Marc Cabrera has nothing better to do than watch a lot of movies and television, and listen to a lot of music. Luckily, he has a job that pays him to blog about local and national arts, entertainment and pop culture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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."
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)
youheardthatnew.com 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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.