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.
I wrote a poem called “The Basics” in which I predicted “by the year 2030, our nation's president will have most likely listened to old school rap, will most likely have rocked Polo or Cross Colours, and will most likely be explaining to the press that he not only inhaled the blunt, he mixed the gin and juice at the party that night, yo.” So maybe I was off by 22 years, and there's no quantifying the last part of that stanza, but make no mistake, Barack Obama is our first hip-hop presidential candidate. Which is why one day walking out of a Giants game in July, I purchased an Obama '08 hat from a street vendor hawking wares for five buck a pop. It wasn't because I was swept up in Obamania, but more because, well, the irony was too good to pass up. The hood had already embraced you boy Barack. You know you've arrived when they're bootlegging your gear. But this is a pivotal moment in the rap stratosphere because there is a candidate that folks can relate to. Skin color has a lot to do with it, no doubt. He's also been getting co-signed by a coterie of rap notables for some time now. Jay-Z has name dropped Barack in several rhymes and used his image on stage during a recent world tour. Slug of Atmosphere performed on the David Letterman show rocking an Obama tee. You can go as far back as Jadakiss name dropping the Illinois senator on the hit single “Why.” So tomorrow night, when the delegates at the Democratic National Convention run their roll call and nominate Obama as the Democratic Presidential candidate, what should be bumping out of the sound system at Invesco Field to solidify his status as the hip-hop prez? I've read one blogger suggest "Pump It Up" by Joe Budden, which wouldn't be a bad deal. I have a few ideas. “Juicy” by Biggie Smalls would suffice, with it's opening line of “It was all a dream..” and the catchy chorus (“You knew very well, who you are/...a superstar”) Biggie might be too hardcore for the demos, so maybe we ease the gangsta persona but still keep it a little rough with LL Cool J “Momma Said Knock You Out” aimed at John McCain and the Bush regime. That will rally the troops. Still too much? Well, if we're trying to maintain wholesome family values while still keeping it a little hood, then the obvious choice would be a remake of the classic “Eric B for President” to “Barack O for President” by Rakim. What could possibly be more fly than Barack, standing at the podium with 75,000 screaming supporters at his beck and call, and the God MC Rakim Allah steps up rocking a bootleg Obama hat and rearranged lyrics. “He came in the door/He said it before/the oval office never seen a prez so hardcore...” It's gonna happen, 22 years ahead of what I had scheduled.
So if you look down and to the right, you might notice a new feature here on "The Beat." Yep, I've started a blog roll with my faves titled, appropriately enough, "My Faves." I've been meaning to do this for some time, but I was finally sprung into action at the behest of Jordan Hung, a DJ/journalist/blogger who happens to a former student of mine in the Mosaic journalism workshop, class of 2007.
Jordan's blog "WEYO!WZERS" is a very nice, up to the minute news blog detailing prominent hip-hop happenings and cool recommendations on music and culture. I'm really proud of Jordan: not only is he on his way to a promising journalism career, but he has exquisite taste in music. By all means, check out his stuff and support young.
A few notes on the others in the blog roll:
I had to give some shine to my fellow Herald bloggers, John Devine with "PrepNation" and Dania Akkad with "D-Tour."
John-John (as I like to call him) is the preeminent high school sports journalist on the Central Coast. From North to South county and everything in between, John is a relentless prep sports guru who offers more insight per story inch than anyone in the area. Plus, he helped me land my gig here at The Herald, so I owe him that much. Give his blog a view.
D-Tour chronicles my homegirl Dania and her trek to Syria to explore her roots and, perhaps, attempt to interview the person responsible for the suicide bombing that killed two of her family members. D-Weed is a former Herald staffer and good friend. Her reports from the front lines are exciting and emotionally wrenching. I'm very proud of her work (as is the entire newsroom).
Rounding out the roll call, The Sound of Young America is the coolest podcast dedicated to all things awesome. Jesse Thorn is a UC-Santa Cruz grad whose primary focus is comedy, but he throws in all kinds of fun stuff along the way (a recent interview with members of the super cool band The Hold Steady is just one example of the awesomeness that runs rampant through TSOYA). I fudged and got his website addey wrong last time, so be sure to check out www.maximumfun.org for all the skinny.
And finally, Tom Breihan is a former Village Voice music blogger who is transitioning to a new gig with CNET. His old blog, Status Ain't Hood, provided lots of pilfering material for "The Beat" (hey, if you're going to steal, might as well do it from the best). Tom's a really funny, honest, humble, opinionated writer and his stuff is pretty spot on. "Dip Dip Dive" is his personal blog, but when he launches his new deal, I'll add it to the roll.
This list is a work in progress, and I'm sure I'll add more in the coming weeks and months. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments slot. Paz.
I got to Shoreline Ampitheater for Rock The Bells 2008 sometime after 3 p.m. Saturday, which meant I missed Dead Prez, Immortal Technique, Jay Electronica, Murs, Wale, and, regrettably, Raekwon and Ghostface. I didn't miss MF Doom because he (or more likely, his imposter) didn't show up.
I did get there in time to see Rakim, which is always a good thing. Alas, it was the last song of his set, but “Juice (Know the Ledge)” sounded great, and Rakim was a fireball of energy on stage.
The late arrival was semi-intentional. Although I hadn't planned on being quite that late, I had already seen most of the previously mentioned artists. And if there's one thing I've learned about rock/rap festivals, they can be looong. So getting there mid-day isn't a bad thing because you still wind up seeing 4 to 5 hours of music.
De La Soul hit the stage after Rakim. Their live set is always fun, familiar stuff, but they never just go through the motions. This marked probably the fifth or sixth time I've seen them, and they took all of the highlights from the previous sets I've seen (throwback mini-mixes, that freeze-frame routine during "Rock Co.Kaine Flow").
Red and Meth came next. Their set is like an adrenaline rush mixed with Red Bull and Vodka chased with Kripy Kreme Donuts and topped off with a Swisher. Meth loves jumping into the crowd.
Red loves making funny faces and being really vulgar on stage. They played their solo hits. The crowd feasted on everything.
I retreated backstage and caught The Pharcyde and Mos Def from the grass area, partly to recoup and partly to meet up with the folks who rolled with me. The Pharcyde reunion was a bit underwhelming, but I was paying only half-attention to their set.
Mos gave a solid, understated show. One thing I love about his set, his DJ always does these really smooth break beat runs, sophisticated polish and swagger. Mos sang and rhymed in his silky slim manner. I kind of missed Kweli though, especially during the Black Star songs.
Nas hit the stage and I got in the press pit for his show, which had the air of a monumental appearance. Seeing him on stage, flipping from talking trash about Fox News to ripping through "New York State of Mind," it was hard hitting and poignant. Nas is at a point in his career where people are listening to and watching his every move, and he seems to know this. He was confident and commanding but poised and humble at once. He's older now, aware of the power his words carry over an audience. It was pretty dope to see him in the moment, controlling the stage.
Finally, the moment arrived for Q-Tip and Tribe to take the stage. The pit was allowed to shoot the first three songs of Q-Tip's solo set and then the firs three of Tribe. Q-Tip hit he stage like a pro, doing "Vivrant Thing" and a few other joints off "Amplified." He did a few from his new album, including a duet with Mos. Tribe showed up, Ali Shaheed on a raised DJ booth, then Tip joined by a healthy-looking Phife and an animated Jarobi. The opening strains to "Bugging Out" dropped, and I pretty much geeked out. These are my heroes, the one act that I can always be rest assured will maintain artistic integrity in hip-hop, so I just stood back and watched. I wanted to enjoy every moment.
The music and the movement of A Tribe Called Quest summed up my teenage experience with butter smooth lyricism and a crisp 808 bass thump. I'm dating myself, but over the course of my high school career from 1990 to 1994, A Tribe Called Quest released three classic hip-hop albums, “People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm,” “The Low End Theory,” and “Midnight Marauders.” That was my wonder years trilogy, a trifecta of poetic perfection that enlightened my youth. So what if I sound overly nostalgic. As I prepare to see my favorite rap group for the first time (this is written in advance of their Saturday night performance at Shoreline Ampitheater in Mountain View), the memories of those years in tune with the Tribe rhythm are bouncing back in perfect sync. “People's Instinctive Travels...” was released in 1991, just before the start of my freshman year. Tribe was an anomaly at the time, four members (Q-Tip, Phife, Ali Shaheed Muhammed and Jarobi) who dressed in dashikis and head wraps, rhyming about losing their wallets on a cross country road trip and falling in love with girls named after fruit. At first, I didn't get it. Then, the song “Can I Kick It,” with its sample of the Lou Reed song “Walk on the Wild Side,” got played in heavy rotation on Yo! MTV Raps (yeah, I'm old school like that) and “Pump It Up” with Dee Barnes (okay, now I'm just old). I paid more attention to the group, bought the tape (what are those?) and bumped it in my Walkman for most of my freshman year. I knew the group was on to something when toward the end of the year, my friend Frank pulled the tape out of his Walkman and handed it to me. “You heard of these guys?” he asked. “Oh yeah, I've been bumping that for a while now,” I said, feeling like someone who had been in on a secret for a long time and now everyone else was just starting to catch up. Mid-way through my sophomore year, “The Low End Theory” was released and I was on board, a full-time Tribe devotee. When the video for “Check The Rhyme” came out, my neighbor Danny couldn't stop talking about it. (Side note: Danny had a satellite in his back yard, one of those half-dome, iron rod joints that moved at the speed the earth rotates around the sun. He was the only guy on the block who got BET and got to see more rap videos than me. I was always trying to watch videos at his house during the summer). By the summer before my junior year, the song “Scenario” was our neighborhood anthem. We would blast it on my little boom box and scream along to Busta Rhyme's “Rah-Rah/Like a Dungeon Dragon” verse at the end. I even started dressing like Tribe. When I saw Q-Tip perform on television rocking a throwback New York Yankees fitted cap, I ran to the mall and scooped up the exact same cap. My senior year was dominated by “Midnight Marauders.” At the time, I worked at “Sam Goody” in the mall. We would get music in advance and employees could buy tapes the day before they were purchased. The day we got the album was also pay day, so I had planned my own private listening party to celebrate at home. The thing that made Tribe so cool was their music could appeal to everyone. I liked the beats and the lyrics. My girlfriends liked Q-Tips voice and thought he was fly. The homeboys on my block liked the bass they could bump in their rides. Back then, I tried to turn on everyone to Tribe. When they broke up a few years later, I was pretty depressed. I never got to see them live. The one chance I did have, I missed their set by a couple of minutes. That sucked. Now, I get to relive my wonder years and jam out with the best.
Here's my story on DJ Spooky. I conducted this interview by e-mail, which always sucks. Although I hardly prefer phone conversations because of their informality, at least you can gauge a person's tone and manner while talking with them. Through e-mail, unless they use really creative punctuation, there's no gauge whatsoever. For all I know, his assistant or manager could have written these up.
But judging from the responses, Spooky is one gifted, intelligent man, with a lot of good work under his belt. He's playing at the Henry Miller Library on Saturday. He'll go on about the same time I'll be watching A Tribe Called Quest some 100 miles north in Mountain View. Just thought I'd mention that.
The redwoods of Big Sur might seem an odd venue for any DJ other than DJ Spooky. This is a guy who set out to Antarctica in hopes of making an electronic music recording sampling the sounds of ice. A conceptual artist, DJ, turntablist and all-around digital music maven, DJ Spooky, aka That Subliminal Kid (real name Paul Miller), will perform a live show Friday to benefit the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur. This will not be an ordinary DJ set, where the crowd watches a selector spin wax. His set will be a "live multimedia sound, music and visual collage, remixing cultural personae incorporating recently discovered Allen Ginsberg 1950s recordings, as well as audio of Henry Miller tuned specifically for the redwood forest's acoustics." Fresh off a trip to Tel Aviv, Miller answered questions via e-mail for The Herald in anticipation of his Friday performance. He talked about his upcoming show, his "mixtape book" titled "Sound Unbound" and the "Terra Nova Project" that took him in search him to Anarctica in search of the perfect beat. Here is the e-mail transcript: Q: Have you been to the Henry Miller Library/Big Sur before? Impressions? A: Well, everybody knows of Henry Miller's literary work, but not a lot of people know about his watercolors. I always get a laugh out of the fact that me and him have the same last name (slavery did all sorts of funny things, eh!). My gallery in NY is Robert Miller gallery, too ... guess it's a Miller thing ... Anyway it's funny — no relation though. I imagine that the library would look like a scene in one of his watercolor paintings. You know ... the bright colors and mischief ... smiles and laughter and all that. I mean hey ... the climate alone would be amazing and inspirational. Anyway, nah, I haven't been to the Henry Miller Library before. Q: Your show will feature recently discovered Ginsberg '50s recordings. How will you blend those in with your work? A: Well — there are so many divisions between the different eras — sampling breaks all of that down. My new book "Sound Unbound" looks at this kind of situation: and asks a simple "What if?" It's a book that has essays from people as diverse as Brian Eno, Steve Reich, Chuck D, Moby, Pierre Boulez, Saul Williams, Bruce Sterling, Jonathan Lethem, etc.. The audio companion has rare material from Allen Ginsberg, James Joyce, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Jean Cocteau, Gertrude Stein, Liam Gillick, Trilok Gurtu, Sun Ra, George E. Lewis, Aphex Twin, Sonic Youth, Philip Glass, Iggy Pop etc — how would anyone take these voices and sounds and make a mix? I guess the "impetus" is about saying anything goes — why not mix these people and see what happens? Ginsberg is an inspiration on a lot of levels — he basically broke all the rules — and — had a good time. Jazz? Check. Literature? Check. Art? Check? I like people who say to hell with the rules — sampling does the same thing. We move from The Beats of the 20th century to the "beats" of the era of hip-hop, techno, etc. Burning Man has more in common with people like Ginsberg or Amiri Baraka than half of the museum and gallery shows commemorating these cultural movements. I could go on, but anyway, yeah, the evening will have some really rare Ginsberg recordings and video material. It's the era of the remix! Q: How was the Miller audio tuned specifically for the redwood forest's acoustics? Will the average listener be able to distinguish it that quality? How so? A: Electronic music fits into so many categories — outdoors, no problem. From forest to city to glacier — I'm inspired by it all. For example, I went to Antarctica and shot a film that let me think about applying DJ technique to the environment. I know it sounds quirky, but that's kind of the point. When I was thinking about Terra Nova, I wanted to figure out a way to make music out of the sound of ice. The amount of ice down there is kinnd of geological clock: Why do we look at almost everything around us and take it for granted that this will all be around for the next couple of centuries? Environmental change has always been here. Think of the dinosaurs, think of all the different extinct species. Extinct is forever ... i.e. unless somebody out there picks up the pieces of your ashes and puts you back together, then we've done our thing, and our time on this planet is over. I wanted to go to Antarctica to look at the ice and think about it all - and make music from the ice. What happens when you apply DJ technique to ice? Anyway, the redwood forest is still standing! I thank whatever divinities there may be for the fact that the library was saved and that we can come together to support the library as a cultural center. We need more, a lot more of these kinds of places in America. Q: Your new book features interviews and essays with a wide range of talent. Was there any one thread that connected them in the book? A: "Sound Unbound" is a "mix-tape" of a book. It has a lot of different voices — I really like to think of it as a kind of polyphony. Books usually are about one topic or one theme etc., etc. My stuff is about a certain kind of fragmentation. Sampling and literature go hand and hand. If you look at the 20th century, I think that the way people put together everything from factory production lines to poetry — think The Model T Ford Car, or William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, jazz soloists like Charlie Parker, composers like Ornette Coleman...and of course, all of hip-hop etc. — it's all about the fragment, the motif. That's probably what connected all the different people in the book. I'm a fan of doing the non-obvious. Q: The art of DJing itself has changed dramatically since the beginning of the decade, due to technological advances and changes in industry standard (i.e. records crates have been replaced by laptops/DJ software). Is DJing now about keeping in tune with the technology as opposed to plying the craft? A: Software, software, software! Everything that can be digital will be digital. Your phone, your record player, your computer — it's all about convergence. I'll be lecturing at Google's corporate headquarters the next day after I leave the Henry Miller Library! In "Sound Unbound" I had Daphne Keller, the "Senior Legal Counsel" for Google do an essay about sampling and intellectual property and she set up a lecture at Google. I guess it'll be about "DJ as search engine." But yeah, technology has changed the game. I really think that video, and other kinds of visual stuff — YouTube, blogosphere, laptop critics, wildstyle digital graffiti, you name it... it is just starting. Everybody is DJ'ing 'cause it's all about selection, and that means everything from Web browsing to 3G phones will be musical. Feel the funk baby! Q: How did the "Terra Nova" project take shape? What challenges did you face during your trips to Antarctica? A: I wanted to figure out a way to get out of cities. All of the shows I do, usually, almost every where all the time, are in cities. I'm writing to you just as I transfer on a flight from Sri Lanka, to Delhi (India's Delhi airport is wild!). But imagine how much most music styles — country, hip hop, dub reggae, whatever...are about the way we live, and the stories we tell. I wanted to figure out how do we make songs out of the planet itself? How do we as human beings realize how much we're messing up the earth? I want people to realize that we can do other things, and check out other ways of being. Anyway, the trailer is at www.djspooky.com/art/ terra_nova.php You gotta decide for yourself!
Marc Cabrera can be reached at mcabrera@monterey herald.com. GO!
INFO BOX: CONCERT ±
• What: DJ Spooky aka That Subliminal Kid performs live in concert • Where: Henry Miller Library, Highway 1, Big Sur • When: 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15 • Tickets: $25, available at www.henrymiller.org or 667-2574 • Information: www.henrymiller.org, djspooky.com or 667-2574
I just got my press credentials for Rock The Bells this weekend, but regardless, I'm pretty 'cited about the whole thing.
Rock the Bells is an annual hip-hop concert festival, put on by Guerilla Union promotion company. It has gained a pretty solid reputation as a no frills hip-hop music and culture showcase. It's also been a gathering grounds/coming out party for reunited acts. A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan, and Rage Against the Machine have all used the tour to promote re-united fronts. This year, ATCQ re-joins the travelling circus, but it's the arrival of a newly reunited The Pharcyde that has me particularly geeked. ATCQ is tied for my greatest rap group of all-time (along with De La Soul), and I plan on doing a more extensive column on my anticipation of their show later in the week. But The Pharcyde is equally gratifying in terms of their reunion and the mark they left on me growing up. Back when I was a teenager (before I had status and, well, you get the point), The Pharcyde was the first west coast hip-hop crew that broke through commercially and spoke to me personally. "Bizarre Ride II Tha Pharcyde" was a soundtrack to my youth, the kind of album that I could press play on and everybody would nod along in approval. When the group broke up, I was taken back. I thought they hung it up too soon, before realizing their full potential. Now that they're back, and I get to relive my youth for one afternoon. Thankfully, I never feel too old for this type of stuff.
In the wake of my Jessica Simpson interview, I've been simultaneously pleased and bugged by the number of friends and family members who read the thing.
Pleased because I'm a writer and an egoist and I want people to read my stuff.
Bugged because I do all of these cool interviews with lesser known artists who are really talented and who wouldn't normally talk to a small paper like this, but as soon as I talk to Jessica Simpson, everyone comes out of the woodwork. No joke, I had four homies from the old neighborhood call me yesterday, all asking about the interview. None of them had really read my stuff before. But they all wanted to know about Jessica.
And just when I thought it was over, none other than DJ Spooky, aka That Subliminal Kid, DJ/turntablist extraordinaire, sonic visionary, the guy who scored the movie "Slam," weighed in with his thoughts on the Jessica Simpson interview. He e-mailed me this:
“Marc - ... I'm just coming up for air after 13 hour flight from Sri Lanka, Delhi/India. I went by your blog - great logo and hilarious interview with Jessica Simpson - plus, I've been in a remote spot in Sri Lanka. I didn't know Zack had a new song out!
So I guess that's what it takes to get some credit and attention. From now on, I'm only interviewing blond pop stars.
So, you asked for it, and now you've got it — "The Beat" interview with Jessica Simpson. Okay. I completely made that up. Nobody really asked for it. But I'm going to give it to you anyway. I guess I've got to clear some things up off the top: despite the blonde moments she displayed on her reality TV show "Newlyweds", she didn't come off as unintelligent on the phone. And no, I didn't interview her in person. These sort of things are almost always done over the phone. All through the interview, I resisted the urge to play a game of word association. I so wanted to ask her “What's the first thing that comes to mind when I say Tony? Terrell? Webcam? (that last one was a reference to the supposed webcam striptease she sent to her studly quarterback boyfriend who plays for that one team I hate) Ultimately, Simpson came off as warm and friendly. She seemed genuine in her answers, polite and honest. She's doing country now, which is probably the right move for her, since that genre always makes room for the saccharine. Plus, she's dating that one guy who plays for that one team, so that's a pretty obvious entry point. And yes, I did tell her to forget the haters at the end of the interview. I guess I was swept up in the moment. Sue me, hater.
In the Sunday print edition of "The Beat," I detailed my experience as a judge on the Central Coast Talent Search. This week, I'm proud to announce that we selected two great acts as winners. Congratulations to Xolie Morra and Michael James Martin, who both won the event. Morra will open for Jessica Simpson (who I'm scheduled to interview over the phone in about a half an hour here) on Aug. 15. You can check out more of Morra and her band's stuff at www.MySpace.com/thestrangekindmusic
Martin will open for Randy Travis Aug. 16. Both shows will be part of the Monterey County Fair at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey.