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

الاثنين، تموز 19، 2004

Issue One


By Jeremy Tanner

“The vibe at a 4OneFunk party is a little bit different than when you go to the Sound Factory... we play the right records to rock a crowd all night,” Says Teeko, last year’s winner at the Disco Mixing Championships in San Francisco. SHOUT! spoke with him and Mr.B—two-time reigning Kool Mix champion. One half of 4OneFunk, they’ve blessed the Bay Area and international crowds for several years with innovation and style to make even the heaviest hitters of the DJ culture take notice.

Along with AlesOne and B-Cause, 4OneFunk destroyed all challengers from the United States and Canada to represent the USA at the International Turntable Federation championships in Germany this past December. In proper representation of their name, they brought the ITF group and scratching titles back to the 415. 4OneFunk has been hyping major crowds for artists such as Gang Starr, the Roots, Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick and Camp Lo, but are now focusing their energy on local Bay Area clubs so check ‘em out or visit online at

SHOUT!: Do you believe that there is a “Bay Area Sound” that is characteristic of the hip-hop coming out of Frisco, Oakland, Vallejo, Daly City, etc.?
Mr.B: Yes I do. When rappers like Too Short came out, they provided a sound and slang that influences hip-hop to this day. From E-40, Rappin 4-Tay, Mac Mall... Too Short made it possible for all the rappers to come up. Being independent also paved the way for groups like Heiroglyphics and the Living Legends to get a fan base.
Teeko: I don’t think a Bay Area Sound exists, that doesn’t seem reasonable, since the level of innovation is so high. You couldn’t pinpoint a sound and use it to generalize a community, if the community is as broad and creative as the Bay is. I think making music is a good thing, whatever sound it is...the creative aspects mean much more to me than categorizing a community.

SHOUT!: How would you describe the music that comes out of here?
Mr.B: Being really ghetto with beats. Trying to do shit that no one else would think of. Being abstract, not making a song with a normal format (a lot of songs will be one long verse). As for deejays, the sound is in the scratching. Most Bay Area deejays have patience when they scratch. We’re musicians and we like to be composed and smooth with our scratching. You can’t mess with Q-Bert, D-Styles, Quest, Disk, Flare, Teeko or Ales-one on the cut. They are too funky!
Teeko: The Bay Area has a wide variety of styles and ways to express them through music. The Bay is full of innovative, creative people who are not intimidated to create original sounds. Through rap we’ve been originating slang and flow. The amount of music that is being made that hasn’t surfaced yet is amazing and when it does, new ways of creating sounds will be known, and it’s all happening here in the Bay.

The Gift of Gab and Lateef the Truthspeaker

pic by Bayeté Ross-Smith.
story by Mike Conway

Hip-hop is rarely the story of individuals. It’s more often the chronicle of crews. These tight social units come together over time, become family and sometimes emerge as dynasties. Over thirty years and counting and who knows what’s next for hip-hop?

One crew that will give you a good idea is the folks from Quannum collective. They have been hip-hop for well over a decade. And in 2004 Quannum has emerged with guns blazing as both a crew and a recording label LLC.

The crew formed in the early 1990’s, at UC Davis. Known then as the Solesides, the crew consisted of The Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel (collectively Blackalicious), Lateef and Lyrics Born (Latyrx), DJ Shadow, and DJ Zen (aka Jeff Chang). Joyo Velarde is never listed as a part of the crew in the Davis days, but she should be; she studied opera in Rome and influenced the Solesides’ breath control that is their signature rap technique.

Under the Solesides banner, the crew forged a dedicated underground following, with jams like “Deep In the Jungle” (1995), “Burning Hot in Cali...” and “Balcony Beach” (both 1996). The vibe was playful but edgy; lyrically the Solesides blend swift-lipped bravado with graceful word-play, and their production is all about potent, driving beats. In 1998, the Solesides changed their moniker, becoming the Quannum Projects LLC.

As if to show how tight they continue to be, the Quannum crew just finished a road-show last April on a bill titled the Quannum World Tour; it read like a P-Funk All Stars show: The Gift of Gab, Lateef, DJ Chief Xcel, Mr. Lyrics Born and Mrs. Joyo Velarde, DJ D-Sharp, the Lifesavas, and DJ Shadow.

Shadow played what might the hottest deejay item this Xmas: DVD turntables. He dropped visual cuts, and even spun up video alter-egos that did battle raps with the real Lifesavas onstage. He managed six turntables alongside deejays Chief Xcel and D Sharp. Joyo was a one-girl I-Threes. The crowd knew every word to Lyrics Born’s latest album, Later that Day. Lateef, rocking the A’s gear, had the whole hometown crowd waving its hands. And Gab was clearly the head Master of Ceremony.

Every one of them were onstage, in various combinations and all together, tight like DNA. They had no hollow agenda; their message was sincere: Have Fun and Change the Fucking World! It was a live definition of the Quannum collective ethic: you never get just one shining star; it’s always a family affair.

Quannum is an interesting name. Coined by Chief Xcel, it is derived from quantum physics. Physics suggest mind-boggling equations with formidable symbols representing matter and energy. In the Quannum equation, each integer says a lot about the crew’s energetic work ethic.

Take a look at two integral parts of the crew: The Gift of Gab and Lateef the Truthspeaker. They’re the kind of rappers that make you feel sorry for a lot of other emcees. The volume of raps and skills they kick is enough to swell your brain. These two bring an endless range of rhymes that span from battle raps to social commentary to spirituality to some damn good advice; and they do it with a simple clarity, sometimes all in a single song. They’ve worked together on most of Quannum’s projects, and toured together across the world. Each are now driving new projects down uncharted paths. Gab completed his premier solo flight, and Lateef is putting together his first full-length outside of Latyrx.

The Gift launched his solo Fourth Dimensional Rocket Ships Going Up back in May. Gab envisioned this project four years back when he was working with Chief Xcel on Blackalicious’ Nia album. But he’d only found the time to do it over a year ago. In between Blackalicious tours, he would trek to Seattle to develop and record the album with producers Jake One and Vitamin D. Though Gab’s neck-snapping raps may sound familiar, his production team features beats that are laid-back like a late-night discussion between sounds. Fourth Dimensional is Gift of Gab as his own element, apart from Blackalicious. Apart, but not separated: “It’s always healthy in any group to reach out and work with other people as well because that’s how you grow; that’s how you bring back strength to the group,” Gab says.

Meanwhile, Lateef kept Blackalicious deejay Chief Xcel busy in the form of the Maroons; they’ve just released the EP Ambush with a long-player on its way this September. “X don’t like me giving out secrets,” ‘Teef says about the project, “but there’s some EPMD stuff [on it] that’s like Brazilian and you wouldn’t know it unless somebody told you.” Also, Lateef will bust his most overtly political rhymes to-date, building on social commentaries heard on tracks like “The Last Trumpet” and “Kalakuta Show”. But while labelmates Lyrics Born and The Gift of Gab went in more pioneering directions with their solos, the Lateef-and-Chief combo is taking it back the roots of hip-hop for a more classic, “straight-up-the-middle” sound, says Lateef.

It might be hard to imagine exactly what Lateef means by “straight-up-the-middle” until you check the lyrics deacon on stage. Doing his signature track “The Wreckoning”, for example, Lateef definitely keeps one foot firmly in the old school. “The stuff that I do is in keeping with what hip-hop is all about. We’re all really students of this,” says Lateef, fondly recalling how emcee PhD’s like Chuck D and KRS ONE respect his scholarly approach. “It’s really all the appreciation that I need.”

The Truth Speaker sees the same reverence for hip-hop’s origins in much of the music that has emerged from the Bay Area. “One thing about the Bay Area that is unique is over how it has evolved; it was always very open to all kinds of music from all kinds of different places. Of all those differentiations in hip-hop, they all exist right here, within a 100 mile radius.” Bay Area crews have embraced every style hip-hop has given them, and made it new time and again.

Gab concurs. He therefore cautions against using labels divisively: “A lot of times, people get it twisted, like these are the conscious rappers over here and those are the gangster rappers over there. It’s like divide-and-conquer, like because I’m considered a conscious rapper, I’m not supposed to feel 50 Cent. To me, some of the dopest hip-hop ever made was gangster. What makes the music dope is it’s a circle of all different people in life.” Though he may have a different aesthetic than a bona-fide ballaholic like E-40, Gab none-the-less credits E-40’s style as a major influence, on him and all of hip-hop.

Labeling the music of Gift of Gab and Lateef, or the rest of the Quannum ensemble, is especially impractical. Every project they put out defies categories and opens hip-hop wide every time. Labeling music into types can never truly explain the avante-garde. “Because we can’t be packaged in a box,” Lateef says, “that hinders us when it comes to major [media] outlets. Even if the producers enjoy the music, they still have a hard time selling it to venues like MTV... If you’re locked into what media says hip-hop or rap is right now, you might not be able to hear what we’re doing.”

Yet while mass media may have a hard time wrapping their brains around quality independent hip-hop, major record labels won’t hesitate to pick up an underground artist. Blackalicious already signed with MCA for Blazing Arrow, which Gab explains as a “positive experience”. He notes that independent artists struggle to get on the radio and television. But if it’s done right, as was the case with Blazing, partnering with major labels can get artists over that hump to reach a wider audience. Just because artists may be “independent” doesn’t mean they can’t walk on a bigger stage. On Blazing’s track “4000 Miles” Gab explains it in a question: “who said that underground is only just one mode?”

However, while working with majors like MCA can be positive for the artist, the business end can get complicated. Take the example of royalties—the means by which an artist is compensated for their work. As an industry rule, artists are paid 12% of the total album sales in royalties. So if you cut 12 songs on an album, each song adds a point to that 12%. But for a group like Blackalicious, whose projects consistently yield 17+ songs, the value of each song then drops. And once you factor in collaborations with side-artists and sampling, all of which the artist has to pay, royalties become even less majestic. Under that royalty system, an artist has no incentive to do those extra songs, to sample this or that, or to collaborate with him or her.

But that’s where independent labels like Quannum Projects have a leaner advantage; they may have smaller appetites but bigger tables to seat creativity. Lateef puts it this way, “I don’t have to worry about my label flip-floppin around all the time and having that absorb my mental space. I always have a way that I could put out the records that I’m working on.” Together with that freedom, plus the resources Quannum has built as a crew, Lateef can collaborate with whomever on whatever. And at the end of the day, he can rest assured that Quannum has his back.

Creative-friendly environments such as this help to draw a circle of creative friends. That circle is the foundation of any crew worth its battle raps. Crews are a source of strength and support for its members. That support is vital, especially nowadays when the music industry at large is not inclined to develop the artists that they make millions on. Apart from being a very basic affiliation of friends and colleagues, the crew is just a better business model for creative individuals.

But all the complexities of business and media aside, Gift of Gab qualifies the music the Quannum crew creates as something higher: “We’ve been blessed by the opportunity to create, and I feel it’s my responsibility to utilize that blessing to the fullest.”

Sunspot Jonz

Sunspot Jonz
Image rendered by M.Conway
pic courtesy of
by Jesse Ducker

He drove thousands of miles. He lost countless hours of sleep. He begged record stores to put his tape on their racks. He pleaded with venues to land gigs for his crew. He yelled, stomped, and rocked across stages the world over. Sunspot Jonz Created a hip-hop movement through sheer force of will...

To this day, Sunspot Jonz—one-half of the Mystik Journeymen and one member of the Living Legends crew—is surprised how far he’s come. After years of doing shows for rent money, Sunspot and the Legends are in the driver’s seat. They book their own worldwide tours. They press up their own albums. They run their own labels.

“I never imagined in 2004 that we’d still be going,” Sunspot said. “We always just thought about the next step rather than the big picture.”

Now, Sunspot says, “we control our own destiny. We put out our dreams, as opposed to doing what other people think we can do.”

An East Oakland native, Sunspot started following his dreams back in 1991. Known then as BFAP—the Brother From Another Planet—Sunspot ran with a few different rap crews, but always found that he was the most motivated to make shit happen. He was the most willing to drive down to places like Santa Cruz to perform. He even wrote raps for the other members of his crew. He was also the first one to put money down on a sampler, which back then was “the size of a dinner table.”

Sunspot met Luckyiam through a mutual friend. Lucky, then known as the Psychedelic Step Child, or PSC, lived down in Los Angeles. Sunspot said Lucky was the first emcee he met who was as serious about making the music as he was.

Over time Sunspot talked Lucky into moving to the Bay Area. When he arrived in Oakland, Lucky got a place at Sunspot’s aunt’s house; on the floor, between Sunspot’s bed and the wall. The pair formed the Mystik Journeymen soon after and started performing anywhere they could finagle their way into.

“Lucky always had my back,” Sunspot said. “We were always broke, but we kept on working to make our dreams come true.”

The two hustled to build the scene in the Bay in any way possible. When Sunspot moved into a warehouse space with a few friends, he built a stage in their common area holding shows right there to raise rent money and extra loot.

As they worked to get their name out, Mystik met other like-minded local artists–groups like Cytoplasmz, Mixed Practice, and Sacramento’s The CUF. They all worked together to find venues that would host local talent.

At one point, Sunspot went to La Peña Cultural Center to score a show for Mystik and some other local artists. La Peña was an unlikely venue at the time that mostly hosted Latino-based cultural events. But Sunspot persisted, and La Peña’s owners said yes. Though there was some static at the first event, the owners let Mystik hold more events at the center. Soon, La Peña became a haven for Mystik and Bay-Area underground fans from the mid to late ’90s.

These shows were part of what Mystik called the “Underworld Movement”. As their audience grew, Mystik started using unique tactics to draw more people in. The cover was only $3 if you came with a pack of Top Ramen or $5 with some Now & Laters. “Motherfuckers were hungry,” Sunspot said.

This morphed into “Unsigned and Hella Broke Summer Jams.” They were evening-long megashows featuring unsigned local talent whom Mystik had crossed paths with. The first show was in the Summer of ’95 and they continue to hold them to this day.

Sunspot begged the hip-hop buyer at the now-defunct Leopold’s Record Store in Berkeley to stock copies of Mystik Journeymen’s first single, “Never Forget” b/w “Give it Up.” Sunspot and Lucky copied all the tapes themselves with a tape duplicator, made the labels through a hook-up at Kinko’s, and used the record store’s shrink-wrap machine to package the tapes. This DIY single became a best seller in short order.

“We were one of the first underground groups to start flipping tapes like that,” Sunspot said.

By 1996, Mystik formed their own crew, the Living Legends. Composed of themselves, Grouch, Eligh, Bicasso, Aesop, Murs, and Arata—whom they actually met while on tour in Japan. Scarub joined a few years later.

The Living Legends hit their peak in the Bay when they sold out the Martime Hall in both 1999 and 2000. They could headline a show and pack the venue with 2,000 or 3,000 people. Also on the bill would be over a half a dozen local artists and groups.

Soon after, the majority of the crew, including Sunspot, decided to move to Los Angeles. “We just wanted a change,” Sunspot said. “We didn’t want to turn into one of those groups that perform in the same place over and over again. It was just time. We’d done everything we could possibly do in the Bay.”

Though Sunspot no longer lives in the Bay Area, he still comes home to support the scene.

“When I come back, I feel like I’ve let down the Bay. There’s no scene in the Bay anymore, that’s the scariest shit. There’s no community. There’s no shows, there’s no place to go. I hate to have to say shit like that, but no one else has really done a lot to help promote the scene.

“It seems like these days artists care mostly about themselves. They’re not thinking about throwing their own shows, they’re thinking about how to get so they can open up for other acts. The difference was that ‘Broke Ass Summer Jams’ brought everything together, Mystik Journeymen was never just about ourselves, we were about creating a whole scene for everybody.”

Nowadays, Bay Area artists’ clout isn’t nearly as strong. Most local groups are lucky to open up for mid-level acts from New York and Los Angeles when they come to town. Hieroglyphics are one of few Bay Area crews to get much love at the local venues.

Still, Sunspot Jonz loves to perform in front of the hometown crowd. He also records lots of music. After releasing his second solo album Don’t Let Them Stop You on Battle Axe Records, he’s putting out number three, Journey to the Sun, through Red Distribution.

Meanwhile, Mystik Journeymen plan to release their next album, Best In Show, through Red later in 2004. The Living Legends recently released Creative Differences, which mostly features solo tracks from the crew members. They will follow up with Never Falling Down this Fall. Watch for that release in conjunction with another Living Legends’ nationwide tour.

Michael Franti on Bay Area hip-hop

By Charlie Russo

When it comes to music experiences around the Bay Area, you can’t help but have more than a few Michael Franti stories. Sunny day free concerts in Dolores Park, rousing spoken word at political rallies, rambunctious shows at the Fillmore, acoustic jams in a tightly-packed Baobab... the list is as diverse as it is long.

Little surprise really, since Franti has been a notable presence in the Bay Area for almost 15 years now. Like Santana and Jello Biafra before him, he has become a veteran musician that embodies the most prominent features of Bay Area culture—creativity, diversity, activism, and a firm willingness to take risks. These qualities have won him an audience as eclectic as his sound, from the jam band circuit to the main stage at blues and reggae festivals.

When it comes to the realm of hip-hop, Franti has always played by his own rules. Incorporating the best of his early punk industrial effort of the Beatnigs, Franti and co-collaborator Rono Tse threw the music world a ferocious curve ball with the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. If Rage Against The Machine was Public Enemy meets the Clash, then the Disposable Heroes were like Gil Scott Heron performing in a steel mill.

Franti then went on to form Spearhead, an upbeat collision of roots reggae, hip-hop and live instruments. At a time when the music industry wanted more “Gin n’ Juice”, Franti and Spearhead instead offered up tracks like “Love is da Shit” and “Red Beans and Rice”.

SHOUT!: Can you give us some perspective into what characterizes the local hip-hop sound?
Michael Franti: Well, I hate putting names on it, but you have your Oakland sound—artists like Too Short... and E-40 in his part of the Bay. You got the kids around the Fillmore, and that’s kind of a more—I don’t even like calling it mainstream—but it’s more the commercial side of hip-hop: what’s really selling lots of records around the country. I hate the word “commercial” because it’s really roots... it’s really a roots sound... but it’s what’s selling a lot of records around the country.
Then you got stuff that’s been going on in the clubs for a long time—jazz cum hip-hop—with groups like Alphabet Soup and Midnight Voices, and our group.

I guess I was curious how you’ve seen it evolve over the years?
Well... just like rock music when it started out, you can narrow it to one place. You can say, “It was Chuck Berry... Bo Diddley or Fats Domino or Little Richard.” And then pretty soon it became as diverse as Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles. Now you have Sheryl Crow at one end and you got Metallica at the other, and everything in between: punk rock and a lot of [other] offshoots.
And I see that that’s what has happen to a certain degree with hip-hop, especially in the Bay Area. I really wish it would have happened more, I really wish there had been opportunities—if hip-hop grew—for it to be more diverse in its sound and styles.
But I think there still will come a day—as the original hip-hop listeners grow older and are looking for different styles of music that represent where they are, and there are new kids coming up—that the diversity will hopefully occur in the same way that it has in rock music.

To what extent do you see Bay Area diversity—diversity of the culture politically and artistically—finding its way into the music?
The Bay Area has always been a hot bed for progressive politics. We had the movements of the 60’s over here: the Black Panthers in Oakland, the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley with people like Mario Savio, gay rights, a lot of environmental activism in Northern California... and all of these things tend to find their way into the music.
In addition to that we’ve had a really broad diversity of music outside of hip-hop, like Sly and the Family Stone who were really combining a lot of different styles of music—same thing with Santana, and even Jimi Hendrix when he was around here. There is a lot of history and diversity here, and artists like myself and Paris and Boots from the Coup are really on the forefront of trying to keep the political voice alive in hip-hop.

In that sense, you’ve never pulled any punches with your political beliefs. Can you convey the reality of being an outspoken artist and how that factors in to also having a career in the music industry?
Well, first of all it’s very rewarding to me. I don’t get to be on the radio and TV all the time. But I get to meet and connect with, and sometimes even move people who are really in a difficult spot in their life.
We play in a lot of prisons, we go to a lot of schools, we travel all the time. You know... we spend more time out of America then in America. So we get to see a lot. I’ve lived a very unique life and I feel lucky for music to be the doorway to that.
So as each year has gone by I’ve been trying to expand my focus, and right now we’re planning a trip to the Middle East; going to Israel and Palestine, and hopefully Iraq (if things simmer down enough for us to go). We’ll be making a film of our experience. The focus of our visit is to try to hook up with musicians and artists—especially in hip-hop—but whoever is willing to meet with us, and see just how artists and musicians in places of great turmoil are dealing with making music in their life.

Before I ask about Spearhead, I was curious about how you look back on the Disposable Heroes?
I just met last night with Chris Blackwell (who we were on Island Records with at the time), and he was saying to me that of all the albums that he put out with Island—Bob Marley, U2, Traffic, Grace Jones—that the Disposable Heroes record ranks among the top 20 that he had put out. And I was really in shock to hear him say that. It seems that as each year goes by, I meet more people who are affected by that record.

What then prompted the transition from Disposable Heroes to Spearhead?
When we were in Disposable Heroes, Charlie Hunter was also in the band... and so he was playing a lot of real jazzy stuff and we were doing this real noisy industrial hip-hop.
I really liked the moods that you could evoke through chords and more musical stuff as opposed to just loud beats. I found that to write a song like ‘Positive’ (which we put out on the Home album), I couldn’t have done that over noisy beats. So I started working with Charlie making some music, and Rono really wanted to go in a different direction from that. So we parted ways and I started making the first Spearhead album.
I also have felt that in terms of my own personal creativity that hip-hop has been really stifled by radio, and that the demands of radio and the grouping of radio networks to form these huge Clear Channel bodies that control what’s on the air, this has made the music be less and less creative.

I was gonna ask you about Clear Channel... and as a professional musician, what kind of influence you see it having?
Today everything has to sound a certain way. All the music has to talk about being a player... and there is very little room for any dialogue about anything else on the radio. That sucks because they are preying on the lowest common denominator of young people, and that influences youth culture in a non-progressive way.
...I can’t speak for other artists, but I can just say that in the U.S.A. the easiest things to sell are sex and violence. So that’s what the record industry and their infinite lust for immediate hits... that’s what’s they want from rap artists. And because there is a lot of money to be made, rap artists jump in line to do it. Other forms of music don’t have that same onus placed on it. You don’t see the Counting Crows being obligated to make gangster music.

To close... I was curious that for all the traveling you do, what is it about the Bay Area that makes it home for you?
I don’t know. I own a home in Hunter’s Point and that is where I feel really comfortable. My neighborhood feels unlike a lot of other neighborhoods that I have lived in San Francisco. It is a neighborhood where people have lived for a generation in the same homes. You go outside and you know your neighbors. It’s not really a transient neighborhood like the Mission, or the Haight, ...
Then I really appreciate and respect that the Bay Area has been such a hot bed of progressive voices and also gives an opportunity for musicians to try and to fail and to have another shot at trying again. So there are a lot of artists and musicians and filmmakers and painters who have an opportunity to not get laughed out of town when they do something different. It breeds creativity and you see really unique art happening... not only in hip-hop but all around the city.

Independents Under Seige

"The flow of communication is being hindered by political and commercial forces..."
by Thomas Hynes

For most of 2004, the American home front has been littered with an indecency scare. While it’s okay to view images of war, crucifixions and torture on T.V., Janet Jackson’s titty will simply not be tolerated.

Headed by Michael Powell, (son of Secretary of State Colin Powell), the Federal Communications Commission has answered the cries of outraged Americans, promising to wield fines of up to $500,000 for each instance of indecency.

But society is already flush with potty mouth. Powell’s crusade is just a red herring for one of the grossest examples of corporate conglomeration since the days of the steel tycoons and robber barons. Except today, the commodities are the nations airwaves and the people’s access to information. The Bay Area, like the rest of the nation, finds itself at a junction where the flow of communication is being hindered by political and commercial forces.

Though the FCC has tightened its noose around foul language and nudity, it has not gotten tough on conglomeration. Since the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, companies such as Clear Channel have been able to grow and expand without restriction. Prior to the Act, Clear Channel owned 40 radio stations nationwide. Today they own 1,240 radio stations nationwide. They are also the nation’s largest concert promoter. So in the majority of American cities, you’d better jive with whatever Clear Channel says otherwise neither you nor your concert information will be heard on the airwaves. In a way, Clear Channel’s not really threatening free speech directly, so much as they’re just hoarding up all the soapboxes.

They tried to take Davey D’s soapbox, when he was a deejay for Clear Channel-owned KMEL 106.1, aka “The Peoples Station”. Davey D was fired for inviting Congresswoman Barbara Lee on his show on October 1st, 2001. Clear Channel felt that the views expressed by Davey D and Congresswoman Lee on the impending war in Afghanistan were not in line with the station’s philosophy. That Monday, Davey D was informed that KMEL was cutting its budget and letting him go. And even though Davey D was a cultural and educational pillar of KMEL, he was not afforded the opportunity to say goodbye to his listeners. His Saturday afternoon show “Street Knowledge” was immediately canceled and upcoming guests Jesse Jackson and Ralph Nader were not rebooked. Luckily, we can still hear from Davey D on KPFA 94.1 FM and at his website http://www.daveyd.

Harrison Chastane, News Director for San Francisco’s KPOO 89.5 FM, fears the ambiguity of this new FCC initiative and says no specific written criteria exist on the commission’s recent position. He pointed out that obscenity fines are now being handed out for infractions outside of the “seven dirty words” banned by the Supreme Court. KPOO might even have to suspend its coverage of town meetings due to the sometimes off-color nature of these civic proceedings. Chastane said that KPOO could remedy the problem by investing in a tape delay, but that would cost his station upwards of $3,000—a hefty cost for any independent radio station.

Similarly, stations such as KPOO are more reluctant to go to the mat with the FCC over these fines due to the cost of trying to fight them. Portland, Oregon’s KBOO won its case against the FCC and retained the right to broadcast such progressive voices as Mumia Abu Jamal. However, KBOO’s fight with the FCC cost around five times the original fine in legal fees.

Losing the ability to broadcast municipal proceedings should be enough to cause a public stir. However, this struggle seems to only have caught national attention last March when Howard Stern’s show was pulled from six Clear Channel markets. CEO John Hogan testified before Congress that day and apologized for the “vulgar, offensive and insulting” material broadcasted over his stations’ airwaves. And though there was no way to rectify the past, Mr. Hogan’s executive order, issued that same day, promised zero tolerance for any incident in the future.

I attempted to contact both KMEL 106.1 and KISQ 98.1 (also owned by Clear Channel) to see how Zero Tolerance would affect local programming; I got no response. I also tried to contact their corporate office in San Antonio; I called Lisa Dollinger, Senior VP of Corporate Communications for Clear Channel and author of the press release outlining Mr. Stern’s dismissal. Her secretary informed me that Ms. Dollinger was on the phone, so I left a message.

About an hour later, I got a call—not from Dollinger, or from Clear Channel at all, but from Joseph Lobello of Brainerd Communications, a media relations firm in New York City. He said that Miss Dollinger would be out of the office for the day—not on the other line as the secretary in San Anonio alleged.

Lobello was totally innocuous—like Clear Channel wasn’t actually some evil corporate giant after all. He made it seem like local programmers could play whatever they wanted. Unless, of course, programmers crossed Clear Channel’s line in the sand, in which case they would be fired immediately and, as Zero Tolerance implies, without exception.

But Davey D ain’t buying it. The real problem, according to him, is the lack of balancing points of view. If Clear Channel is allowed to grow to the size they have, they must bear the responsibility of presenting both sides of an issue. And that doesn’t mean giving an inch when a mile is required. Contrasting ideologies must be allowed full and clear articulation on a “People’s” radio. Anything less than that, according to Davey D, would be “window dressing... [like] throwing a morsel of food to a starving man.”

The FCC must spend less time fining obscenity and respond instead to Clear Channel’s conglomeration. At no point is monopolistic expansion healthy for anyone. In order to get airtime, artists must now conform to a corporate style dictated by a single board of executives, thus compromising creativity and losing the message. When fewer people control more of the airwaves, culture narrows to the disposition of the few.

Government and commerce must not have the sweeping control over our information outlets that they are now getting. Not when restrictions are being made on such basic civil liberties as marriage. Not when rumblings of lies and misdirection seem to stammer out of the White House on a daily basis. Not now. We must demand the truth and nothing else. We must realize that cuss words and malfunctioning wardrobes are not going to ruin this nation, but that lies, injustice and corporate censorship certainly will.

The NHHPC Five-Point Political Agenda:

For four days in June, 2004, delegations of young people came together in New Jersey, tasked with a tremendous mission: articulate a political platform for the Hip-Hop Generation. Heads from all around the country were able to work past their differences and put together an agenda for the movement. Here's an abridged list of the first ever declaration of revolution from the hip-hop community. Check the entire platform here

Transparent school budgets. Create community committees that ensure proper spending & yearly audits. Require teachers bve district residents. Provide access to higher education for ALL immigrants. Create socially practical, culturally relevant curriculums. Eradicate illiteracy. Preserve affirmative action. Rollback tuition hikes & restore education budget cuts.

No taxation without equitable representation. Rollback tax cuts for the wealthy. Corporations that receive tax breaks from municipalities must give two years notice before moving from those municipalities. Mandatory investments in underdeveloped neighborhoods. Reparations for indigenous peoples & descendants of the African Slave Trade. Living wages and equal pay/opportunities for both women & men.

Provide opportunities for the accused & convicted in the criminal justice system. Separate ALL individuals under 18 from the adult prison system. End mandatory minimum sentences. Give civilian review boards subpoena power & independent prosecutors. Outlaw persecution of youth, drug users, & political activists. Eliminate corporate prison systems. Raise minimum wage/education standards in prisons.

Provide affordable prescription drugs. Increase prevention & treatment efforts of HIV/AIDS, mental illness, heart disease, cancer, drug abuse, & other health issues. Ensure women’s reproductive health. Provide safe access to reproductive CHOICES. Improve education on reproductive issues.

Investigate ALL human-rights violations committed by the U.S. government & fully disclose the findings. The NHHPC will convene such a commission within one year. Abolish terrorism in ALL areas of human activity. End militarization. Stop recruitment of youths into the military at public institutions. Repeal the Patriot Acts IMMEDIATELY. Oppose ANY military attempts to use hip-hop to recruit youths. Pull out of occupied territories like Iraq, Afghanistan & Puerto Rico. Relieve debt for previously-colonized & -enslaved countries.


by Folklore

Aside from being their postal code, CA is an acronym for Cali Agents, the microphone cooperative consisting of San Francisco native Keida Brewer and Fresno-born Jason Greene–Dick Swan and Bleedy Eyes, or Rasco and Planet Asia respectively. Their sophomore campaign, Head of the State–following 1999’s How the West Was One–reintroduces their independent platform, which Rasco explains tersely as “more of the same.”

Taking it back to ’98, the duo first rallied on the Take it Back Home foot-long from the Soulfather’s debut long-player Time Waits for No Man off Stones Throw. The synthesis of Agents 1 and 2 was successful. However Rasco’s Unassisted 12” proved to be the standout nod. Subsequently, Time Waits emerged as an outstanding opus, receiving the “Top Indie Album of ’98” vote from the once-reputable Source Magazine.

Peanut Butter Wolf’s executive production assisted Rasco in building a dependable reputation, but Wolf’s influence extended further than moving units. “He’s like my favorite person, man,” Rasco says of Wolf. “The only person that I really felt like I met in the game that I respect and that respected me was Wolf. Outside of Asia...Chris [PB Wolf] is the only one that looked out for me and I felt like had my best interest [in mind] as well as I had his.”

Hailing from San Jose, P.B. Wolf manifested the Bay Area’s independent spirit in his Stones Throw label, which served as a one of the catalysts for Rasco’s own label. “I wanted what Wolf [was] doing,” says Rasco. “I wanted to do for somebody else what he did for me. Even the guys that I got on my label now look at me in that same light. They know that I got their best interests at hand, and I’m making sure that they’re all taken care of.”
The other catalyst is reflected in his business’ moniker, Pockets Linted. “It starts at the top: we’ll be getting a bigger piece of the pie by doing our own manufacturing,” explains Rasco. “Secondly, you get to keep an eye on everything that’s goin’ on. You know exactly how many records have been pressed. No records can be pressed without you doin’ it, so you’re just more in control. All the way down [to] the retail program and promotion, I’m involved all the way until the very last letter.”

With few exceptions, Bay Area musicians maintain the indie tradition–see Living Legends, Hieroglyphics, Quannum, et al.–enabling them to direct their artistry-turned-professions and avoid industry rule number 4080. Perhaps this phenomenon is what has allowed them to remain an autonomous collective, and recognizably so. “The Bay has a sound, but then again, it has different sounds,” says Rasco. “You might have that E-40 Click mafia, what they call mob music. You might have that and recognize that a dude is from the Bay, and that’s Bay Area music. But then again, you got different sounds like myself or Hiero or Zion I that make it what it is. Being out here kinda allows you to just be yourself.”
However, this creative control comes at the expense of sacrificing certain major label luxuries: aside from production and promotion expenses and nationwide exposure, you sacrifice your time.

“But the detriment [of running my own label] is that I spend a lot of time working on the business side and which then cuts back on the artistic side,” says Rasco. “So, I would like to be in the studio a lot more doing other things, but doing all of that in a day and having a kid, it keeps me from getting into the studio like I really really want to. It’s a hard juggle, but for me, I try to take time out for both, and it ends up workin’ out.

Cali Agent No. 1 has a staunch philosophy to match his unyielding work ethic. Case in point: the intro to Head of the State, which is an excerpt from The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings, a 1976 movie starring Richard Pryor, James Earl Jones, and Billy Dee Williams. The movie’s about a black player-owned baseball team on the road, playing local teams for money, and white Negro League owners plotting to thwart them...
“What do we never run out of in this country?” part of the excerpt says, and then punchlines with: “White folks.”

Despite certain critique, Rasco holds fast to his premise: “The underground game right now has become more of a white emcee’s game. And so, you got cats who don’t even know Peanut Butter Wolf, or they don’t know Rasco, or they don’t know anybody. They just come out and that’s how it goes. That’s what’s running the game right now. To me, emcees that rock like we do–or black emcees in the underground–it’s a minority now.

“Not saying that white emcees shouldn’t be in there. I don’t care what color you are, if you got skills it don’t matter. My point is that you got cats that are comin’ out–that are not talented–that are getting a lot of hype. I know dudes in Oakland, San Francisco, and New York that will rap circles around these dudes, and these cats don’t have records out...[Touring] in 2001, unless you got either a white act on the bill, or you bring in a white crowd, they won’t book you.

“It was the flipside before,” he continues. “Because when I was on Stones Throw, Peanut Butter Wolf wouldn’t even show his face. People wanted to do interviews or take pictures of me and him, and he didn’t want to do it. And there was a reason he didn’t want to do it because everybody that met him in 1998 through 2000 gave him the same response, [a surprised] ‘Damn, you Peanut Butter Wolf?’...Then, I opened a magazine three or four years later and he’s on a full-page ad. Whether good or bad, I just noticed that it changed, so I just spoke on it.”

Not coincidentally, a certain bottle-blonde emcee from the Motor City began showing his face in ’99 to much fanfare–and protest. Like this Oscar-winning Shady Records owner, Soulfather is also a paternal figure to his five-year-old daughter.
“I got over the initial jolt of having a kid, and that person being dependent on you and stuff like that, so now it’s just like second nature,” says Rasco. “That’s just another responsibility that I have–it’s a big giant one, it’s the biggest one I got. But I just look at it that way and try to enjoy her.”

Responsibility keeps families and businesses buoyant, and produces independent success regardless of how the record industry sells it. “Honestly man, I just look at each goal that I set, and it’s not necessarily numbers goals,” explains Rasco. “It’s just, I wanted to see my first album come out and it did, and so to me that was a success... Everything that I kinda wanted to do—and do it the way I want to do it has been for me a successful venture that I set out on... At the end of the day, if you’re making a living from it and you’re able to do it the way you want, then to me it’s successful.”

Tajai on the Spot

Illustration by Andrew Strawder .
by Jesse Ducker

Before Hieroglyphics, hip-hop artists dropped from one major label and immediately bounced to another, occasionally finding success, but mostly fading into obscurity. When the members of the Bay Area-based Hiero crew lost their deals, they decided to take a different path.

In the early 1990s, Hieroglyphics—composed of the Souls of Mischief (A-Plus, Tajai, Phesto, and Opio), Del the Funkee Homosapien, Casual, and Pep Love—either had major label deals or were hustling to get one. Most enjoyed some level of success, all enjoyed critical acclaim; Souls of Mischief, for example, has sold over 400,000 copies of their debut album ’93 Til Infinity.

Then, Souls and Casual were dropped from Jive Records and Del from Elektra, and rather than rebounding to another major label like Def Jam, Hiero decided to regroup. They continued recording music on their own, touring nationwide, and communicating with their core audience through their website. They eventually formed their own label, Hieroglyphics Imperium, and put out new material without any major label support.

Hiero’s efforts have impacted underground hip-hop throughout the nation. Artists behind other indie labels might not have taken their chances on the independent route if Hiero hadn’t shown they could make it happen.

The Hieroglyphics crew has maintained its artistic integrity without having to compromise in order to pay the rent or feed the kids. Though Souls of Mischief’s releases off Hiero Imperium have sold maybe a quarter of the units as ’93 Til Infinity, they’ve enjoyed far more financial success independently than Jive Records ever provided. Tajai, who runs the label along with long-time Souls’ manager Domino, says he’s already made more money in 2004 than he ever made through two albums on Jive.
Hiero continues to distribute that success back to the Bay Area community. After years of releasing albums from inside the immediate Hiero camp, in the last 18 months Hieroglyphics Imperium has dropped four albums from Bay Area-based artists, including the Delinquents, soul songstress Goapele, San Francisco-based MC Z-Man, and Milpitas-based MC Encore. But according to Tajai, it’s only the beginning...

SHOUT!: So how was the Bay Area scene changed since Hiero first came out?
TAJAI: Well, for one, it exists. Before us, there was Too Short’s Dangerous Crew, Coughnut, and some other artists, but mostly gangsta rappers. Now people expect groups on some real hip-hop shit to come out of here every year.

So how much do you think Hieroglyphics is responsible for that?
I think we’ve a got a lot to do with it. We’ve brought out a lot of new styles over the years that other local groups weren’t doing before us.
It’s been almost 10 years since Souls of Mischief or Del has put out a major label release, but the Hieroglyphics crew still commands a very loyal following. Hiero has captured a lot of fan’s imaginations.

Why do you think that is?
We’re coming from a real perspective. It’s kind of hard to explain. Take Eminem for example. On some level he’s really popular because of his skin color, and a lot of fans relate to what he’s saying because he looks like them. But it’s also in the way he rhymes, which isn’t complicated. It’s straightforward. It’s hip-hop as conversation. And I think we rhyme a lot like that. We don’t use a lot of slang. We’re not trying to hide behind hella vocabulary. It’s real. I mean, a lot of what Del says, you can take it and write it down as sentences. In fact, I don’t think we use as much poetical language as we want. Our stuff isn’t as cryptic as we’d like it to be sometimes.

How has your music evolved?
The music has gotten a lot richer. It’s more organic. We’ve got more knowledge of everything, and better knowledge makes for better music.

So what do you see for the future of the Bay Area scene?
It will become a viable industry. People should be able to go and see live music every night, in a diverse number of scenes, not just the hip-hop scene. There are not many venues out there. There’s the Fillmore, but that’s owned by Clear Channel. We got to get our people out there and going to shows.
We have to have spaces to perform in the Bay, ...because there aren’t many. Which is a trip, because the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the biggest cultural centers in the country. I mean, I’m from Oakland, but I’ve only rapped in Oakland like three times.

So why do you think that there aren’t any shows in Oakland?
Because there’s always this perception that people in the ’Town are always wylin’ out. But promoters need to step it up. As far as planning, there needs to be spots were both mainstream and underground groups can perform. You have to have both, but right now we don’t have any. When acts from out of town come here, they do their show and visit KMEL and that’s it. There’s no where else for them to go.
People in the Bay have got to get creative. Promoters have got to create 18 and under spots for kids to go to. They’ve got to bridge the gap. And they’ve got to get hip-hop cats in there. They’ve gotta respect hip-hop as music.

Why do you think they don’t?
There’s this oppressive police state mentality. People are like, ‘There’s these kids with their skateboards and their hip-hop music and they’re causing a nuisance.’ So venues won’t book hip-hop regularly. I mean, why is there no phat spot near the UC Berkeley campus? There’s like 30,000 students right there, and there’s no really hype spot to see live music. There’s a bunch of problems. For example, cats are scared to take a loss on setting up these shows. There’s also a generation gap between the promoters and the performers.
But I guess the fact [that] there’s never been a really live place to catch live music is why we even have a “scene” in the Bay. People are at home recording music because there isn’t anything to do. I mean, for me and the rest of Hieroglyphics, that’s how we got started. We started making music because we didn’t have shit else to do.

You started the Hieroglyphics Imperium record label a few years ago. But it’s only recently that you have used the label to put out artists outside of the Hiero family. What made you guys decide to start putting out other artists?
We realized that if we wanted to be a franchise, we had to be making opportunities for people other than ourselves to shine. If you start a business, you shouldn’t be greedy. We don’t waste all the time and money just on ourselves. That’s selfish.
All of the groups on the label have followings. Z-Man has a solid cult following, Encore has a core following. Same with Goapele. We’ve brought in bands that are trying to create something. They already know how to be artists. They’re not going to have to get their show down and get their chops up. They already know what they’re doing.

SHOUT!: So what’s next for Hiero and yourself?
TAJAI: Well, I’ve started my own label, Clear Label, which is distributed through Hieroglyphics Imperium. I’m gonna put out Shake Da Mayor through the label. I’ve got my album, Power Movement. Casual’s gonna drop a new album called Casual Presents: Smash Rockwell. A-Plus will release a new solo album. Opio has got a new album called Triangulation Station, Pep Love has got Reconstruction, and Del has got 11th Hour. Just check it out.