Monday, January 21, 2008

The Bay Area "Beat-Down"

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by a loyal reader to give a list of my favorite new Bay Area artists. Seems the reader was living on the east coast and felt a regional disconnect.

Since the Bay Area is the closest nationally-recognized rap scene, it's only fair we direct our attention there. Here is the first in a two-part series of lists focusing on Bay Area artists. This represents some of the below the radar artists gaining traction.

Trackademiks (left): The Alameda-bred, half-black, half-Filipino artist is a walking hyphenate. Producer/MC/Visionary, he's a perfect example of the complex Bay Area rap infrastructure, which caters to both hardcore street thugs and elitist underground taste makers. Trackademiks walks the line: his remix of E-40's "Tell Me When To Go" a few years back got lots of street love, while recent work with featured artist J.Davey suits the backpackers. Check out his myspace page here.

CASAMENA: is my favorite Web site, and this guy is always on there promoting his latest work and chopping it up in the community. A veteran Bay Area DJ, Mena is adept in both hip-hop and the world of electronic dance music. Check out his myspace page here.

Traxamillion: Currently based in Georgia (according to his MySpace page), Trax is a Bay Area native who has earned a solid reputation as a hit-maker and go-to guy for the regions biggest names. Producer of such regional hits as "Super Hyphy," "Grown Man," and "Side Show," as well as the remix of Brooke Hogan's single "About Us" featuring E-40, Trax is a winner. Check out his MySpace page here.

Beeda Weeda:
Can't say I'm too familiar with this guy's music, but he's backed by Heiroglyphics (who released one of his mixtapes) and was put on to me by a local girl who supports his music. Beeda has one of the most unusual names in Bay Area rap, and that's saying something. MySpace page is here.

Izz Thizz (Left):
I've been a big fan of this guy since his days in the San Jose group Derelix. Izz is now rocking on the radio. His song "I'm Good" is available for request on KMEL. Check out his page here.

Deuce Eclipse:
A Zion I protege, Deuce has been on his grind for a few years now. Peep his work on the Zion-I mixtape "Family Business," and get to know this Salvadorans' vice-grip tight flow. Myspace page here.

The Mighty Underdogs: Okay. Gift of Gab and Lateef tha TruthSpeaker are hardly under the radar, but this collaboration with Headnodic of the Crown City Rockers has been slept on for a minute. They released an EP last October, and are set for a proper album this year. Check the page here.

The Brown Buffalo Project (Left): My gente. Some live wire Chicano activist MC's who project their heritage and their skill in their music. Peep the Myspace page here.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

"Listen To My Voice!" with Andre Nickatina

When I first ask Andre Nickatina for permission to tape an interview, he responds with a serious “Hell naw. I don't want you recording that muthafucka!”
I assume that Nickatina is a man of principle, weary of media outlets twisting his words around for the purpose of sensationalism.
The paranoia he conveys so expertly in his music, from his 1992 debut “Meet the New Jim Jones” to his latest release, “Booty Star,” may be more than high drama on wax.
Turns out I was wrong. On the phone, he's just Andre, rap cat with an affinity for reading, writing and Michael Jordan references.
“I just don't do interviews because they're boring,” he later told me with a laugh, after a brief interview during which he downplayed the symbolism and messages in his music or the imagery on his album covers.
Nickatina, along with fellow San Francisco rapper San Quinn and Pittsburg-rapper Jacka, will headline the Fox Theater Friday night in Salinas. Local rapper Mic Quin is also on the bill. Doors open at 7 p.m. and show starts at 8 p.m.
Nickatina's raps are filled with super-charged pimp talk and aggressive tales of sexploits and elicit drug use.
His signature songs, including the street anthem “Smoke Dope and Rap” and the woozy, psychedelic “Ayo (For Yayo),” make passing reference to cocaine abuse that set his style apart from typical Bay Area street rap.
That is part of his appeal — fans know that Nickatina is not interested in presenting one side of the story. When pressed, he is reluctant to lay claim to any sort of creative process.
“It's not really no process, man. I'm a rap cat from the nose to the toes. That's just it,” he said, sounding very much like the confident, slick-talking MC that shows up on records. “Growing up, I was a reader and a writer, not necessarily schoolwise, but growing up I was a reader and a writer. That's what I do, I read and I write. So that comes across in the rhyme, I guess.”
Nickatina spoke with “The Beat” earlier this week in anticipation of his weekend show in Salinas. To listen to the interview, click here.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Listen To My Voice!" with Louie Perez of Los Lobos

Louie Pérez of Los Lobos said it's been almost 40 years since he and David
Hidalgo first sat down and made music.

It was all so simple then, when the two students at Garfield High School
in East Los Angeles would hunker down in Hidalgo's room and bang out the

"I went over to his house one day for a year," said Pérez with a laugh,
on the phone while hanging out in a Borders book store in Santa Ynez,
seeking shelter from the early January storm that ravaged the West Coast.

"We just started playing guitars, then we started our first band together in
the early '70s, around '71 or '72. Then, Los Lobos happened and everybody
was out of school by then. The band came together and we just continued to
do what we learned how to do, just make music and write songs together."

Standing between the non-fiction and "libros para niños" sections, Pérez
warmly recalled those early bedroom jam sessions, which have come full
circle now that he and Hidalgo are performing a string of concerts as a duo.

Los Lobos fans need not worry, as the band surely has not split up. In
fact, a less than a week after Pérez and Hidalgo's scheduled Jan. 18
performance at the Sunset Center in Carmel, the entire roster will head out
to Santa Cruz for a gig Jan. 25 at The Catalyst.

Louie talked with "The Beat" in anticipation of this weekend's show. To listen to an mp3 of the interview, click here.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

"Listen To My Voice!" — The Beat Podcast with Milton Fletcher

Milton Fletcher was playing on the Monterey County High School All-Stars band in 8th grade. Kinda like Pistol Pete Marovich playing varsity ball in his small Pennsylvania hometown.

The Monterey High School grad attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he majored in Music Business. He lives in Southern California, working on movie scoring while playing in the rock/reggae/pop/ska band The Fabulous Rudies. He has performed on occasion with jazz luminaries such as Joshua Redman and Christian Scott.

Fletcher is returning home next week to participate in the Monterey Jazz Festival's Traveling Clinicians Program, a workshop series that takes professional jazz musicians and teachers into classrooms to give specialized mentoring. Fletcher is a beneficiary of the program, having participated since middle school. The 25-year-old is the youngest clinician in this year's program.

Fletcher took time to talk with "The Beat" about the traveling clinician program and his love of jazz music. You can listen to the stream here, and download the podcast as an mp3 here.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Hats Off To The Penny

The burly, shaved head, goateed, leather-vest sporting bouncer ambled toward me with learing respect, eyes locked, all-business, while I stood near the dancefloor.

"I need you to take off your cap,” he said simply, adding a hand gesture to his forehead to illustrate his request.

It's Friday night at The Penny Farthing in Salinas, and I've admittedly had maybe one drink too many. But this cannot go unnoticed. I'm 31-years-old, and although the blue and red Minnesota Twins hat I'm sporting is hardly an allegiance to fandom (I'm a Giants fan), it pricks me that a baseball fan can't show team support without raising flags (red or blue).

"I have no problem taking off my hat,” I tell the bouncer, who easily is twice my size and girth and could drag me out the club with minimal effort. “But I just have to tell you, I'm not a gang member.”

The bouncer, a white man who looks to be in his mid-30s and could easily pass as a cast member on American Chopper, doesn't blink. His resolve is reasonable, even is his request isn't.

"I know, man. I'm just trying to do my job,” he said, an apt reply from an honest working man used to hard-pressing, inebriated patrons. His attitude is even-keeled, a noble trait.

"I know, and I don't mean to give you a hard time,” I continue, cautious but still certain that what I'm being asked is a latent form of racial profiling. “It's just that I've lived in this town my whole life, and I hate that I have to deal with this type of profiling.”

At this point, I'm literally hat in hand, playing a patient chess game of social wills that can end in any number of ways. Here are two men, from different backgrounds and, perhaps, ideologies, at a distinct standstill. We both sense that neither side means any harm, and if one of us would just keep his mouth shut, it could all be let go.

But there's a sensibility in the bouncer that won't allow him to be so rigid. It's a big difference from other places I've been denied entrance due to a dress code. One in particular, Doc's in Monterey, stood out because the bouncer had me stand in a light drizzle for a few minutes before telling me I couldn't be let in because my size 34-waist pants were too baggy. He also denied access to the next patron, a black man, for similar reasons.

All of which leads me to my greater point — bar dress codes in this area are a latent form of racial profiling. Places where you just want to go and have a drink — Elle's lounge in Salinas, Doc's in Monterey, The Penny — are making like they're night clubs and banning attire that is considered gang-related, including sports jerseys and baggy pants.

It's one thing to go to a nightclub where you pay a cover charge and know going in that there will be a uniform expectation. It's another when you just want to go to a bar with friends and have a drink and not worry about what you wore when you left the house.

Back at the bar, me and Paul Sr. are still at even odds. Then, an unexpected thing. He reaches up his hand and offers it as a gesture. I return it with a firm handshake. My hat goes up on the table next to my drink. I don't notice him the rest of the night.

Funny how far a measure of respect can take you. I'm not sure that many bouncers would be so considerate, but I do know next time I'm heading to the Penny on a Friday night, I'll be sure and leave my cap in the car.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

“The Beat's” Best Albums of 2007

It's a little late, so I'm not going to make too big a deal about this list. It's actually hard to narrow it down to 10 this year, since I'm shying away from my normal hip-hop exclusivity to share my favorite pop music albums of the year (none worries, it's decidedly hip-hop heavy anyway). Apologies to The White Stripes, Rich Boy, Wu-Tang Clan, Calle 13, Common and Pacha Massive for being left out. It was another good year for music.

Top 10 albums of 2007:

Amy Winehouse, “Back to Black” — Late 2006, the forums at were buzzing about this new album "Back to Black" from this UK broad named Amy Winehouse. To tell you the truth, I thought she was black at first. How could anyone match friggin' Martha Reeves soulful authority? Winehouse proved to be the most potent (and potentially warped) music artist of the year. Songs like the title track absolutely tear me to shreds when I listen. Fuck album of the year, Winehouse is touching on the decade's canon with her masterpiece.
Kanye West "Graduation" — Part three in West's university trilogy, "Graduation" may be his least consistent effort, and it still manages to be a complete success on all fronts. I think the next stage in his pre-planned discography is supposed to be titled "Good Ass Job." Can't wait to see what happens when West goes to work.
Aesop Rock "None Shall Pass" — A left-field effort, at a time when indie rap is deader than a dial-up connection. Aesop sounds so confident on this effort, songs like "Getaway Car," "Citronella" and the incredible "Coffee" make a bold statement for the underground (also gotta give a quick shout out to El-P's excellent "I'll Sleep When You're Dead").
Talib Kweli and Madlib "Liberation"/Kweli "Eardrum" — Kweli was in the building twice as nice this year, giving internet heads a freebie with "Liberation" before blessing the masses with "Eardrum," his most accessible yet bold album to date. Here's hoping Reflection Eternal II drops sometime this calendar year.
Jay-Z "American Gangster" — Jay is in that "can do no wrong" category with me, so the fact that this album was so damn exciting and good was a special treat. "Roc Boys" was arguably the best song on commercial radio in 2007.
Pharoahe Monch "Desire" — This album came and went with little fanfare, but after seven years and no physical release, it was great to hear one of the best MC's in the game on top of his.
Arcade Fire, “Neon Bible” — There's something about the album's lead single, "Keep the Car Running," that reminds me of "On The Darkside" from Eddie and the Cruisers — and that's a good thing. This Canadian import was certified with "It" status early in the year, but for good reason. They rock.
Wilco “Sky Blue Sky” — Critical darlings for sure, Wilco made one of the most delightful little rock albums of the year. A unique feat considering the band's rigid course.
Turf Talk "West Coast Vaccine" — Can't forget about the Bay Area. Turf dropped a jewel with this thick collection of street-savvy and savage bangers.
UGK "Underground Kingz" — RIP Pimp C. We will never know how many more truly great albums he had left in him, but this last effort will carry on the southern hip-hop tradition for some time.

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