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.
In case you don't know, DJ Kazzeo is a local legend — just check the liner notes of KooklKeith's "Black Elvis/Lost in Space" album for proof.
He's hosted his own show on 90.9 KHDC for the past 15 years, and now he's preparing for his quinceanera. He was a co-founder/publisher of "4080 Magazine.” He's interviewed and kicked it with some of the most influential hip-hop artists of all time.
The man has represented for hip-hop on the radio for half my life, and to celebrate, he's hosting a big b-day bash on Sept. 17 and 18. He's also inviting his listeners and the public at large to participate. Check out the video and give him a hollar at www.myspace.com/kazzeo to get down with the man. Big up to Kazzeo and congratulations on 15 years of success.
J-Diggs is the president of Thizz Entertainment and a childhood friend of Mac Dre. Together, Diggs and Dre helped turn Thizz into one of the most respected and popular regional independent labels in Northern California.
J-Diggs performs tonight at The Castle, 140 Oak St., Soledad. Prior to his show, he talked with "The Beat" about the origins of Thizz Entertainment and the label's ups and downs. The sound quality is not the best because I recorded the interview on my cell phone (my podcasts are usually recorded on the more reliable, better quality office speaker phones), so bear with me.
I realize I should have put this list out last month, but the way I've been keeping score at home, here are the best of the year so far. I couldn't come up with an even 10, so here's my top five albums and top nine singles.
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend Atmosphere - When Life Give you Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold Erykah Badu - New AmErykah The Roots - Rising Down N.E.R.D. - Seeing Sounds
Vampire Weekend - A-Punk Erykah Badu - The Healer The Roots - Get Busy N.E.R.D. - Spaz Coldplay - Viva La Vida Lil Wayne - Mr. Carter The Black Keys - Psychotic Girl David Banner ft. Chris Brown, Jim Jones - Get Like Me One Day As A Lion - Wild International
(ABOVE: I did a Google Images search of 200 and this was the only remotely cool thing I could find)
Well, 200 posts isn't a whole lot, when you consider that I've been writing this for more than two years and have taken not one, but two hiatus's during that stretch.
When my former (and all-time favorite) boss took myself and my features editor to some Japanese restaurant to discuss ideas for what would eventually become "The Beat," my initial reaction was "Wow, I get to go to concerts for free now!" I might have even said that out loud.
Now that I have some weight on me, I can reflect for a moment on some of the cool moments, like interviewing Ice Cube, Mary J. Blige, El-P, Aesop Rock, Too $hort and Xzibit.
But some of the best stuff has come from interviews with lesser names. Black C of RBL Posse was one of my all-time favorites because he opened up a lot on losing both members of his crew, Hitman and Mr. Cee.
2Mex of Visionaries Crew shared the story of his father pointing a gun at him to prevent him from leaving the house during the L.A. Riots, and years later, he was grateful that his pops had his back like that.
I've also missed out on a few interviews, particularly with Rhymesayers MC's. Slug of Atmosphere has been pretty elusive. Brother Ali was out of reception range when I called him during our scheduled interview. He called back a few hours later after I had left the newsroom.
Of course, I still get to go to free shows, although my schedule has been pretty hectic, so I'm doing less and less of that these days.
All in all, the first 200 posts have been a good thing. And now we got "The Beat" in print, so I can add columnist to my resume.
While I've kept the primary focus on hip-hop, I'm proud of everything I've covered and written on here, with plans toward expanding the scope of the blog. In the near future, expect more pop culture treading.
Also, with the expansion of our production capabilities, you might see more high-end video work. Plans are underway. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, I want to thank everyone who has supported, criticized, loved, hated, and just read this blog. The first 200 shouldn't have taken us this long, but I promise the next 200 will be even better. La Paz.
So yesterday I happened to have two interviews with rappers. Weird how my schedule works out sometimes.
It turned out to be an interesting showcase in professional vs. amateur demeanor.
On one hand, you had a street rapper with a small, successful independent record label. On the other hand, you had a local artist with some credibility as a freestyle battle rapper and a few national titles under his belt.
My first interview was with J-Diggs of Thizz Entertainment, the record label started by Mac Dre. Now, Thizz is a popular brand in this area. Lots of kids bump their artists.
J-Diggs, who serves as both an artist and label president, is in charge of a lot of artists on his record label and, to an extent, a portion of the Bay Area rap scene. He's performing Friday night at The Castle, 140 Oak Street, in Soledad. Show starts at 9:30 p.m.
Diggs is a busy guy, but not too busy to take time to talk with a journalist from a small community paper. Our interview got off to a bit of a late start, but his manager kept me posted and Diggs was apologetic for the delay. The interview went smooth and the story is set to run in Thursday's GO! section of The Monterey County Herald.
An hour later, I found myself sitting in a coffee shop, waiting for my appointment with the local guy (who shall remain nameless).
The time of our scheduled appointment arrived and he was a no show. I continued to wat. Fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. No sign of him at all.
I tracedk down his cell phone number, call, and get the voice mail.
"Hey, this is Marc from the Monterey Herald. I thought we had a 3 p.m. appointment. I'm here. Where are you?"
After 45 minutes and no call back, I gave up. I was on deadline with other stuff. I just didn't have time to wait around. Not sure I'm going to have the time later on.
The point of this post is in part to complain about how I was stood up (which has never, ever happened to me before), but also to show what I thought to be a wide disparity between artists who know how to handle their business and those who seemingly have no direction.
Diggs was professional in his demeanor, open and giving of his time, humble and focused. He's overcome a bid in the penitentiary, the murder of his childhood friend Mac Dre, the burden of helping run a record label in the wake of Dre's passing, and the responsibility of keeping both the legacy and growth of the label in focus. His label is successful. He's making money. He's a true professional.
The local artist, however, expressed his eagerness to be the focus of a newspaper feature, but did not respond to subsequent requests for time for several week. He finally agreed to an interview after one last-ditch request, then blew off the arranged meeting.
Amateur status, point blank.
I understand things happen, and perhaps a serious emergency or event prevented him from showing up, but that's what cell phones and professional handlers are for. If you can't take the time to be courteous to those interested in helping you succeed, then maybe you aren't serious about what you're doing. Maybe you should look for something else to do.
Just a lesson to artists out there: stay focused and take every opportunity for exposure seriously. I now know the difference between a professional and an amateur: the professional handles the job with precision and grace. The amateur leaves things up in the air and doesn't care what happens in the end.
And I'm still waiting for a phone call or explanation.
Damn! Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, damn! New music from Zach De La Rocha! With the drummer from Mars Volta!
I gotta say, the new single from One Day As a Lion, the collabo between De La Rocha and Jon Theodore is a long time coming. "International Wild" is a living, breathing, beasting attack on the Iraqi War and the government officials who perpetrated the whole mess. (to listen, click here)
Rocking over a demented siren guitar riff, Zach's controlled rage spews from the microphone with deceptive force. He sounds relieved to have a proper venue for railing against the powers that be. The hook sounds fierce over crashing drums and synthy-riffs:
Both Muhammed and Christ, word life, would lay your body down/to a tune so wild international/In the desert full of bullets let your body rot/with my chrome, with my verse, with my body rock...
The statement from Anti-Records, which is releasing the album, reads:
“One Day As A Lion is both a warning delivered and a promise kept.”
“A defiant affirmation of the possibilities that exist in the space between kick and snare. It’s a sonic reflection of the visceral tension between a picturesque fabricated cultural landscape, and the brutal socioeconomic realities it attempts to mask. One Day As A Lion is a recorded interaction between Zack de la Rocha and Jon Theodore from Los Angeles, California.”
“The name taken from the infamous 1970 black and white, captured by legendary Chicano photographer George Rodriguez featuring a center framed tag on a white wall in an unspecified section of Boyle Heights. It reads: ‘It’s better to live one day as a lion, than a thousand years as a lamb.’ This record is a stripped down attempt to realize this sentiment in sound.”
All I got to say is that I'm happy to see Zach putting out new product. Watching Rage Against the Machine last year during their run on the "Rock The Bells" tour was a bit underwhelming. Sure, they still had their touch, rocking through their set with as much ferocity as 1998, but that was the problem.
Ten years ago, Rage rocked my world. Seeing them live last year was just a sad reminder of how much momentum they lost. Their break-up pretty much derailed any hope of a rhyme revolution, of music as political force, of art as a form of social policy.
Listening to Zach's new stuff, my expectations are still tempered. Government will not be overthrown with a mic and a guitar, but we can always hope. We can always rage. We can always pray.
I've been bumping this song straight for the past 30 minutes, non-stop. No joke.
O-Head are local icons, with members originating from Salinas and Monterey. They've been carving their niche in the LA scene for a few years now, grinding it out and making moves. This video won the YouTube Underground contest for "Most Creative." It's a really great clip. The band and video were even featured on Good Morning America!
O-Head opens for Forrest Day Saturday night at Monterey Live. PG MC The Sauraus will also make an appearance. It makes me so proud that folks from my backyard are so dedicated to creative, quality hip-hop music. Good stuff.
Doing a show review on a friend's band is something I usually try to avoid. Aside from the conflict of interest issues, I'm always worried that if a show isn't up to par, than how can I not write about that? Luckily, I didn't have that problem checking out my folks Somos perform Saturday night in Santa Cruz. And while I was there to support, I felt I should at least mention their solid show. Performing Latin funk and blues, Chicano soul, or whatever ethno-categorization you want to stamp it with, Somos is fronted by my friends Emiliano and Kati Valdez, brother and sister from San Juan Bautista and second generation players with El Teatro Campesino (their father is Chicano folk artist/musician Daniel Valdez). Their set was a rocking, raucus, liberating barrage of home cooked originals and seasoned, spicy Latin standards. Imagine El Chicano channeling Buddy Guy with some sexy R&B in the middle and you get the general idea. The cool thing about Somos is they can switch back and forth between old school soul and Latin rock/funk. So whether Mino is wailing like a blind Alabama boy that he's "miles away" from his honey, or Kati is taking us back with "the roof is on fire," the musical mix is designed to keep the crowd moving. For more info, check out their myspace page at www.myspace.com/somosmusic.
Team Monterey took sixth place Sunday — albeit out of six teams total — during the San Francisco Battle of the Bay Poetry Slam (aka the B.O.B.).
But that's not an entirely bad look for the team, of which I'm a member/coach. Team Monterey (aka Team Rubber Chicken, since we rep the Rubber Chicken Poetry Slam) went to San Francisco with the purpose of showing off the talent in our scene.
It showed brightly in the dark shadows of the city.
Six teams competed in the slam - San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, San Jose Youth Team, Sacramento and us. Ours was the only "straw team," a team that was pulled together without competition. Most slam teams are configured with members who compete in a city slam over the course of a year and accumulate points during the regular season. The top point earners are thrown into a final slam bout and the top four or five usually make the team.
Monterey has no such circuit. We just got the top poets in our slam and decided to make a playoff run.
Competing in a battle like the one in SF is a tricky deal. We were definitely in foreign territory. Most of the other Bay Area slammers have been watching one another from a close distance over a period of time. There's familiarity among the ranks.
Nobody really knew who we were or what to expect, although a few of the poets who I've met over the years graciously showed love and gave props. Special shout out to Paradox, Jay Lee, Charles Ellik, and Message One for saying what's up — Message One (and I know I'm spelling his name incorrectly, but eff it) especially had me cracking up all night, calling us "Team Pacific Grove" "Team Greenfield" "Team Carmel Valley" whenever he got a chance.
It also didn't help that we drove two and a half hours, navigating insane city traffic and hot-hot-heat, then endured a near two hour wait before the show began. It's nobody's fault, since the event was planned last minute as a replacement for the canceled Big Sur Slam.
The venue was a cramped, second-story loft-space/converted underground performance arts space called Mama Calizo's Voice Factory. It was hot and humid and packed, and the industrial fan was shut off for some poets performances, but it was a really cool venue.
The array of styles and subject matter was pretty inspirational. Among my favorites was a team piece from the Oakland crew dedicated to the working class, the two poets rhyming and stealing in tandem, a dizzying display of symmetric, explosive lyrical assault.
I was proud of our first two poets, Richard R. Best and Chloey Noonan, who got up and did their thing for the first time in a B.O.B. Though I didn't get to watch our anchor poet Jacob Tsypkin get up there, he scored a 28.6, which is a remarkably high score.
When it came my turn to perform, I was a sweaty bag of nerves and excitement. My piece, "The Wisdom to Know the Difference," begins with the line "I cannot change the world with a poem." Knowing that a room full of poets were watching, the reading was an intense exercise in playing to a room with kids gloves on.
The whole purpose of the poem was not to make fun of anyone or demean the work of poets, but to give perspective. A lot of times, slam poets (and poets in general) can get really self important.
Knowing that my poetry has some power to move people, but recognizing that a poem can't cure a disease, feed a starving child or move masses to overthrow a government was important to address.
The kicker, however, is the end, when I give a sly wink and smile and acknowledge one last time that I can't change the world with a poem. "But I can never, ever, ever, ever, let that stop me from trying."
The crowd loved it and roared its approval. As I walked off stage, a few poets gave me high fives and pounds and hugs, props all around. The scores were mid-range, I finished with a 26.9, but I scored three 8.9's. Those would have easily been 9's and above if I had not read from the page and slipped a line in the middle when I ran out of breath.
But it wasn't the scores that mattered. Team Monterey showed up to battle, and finishing sixth out of six was a great showing for us. It's always cool to rep your 'hood, and we did it Sunday night in the city.
There will be no West Coast Championship Poetry Slam in Big Sur this weekend. A bit of a bummer, but as the Basin Complex fires threaten Zen monastery's and send wild bears running toward the coast, the cancellation ranks toward the bottom of the fire casualty list. Still, it's a downer because this weekend, a small crop of poets from up and down the left side of the U.S. map were scheduled to perform at Henry Miller Library in Big Sur. I was among them. It's a bummer that the Team Monterey will not make a go at the West Coast title. The team consisted of myself and local poets Jacob Tsypkin, Chloe Noonan, Dr. Ibrahim Mussa, Richard R. Best and Dawn Davidsen. We all perform regularly at The Rubber Chicken Poetry Slam, held Wednesday nights at The East Village Coffee Lounge in Monterey. We all have dedicated a good amount of time and energy into our work, our passion for the spoken word. And we all were looking forward to sharing that with poets from other regions, in our own backyard. Part of the fun of being on the Monterey team is that we're the unofficial hosts of the annual Big Sur Slam. We get to represent our neck of the woods in front of some of the most talented poets not just on the West Coast, but in the country. Not all is lost. A team competition will be held in San Francisco on Sunday. Team Monterey will get to duke it out with other West Coast poets, albeit in foreign territory. For those that don't' know what Slam Poetry is, the best way to describe it is full-contact, competitive spoken word. Poets are given three-minutes each to present their piece. A panel of five judges is picked at random from the crowd, each assigned to score a poet on a scale of 1 to 10. Judges are asked to rank the work on both content and performance, meaning a poet who excels in both gets a higher score, where as someone who maybe has great content but lacks showmanship (or vice-versa) might get a lesser score. At the Big Sur Slam, tensions are high. Traditionally, it is the final destination for poets en route to the National Poetry Championships, an annual event that pits slam teams from all 50 states against one another. The poetry is a gallery of wild, honest, attention grabbing, punk rock monologues. Poets use shock and awe tactics, reverie, screaming, yelling, pregnant pauses and eye-popping theatrics during their three minutes. It's a cross between debate team poise, rock star intensity and intellectual verbosity. And it usually happens in Big Sur. But the fires have taken that away, for now. Plans are under way to reschedule the event in October, assuming the fire is stabilized and the community can get back on track. So while the fire has wreaked havoc on many lives, altered the eco structure and kept the entire community on its heels, it has also managed to silence the spoken word for one weekend. But like the community itself, the poets who participate in the Big Sur Slam will re-emerge, their voices raging louder than ever.
For my money, "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)" is just about the most gorgeous hip-hop record of all time. From the lyrics to CL Smooth's eloquent delivery to those horns, the song will always have a place on my top whatever list of all-time songs.
The good folks at Karma Loop TV caught up with Pete Rock, the conductor who orchestrated that hip-hop classic along with several others (Nas's "The World Is Yours," House of Pain's "Jump Around (remix)"). Thanks to Chelsea at Karma Loop for the hook-up.
I'm a bit late with this one, since my Immortal Technique story ran two weeks ago. His album, "The 3rd World," is out in stores, and I did this interview prior to its release.
Tech was cool to talk to. Real humble with a lot of intelligent answers to questions. When I asked him about his battle with Poster Boy on 106 and Park, he started to laugh a little. I'm guessing no reporters have asked him about that experience.
Here's the podcast.
Oh, and for those that didn't catch it before, here's the Poster Boy/Immortal Technique battle on 106 and Park. This is from a couple years back. For the record, Tech got him.