The creative landscape is changing. Technologies like Pro Tools, the iPod, and peer-to-peer networks have become mainstream in the digital age, creating a wild frontier of sorts in music. Independent artists can reach mass audiences once forbidden to them. These technologies are fostering the rise of “semiotic democracy”—where more and more people are no longer passive consumers of mass media, but active participants in creating culture. Cops vs Lawyers, Issue 3

الخميس، حزيران ١٤، ٢٠٠٧

Kat Ouano///The Keys to Crown City

Kat Ouano
Pic by Matt Reamer. Fashion by Nicacelly.
-By Jeremy Tanner

Before I met Kat Ouano I would never have guessed that there were young boys and girls in Kansas playing classical piano competitively. Not for the love, not for their parents, but for the judges. Kat knows all about it because she was one of those youngsters. Recently I went to the Elbo Room in the Mission and watched Kat burn up the keys for the Crown City Rockers.
The Elbo Room was packed like a rush hour Muni, sweat droplets were condensing on the ceiling, people bobbed and nodded frenetically to the beat—and then Kat played her solo. With the rest of Crown City behind the curtains, the crowd’s energy fell upon Kat like a camera lens coming into focus. She wound hip-hop around classical music like audio braids. This is how Kat orchestrates when she plays—she started by giving judges goose bumps in Kansas, but now she spends her time in the Bay Area teaching people how to dance at hip-hop shows.

What time does your best work happen?
At night, when there’s no real distractions and you can be awake without bothering anybody and without being bothered. I’m a night owl, that’s why I can’t stick to any real job because then your life becomes centered around this fixed schedule. You can’t go outside of that boundary because then the next day you won’t be able to function.
If you make music while you’re exhausted your music will be exhausted, monotonous. You get the same tone in everything and you’re thinking why is it so dull? Maybe because you’re starting it at 4 o’clock in the morning(laughs)! They’ve always said a true musician has a day job, you’ve seen those bumper stickers, but it’s like, you know, it’s got to be a balance of being a true artist and knowing where you’re going if you want to live well.

I guess it’s the romantic ideal.
Yeah, I love the romantic ideals. It makes life worth living instead of just working for somebody else … If I go a couple of days without making any kind of music, not playing, not making a beat or not hanging out with the guys and just talking about shit, I’ll just turn into a weird-ass weirdo that’s mean and grumpy and doesn’t want to make a decision, and I have to ask myself what’s going on? Then we’ll get together and have a rehearsal and I’ll think, “oh yeah, this is what I need to be doing all the time!” But then there’s those devils in there, like, “Here, we’ll pimp you, take a job and we’ll give you all this money!”

Just so that people know a bit more about the history of Crown City Rockers, how did you guys originally find each other?
We started out as Mission. We actually all met in Boston because me, Max (Max MacVeety) and Headnodic (Ethan), all met at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Headnod knew Moe Pope from the streets and then me, Headnod and Moe moved in together. Moe knew Raashan (Raashan Ahmad) who had lived out in Boston before and was convincing Raashan to move back out to Boston from Pasadena. Raashan knew Woodstock from Pasadena and Raashan convinced Woodstock to move out to Boston, and that’s where we formed. That’s also where the name Mission came from because we were all living in Mission Hill in Boston. And then we all moved out to California for a while and that’s when we released our first album, Mission One. Then the UK band Mission asked us to change our name.

How did you come around to that name?
Raashan and Woodstock are from Pasadena and Pasadena is the “crown city”, I guess it’s like the crown of the valley, and so that’s where Crown City came from. Rockers just sounded cool, it sounds like an old break-dancing crew, or like an old roller derby team (laughs).

So now that you’ve been out here for a while, how would you compare the two different hip-hop scenes?
Wow, they’re totally different, like in Boston everything is a hustle, you’re constantly moving and everything is constantly moving around you. It’s a different atmosphere. I don’t want to say grimy, but it’s more gritty and has a little bit of a rougher edge, whereas out here it’s all smoothed-out and more chill. You can kind of get lost in letting things happen, it’s more relaxing, but it still has that funk, that chill, party feel. But actually I haven’t been back to Boston in so long. It’s this fantastic idea in my head of how it used to be. That goes along with the spirit of being young, I want to go back now and get that hustle back (laughs)!

I’m curious to know how the process was of adapting your classical training to hip-hop music?
I guess there’s a direct correlation with performing in general. When I was playing classical music competitively in Kansas it was performing for the judge. It was to keep the judge totally focused and interested. It’s the same thing with a show, you have to keep the audience totally with you no matter where you’re at. If you’re really excited then they should be excited as well, if you’re really intense then they’re hanging on every note.
Performing in general is … theatrical. In classical music you can get a heart beating really fast depending on what you’re playing and how intense it is. With a hip-hop song it’s the same thing, you know? That song “It’s The” that I play, that’s a classical piece morphing into a hip-hop song. It’s the perfect marriage of those two. I’d be playing a Beethoven piece or something like that and just imagine a beat behind it because the tempo is there; it’s like a zone that you’re in.

So do you have a good sense of what the audience is feeling most of the time?
Totally, but it changes with every audience. Depending on the audience, it’s like a chameleon effect, you’re trying to feel what everyone is feeling so that you’re all in that same little bubble. Say one night your playing a show at a little bar, there’s maybe like five people there drinking beer or whatever. There’s not a huge stage, it’s just our amplifiers and a tiny PA, so we’ll just tone it down a little, make it a little more jazzy, free it up. We don’t have a real set list, we’ll experiment with them but it will be relaxed. Then the next night it’s a huge stage, a huge crowd, lights and everything. With more people you have to exaggerate your energy and really bang it out so that everyone can get a taste.

How do you decide where to place your notes in the songs?
It depends on the song. The process is that there is no process (laughs). We’ve tried everything—including trying to have a process—but that just gets thrown out the window. It can range from us just jamming, having a good session while Raashan is writing and bam, there’s the song. Or we’re jamming and somebody presses “record” during the session and we find one bit that works and we go off of that. Maybe we’ll move it around but that piece is what we build off. Or someone comes up with a beat that just sounds totally cool, like Woodstock made a beat one time and said, “Could you guys try to replay this and make it sound better?” There’s five people in the band so we have five filters for the music, and if one person says, nah, that’s not bumpin’; it needs something else, then it needs something else! And all of us are nit-picky as hell! That’s the quality control (laughs)!

Where do you see hip-hop going in the next few years?
Well, I see a lot of hip-hop bands coming up these days which I think is great because so many of the kids out there see hip hop as just being about a deejay and an emcee, which is definitely what it is, but they need to be exposed to more live musicians to really experience how music is created on an instrument rather than just samples.

So is that where you would steer hip-hop?
Hell yeah! I’m a musician! I would also make hip-hop shows more entertaining, If you’re going to go to a hip-hop show, it should give you something that you’ve never seen or felt before. Sometimes they’re just so boring and everybody there is angry (laughs). It’s like okay, maybe that’s the show in itself, maybe you just go to be all tough and everything, but I know you feel different (laughs)! Come on, show it!

الجمعة، تشرين الثاني ١٧، ٢٠٠٦

Malibu///The Persistence of Memory

Story by Folklore
Flix by Scott Anderson

God bless these memories, guide and protect our child with your graceful presence and with every day he is healthy and strong. Give us the knowledge to bring him above the callous we’ve suffered ...

So begins an inscription in Perry “Malibu” Greggs’ Winnie the Pooh photo album. Penned by Tiara Downey, the mother of Malibu’s newborn son, 7lb-9oz-19” Perry Lee Greggs Jr. The words are a blessing for the new life depicted in sonograms–and a prelude to Malibu’s story.

Malibu channels his demons on a Sunday afternoon for an exercise in freestyle; his eyes telegraph each turn of phrase. His boombox is on hand—part of his press kit along with the photo album and several copies of his CD. A fist and a lighter provide a kick and a snare on the window of an abandoned storefront. A cipher ensues, punctuated with priceless anecdotes, a tell-tale inflection, and cigarette fumes.

He returns to the prosaic, “I used to be a drug dealer, and that’s the key word, used to. Until I finally realized that I was very callous, greedy, inconsiderate, and just everything that Satan offered Jesus on the top of the mountain. ‘I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the Earth if you just go ahead and submit to me.’

“I told my son in a conversation the last time I seen him,” Malibu continues. “‘Steven, your daddy is pretty good. I’m kinda like a padded room, medication, door locks, white-jacket dudes comin’ in and sayin’, ‘Stop talking!’ I said, ‘I’ma be famous one day. I said I’ma be on the radio.’”

His eldest son Steven died shortly thereafter in an auto accident at the age of 20. “We buried my son five days after I get out of the system. Five fuckin days.”

“I've destroyed families, and I regret that,” says Malibu, staring into the short horizon of the Tenderloin streets. “I done destroyed relationships of love, and I regret that… I got regrets of going to prison. I got regrets of not being around my son who passed.” Regret can both quell and fuel motivation, but Malibu refuses to half-step.

Then, turning with a sharp focus in his eyes, “I have no sponsors, no promoters,” says Malibu. “I don’t have no manager, I don’t have no agent. I don’t have none of that shit. I’ve been doing this since my son’s demise.”

“Homeless” is a subjective word. Malibu is actually just houseless. He would have you believe that his home is seven square miles of concrete–and you’d be inclined to believe him. Raised in 1960s Haight / Ashbury, he has remained in San Francisco through at least three major exercises in futility: Vietnam, Reaganomics, and the O.J. trial.

He has family, though: J-Rush, Future Primitive, Frisco Studios, Robotspeak, Milk, The Noc Noc Bar, The Independent, “a tall cat named Ron,” and “another brother named Doug Wiley”–those who’ve endorsed his music. The hiccups in Malibu’s scathing tone lend to his sincerity. A couple cold cans of Sparks lend enthusiasm, as he intermittently opens up the conversation to everyone within a one-block radius—in essence, his living room parlor.

“All these people were recognizing something in me that I failed to recognize,” says Malibu. “Cause I was just doin’ it because this is what I do. It’s my passion, it’s my hobby. You see people down at the Marina with kites and they got eight kites, and you go, ‘This is the stupidest motherfucker in the world,’ Right? You see a motherfucker riding a skateboard with no brakes. You understand me? I don’t have your talent, but one thing I do know is your talent and your blessing is yours, and if we don’t recognize that, we fall very short of the potential success which any of us can reach.”

He has a habit of wandering through analogies to find the point, but his stream of consciousness is unmistakably hip-hop. “It’s like my son is not here, but I talk to youngsters based on my respect for the life that they live because I’ve heard so many youngsters say that they don’t care if they live past twenty-one or twenty-two, or they wanna die when they’re nineteen,” says Malibu. “Just missing my son the way I do, I’ma ask Him why is my son gone when someone else is so nonchalant about what they got to give this world, they wanna live on the streets. My son was gravitating to a level of life, and he died by accident. That’s the part that crushes me the most because I love all and any. I ain’t never set-tripped in my life. I ain’t never gang-banged, I ain’t never wore red or blue, I don’t play that… My son was never involved in anything negative under any context of life, and he gone. So, I’m motivated primarily by pushing it because I know he rollin’.”

Another cipher starts up–this time with the boombox, as Malibu raps along to his song “When One of Yours Dies”:
I’m hearin’ souls that once was bold as they walk these streets
They have been laid to rest once on this concrete.

Success is measured in persistent strides. Malibu has traversed the fire with the faith that he will see his success. And sometimes success is the persistence of memory.

“[Stephen] said, ‘Dad, you’re too old. He said, ‘Dad, you’re not a rapper.’ And this is what I told my son, I said ‘I’m not a rapper, I’m a poet.’ For fifteen years I had went through a whole lot of negative conjectures, just not knowing what I could become [as] opposed to what I should be. And I suffered a lot for it with his mom, and with my times of absence, but I tell you this, I told him I would be famous. I didn’t say famous in respect to [celebrity], but famous from a spiritual standpoint, and he was like, ‘I love you, Dad.’”

Malibu carries his children with him wherever he goes, the worn jacket of his photo album housing the sonograms of little Perry–with thirty blank pages. There are more memories to be made.

“…Let his soul carry his innocence many years into life and I pray that he will have me and Perry in his life unconditionally till his time to rest, never to suffer the neglect or pain of the absence of He who created soul. Amen.”

الخميس، آذار ١٦، ٢٠٠٦

Lyrics Born: Fighting Without Martyrs

Story by Mike Conway
Flix by Bayeté Ross-Smith

Lyrics Born is a straight-up dude. When conversating with this acclaimed emcee, what you see in him, you get from him—like a gallon of pure H2O; he carries very few abstractions. Forget for a minute that he’s of the Asian diaspora, which is something the media normally fails to do. Media portrayals of Asians run a thin gamut (more on that later). Regardless, Lyrics is one of the most legit cats I’ve met among all “diaspores.”

Like leaches, characterizations flock toward the slightest blood-drop from the Far East. I even caught myself expounding a geography lesson to Tom Shimura , a.k.a. Lyrics Born, about how Asia is everything east of Turkey, until LB interrupted with, “and damn near all of Daly City.” Like I said, he’s real like that.

Reality is lost many times on an entertainer’s appeal. It slowly separates performers from the general population. We see them first as friends, then as part fetish and part obsession, which are all very distracting reactions to our tastes. With his loungey baritone, LB defuses any misconceptions about his appeal, focusing rather on what is at hand—sight, sound, scents, as well as tastes:

When I look out from the stage onto the audience, I definitely see like a really broad range of people. I see a lot of women, which is not typical of most hip-hop shows [chuckles], a lot of women of color; I see a lot of people of color across the board. You know the more records that sell and the more popular the music gets, I just see that if the area has that kind of diversity, those people are definitely checking us out.

I’ve spoken to Lyrics a couple of times, and I don’t recall his voice ever being hoarse. For such a loquacious rapper, this dude’s got an unfailing vocal capability. Lyrics really started to roll when he and label-mate Lateef dropped their debut LP Latyrx in 1996. Their hit “Say That” is one of the sharpest joints of the ‘90s. I was seriously disillusioned with hip-hop back then, as it seemed the genre traded in its cajones and uhurus for a grip of glossy crap. Latyrx brought me right back with a simple punchline by Lyrics Born: “Suckers steer clear of me like feminists do car shows.”

LB now rocks crowds with wife Joyo Velarde and a live band. He’s rapped with the mac-daddies of all barbershop sextets, Jurassic 5, with Souls of Mischief, KRS ONE and E40. No matter what the configuration, his style always comes through, cordial and fresh. Even so, just like with white emcees, people try to tie him strictly to his ethnicity, and at times he’s tagged as “the Asian rapper.” It’s not so much racist as it is a rarity.

During our interview, he and I inevitably had to talk about the “race card.” To most of the mass media, Asian presence is as scarce as a nice set of gams in Mecca during Ramadan. “I mean I got satellite,” Lyrics adds, “and I can watch that shit for 24 hours, and I bet you I see two or three Asians. And we’re talking 500 channels now man... But we’re here; we’ve been here for a long time.”

Many Pacific-Rim literati concur with Lyrics Born. In her book I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight, spoken word performer Margaret Cho says when you actually do see Asians, they’re this small margin of stereotypes: fiery Jet Li ass-kickers, the math wizes, workaholic liquor store heads (a.k.a. crime victims), and lone field reporters narrating over drab, canned footage. Plotlines restrict them to exotic intrigues, like smuggling organs and fading the feds with help from ancient curses. This may be a far different order than sambos, yes. But like any stereotype, these roles place Asian characters just as far from fucking REALITY.

“The industry has a long way to go,” says Lyrics. “We’re gonna have to start our own shit and blow-up independently because no artist-&-repertoire entity is gonna say, ‘we need to go out there and find ourselves some Asian rappers.’”

LB’s already way ahead of them. Formerly Asia Born, he made the switch to “Lyrics” near the same point as his label Quannum changed-over from “Solesides.” LB made the personal transition from a focus on where he was from to an emphasis on where he’s at right now. And though he seems to have lost a little weight, LB is snow-balling a couple sizes above L, fame-wise. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving, persevering cat.

Though his appeal is rife with anomalies, it attests both to the flexibility of his sound and the transcendent honesty of his words. But don’t trip on the appeal. Buy the fucking shit and rock it like it’s hot.

الجمعة، آذار ١٠، ٢٠٠٦

RJD2 and Aceyalone at the Independent

Review by Thomas Hynes

Live hip-hop can be a dicey proposition. Admit it: too often, deejays and emcees simply regurgitate their albums to the crowd, bringing nothing new to the crowd's experience. This was not the case a couple weeks back, as RJD2, Aceyalone and the Busdriver rocked a sold out crowd at the Independent.

The night began with the Busdriver, rhyming with Christmas lights lit across his shirt. The show then segued into RJD2's solo set. RJ admitted he was gonna try something new, and instead of playing a live video feed of him spinning over his four decks (no headphones mind you), he ran some other footage; a BBC maritime documentary. The crowd was stunnned to hear the hits from Deadringer and Since We Last Spoke plated to the footage of dolphins crashing the surf. RJ ended his set by pulling out his acoustic axe and playing "Making Days Longer." After a quick break, Aceyalone joined him on stage and set it off, even burning an L with audience members in the process.

The house lights came on at about 1:15, and in what was probably the coolest moment of the night, Rj shook hands with anyone who came to the stage to meet him. It's not clear whether he does this every night or if the Bay Area crowd just moved him to be so friendly. Regardless, this was a dope show with tons of talent.

Get out there for yourselves and check out some live music, and if you get a chance peep the collaboration of Ace and RJ, Magnificent City, available now from Project Blowed. Like their record says, 'love life, and let it love you back.' With shows like this, how hard could that be?

الخميس، آذار ٠٢، ٢٠٠٦

Jennifer Johns: Incubation in Fire

Interview by Bella Bakrania
Flick by Matt Reamer

Jennifer Johns is a powerful performer. In front of hundreds of people at local stage shows in Berkeley and Oakland, I’ve seen her captivate the crowd and bare her soul, undeterred and in pure neo-soul fashion.  Her music is off the hook too, with fierce punches of funk, dub reggae, social commentary and raw emotion, mixed with hip-hop beats, deejay tricks, and natural percussion. 

SHOUT had the opportunity to chat with her about where she developed such a stage presence, and how she learned to tune her voice to that distinctive soul-pitch.

SHOUT: Where were you raised and where have you traveled in the world?
Jennifer:I’m from East Oakland, born and raised. I grew up singing with the Oakland Youth Chorus and I took dance classes at Alice Arts Center. I went to LA when I was 19. I performed at an ongoing event called Pure Love with Pure Love Entertainment.  As a kid I sounded like everybody else, but I developed my sound and got involved with the label Goodvibe Recordings.  I met Mystic and Spontaneous and got into more hip-hop.  That’s where I discovered my voice. 

Why did you leave the Bay to go to LA?
Everybody should go away from home for just a little bit to figure it out.  Sometimes I’m a little punk about the cold.  LA was easy and close.

What sort of music did you learn during your formative years as a singer?
Because of the Oakland Youth Chorus, I learned music in a lot of different languages - Yoruba, Cantonese, French, Portuguese, Spanish, whatever.  We performed everywhere, at shows with singers like Peabo Bryson, Roberta Flack and Melissa Manchester.  We performed everywhere like the Paramount here in Oakland and at the Grace Cathedral in SF. 

Tell me more about how you developed your live performance skills.
There is so much pirating going on in music that musicians can’t survive unless you can put on a show. It comes down to what kind of showman and entertainer you are. Pure Love was a place where a lot of artists could woodshed, you know, just shedding yourself of everything.  People like Malcolm Jamal Warner, Medusa, and Martin Luther would come through and do their thing.  There were never more than 100 people there.  I peeped some game from Medusa. I got to sing backup for her—that bitch is bad!  When I did the tour with Blackalicious in Europe, we opened for Mary J. Blige and Chaka Khan.  Being under Gift of Gab’s wings was good.

Is your schedule like routine or all over the place?
Well, I was supposed to move to NY, but I feel like there’s a lot going on in the world now, in the streets, with the people. I’m really feeling folks here, and the musical renaissance and revolution that’s happening in the Town right now. We’ve got Hieroglyphics, Federation, the Team, Goapele, Femi, Ise Lyfe, so many different kinds of music coming out of here, so diverse, I can’t leave right now. I’ve been touring a bit—I just got back from Hawaii and Alaska.

Tell us about creating your last album heavyelectromagneticsoularpoeticjunglehop, on Nayo Movement Music.
It was awful, but it was the best too. I was shedding my experiences.  Joshua Evans was the engineer.  It was coproduced by Spontaneous. Spontaneous is from Chicago but now a part of LA’s underground hip-hop scene. He released the single Waterproof in ‘98 [Goodvibe Recordings], and Next School MCs (1999) and Reprezen’n, (2000) as well as a full-length Spur of the Moment Musik. I went to Seattle in the fall of 2003 with Spontaneous and we did that album in 10 days. We went underground.  I got hella sick.  I lost hella weight.  I had pneumonia. 

You basically blew up with your last album.  How does it feel?
I had fans in LA already.  But the music was spread by word of mouth.  And there’s continual growth.  We sold about 300,000 copies of the first EP without a record label! There’s some internet promotion, too.

What are you currently working on?
I am producing as well as singing. I’m working with other people on the new album. It’s expected to be done in spring 2006.  I’m recording it here in Oakland (in Allen Dones house studio) and Hawaii. In the studio we’re above Broadway Terrace, overlooking the Bay, it’s a beautiful place.

Where can we find your music? It is on a web site and in major stores?
You can find it in Tower and Amoeba.  Since it was released I’ve been getting a lotta love, nothing but support.  I’ve been getting some international support too.

السبت، شباط ١٨، ٢٠٠٦

Boots Riley: Long Time We No...

Interview By Jesse Ducker
Flix by Abi Klein

Revolution isn’t trendy for The Coup; it’s been in their DNA from day one. From the first full-length album, Kill My Landlord, in 1993, the group has been about chronicling the trials of everyday people struggling for revolution.

Subsequent releases, Genocide and Juice, Steal This Album, and Party Music shared the same themes. Records by The Coup reflect a connection with the everyday challenges that economically disadvantaged people go through. Can you name one other group that has recorded two different odes to the repo man?

Members Boots and DJ Pam the Funkstress have actively worked for social change over many years. Boots has been a member of three different progressive organizations, including the Progressive Labor Party where he “cut his teeth” from age 15 to 19. At this tender young age, he was getting flown out to places like Detroit, Chicago, and New York to speak at meetings to like-minded youths and adults. “It gave me the sense of being able to do things,” Boots said. “I was meeting real people doing real things.”

Though he now works with many other organizations, Boots says he isn’t a full-fledged member of any of them. At this point, he seems content with being a “free agent” for the cause. Now he’s preparing to drop Choose a Bigger Weapon, which will be released in early 2006.

It’s been four years since the world has heard a new album by The Coup. In some ways Boots knows he’s going to be starting with a clean slate. This is part of the reason The Coup signed to Epitath Records, known at one time as a rock label, but now the home to an increasing amount of progressive hip-hop artists. They’re also known to help artists go to the next level.
Armed with a new album and ready to educate those who need to learn, The Coup is a reader for a new musical and intellectual assault, and SHOUT had a chance to feel the fury...

SHOUT: What’s the science behind the title of the album, Choose a Bigger Weapon?
Boots: I got the album title from the poet Jessica Care Moore. Me and my girl were hanging out with her at a club. My girl had finished her fifth martini, and she was going back to the bar to get another. And Moore said to her, ‘Girl, it’s time to pick a bigger weapon.’ But for the album, it’s like we’re all involved in the struggle against the system. We’re all involved in the individual and collective struggle to survive. And now it’s time to up the ante.

It seems like organizations that work to help others aren’t as effective these days. What do you think the problem is?
The center of this struggle is around the day-to-day thing. Working on a day-to-day basis to make ends meet. The organizations out there need to get involved with these issues. The actual goals are nebulous. A lot of people that are involved don’t have the same day-to-day problems as a lot of the people who need the most help. Everyone can’t fly to Seattle to protest. Instead, they could be forming an organization to get everyone to join a union. Unions these days need a lot of help. Now it’s like management is working with the unions to make sure that people don’t ask for too much. Something militant could bring real change. They just need to get back to day-to-day issues. A collective struggle is effective.
The movement is scattered around. It isn’t focused. The struggle for wages and housing is ignored. In the 1920s, the Communist Party of the USA had one million members. The revolution was about helping people getting what they need, like jobs and housing. These groups have to work with the people. This takes a high level of organization.

So why do think the movement went off track?
It really started back in the 1960s with the student movement. The style of organization back then was based around students and how to get them hyped. The people that were struggling to survive got left out. After a while, the people who remained in the movement didn’t really know how to organize others. The training was exciting, but wasn’t based on real practical shit. It really got people involved to fight against the system, but the movement got into a lot of showboating.
Another problem is the growing involvement with all of these foundations and the grants that they give out. By giving out grants for only certain types of programs, they’re dictating what areas receive help. So these large foundations really set the agenda of what a lot of organizations try to tackle. For example, there are all these programs for violence prevention, which is the result of the Ford Foundation. This is what the Ford Foundation wants these organizations to use their resources working on, even though the statistics about violence prevention don’t hold up and show that this isn’t really such a huge area that needs help.

What types of issues do you tackle on Choose a Bigger Weapon?
The subject matter runs the gamut in terms of politics. We talk about sexual politics, politics on a personal level, all types of politics.

How would you say this album is different from the other four that you’ve recorded?
Lyrically, it’s very tight. The music is a lot more advanced than the stuff I’ve done before. I also used a different approach in putting the album together. Usually the album is made up of the first 10 or 12 beats that I record and like. For Choose a Bigger Weapon, I chose from 100 to 150 beats I liked.

How did you hook up with Kweli and Black Thought?
I met Kweli in 1999, and I’ve been doing shows with The Roots for a long time. The first one we did together was probably back in 1995. But I really got to know them when we did the “Black Artist Tour” in South Africa with the Roots, Kweli, dead prez, and Jeru the Damaja.

Are you working with any other artists on other projects?
Well, I did a beat for Kweli for his new album. And I’m doing an album with Silk-E, who’s touring with us and appears on Weapon. She has a solo song on our album called “Let’s Have This Baby Before George W. Bush Goes Crazy.”

Wasn’t there some talk that you were producing an album with Stic.Man from dead prez?
We were recording that album a while ago. Stic.Man wanted to record a solo album, and he really liked the sound of Party Music. He was out here for about a month, so I helped produce the album and helped him get that sound. We used the same musicians that were on Party; we recorded it in the same studio. He recorded a bunch of songs, and there were a bunch of labels interested in picking it up, but he decided to not put it out and start from scratch.

So now that hip-hop is a multi-billion dollar business for the music industry, where do you see things going?
What the major labels are doing is like cultural imperialism, just like anything under the capitalist system. Music is used as a tool to make these labels their money. And we’re caught in the system. Now, we’re not trying to create an alternative system, we’re trying to do something revolutionary.

الاثنين، شباط ٠٦، ٢٠٠٦

SHOUT Best of 2005: Azeem

by Mike Conway
flix by Matthew Reamer

“Writing is what I do no matter what, whether I was broke or not. I would always find a way to express myself,” says Ismail Azeem. Always in search of that “way,” Azeem’s been on a haj, seeking out different poetic locales through the blocks of Oakland and beyond.

Since his 1999 debut EP, Garage Opera, Azeem’s traveled through a lot of studios and stages. Then in ‘01 he completed his second outing, Craft Classic. This time an LP, Classic carried the work of seven capable, all-Bay producers. An emcee can get lost in the many different cuts of such a production; but Classic shows Azeem taking charge, his presence established in every beat. With tracks like “Duragz” (w/ DJ Spin) and “Rubber Glue” (DJ Zeph) on one end and “God’s Rolex” (Fanatik) on the other, Craft Classic is both hilarious and profound.

After Classic, Azeem was officially a talent to reckon with and the haj was on. He rarely changes his pitch up to fit a rhyme in; rather, he packs his verse into steady, tidy meters. But Azeem says talent alone gets you nowhere. “I can go around the corner right now and grab you ten guys that can all flow and freestyle for an hour. But when it comes time to go to school, work, raise a kid, then focus on your music for two/three hours a night, that’s where they fall short.”

Having a talent is one thing, but getting approached by labels for it is better. When Gregory Howe of Wide Hive Records needed the right emcee for his Variable Unit--a loose group of jazz fusion instrumentalists, such as Matt Mongomery, and Kat Ouano and Max MacVeety of the Crown City Rockers--he tapped Azeem and the project culminated in the ingenious LP Mayhem Mystics. On this album, Azeem’s lyricism covers a wider range in both style and substance than on previous efforts.

Even as he was working on the Variable Unit project, Azeem kept on as a solo artist. Within months of the Mayhem Mystics release, Azeem also put out Show Business through Bomb Hip-Hop. Show Business was on the same tip as Garage Opera and Craft Classic, this time with 15 producers and 18 tracks.

For Azeem, taking on multiple collaborations is its own reward. “I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but I don’t know too many emcees that can write a whole album with live jazz musicians and have it sound one way, and then go and have a hip-hop record and have that sound just as authentic.”

And now as we close in on 2006, Azeem’s lyrical haj gets deeper. He’s set to release many more projects, all equally unique. First up will be an LP with DJ Zeph, as Alpha Zeta. After that, he’ll release a grime album with the Switchcraft crew. He’s also collaborating with Reggie Graham, director of the Broadway production “Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk” for a musical adaptation of Azeem’s spoken word performance “Rude Boy,” which will run at the Marsh Theater in SF. Throw in some other collaborations with Om Records' artists Colossus and a mixtape with DJ Child, you get a good idea about how dedicated this emcee is to his art.

Armed with his craft, Azeem has traveled far and wide. But, he says he couldn’t have moved an inch without striking up a certain chemistry with each of his collaborators. “Music is chemistry,” he says. “You might have good beats, I might have good lyrics, but if our ethers don’t mix properly, it’s gonna come out in the music.”

Life, it is said, is a journey for all of us. Yet if we can’t vibe and meander with others on the way, it’s mostly an aimless wandering that gets us nowhere. For Azeem, it’s a haj with many destinations, each one different from the last and every one slightly closer to Mecca.

الثلاثاء، كانون الثاني ٣١، ٢٠٠٦

Turntable at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival

The 8th Annual San Francisco Independent Film Festival kicks off next week. And among the bevy of dope, low-budget films being featured here in town is Turntable. Written and directed by Robert Patton-Spruill, Turntable is the story of three brothers in Boston, and the blurry line that often separates crime and hip hop.

These days Hollywood seems to only delve into hip hop culture in order to show stuffy white folks 'getting their groove back.' Turntable is not this type of movie nor is it another self-serving bio-pic about a living rapper who has harrowed through a whole three albums of a 'career.' But don't get it twisted! Turntable is a dope movie, with plenty of twists, turns and sexy curves. So get out there and support your local film festival, Bay Area!

USA 2006
88 minutes
Film Description

-Women's Building
2/10 7p

-Roxie Cinema
2/12 2:15p

For more information on the San Francisco Independent Film Festival, go to

الخميس، كانون الثاني ٢٦، ٢٠٠٦

SHOUT Best of 2005: Steriods in Hip-Hop

By Thomas Hynes

Image is its own instrument in hip-hop. Rappers today seem more loc'ed than ever, sporting that "fresh on parole look." And as society experiments with its newest chemical fixation, so too does hip-hop take a curious look towards steroids.

Like instruments or lyrics, drugs are an important facet in the musical process. Parker, Coltrane and Cobain had their heroin. Keith Richards has literally done a ton (2000 lbs., 907.19 kg.) of cocaine. You have to fail a urinalysis to even get signed at some labels.

Hip-hop has never shied away from getting high either. You got chronic, crack rock, hare-on, blunts, chewies, woolies... Drugs are as much a part of the hip-hop lexicon as rims or babymammasmmas.

Recently, steroids have come into the spotlight—in sports. Should it come as a surprise that hip-hop has injected itself with image-enhancing drugs? Robin Leach would put it like "From LL Cool J to 50Cent to Usher, buff is the new bling-bling in rap."


السبت، كانون الثاني ٢١، ٢٠٠٦

SHOUT Best of 2005: Afrika Bambaataa

Interview By Bella Bakrania, Bayeté Ross-Smith, & Eddie Mariano

Though hip-hop may be a child of many parents, Afrika Bambaataa taught hip-hop its first steps as a movement. Not long after Kool Herc first put two turntables together, Bambaataa used the music to bring rival communities together. To this day, hip-hop’s original gangsta continues to prove that music can be a catalyst for peace, unity, and social change.

Bella Bakrania: It’s always a pleasure and kinda crazy to hear all the ‘80s tracks rocking the younger crowds once again. How do you feel about that, with your span in hip hop and being able to rock these crowds of many different generations?
Afrika Bambaataa: So many deejays have gotten into the apartheid of becoming a deejay. They say, “I am a ragga deejay, I am a hip-hop deejay, I am a trance deejay, I am a salsa deejay,” instead of just One Nation Under a Groove like George Clinton say. I remember when the techno scene was happening big and the early raves started, I used to go there and there would be 20 something deejays and they all sound the same, so I used to come and break the whole momentum, with REM “Losing My Religion” and going down to some funk and bringing it all the way back up to techno for the next deejay to take on. I was always like that. Trying to bring a whole bunch of records out and play all across the board. Trying to keep that dance scene alive in all styles of music since all music is really dance music. Everybody has got all caught up – “Dance music is only techno or house music”. No, all music— if you can dance to it—is really dance music.

BB: Tell us about your new album out—Dark Matter Moving at the Speed of Light [Afrika Bambaataa and the Millennium of the Gods]—about putting it together and the people you worked with.
It took 3 years in the making. I worked with a lot of these other great recording artists who are also producers that I enjoy a lot. Like Uberzone, Sharaz, Strictly Jeff, Boogie Brown—who was part of my group Hydraulic Funk and also used to be part of the Peech Boys back in the days— and a new young producer coming up DJ Hektek, Dukeyman from the Baltimore Breakbeats, and Gary Numan. It was great honor working with Gary Numan; it was just fun working with all these guys... And a new production team called Fort Knox Five. If you see their records, jump on them ‘cuz all their stuff is slammin’. It was great working with all these people putting out an Electro-Funk album because people were asking for it. I’ve been doing techno, hip-house, flamingo, so I had to come back and do my roots: up-tempo hip-hop.

BB: The album starts out with a tribute to the Indian musical influences. That’s a nice nod to the heavy music production that happens across the world, and has been happening, but people don’t necessarily know about it or tune in to it. Do you play much multi-lingual hip-hop?
Most definitely. I have been playing hindi/punjabi mixes for a long time. I got all the movies and they love it in Africa—the roots of India is Africa too—it’s all one family, we all come from the drum. I play everything. France to Indian style. Spanish to Italiano. There’s different music that I play from different people, sometimes with the instrumentals, sometimes with the languages. In L.A. we was killin’ the hindi remix of Dr. Dre. I went down to Singapore they were going crazy with the hindi mixes.
We got to always respect each others’ culture. That’s my thing. When I travel, I go among the people, I visit different religious places, I go with spirituality. I am not one of them so-called stars that sits in the hotel and says “gimme this, gimme that, gimme a limousine”. I get in cars that are messed up. I go on the train and go visit ‘they houses, and that’s how I understand what’s going on from place to place. I even help out on certain interviews and things and ask everybody, “why don’t you have a community center for the youth?” and start causing a movement in the country to get certain things for the youth.
Travel is a blessing from the Creator, to be among all these different people and places, and to get that vibration, that’s what [gave] the record that vibe, a lot of people tell me the record is a feel-good record with the sitar and all that.

BB: From your span in music, you can talk to people through music—to anyone, of all generations, races, and places.
I just mix it all up, that’s what keeps the vibe going on that floor. Everything is based on that funk. If it ain’t funk, it ain’t happening. Gotta keep that funk alive.

BB: What other kinds of musical changes do you see happening in hip-hop?
I always tell people watch out, this is a very dirty game. James Brown once told me the music industry is 95% business and 5% entertainment. You always gotta be on your p’s and q’s cuz they did a lot of robbing of the early hip-hop groups, as well as the early soul, rock and roll, and reggae groups. It’s still going on now. Now with satellite [radio], it’s really crazy now. The internet’s going to wipe out a lot of stuff anyway, it’s wiping out a lot of these production studios. I did music with Muskabeatz and he came to NY and he did a whole album with me and the Biz Markie, Wu Tang and all in one day in a hotel room on a laptop, that bugged everybody out. People wasted all their crazy money going to a studio. Now you got ProTools.

BB: How do you embrace stuff like the internet and video?
We were always into what we called the electro or the technology side. When we came with Planet Rock in 1982 and we started traveling with all these synthesizers and beatboxes the unions got nervous and attacked us because a lottta people were losing their jobs. But who is better to program drum beats than a drummer? So learn the technology and don’t get mad at it. You’re always gonna have some purists. You’re gonna have people who wanna go with the digital age. It’s a balance between Yin and Yang, negative and positive, agreeable and the disagreeable.

Bayeté Ross-Smith: When you were actually making the songs for Planet Rock, did you have any idea that it could become the type of thing that moved so many people for so many years to come?
I thought it would do its thing for that year, grab a black and white community, then when I saw it snatch all different nationalities across the world it really blew my kind. Then we did the other two records after it, then we did World Destruction with Johnny Lydon of PIL. To see it still last this long and still played to death like it’s a new record and all these remixes you know that’s an honor in itself. I be amazed at how people just chop that record up in so many different ways and make it just as funky as the original.

Bella Bakrania: I’m scared to see how many records you have – you must have thousands just stockpiled. How do you manage? And only you must know where everything is.
They’re in the Dungeon, the Graveyard, and the Bat cave. If I can’t find it I just buy it again. You know that record All This Love by DeBarge? I bought that at least 5 or 6 times! ...I see it, snatch it up and hope it don’t get lost again. I be buggin’ that I can find some things. Most people are trying to run away from vinyl but thanks to hip-hop and dance deejays, they’ve kept it alive. A lot of companies are releasing a lot of these old groups again. Some of these groups are even starting to travel again cuz people are rediscovering the [their] music.

Eddie Mariano: As one of hip hop’s founding pioneers how do you feel about the state of hip hop today?
Well it’s good that you got a lot of brothers and sisters who are becoming millionaires or thousandaires. A lot of people are traveling outside of where they lived, if they lived in the ghetto or the suburb. People gotta look at these people that say hip-hop or these so called radio stations who claim to be hip-hop and R&B, that they really don’t know what hip-hop is, and when they’re playing records they just say “rap”. They forget about the deejays, emcees, breakers, aerosol graffiti writers, and even the fifth element, knowledge.
I think a lot of the rappers have always been saying say we got to form a united front where we can deal with our own problems, our own hip-hop police, and handle our own different beefs that people have, talking about westside/northside/eastside/southside and all that type of foolishness. To even watch the industry from trying to rob you and get some health benefits for a lot of the people that are in hip-hop, to take care of themselves or their family if they get sick.
If you’re gonna be a gangsta rapper, then you better have a gangsta doctor and a gangsta lawyer to take care of your gangsta ass, and a hip-hop judge to be there so when you go there you can throw your gangsta/hip-hop mix sign and symbols and you can get your gangsta ass off. If we are going to claim to be a nation and a culture internationally then we got to start thinking like that. We are seeing that Zulu Nation in this Millennium is all about law, finance, and gettin’ you some land, cuz things are gonna get real funky in this Millennium.

Bella Bakrania: It’s ugly. I feel like a lot of new hip-hop is dividing women and men, it’s just music for strip clubs with videos to match. It’s ugly for the kids.
That’s right. What is that teaching the young kids? You got a 4 year old talking about gettin’ down, “lemme go downtown and get low.” Some people got knowledge and know that but they’re being told they won’t sell music if they’re not doing this. So it’s up to the people to get the word in the street and to call these stations and complain, and hold these program directors accountable to the people. Clear Channel wanna run it by and control things, people gotta get in their ass. It’s coming back to that media monopoly. If we’re still sleeping in that Matrix state of dream, going into—as the Bible say—the Land of the Lord, then you will be taken for that slave and that zombie and next thing you know your mind will belong to the Television. And it’s gonna get deeper as time goes by.

Bam4step, originally uploaded by smallaxe.