a jock strap, extra tight. Songs like “We Celebrate” and “Walk Around” make use of smart funk and soul samples that allow Ghost to bend his words and, more importantly, his emotions all around the song.

It's that emotive factor that carries the album over the edge. Whether he's spilling his guts out on “I'll Die For you” or being hilariously silly on “White Linen Affair (Tony Awards)” this guy has a penchant for self-expression that is unmatched in hip-hop music. Ghostface knows how open up every corner of his psyche and present it to the public over a banging soul-loop. The Ghostface legacy lives on.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Freak-A-Leak Week 2007

It's the holiday season and the gift-giving has come early for music bloggers.

No less than six releases have been leaked to the downloading public, beginning with the early arrival of Wu-Tang Clan's "8 Diagrams." Other releases — Ghostface's "The Big Doe Rehab, Beanie Siegel's “The Solution,” Freeway's “Free at Last,” Scarface's “Made” and Hi-Tek's “Hi-Teknology 3” have also found their way onto the information superhighway. It's the most wonderful time of the year.

So I'm dubbing this “Freak-A-Leak Week” and giving a review of these new releases, some of which hit store shelves this week. It's the most wonderful time of the year.

We'll begin Tuesday with Ghostface's "The Big Doe Rehab" and work our way down. Happy holidayz!

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Listen To My Voice! — The Beat Podcast (Throwback Edition)

As rap music gets up in age, it's pretty cool to see some veterans re-emerge as staple artists. Artist who released maybe a classic song or two and remained relevant through any combination of constant touring, new material and straight-up hood-celebrity status.

Two such rappers, Jay Tee of N2Deep and Black C of RBL Posse, will perform Friday night at Club Octane, 321 Alvarado St., Monterey. Doors open at 9 p.m.

N2Deep's famous song, “Back to the Hotel” came out in 1992, my sophomore year in high school (showing my age). Although the group didn't reveal its Latino identity at the time, the half-Mexican Jay Tee eventually carved a niche within the Latino rap fan base. N2Deep has reunited as a rock band, with Jay Tee and his partner TL fronting a full outfit and performing throughout the Bay Area. You can download my interview with Jay Tee here.

Black C was a founding member of RBL Posse, The San Francisco-based group that served up regional hits “Don't Give Me No Bammer” and “Bluebird on My Shoulder.” His career has been beset with tragedy, as two of his group members, Mr. Cee and Hit Man, were killed violently.

Soldiering on, an older, wiser Black C has kept the RBL Posse brand alive with consistant new releases. His latest, “City of Gods,” explores Black C's reggae influences. Download the entire audio here.

Also, since I still got it laying around, here's a download link to my interview with Gabriel Iglesias. Keep smiling y'all.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Brothers Gonna Work It Out: Kanye, Knievel End Beef

I'm really, really glad Kanye "Evel Kanyevel" and the real Evil Knievel settled their beef over Kanye's video for "Touch The Sky." I was not looking forward to a Knievel diss track or mix CD.

You can read all about the beef here.

More importantly, I'm glad for the opportunity to make fun of the above photo. Some possible captions:

- "Kanye West and Evil Knievel settle dispute in rousing match of Rock Paper Scissors"

-"West and Knievel pose for new album entitled "He's the Arrogant Old Stunt Guy, I'm the Prissy Ego Maniacal Producer"

- "Out for Winter Fashion: Old White Guys in Native print button up shirts. In for winter fashion: Metrocentric black guys rocking purple, silk neck kerchiefs."

- "Knievel to West: I'm so stoned I can barely stand straight right now."

Note to reader: Is that a hooka pipe over Evil's right shoulder?

Add your own captions in comments.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Live in Monterey: Vent and Aaron Hagar

I got in right at the end of the Bend's set on Saturday night at The Mucky Duck in Monterey. The band was settling into the first of three encore's, all covers. From what I remember, they ran through Alice In Chain's "Man in a Box," Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and closed it off with Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl." They may have done one more song, but I can't recall because I stumbled upon the show as a very last minute thing and didn't even have time to grab a napkin and take notes.

The most noteworthy part of the show (aside from the music, which was pretty good) was the guest-performance from Aaron Hagar, son of Sammy Hagar. Aaron has a passing resemblance to his father, good vocal command and enough stage presence to hold weight without being overbearing. His best quality may be the way he eases into the song and gives you just enough to maintain its original integrity and still put his little stamp on it. Daddy would be proud.

Some myspace research revealed that Vent is from the Central Coast, primarily a cover band. They liste "Jamie's Crying" and "Orbison" as their Van Halen covers. Since I missed a good portion of their set, I'm not sure if they sang those or if Sammy Hagar sang those. What I do know is the covers I managed to hear were solid. As my friend said "At least they're doing justice to the songs."

They have a slew of dates through the end of the year at the Mucky Duck, including a New Year's Eve bash. To hear more, check

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Beat: 10K hits, 2-Years, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Last Friday, Nov. 16, marked the two-year anniversary of The Beat and today, my web editor/goddess Lisa informed me that we have reached the 10,000 hit mark. Yay!

And while the anniversary is official, the numbers are a bit skewed: the hit-counter wasn't installed until mid-May 2006, a full seven months after we launched the blog.

Still, it's a nice round number to dwell on, and a good mark of consistency (of course, I've taken a hiatus or two, but who's keeping track?) As we reach the end of another year, it's cool to know that folks have been catching The Beat.

(What, you thought I wouldn't end with some lame double-entendre? Beat it, punk)

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We Missed you Andre 3000 may be the greatest Web site name ever. The music blogsite is full of brand spanking leaked material, such as thatnewOutkast, "The Art of Storytelling Part 4."

I'm not sure where this single came from. Could be something scrapped from their last studio album, or an outtake from what would would hope to be a new record. In any event, this new song is great for one reason: Andre 3000 completely blacks out on this song.

It starts off simple enough with some synthesized chamber music bass chord, something like what DJ Toomp, T.I.'s go-to guy, would put together. Since Andre's verse is interrupted by an annoying vocal stamp advertising the Web site, it's hard to say exactly what the opening line is, but it soon becomes apparent that he is rapping about an intimate conversation with a female (that's so Anne Frank), which leads to an indictment on the fad of "Making it Rain" in the club. Andre retorts "How dare I throw it on the floor/when people are poor/ so I write like Edgar Allen to restore."

From there it's all free-associative word play at its finest, with Andre the southern gentleman dropping heat 20-syllables a second. "It's step your game up time/these ain't no same old rhymes/to step to in the club..." To be honest, there are so many quotables, I can't listen and type fast enough to catch them all. But the money-shot comes on the last line, I started off starving/now they got me out her Bret Favre'ing/ trying to see if I still got it/got it..."

Hearing that was the first time a rapper made me say "Damn" out loud in some time. Respect due to Mr. Three-Stacks. The rest of the song features a so-so sung hook by Marcia from Floetry and a butter-smooth Big Boi verse, but make no mistake, this song is all about Andre Benjamin.

The thing that's so cool is it continues a New England Patriots-like streak of microphone dominance for Andre 3000 over the past year. Beginning with his out of left field verse on DJ Unk's "Walk It Out" and continuing with guest shots for UGK and remixes for Rich Boy and Ne-Yo, Andre has been on a tear to prove that he is one of if not the best out there still spitting it.

After veering off into space age, sexed-up funk, quasi-Prince territory (see The Love Below and Idlewild), it's like Andre's rediscovered his skills and decided to punish the current hip-hop trend market for its lack of creative merit. Here's hoping moreof thatnewOutkast reaches the masses in time for the holidays.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pep Love and New Found Glory: Together at Last

I don't know enough about New Found Glory to figure if they are a serious punk rock band. Just bringing up the question seems kind of hokey to me.

I do know enough about Pep Love from Heiroglyphics to determine that the Oakland MC is not a serious punk rock band. No question marks there.

So why did I get a sense that watching Pep Love play to a small but dedicated crowd in the Atrium was decidedly more punk rock than watching New Found Glory launch a fragmented pop-punk assault before a packed main room at the Catalyst? Spread the hokieness around, why don't I?

NFG's lead singer looks like Henry Rollins's dorky kid brother, a tall, lanky punk rock frontman who imposes his will on the audience rather than pull them in. He seemed to have all the stock punk moves down, pacing the stage, singing full-throttle with his legs stretched out like a catcher waiting for throw to home plate. Kids ate it up.

Their sound is a bit of paint by the numbers pop-punk, heavy on melody. It's some of the least threatening rock I've heard in a while, perfect for say, the Vans Warped Tour, of which they've performed several times.

All of this isn't to say they performed bad. On the contrary, the band had total command of their sound, working the crowd into frenzied fits. The music was edgey enough to get the sweaty, shirtless moshers to do that one weird dance thing where they kick up their feet like a Rockette line, only a million miles a minute.

The median age of the crowd was probably 17 and three-quarters. And before the show, they threw on "Crank Dat (Soldier Boy)" and I saw more than a few people doing the dance. And it wasn't even the Travis Barker rock remix!

I left NFG's show after about five songs to check out Pep Love's side-stage show. The crowd was small, but they huddled around the stage to give it a nice, cozy feel (I'd say intimate, but I hate it when people use that word to mask the fact that only 5 people showed up for their show).

Pep came on stage looking exactly like you'd expect an aging rapper to look: sensible jeans, cell-phone cliped to his side and sticking out like a six-shooter, loose-fitting, black Heiroglyphics T-Shirt. Once upon a time, Pep was the hidden gem in the Heiro emporium, an underrated wordsmith with loads of talent and potential. He was to Heiro what Inspectah Deck was to The Wu-Tang Clan.

A cool thing is that any Heiro crew member would seem to have a large catalogue to pull from, given the crew's longevity in the game (hard to believe this year marks 15 years since "Burrnt," the crew's first true song, was released). Pep played songs from "Third Eye Vision" and his solo stuff. I didn't write down his set list, unfortunately.

As he got into the thick of his set, the crowd cramped together and smoke started filtering the air. I watched and recalled some of the few real punk-rock shows I've been to, and it reminded me of that: the back room at La Perla in Salinas, the Galeria Bolazo in San Francisco, my old spot The Grassy Knoll in Salas.

Pep's set was punk rock, minus the swinging limbs and 13-year-old miscreants. Ain't nothing hokey about that.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gabriel Iglesias: Nicest Comic in the World

I was a bit scared and anxious at once standing outside the Fox California Theater in Salinas on Friday night, waiting for comedian Gabriel Iglesias to sneak me in back stage.

As the Valley chill settled and hundreds of entertainment-starved patrons lined up outside the theater, stretching around the corner, I could only stand around and look at my cell phone clock. 7:05. 7:13. 7:26. Finally, at 7:33, the phone rang.

“Que Honda, Loco.” the voice on the other end said in a booming baritone. Gabriel had made good on his promise to call when he got into town and set me up with a spot. It was the first time any performer/artist had personally invited me anywhere after an interview. I was geeked.

I've been backstage enough to know that there isn't much going on. You just kind of sit around and wait for the show to start, then try and find a good viewpoint and stay out of people's way. This was no different. Gabriel was standing around dressed in a black Raiders sweatshirt, jean shorts and tennis shoes. He had 5 or 6 people hovering around him, namely his opening act comedy crew, a road manager, and someone's girlfriend sitting and keeping a close eye on things. I kept out of the way mostly as he took pictures with various fans and promoters who were shuffled in and out of the small space.

Finally, Gabriel called me over with a sly “Que Honda, Guey” and gave me a hearty hand shake. He joked about one of the local DJ's, then told everybody about our interview, how cool it went and how happy he was to see me there. I kept my cool, but it was hard just because I was so damn appreciative of the hospitality.

I brought along my video camera, asked if I could film some of his show, which he politely declined. However, he did grant me a video interview, which you can view here.

As for the show, I can only say that Gabriel's got a load of new material and he unleashed it on the raucous Salinas audience, which ate it up and asked for more. He chastised the physical duress of playing tennis on Nintendo Wii, shared memories of being raised by a single mom who explained that his father was the metal-studded leather belt that she kept hanging on the kitchen wall, and did impressions of George Lopez, Carlos Mencia and Paul Rodriguez.

The reception was electric. The packed house roared at each comedian, and then had more than enough reserved for Gabriel. Backstage, the openers kept commenting on the audience approval. They loved it.

And I loved the fact that a genuinely nice guy has found success in a tough industry, and he's Mexican at that. I text messaged Gabriel the next day thanking him. His response extended to all of Salinas.

“Glad you had a good time hombre. See you on the next one!”

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Listen to My Voice! (The Beat Podcast)

Hey folks, got some pretty cool interviews lying around that I've been wanting to share. The recent "Rock The Bells" and "Monterey Music Summit" shows allowed me to talk with a few artists: Colbie Caillat, Robert Levon Been of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Bart Davenport of Honeycut and Gift of Gab of Blackalicious. An eclectic bunch, for sure. Links are provided for both streaming (to enjoy now) and download (for laters). Take a listen:

Robert Levon Been of BRMC: One of my more entertaining and fun interviews, Been and BRMC were on tour with Kings of Leon and made an appearance at last month's Music Summit. Been has some funny stories about growing up in the East Bay town of Lafayette and having to deal with the uber-hip Yay Area scenesters. Check out their latest album "Baby 81." It's a banger.


Colbie Caillat: She's cute, what can I say. Caillat has a few iTunes hits, including the Jolly Rancher-sweet "Bubbly." She was nice on the phone, if a little worn for the wear (with success comes hard work and dorky blogger interviews). It should be noted that I conducted this interview on a Sunday afternoon, while visiting at my mom's house, on my day off. On top of being button-cute, she's as elusive as a Middle Eastern terrorist cell leader.


Bart Davenport of Honeycut: If you haven't heard Honeycut, try their debut "The Day I Turned to Glass." It's art house soul and blues, and Davenport is one hell of a singer. He's also got some folk cred, playing the Big Sur festivals. And he is the son of a hippie, or rather, his mom attended Monterey Pop, which may or may not make her a hippie.


Gift of Gab: One of my all-time favorite MC's, and this interview was like the coolest thing ever. I was actually pretty nervous when I talked to him.


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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Rakim Plays Santa Cruz Dressed in a Hoodie

So I finally fulfilled one of those rap nerd check-off list moments when I peeped Rakim for the first time last Thursday. On the day before my birthday, no less. Yes, as I get older, these sort of things fail to get any less exciting (still on the list are Nas, MF Doom, EPMD and Dr. Dre).

Rakim was headlining the "Hip-Hop Live" tour, which had something to do with Dodge trucks and something called FlowTV, along with Ghostface and Brother Ali. The band Rhythm Roots All-Stars backed up all three acts, giving the night a sort of Copa Cabana review feel.

The thing about seeing your hip-hop idols live in person for the first time is you've got to assume they are not larger than life. I was spoiled when I saw LL Cool J at age 16, and he fulfilled all of my expectations of what a rap legend should be: big, dynamic, and bad ass, even if he did lyp-synch a quarter of his set.

Rakim, on the other hand, doesn't have the built-in nuclear explosiveness of Uncle L. Rakim is all icey-cool, circa-84 NYC swagger, deep monotone and nary a hint of self-parody. So going in, I half-expected Rakim to sport an Armani suit, or at least a tucked-in button-up.

But Rakim Allah, The God MC, stepped on stage rocking a crisp brown hoodie, stylish but sensible black jeans, and the same gold chain he rocked in the Follow The Leader video. Which is to say Rakim came out like a hermetically sealed hip-hop icon, better than mint condition and, if anything, updated for a 2007 audience.

He rocked the classics, straight out the box with "Paid in Full" before rattling off “The Microphone Fiend,” “Check Out My Melody” and “I Ain't No Joke.” What was just as impressive was the way the RRAS captured the deep, warm thump of the original music. The songs were instantly recognizable, a sticking point for a purist like myself (jokes, kids, jokes).

Rakim also did songs as if on cue from my mind. At one point, I was thinking to myself "It would be cool to hear the band play the jazzy-break from ‘Sweat The Technique.’” Sure enough, the trunk-rattling upright bass and horn break came in on point.

And to say hearing "Eric B For President” was a euphoric experience would be an understatement. Although I didn't hop into the Delorian and head back to seventh grade and my old K-Tel cassette tapes, I did get up and dance and sing along. Just shouting along to the greatest opening line in hip-hop history (I came in the door/ I said it before...) was instant happy birthday material.

I'd write about Ghostface and Brother Ali, who both put on really good sets, but there's no point. Neither guy could really rock Rakim's hoodie anyway.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Jay-Z's "American Gangster"

So, Jay-Z's "American Gangster" CD has been out for a hot minute now, and you gotta give the guy credit for pulling off an in credible feat of creative wave-riding and military-strategic marketing planning. This guy announces a new album the day after his top dog artist, Kanye West, wins a sales battle with 50 Cent, and all talk turns to one Shawn Carter faster than you can say rapper retirement. The fact that the album is good bordering great is gravy on top of cake.

Of course, I'm biased because as I've stated in the past, Jay is my dude. So anything he puts out is automatically going to get some sort of pass based on his prior performance. But "American Gangster" is something serious: lots of home spun soul grooves and intricate lyricism. In each song, he seems to detail some element of the hustler/gangster lifestyle, with the overall album working as a periodic table for d-boys.

A song like "Pray," for example, can introduce us to a grown-up gangster mindeset: "Cut from the cloth of the Kennedy's/Frank Sinatra having dinner with the Genevees/This is the genesis of a nemesis/Mother America's not witnessing/The Harlem Renaissance birthed black buisnesses/this is the tale of lost innocence..." In an age where trends last as long as a few hours on the web, Jay gives an American thug history lesson, with context to spare.

What I like about the albums is there aren't too many obvious singles. "Roc Boys" is about the only one, but even that carries it's own air of disobedience, with Jay imagining himself as the Dope Boy of the year award winner and rapping his acceptance speech in perfect time with Kanye's triumphant horns. It's a Roc party for sure.

Here's looking at you, Jig(ga).

Overall grade: A-

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Monday, June 18, 2007

The Beat-Down: Random Thoughts To Open the Week

Random thoughts and observations for this week:

- If you see Pac-Man Jones at a strip club, by all means, just leave. It's more likely to be raining bullets than dollar bills when he's in the building.

- Battle of the Bay: April headline in the SJ Mercury News: Hyphy is Dead. SF Chronicle headline last week: Hyphy Not Dead, Just Reloading. In the meantime, Keak Da Sneak remains unsigned. Somebody help.

- Obligatory Sopranos reference: The Journey song "Don't Stop Believing," played at the end of the series finale, has recieved a 400 percent download bump on iTunes. Butt rockers rejoice!

- On the local front, Rock Wars are coming up at Lava Lounge in Monterey. Wasted Noise will defend it's title against all comers. For more information, visit the Lava Lounge MySpace page,

- Other local news: This weekend, Gunslinger at the Lava Lounge (Thursday night) and Robbie Rasta and the Love Militia at Monterey Live (Friday night).

- It's not too soon to get your tickets to the West Coast Regional Poetry Slam, July 21-22 at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur. For more info, visit the Web site

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Audible Treats For The Kiddies: The Beat Interview Archives

Here's the deal: I got interviews. Tons of 'em. They're sitting here and I don't know what to do with them.

Of course, some of them make the paper in some form: an excerpt here, a quote there. But not the whole thing. And some of these things are gold. I'm telling you. Gold.

So, in the interest of sharing wealth, I am holding an interview clearance of sorts. The following links are for you audio perusing. You can thank me later.

Steel Pulse: This interview was taken in February, 2007. I spoke with Selwyn Brown, original member of Steel Pulse and the band's keyboardist. This was cool because I've always been a big fan of the band, and Brown was really pleasant over the phone even though he was filling in for an absent band mate.

Here's the link:

Mic Quin: Salinas rapper Mic Quin has been getting some shine recently on the Street Low car show tour. He's recorded with Mistah FAB and Guce, to name a few. Check him out at


Ice Cube: A west coast rap legend, movie idol and producer extraordinaire, Ice Cube was also my hero in high school. The interview of a lifetime.


El-P: El-P is a true artist, original, uncompromising, unsteady. The one thing I learned about him through this interview: he's got a sense of humor, and a pretty good one at that.

Check it out:

Lou Adler: Adler is the father of Monterey Pop, a hollywood icon and Jack Nicholson's Laker game homie. What more can I say.


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Monday, June 11, 2007

The Beatdown: The Sopranos Series Finale

So, "The Sopranos" ended with a Journey song and a close-up of Tony Soprano getting... whacked? content? hungry?

(Spoiler alert, if you do not want to know how the finale ended, stop reading here)

Sunday night's grand finale to the greatest television show of all-time (yeah, I said it) proved anti-climatic to some, outright maddening to others. I was in the minority — I really liked it.

In it's series finale, series creator David Chase managed to pack in a little of everything that the show has been known for. There was ultra-violence (Brooklyn boss Phil Leotardo got whacked and beheaded by SUV), hilarity (Paulie Wallnuts sitting at a table with the youngsters and unzipping his pants), pathos (Tony telling a shrink his mother didn't love him; Paulie sharing a vision of the Virgin Mary), and food (Bobby Bacala's wake had a fat spread; the final scene of the family being served onion rings at Holsten's restaurant).

In the end, Tony sat with his wife Carmela and son A.J., while daughter Meadow showed up late after some miserable parralel parking. The camera cut to a quick shot of Tony's eyes, while the chorus was cut mid breath. Then, it all turned to black, as the world was left to ponder whether it was truly over, maybe they forgot to pay their cable bill.
Chase defended himself against any criticism for the show's final scene.

"I have no interest in explaining, defending, reinterpreting, or adding towhat is there," he says of the final scene.

"No one was trying to be audacious, honest to God," he added. "We did what we thought we had to do. No one was trying to blow people's minds, or thinking 'Wow, this'll (tick) them off.' People get the impression that you're trying to (mess) with them and it's not true. You're trying to entertain them."

My take: How else are you going to end it? Chase has proven in the past he is not bound to any traditional rules of story telling. Loose ends remain loose ends, as in life. The Sopranos are no different.

Which is the reason I enjoyed Sunday's ending. In some alternate gangster universe, The Sopranos live on. There's no definite closure, just the end of another chapter.

You can go on about what didn't get solved with the series finale, but I'd rather take a moment to point out some of my favorite images from the final season:

- The sight of Tony cradling AJ after a failed suicide attempt
- Bobby Bacala dripping with blood, laid out on a train set, after getting hit in a hobby shop
- Tony and Bobby doing their best sumo wrestling impression in the woods
- Chrissy Moltisanti killing his movie producer
- Every scene in "Cleaver"

Those images (most of them violent, although that's not the only reason I watch the show) stand out for me in memorable season that will continue, if only in our most ilicit imaginations. Yes, the finale left us hungry for more. That was the point.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

The Beat Q&A: Lou Adler (Pt. 2)

In part two of our Q&A, music producer extraordinaire Lou Adler, co-producer of The Monterey International Pop Festival, talks about the music at Monterey Pop.

This interview will be reprinted in the Sunday edition of the Monterey County Herald, as part of our 40th anniversary special section in honor of Monterey Pop. Check out the Sunday edition for more coverage...

Q: Another part of the story was that this was the big American break through for acts like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and The Who. What did you know about these acts? Where they brand new to you?
A: The San Francisco acts were familiar to us, because John Phillips and myself had gone up to San Francisco to look at some of the groups. We had seen Janis perform before at the Filmore with Big Brother, and we saw Country Joe and Quicksilver. So we were familiar with the San Francisco groups. As far as Hendrix and The Who, we had heard about them but had not seen them until Monterey. Obviously, acts like The Association, Lou Rawls, those acts of that genre we knew well. Buffalo Springfield. All of the acts ouf of LA, we knew real well.

Q: Was there any one act or performance that you considered the best or that stood out?
A: That's three or four. I think Otis Redding's performance is one of the best overall concert performances ever, and certainly on film. (It wasn't) just one song. Janis Joplin was incredible, but it was one or two songs thtat got the audience. Every song that Otis sang was a termendous performance that night. And Hendrix and The Who. If you watch the Monterey Pop film, you can see the look on the audience. That's pretty much what we all had. We were like Dylan's Mr. Jones at that point. Something was happening and we were in on it for the first time.

Q: What was the response from locals once you guys touched down and started setting up?
A: It took us seven weeks from the time that we started going after acts and hiring people and pretty much working out the production of what the festival would be. We took up residence in Monterey two weeks before the festival. By that time, it was more curiosity than anything. Being the first festival and Monterey not really knowing what was going to happen or who was coming in, the only inlking they had was one, Hells Angels, and two, what was happening up in San Francisco in Haight Ashbury, with the influx of people from all over the United States, runaways, etc. There was that negative aspect to it: What are we in for? But mostly it was curiosity. What are these guys doing?

Q: Aside from performances, are there any hight lights or lowlights that stick out in your mind?
A: A lot of it is a blur. Things were happening so fast. The fact that there were no rules or regulations or anything to follow. Because we were the first and we had 32 acts and we had to get them on and off and get the audience in and out, it was just a blur. There were a few things that jump out . . .
My approach to it was to manage the 32 acts as if they were one. Get them the best accomodations, get them the best sound system, all the things you would do for any act that you were managing. Just treat all 32 like that. The premise was, if we can make the acts only have to worry about performing, and (take care of) all of the things that up until that time bothered acts. Like a bad sound system or “Where's the nearest White Castle?” So we provided all of that. The best sound system, the best places to stay, food 24 hours a day. And all they had to do was perform. That had a lot to do with the performances that came off that weekend.

Q: Where did you put up the acts? Where did they stay?
A: There were 11 hotels and motels in the area, and they were spread out. But every act had a driver. It was just things that rock and roll acts had not experienced yet. Some of them had, but very few, and they had whatever the best rooms that we could get in those hotels, and motels if we had to.
We had set up a tent directly behind the stage, and that was open 24 hours a day. Served everything: cracked crab, lobster, caviar. Anything that they wanted.
It was a chance for acts that had heared about each other and listened to each other but never had a chance to see each other perform..or sit down and have a meal together or pull out a guitar and start playing with someone. The jams backstage were exciting to watch

Q: Any specific jams that stick out?
A: Well, it was unusual to see Hendrix and Paul Simon play together (laughs).

Q: Fourty years later, is it still fresh in your mind, or does it seem like five lifetimes ago?
A: I've been reliving it because of doing the 40th (anniversary), and having these kinds of conversations, and putting out the new CD. Reliving it, listening to the music, making sure all of the tracks are right. Talking about it a lot. It seems like, I mean, it's cliche to say, but it really does seem like yesterday.

Q: What impact did it have on pop culture, overall?
A: The impact, I think, you can state it easliy if you look at the parallels and see what we went through then is happening now. I mean, we have an unfortunate and a very unpopular war. We had then a new way to read about our music, which was Rolling Stone, and now we have blogs and the internet. We had a new way to listen to music then, which was FM, and now we have iTunes. And, more ironic, in California for the second time we have a republican governor that's an actor. We had Reagan then and we have Schwarzenegger now.
It just shows that the history that was being made then, it was a generation coming alive, and dictating what music they were going to listen to and who they were going to listen to and becoming so powerful that the politics and politicians are looking to them. It was the birth of a new generation and a new culture. Monterey was the key to opening the door of what became the summer of love.

Q: For you persoanlly, what did the experience mean to you?
A: It's corny, but to be a part of history and to be able to in a sense, be the spokesman of it. But what's most important is that the foundation that we started in 1967 continues to be funded by the ancilaries that the film and the videos and the CDs, the dvds, that were created then. And to fund the foundation and give to things like free clinics and PS Atts, which keeps art going in public schools... and all of these things are still being funded on behalf of the artistst that appeared in Monterey. That's very gratifying.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Rio Del Mar's Very Own Murs, Live in SC

Murs attended Cabrillo College? I did not know that.

Performing in his backyard of sorts, the charismatic Living Legends MC played to a pretty packed crowd Saturday night at The Catalyst. That's when he revealed his former residence in Rio Del Mar and status as a Seahawk.

Opening up with the lead track “Murs Day” from his collaborative album “Murray's Revenge” (with producer 9th Wonder), Murs got the crowd hype for the night. It was a nice jump off for a fast-paced showman who commands a stage with a smile and a wink.

Oh, and some really obscene lyrics. Murs is one of those underground bad boys who manages to be both sexed up and grass roots. One minute, he's lyrically exercising with the song “Fulfill The Dream” off the Felt album, the next he's inciting the crowd to yell the b-word on his raunchy tale “Bad Man.”

Through it all, Murs jumped around, smiled a lot, and played the "aww shucks" card with equal aplomb. And then he gave a shout out to his old stomping grounds.

“This is like where it all started...I came from a place along Highway 1 called Rio Del Mar and I was a student at Cabrillo College,” Murs said as the crowd erupted with cheers. Flashing that winning smile, you could tell he was touched by the moment.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Don't Call It A Comeback: Kweli's Been In the Building

Kweli is back. Thank goodness.

I'm speaking of course, about Talib Kweli, BK MC, who has been regarded with both honor and disdain in the underground rap universe. His latest album, “Ear Drum,” leaked on the internet last week. It's not scheduled for proper release until July, but in today's music market, bootleg material is as ubiquitous as political campaigning.

“Ear Drum” is full of the hard beats and hard (as in complicated) rhymes that earned Kweli accolades from heads everywhere. There are some monsters on here, but the overall vibe is that Kweli has created his first true solo masterpiece, and it's about dang time.

The album opens with the somber “Everything Man,” Kwe spitting about how he's everything to everyone, a boast that might have gotten him in trouble only a short time ago with his alienated fans. Kweli's fan base has been hard on the guy because he hasn't lived up to the potential of his first two albums, “Black Star” and “Reflection Eternal.” “Ear Drum” should go a long way toward fixing that.

The second track, “New York Weather Report,” is a heat rock that finds Kweli in his comfort zone, dishing out lines like "I'm not a judge but I'm handing out sentences/for political prisners, or regular inmates with no visitors. ” Kweli rides the beat with his signature 1000 syllables a bar pace, but he manages with ease. It's hard to command a breathless flow while balancing word play and content, but Kweli makes it look easy.

Other standouts include the thumping “Country Cousins,” a humorous foreign exchange between the Brooklyn academy alum and Texas legend Bun B and Pimp C, aka UGK. The song “Soon The New Day” finds Kweli spitting a sexy tale about trying to pick up on a fly heina. With Nora Jones singing a sultry hook and producer Madlib flipping the beat, it's a solid choice for a second single.

While talk of a comeback is reserved more for cynics and haters who don't want to afford Kweli his room for growth. “Ear Drum” isn't a perfect record, but it's a perfectly timed record, as Kweli now has a chance to re-establish himself as one of the best in the game. Hopefully, there's no turning back from that.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

The Beat Q & A: Lou Adler (Part I)

"The Beat" takes a slight detour from our regularly scheduled urban/pop culture coverage to share an exclusive interview with a music legend.

Most folks in this myspace generation may not recognize the name Lou Adler, but in Hollywood, he is that dude.

He's that dude sitting next to Jack Nicholson at all the Laker games.

He's that dude who directed Cheech & Chong's first movie, "Up in Smoke."

He's that dude who guided the career of The Mamas and The Papas and Sam Cooke.

Oh, and he's that dude who helped create and organize the Monterey Interenational Pop Festival.

Like I said, he's that dude.

Adler took some time to talk to "The Beat" on the eve of the 40th anniversary of Monterey Pop. That was the iconic event that launched the careers of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who, and Otis Redding, among others. Inside the pantheon of rock promoters and pioneers, Adler's table seat is somewhere near the head. Peep game (This is Part I in a two-part series) .

Q: Where did the idea (for the pop festival) come from?
A: ..(A concert promoter) had the idea to do a one day, one night show. Not a festival show, but in a festival setting in Monterey. They came to John Phillips, the Mommas and Poppas and myself, and they wanted to buy the Mommas and Poppas to close the show.
Weeks or so before that, John and I and I think (Paul) McCartney and a couple of other people were at Cass Elliot's house, and we were talking about how Rock and Roll wasn't considered an art form in the same way that jazz was, and how they still thought we were a trend that would be over by the summer. And (we thought) it would be great if we could validate (the music) in some way.
So knowing that the fairgrounds up in Monterey also had the Monterey Jazz Festival and the Monterey Folk Festival, we thought this might be the time and the place to do this. And we bught the dates from the promoter and we expanded it to three days and we started calling acts.

Q: You sort of answered the question, but i'll ask it anyway: Why the small town of monterey?
A: Well, (laugh), because that's where they already had the dates. We werent' looking to do a fetival, we sort of fell int it, and the dates were already in Monterey. But the appeal to us was the fact that the Jazz Festival was held there, so that if you do a rock festival in the same venue, you sort of validated what we were doing.

Q: For the first ever Rock and Roll Festival, you would think you would have chosen San Francisco or Los Angeles as the site.
A: Actually, what we wanted to do was be right in the middle, so we could get the LA bands and San Francisco bands together without favoring one or the other. Monterey and Carmel was right in the middle, a little toward San Francisco, but not in San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Q: Was there any dissension from the city officials or local authoritites about the festival?
A: Yeah, we had to win them over. The police chief, his name was Marinella, and he was a captain of the Monterey Police (Department). He was retiring about six months from that date. He wanted no problems, no bumps. He just wanted to ease out, and to him the hippie and the Hells Angel was the same thing. Everybody was a Hells Angel that didn't look like the people of Monterey.
The idea of what he thought might be 30,000 people coming, which eventually turned out to be 200,000... We had to win him over, the mayor over. We went to a lot of city council meetings. John Phillips was very charming and quite a good lier, actually, so we were able to promise him anything...
What I really mean was, to understand what we were up against. The city officials were asking a lot of questions that we didn't have answers for. It wasn't really lying, but it was making up answers. He's not really a liar.

Q: Was there ever an effort to have a second festival?
A: We recieved a lot of requests from not only Monterey and California, but from all over the world, to do a secone one there. We actually went up to Monterey and talked to them a little bit, but the situation had changed so much. They were very naive — all were going in. But once they saw the numbers and what it meant, all the prices went up: cost of insurance, cost of police. And it's just that the atmosphere was a lot differnt than the first one. We just thought, ‘We've done it. Why do it again?’

Q: Going into the event, it was pretty revolutionary, just the idea of a rock festival, but did you have the any inclination the impact it would have?
A: Up until that time in the U.S., there wasn't much media coverage — other than the trade magazines, like Cash Fox and Billboard — on rock and roll. The difference, for example, in England, if Mick Jagger got a ticket, it would be on the front page of all the tabloids. In America, there wasn't that type of coverage. Not until November 1967 did Rolling Stone have their first issue. So there wasn't too much coverage.
We had no idea what we were going to get until the Friday morning (of the fesitval), when we showed up that morning at the fairgrounds before the first show. There were approximately 1500 different media outlets that had showed up to cover the festival. Crews from all over the world. At that point, we knew something was happening in Monterey. I didn't think 40 years from now, I would be talking to you about it, but that's the first inclination we had that something big was about to happen.

Q: Talk to me a little more about what it was like working with John Phillips.
A: Phillips, he went to West Point. He obviolsly didn't finish and didn't go into the army. But he was from the south, very well educated, very charming. He and I, we were like two guys that went to different schools together. We were about the same age, grew up liking the same music — Four Freshman, High-Lows. We were aware of a lot of the musical events that had shaped jazz and had shaped pop music. We both liked playing basketball, we both had played in school, so we were close very quickly. He was a brilliant song writer, and the unfortunate thing was that he died relatively young and wasn't able to continue, because he could have written in any genre. He was like a throwback to the Tin Pan Alley type song writers, as well as a pop and a folk songwriter. I guess, with Brian Wilson, he may have been the best vocal arranger to come along in 50 years. He was quite a guy.
Destructive, very self-destructive and along with whoever might be close around him. And unfortunately, whatever he got into just accelerated that and we lost him.

Q: Going back to the festival, when you were organizing the lineup, there's the legend that McCartney insisted that Jimi Hendrix be there, stuff like that. Can you walk me through what it was like figuring out who was going to play and when.
A: What we did, we formed a board of directors, and I tried to include (everyone)in it, for a couple of reasons. One to get a lot of input on who would be good to have at the festival and the other was, once again, to validate what we were doing. It was difficult to call and say we're doing a pop rock festival, because it hadn't been done before. So, we knew that the first two acts to come on, because we were going to do it without the acts getting paid in order to form a foundation that would give a way money through the years. In the same spirit that we were doing rock and roll. In other words, to give back for everything we had made from rock and roll, to give back in that spirit.
The first two acts were The Mommas and Poppas and Simon and Garfunkel. So we had our headliners and we had some one where the other acts would see that these guys were acts that were getting paid the most money in rock and roll, it was okay to come aboard. If they were doing it for nothing, then they could come aboard and do it for nothing. So we had our first two headliners for two of the nights. The festival was three nights and two days, and so we had Simon and Garfunkel for Friday night and The Mommas and Poppas for Sunday night. We had The Beach Boys for Saturday, but at the last nimute they pulled out. The second act was Otis Redding, so that moved him into the closing spot on Saturday night.
Then we had one day where we used Bloomfield and The Electric Flag, those bluse-oriented groups. We knew we had Ravi Shankar for a whole Sunday afternoon show. And then, McCartney suggested Hendrix and The Who, and we knew about Eric Burdon through Ann Jolden. He was a producer for the Rolling Stones and he was on our board of directors.
So we started to fill in trying to get representation of each genre of pop music throughout the performances. That's pretty much what we were trying to accomplish. And the reason it worked so great was because the music coming out of San Francisco, which was brand new, and Hendrix and The Who, who had success in England but hadn't had exposure in America yet. We couldn't have put those acts on and drawn the amount of people that we drew. But with The Mommas and Poppas and Simon and Garfunkel, we got that crowd and introduced the other acts to the audience, through having the power of draw of those successful acts.

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Kanye West Mixtape is Neither a Mix nor a Tape

I'm not one to pause for self-reflection, but I have to momentarily address my lack of postings this month. It all has to do with a tight schedule and project-work, so please forgive the massive hole. Wont' happen again, I promise.
Now, let's get back to the reason we're all here - Music.

Mixtapes are supposed to be illegal, or something like that, which means an artist has to give them away in order to avoid any legal wrangling.
So when Kanye West, one of the few hip-hop artists who matter anymore, drops a free mixtape on Memorial Day weekend, it becomes an event. The fact that it's pretty damn good is pudding on top of ice cream cake.

“Can't Tell Me Nothing” is one of the rarified mixtapes that is worth seeking out. Of course, mixtapes nowadays are total misnomers. They're neither mixed by a DJ nor tapes. A linguist would have a field day pointing out the flawed premise.
But 'Ye's mixtape does what all good mixtapes are supposed to do: provides anticipation for an upcoming project (in this case, 'Ye's upcoming album "Graduation), keep the artist accessible and, gasp, offer new, banging beats and rhymes.

It opens up with 'Ye punching a dateline on the mix, ”May 25, 2007.” This is almost the equivalent of a hostage holding up a newspaper in a photo to prove what day they are actually alive (one of the few uses print newspapers have these days). 'Ye talks big shit over a Daft Punk sample, which eventually cuts into a snippet of his second album single “Stronger.” Again, 'Ye flips the Daft Punk sample, adding space age thump, synth, and much boasting.

Then the album gets weird.

'Ye teams up with Lupe Fiasco and Pharrell (the new super group CRS) to rap over a Thom Yorke track. That's right, a Thom Yorke track. Later on, Kanye jacks the Peter Bjorn and John hipster delight “Young Folks” to rap about porn and his Rolling Stone cover story.

Sounds tacky, but by the grace of trucker hats and PBR, it works.
The title track has been released as a single, with DJ Toomp providing a bed of epic organ keys and dramatic vocal chops, upon which Kanye dreamily warns "Wait 'til I get my money right."

Although awesomely self-centered, Ye isn't too caught in vapors to share the spotlight. Tracks from Common (off his album "Finding Forever"), Sa-Ra Creative Partners, Big Sean, Consequence and GLC stand strong alongside 'Ye's offerings. It's a G.O.O.D. family affair.

What makes this mixtape work is its revelatory nature, like 'Ye is giving us an exclusive sneak peek into his steez, almost a day in the life of. It's a good look for today's most relevant rap star.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

The Beat Q&A: El-P

He's one of the most inspired and original musicians in hip-hop right now, weaving noise-bumping boom bap with intense lyrical assault. El-P, owner and president of Def Jux Records, former leader of Company Flow, producer, lyricist, all-around bad dude, is a hip-hop original.

Fortunately for his equally intense and loyal fans, the New York product has kept to his unique formula of introspective song themes and indy as f*** mantra. With a new album out, "I'll Sleep When You're Dead," El-P continues his legacy of outdoing himself with each project. He will perform in San Francisco May 18 at Great American Music Hall.

His latest album finds El Producto rhyming alongside some of the usual suspects, namely Aesop Rock and Hangar 18 of his Def Jux label. But there are some new twists: members of Mars Volta pop up on the opener, while Cat Power and the one and only Trent Reznor lend their vocal talents to a few songs. It's fitting given El-P's ascendance as not only an indy hip-hop presence, but an indy musician in general.

El took some time to talk to "The Beat" about his latest tour, his new album, and whatever happened with that record he was supposed to record with Zach de la Rocha.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to talk to “The Beat.”
A: My pleasure.

Q: Where are you heading tooright now
A: Right now we're somewhere on the highway, heading to Boston.

Q: You said you had a trailer tire blow out?
A: Yeah, that's why it's just smoking.

Q: Is being on the road like second nature. I know you were known as a legendary road warior all the way back to your Co-Flow days.
A: It's second nature, yet, everytime you go back out on the road, it's a new experience. Of course, I've done it before. I'm not completely shocked. But there's nothing that can predict the insanity of what happens on the road. I'm a little more adjusted... hold on one second... (he goes to talk to someone).
Yeah, but, you know, it's great to be able to do it. I'm very lucky to be doing a bus tour, because driving across country in a van is enough to break any man's spirit. But after coming back from Europe, I was out there for 3 and a half weeks, America is, well, I'im feeling very patriotic. America is going to be a cakewalk.

Q: What was so difficult about Europe? Was it the travel, the venues?
A: Travelling through Europe in what they call a Highway Tiger, which is some strange contraption built by Mercedes that, you know, it's supposed to be comfortable but it's incredibly uncomfortable. It's all the stress and weirdness of the tour but with none of the familiarity of your own country. And of course you have to suffer through Germany, which is never fun.

Q: Some of the reviews of the tour suggest you've upped the ante as far as overall production value, with a live band and some of your Def Jux compatriots on there. Was this set up with the ambition of giving the fans something new and different than what they were accustomed to from you?
A: It was. I wanted to step up the general production value of what an indie rap show could be. And while rap shows can be fun, a lot of times they can be incredibly monotanous. I think that people get a little bored watching people calmly walk back and forth on stage and rapping. So I just figured I would do my part to try and spice it up a little bit and add a theatricality to it.
So we hired a lighting guy, you know. We've got some themes going on. The majority of the tour has my bassist...and my keyboard player... who both played on my record as well. They're joining us on Sunday. For the first few dates, they're not going to be with us.
But, you know, I think that it was just time for me, that's all. I've been performing for so many years, and I never really liked watching my performance. I would see videotapes of it and I would never like it. I would go to these other shows with other genres of music and just go, fuck, man, they got something there that my team doesn't have. This was the first time I felt like I really enjoyed putting together the show. Even when we're stripped down, with just Mr. Dibbs, myself, my lighting guy and my hype man, I think it's 10 times better than anything I''ve ever done.

Q: One of the interesting things on the new record was you've aligned yourself with not just indie hip-hop artists, but indy rock musicians in genreal. Working with Cat Power, folks from Mars Volta. Were you trying to transcend the indie hip-hop market and align yoruself as an indy musician.
A: I'm not trying to do anything. If I transcend that, it would be because I'm naturally transcendant , and that's not up to me to decide. I'm just a fan of music, and I don't see any difference in working with the Mars Volta as if I do with Aesop Rock. For me, my love of other people's music, this was the first record where I figured, fuck it, let me include some of these people. Now that I have relationships with these people and I've worked with them and we're familiar. I heard things that I thought would be really cool. It's just another frontier for me to experiement and have fun with it.
Musicians themselves are all fans. You kind of like what you like. The fact that me and Mars Volta and Trent Reznor are all mutual fans of each other, you know, (and)cat power, these things didn't happen on some cold, calculated level. It was born out of respect, you know, and born out of friendship and acquaintence and, you know, sort of the relationships that had formed over the years, you know. It's not about transcending anything for me. It's about having fun with music and being involved with people I like.

Q: I think it says a lot about you as an artist, that working with these other musicians was such a seamless collaboration. It didn't seem forced.
A: Thank you, I appreciate that. It was important to me. I wanted to work with these poeple, but I refuse to make a song in order for a collaboration to exist. The song has to exist, the idea has to be there and the collaboration has to be natural. I will take the song and the idea over the collaboration at any moment. There are things, if it's not working, it's not working... (pause, talks to the bus driver) Whoa, you're cutting real close there... Whoo! Good bus driver...

Q: How did you form the relationship with Trent Reznor?
A: He had reached out to me and we had kind of e-mailed back and forth for about a year. Then, he invited me to a couple of shows and we hung out. Then he asked me to remix the single off of his last album. That's how we hooked up. We just kind of stayed in touch after that.
When it came time for my record, I had this song in my mind, and I had the whole thing structured and pretty much done to a degree. I told him about it and asked him if he'd like to add to it because I was actually singing the chorus and I thought, you know what, A: I'm not a good singer and B: it would be cool to have another voice here, another idea here. So, I just reached out to him and he heard me and was into it, and was really generous about it.
He was on tour at the time, so it was an e-mail collaboration, you know what I mean. He did it on the road, but he was super cool about it. I respect him so much. I think he's just an innovator and one of the few people who has had serious staying power and has his own sound and continues to have his own sound. To me, that's rare and admirable.

Q: To me, that's what made it a good collaboration, because you both have your distinct, signature styles and sounds. It made sense for you guys to connect.
A: I thought so too, but mostly because I admired him and his career and the way that he did what he did. You want to be that guy who can exist outside of the pantheon of hipsterism. That guy who can comeback whenever he wants to come back and have his idea and have it be powerful. Those are the rare individuals who don't succumb to whatever is happening in the minutea of industry interest. Trent Reznor can come out with a record and motherfuckers will listen, and he's still doing interesting and new shit. I want to be that kind of artist and I definitely look up to him, because he's been that type of artist for decades. Beyond that, I just dig his music.

Q: Speaking of coming back when you want to come back, It took you, what, six years to release this record?
A: No, no, no, no. A little under five.

Q: Was it you were busy running the company, doing projects, you wanted to make the perfect album?
A: All of the above. I put out Fantastic Damage and toured for the better part of a year. I did a jazz album. I did a film score, produced Cage's record, Mr. Lif's record. I did a shit load of remixes. I was running a label and then I took my sweet fucking time to make the record, and I went crazy a little bit here and there. When it all boils down to it, time flew by, but really the record was done as soon as I could get it done... Or, no, that's a lie. I could have gotten it done (sooner) if I weren't crazy.

Q: What's the plan for the rest of the year as far as touring and projects?
A: Right now, it's touch and go. For touring, I've got this tour planned. We've got a few festivals and stuff and then I'm trying to do another tour in the fall. It's looking like I might be touring with The Battles, doing an El-P/Battles tour. But that's not confirmed yet. Aesop rock is the next record to drop at the end of the summer, then we got Rob Sonic's record. we got a busy year.

Q: Were you at Coachella?
A: Yeah, I just got back.

Q: How did that go down?
A: It was cool, it was cool. A festival show. It's like, a festival show is like I'm standing in front of thousands of people. One thousand of them know who I am and the rest of them don't. I'm sure that some of them were really confused as to what the hell we were doing. But, it's always cool. I like being put in front of audiences that dont' necessarily know who the fuck I am.

Q: Did you check out Rage Against the Machine?
A: Naw, I was on Friday and had to leave the next day.

Q: Whatever happened with theat record with you and Zach de la Rocha?
A: Whatever happened with the record? I don't know. I mean, I think that Zach never put the record out, he never completed it. I really don't know. I've beeen meaning to ask him (laugh).

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Monday, April 23, 2007

The Beat Q&A: 2Mex of The Visionaries

Los Angeles MC 2Mex is not content with simply delivering a message in his music. He uses it as a tool to reach out to his community.

A member of the Visionaries crew, the underground veteran has made his mark as one of the more progressive rhyme slingers on the West Coast. None other than Snoop Dogg has recognized the real, shouting out 2Mex and the Visionaries on the mixtape/demo cut "My Peoples."

But aside from his status as a MC on "Hip-hop's Bleeding Edge" (as he was billed in URB Magazine), 2Mex is a community-oriented artist who takes time out to speak to young people whenever the opportunity arises. 2Mex took some time out to talk to "The Beat" about his community work, his music, and what kept him so grounded in the first place. The following is an excerpt.

Q: First thing I want to do is say thanks for taking time to talk to "The Beat."

A: No worries.

Q: What have you been involved in the community as far as outreach work?

A: One of the things I've been helping out with is I go to classrooms (and) talk to kids. I go to high schools and junior highs and I talk to kids and let them know that I'm just like them. I'm from the community and here I am a Chicano, just like them, that's out there doing something for myself. Owning my own business that's successful with the music thing and without having to succumb to dealing with this corporate situation, and deal with building it from the ground up on a hands-on basis, you know. And just giving them some hope, showing them that somebody from the neighborhood made it, you know. We get to travel the world and do what we do because we work hard at it and we're dedcated to it and we look just like them, you know.

Q: What community were you raised in?

A: I was raised in Mid-City Los Angeles, a predominantly black and latino neirghborhood. It's kind of by South Central LA. I was born in 73, so I grew up in the late '80s, you know.

Q: What were some of the issues you faced growing up that you can relate with the youth?

A: Basically the issues in the 80s, there were a lot of race issues and gang issues. I grew up in an area where there were a lot of gangs, from 18 street to black gangs like Playboy Gangsta Crips. There was a lot of black and Mexican tension, you know, the gang culture of LA. The negativities of stress from the police, the crack era — I grew up in the crack era in LA. I saw a lot of people deal with and I experienced a lot of police brutality personally, being harassed by the police personally, you know.

In Mid-City, it was a hotbed of activity, growing up in the neighborhood where I grew up. Gangs, prostituation, drug dealing and stuff. I just let (the youth) know. I go to the projects in East LA, Maravilla projects, from everywhere. My group, The Visionaries, we went to Riverside, and we've gotten to the point where we get to perform in the schools. Talk to the kids, let them know, even though the music we make isn't that radio bullshit, talking about materialism and disrespecitng women and things like that. We just show them even though we're not on commercial radio, we're good. We can manifest a life and do things, you know, get things done and be successful.

Q: What types of influences did you have growing up that kept you focused?

At a young age, what kept me straight was my parents, you know what I'm saying. When I was young, I had a church influence for a while, it kept me strong. Until I got to the age of 16 or 17, when I got a job and stopped going to church and started working. I had a strong foundation. A lot of my homies were from 18 Street and different gangs, and they were getting caught up in that.

When the L.A. riots kicked off, I wanted to loot — bad. My friends were looting, things. I'm not getting into it, but people had plans when that shit cracked off. I wanted to be there so bad, it got to the point where my dad pulled out a gun on me and said “You're not going anywhere,” and he locked the door. He didn't let me do anything. That's the type of tough love that saved me. I didn't think about it at the time.

At those little critical points, when your family could have let you run wild and make mistakes, my dad was strong...

Q: Do you share that stuff with the students you talk to?

A: As deep as we can get into it. A lot of it too becomes, you know, music talk and showing them (what I do). A lot of it is about the music and showing them you can open your brain up. One exercise we do with the kids is freestyle with them, and show them in order to do wonderful things and be successful, you got to have a vocabulary. You got to have intelligence. I try to show them with intelligence comes money. If you're intelligent, you can make money. You can succeed in this world and get those things that you want, in the right way.

My parents broke their back for me to be able to (make a living). I haven't had a job in six years. Even though I'm not rich at all, I've been successfully living off the hip-hop music since the year 2000, you know. But it wasn't (always) like that. It took me another like, 10 years, almost, to get my act right. So this is just to show them. My dad broke his back so I could find out to survive with my brain, and here's their chance to survive with their brain.

There's a lot of little things like that, but a lot of (stuff I talk to kids about) is about the music. Trying to open up that chamber of intelligence. A lot of these, without disrespecting, but too many of these rap groups that are Latino, when it comes to rap music, their art form isn't necessarily about intelligence, or being wordsmiths, or building a vocabulary and being progressive with the hip-hop. Theyre just telling ghetto stories. And that shit's dope, you know, they're talking real talk. It's real talk shit, which is fine.

I don't portray myself to be a gangster. I never was a gangster. I grew up in a gang area, but I never was a gangster so I know to never act like one, you know what I mean. I don't front, but it's understandable that kids who do live that life, they tell those stories. But I'm there to show them that there's another way, another progressive way, and it doesn't have to be just like that. There's a balance. Being a Mexican hip-hop artist doesn't mean every song has to be about that.

You can talk about anything. You can talk about the world, but you have to go see it. I've performed in 40 to 45 of the 50 states. I've performed in Cuba, Mexico, Japan, Amsterdam, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Australia, England, Spain, France.

I've seen the world and I have a bigger range, and I'm just showing them that they need to go get these things and have that worldly range and think outside the box. I was talking to a kid the other day, he said “I'm from Santa Ana. I was born in Santa Ana, I'm going to die in Santa Ana, and I was like "Damn." I forgot there were people like that, and I was like, "That's what you want to do, huh?" And just, really, that mentality of I only exist in this neighborhood because I might have some power, some accolade there. But there's so much more to it.

Q: Is there any one group or organization you work with in particular?

A: To be quite honest, I'm just a floating entity. People reach out to me. From MEChA organizations to Divine Forces people, it goes on and on and on and on. I need to gather some of that info, because I look at this as an everyday thing. I float around.

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