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 ١٩، ٢٠٠٤

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.