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

الثلاثاء، أيلول 13، 2005

Issue Four

السبت، أيلول 10، 2005

Mixed Reviews: Issue Four

Send your stuff for reviews to
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2215R Market #447
San Francisco, Ca 94114


Murs And Slug
Felt 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet
Rhymesayers

This album is an example of how the personality of the MCs is a key component of making an album work. The combination of Murs (member of the Bay Area based Living Legends) and Slug (of Minnesota’s Atmosphere) spend the album mostly chasing women and bragging and boasting, but somehow make the subject matter sound fresh. The tribute to the second eldest Cosby Show daughter is the second of its kind, as the pair originally paid homage to Christina Ricci a few years back.
Listening to the album gives you the idea that Slug and Murs must have just had a blast in the studio. The infuse humor and straight up lyricism to great effect on tracks like “Dirty Girl” and “Morris Day,” and wild out in the city of sin in “Life Vegas.” And while they take the time to occasionally get serious (most notably on “Marvin Gaye”), it’s mostly nothing but lyrical party y’all.

75 Degrees
the last great
hip-hop album

(Dining Room)

The Last Great Hip Hop Album, by 75 Degrees is the follow up to their 2002 debut The Rise and Fall of 75 Degrees. The group represents the Bay Area with a confidence and swagger that doesn’t care how other hip hop groups sound. The first album was recorded in Rick Bond’s dining room, and while the production quality has improved, the group’s raw and eclectic energy has remained. Drawing on both live musicians and samples from the Jackson 5 and Bjork, 75 Degrees offers up a new and funky sound that still seems to jive with an older school. This won’t be the ‘last great hip hop album’ but don’t tell that to 75 Degrees; they won’t believe it. www.75degrees.com -Hynes

bash bros.
everyday
(Squared Circle)

Named after the pair of infamous Oakland A’s home-run swatters, the Bash Bros.’ The L.E.F.T. and Piseas come straight out the Bay with this debut album. The flows and the beats are a bit creaky at times, but Everyday is an interesting first effort.
The Bash Bros. are strongest when the duo gets introspective and political on tracks like “Summer Rain,” “Only Fronting,” and “America.” The best track is “Lock and Load” where the Bros. are joined by Persevere and Style M.I.S.I.A. to administer a straight-up lyrical beatdown. Everyday is solid but ultimately unremarkable. Though Everyday feels like a first draft, Bash Bros. have the potential to make a significant sophmore. -Ducker

Baby James
Ghetto Retro
(Ghetto Retro
Recordings)

Baby James isn’t your ordinary fusion hip-hop/R&B cat. His debut album, Ghetto Retro, has a much more gritty sound then the plastic slicksters that crowd the airwaves. Reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield and Donny Hathaway with a honest dash of street, Baby J’s music is marinated in ’70s soul much more than many of his contemporaries.
Co-signed by the Atomic Dog himself, George Clinton, Baby James uses the album to reflect on the realities of everyday Oakland life, which for him involves a heavy dose of chasing females. But his music is always funky and the vocals got soul, which is more than most R&B cornballs these days can say. -Ducker

CO-Deez
Royalty
(Hella Records)

Royalty knocks like a well-landed blow right from the jump. The track “Rocksteady” kicks the album in with a skanking reggae beat and some catchy flows. The 12” choice “Final Round” stays in your dome. The one-two emcee duo Otayo Dub and Sakima did most of their own production, along with Hella Records founder TD Camp. Together, the Co-Deez offer up a rich mosaic of afro-carribean beats, classic guitar riffs and instrumentation seldom heard and sorely missed in hip-hop lately. -Conway

Kirby Dominant
Radio Shock
(Rapitalism)

Kirby Dominant has a fixation with pimpin; the cover art has him donning a black leather jacket, a white Kangol bucket, and a well-dressed lady friend; his lyrics are rife with “pimpin”; and his publishing company is called Dominant Pimpin Coalition. Bass-heavy, sample-less, vocalist-assisted beats that rates a head nod, a bottle of Dom, and your favorite breezy. It’s not all bitch-slapping though; Kirby’s poignantly humorous style offers plenty of honest charm. With his own Rapitalism Records imprint releasing the forthcoming STARR album, Kirby certainly stays on his hustle. Half-naked ho sold separately. -Folklore

Psychokinetics
Seven League Boots
(Psychokinetics)

Psychokinetics pull out all the stops with the ultra full-length Seven League Boots. The crew, made up of MCs Celsius 7 and Spidey and DJ Denizen, pack the album with 22 tracks, weaved with straight-ahead rhymes over lush, organic production. Topics run the gamut from straight emceeing (“The Hypnotist”) to lost love (“Caracas Breeze”) to party jams (“Disky Refund”) to fake revolutionaries (“Bigtime”).
Seven League is ambitious, often enjoyable and non-boring. But after a while, the album seems to collapse under its own weight. Still, it would be a good idea to give the crew a shot.
-Ducker

Tanya Morgan
Sunset
(Loud Minority)

Tanya Morgan is not Tracy Morgan’s mom. She’s not a female at all. Tanya Morgan is three emcees, (Von Pea, Ilyas and Donwill), who come at the mic raw and have brought with them a proper and thorough style to their rhymes. Sunset… the EP is a dope CD that loops the Beatles on “Oh No” and even tosses in a little Elton John down the line. This disc does have lower production quality than we’re used to; but we’re spoiled. The good news for Tanya Morgan is that those things can be improved on, while talented lyricism and on point samples, oftentimes don’t come as easily. More info at http://www.loudminoritymusic.com/ -Hynes

Various
‘05 Tour sampler
(Slept On Records)

Slept On Records delivers a cohesive introductory effort, half of it with some nice instrumentals. Nick Andre and E Da Boss’ “E Plays it Cool” is the forerunner here, laced with finely-chopped percussion snared through well-realized loops. Guests come in the form of emcees Bicasso (Living Legends), Nebulous, and Jahi & The Life, with producer/bassist Headnodic of Crown City Rockers. Bicasso’s refrain on the first track “Don’t Sleep” establishes the thesis statement. And then Nebulous is lampin’ with a nice concept on “Things Change,” wherein he flexes existential through hyperbole. -Folklore

Cops vs Lawyers: State of Emergency



Interview by Mike Conway
Image by Granger Davis

The City of Richmond recently found its culture of street crime under intense media scrutiny. Headlines spoke nightly of “Richmond’s renewed state of gang violence”. But in all memory, blocks in the 948’s were always hot. Inspired by the hype, citizens lobbied for a state of emergency: curfew, checkpoints, perhaps the National Guard—drastic stuff. Luckily, it was ruled a “bad idea.”
It all begs the question “how far would folks go for security?” We spoke with both Richmond’s Public Affairs Officer, Lieutenant Mark Gagan, and the North Cali ACLU’s Police Policies Director Mark Schlossberg about emergency states and so-called “gang violence”...


Is declaring a state of emergency the right way to go?
GAGAN: No. Funding was already given to us by voters, regardless of whether we created a state of emergency [or not], that was sufficient enough to create 15 additional officer positions. We divided [them] into three groups. The first and most visible would be officers on uniformed patrol, focused on the high-crime areas, doing what is called self-initiated activity. Another component would be an intelligence unit. These will be undercover detectives who will work with probation and parole officers to follow people involved in criminal activity. The third component is a bit longer commitment, which is officers in schools having a different type of relationship with the youth. Those officers will then be able to identify which kids are behaving in a way that leads to serious criminal activity.

Schlossberg: No. It strikes me that a lot of communities plagued by violence generally have underlying problems that give rise to violence. Those problems include lack of economic opportunity, poor schools, and generally unstable environments. It doesn’t take a lot to see that people want to look for something more. In order to address the issues that give rise to violent crime, you need to look at those underlying problems. Law enforcement alone will never be able to solve problems of gang violence without a broader social approach to those underlying causes. You can’t solve criminal problems with a purely law enforcement approach. Police officers can’t enforce jobs, they can’t enforce schools, so they can’t enforce broader stability.

How are police identifying gangs and gang activity?
GAGAN:
We see territorial behavior as well as graffiti and even certain criminal activity that indicates an area is a gangland. The ironic thing about that is being able to prove gang-related crime is more difficult. Guys may be loitering and congregating in a gang area that they also happen to live in, but that doesn’t always mean they’re engaged in criminal activity. We don’t always know the motivations for a homicide, but there are times we suspect gang activity based on location, number of shooters, or the fact that other gang members were shot the night before.

Schlossberg: Without talking about a specific community, [detecting gangs] ties into the issue of racial profiling where officers will view certain members of a community as more likely to be a gang member, more likely to be a criminal. Then you get disproportionate interactions with law enforcement. And even if they don’t rely [solely] on race, they may use it in combination with other factors. [However] police should investigate gang activity like they investigate any criminal activity. You employ all the kinds of investigative tools that you do generally.

How do you discern between gangs and civilians?
GAGAN:
You don’t want to alienate civilians. And that’s where our intelligence officers put the most effort into: learning how to deal with the community and re-evaluate our interventions. Just because teenagers are hanging out in certain areas or listening to certain types of music does not mean they’re involved in gang activity, and it would be a huge mistake to treat them as such. And now you have a situation where [we’re] trying to clean up the streets and protect people, but we’re actually alienating those people we’re trying to protect.

Schlossberg: Community policing and outreach is important. [But] community policing is only effective when you have the trust of that community. And if law enforcement stops people of color at higher rates, it undermines that trust and ultimately makes it more difficult for police to solve crimes. There needs to be strong accountablity systems to make sure that if there is police misconduct, that it’s dealt with swiftly and a community can have confidence that its police department is held to high standards.

What tools are officers given to develop this approach to gangs?
GAGAN:
The most valuable tool I think our officers are given is the daily roll call, where officers interact with one another and expand upon certain situations and experiences from the day/shifts before. This is where the real specific and sophisticated techniques are given. We don’t have specific courses we give our officers. However, we have daily briefings where detectives and and others with insight into the community address the patrolmen that work the area and explain the crime trends. We have an elaborate crime analysis, and detectives track specific individuals known to be involved in criminal activity.

Schlossberg: Police are like everyone else. They’re drawn from a society that has a problem with race. When you get people from society generally and you give them the power of the badge--—in some instances you put them in a police department that traditionally has had problems with race—then those attitudes are reinforced through discussions and comments. That’s not to say that police officers are constantly thinking “There’s somebody who’s African American; I’m gonna pull them over.” But if you have unconscious bias, you’re gonna probably pull over more people of color. It’s a problem of law enforcement, but it’s clearly a problem of race and society that goes way beyond that.

Parting thoughts: what’s to be done?
GAGAN:
I have to say that if you asked me this question a couple of months ago, I wouldn’t know for sure. But now, I am certain that it has to start with the community and the family members of these people that commit crimes. There needs to be more honesty about what some of the youth in our community are doing. We’ve had homicides where kids have been murdered with $1500 cash, rock cocaine and a gun on their person, and family members tell us that the child wasn’t doing anything illegal. It doesn’t mean that is was okay that they were killed; it’s not okay. But we have to look at what behaviors contribute to this violence. Violence continues to exist because the community as a whole has not sent the message that we will not accept this. The police can not do this alone.

Schlossberg: Richmond has a police commission that is really a de-fanged entity. The Police Commission in Richmond really needs to be strengthened in a way that allows more open access to records, and that gives the commission more power to give policy recommendations. Generally, police departments and police unions resist independent oversight. The police unions have a powerful lobby in Sacramento because they have a lot of money and their endorsement is valuable. In the last 15 years, not one proactive police accountability measure passed in the legislature. Yet there have been several measures that have whittled away at police accountability.

Digable Planets Back in Orbit



Interview by Thomas Hynes
Flix by Matthew Reamer

This summer, the Digable Planets came through San Francisco for two nights of funk-pumping, sold out sets. The Bay Area was privileged to be a part of their long-awaited reunion tour, which was nine years in the making. In between packed nights at the DNA Lounge and the Independent, they were nice enough to spend a frank minute with us.

SHOUT: You guys were part of an emerging sub-genre of music, combining rap with jazz. You blew up and then broke up. Everyone wants to know, what happened?
Cee-Knowledge: Well, after the second album, you know. Part of that was the time, just trying to get away, not liking it, the grind and wanting to pursue other, separate endeavors all worked as a combination for us to split.

What you been doing? Where you been living?
Butterfly: I live in Seattle. Mecca lives in Philly. And Doodlebug lives in New York. As far as what we’ve been doing, you know, working on music. And living life.

Why the reunion tour right now?
I guess it’s more about, why not right now? We’ve always been working on it, working towards it. It’s not being worked on in any kind of specific context. It’s something we always wanted to do. We always missed it; making music together. We’re friends who miss each other. It’s just life.

I heard there was an album in the works, what’s the deal with that?
We’ll probably be finished making that at the end of the summer.

What’s the difference making music back then versus right now?
The only difference is how people are different. It’s different people now. There’s a lot of materialism in hip-hop right now. A lot of material to work with. But there’s also more compact and digital techniques. So there are more beats.

Why is there so much misogyny in hip-hop right now?
Because that’s how it is in America. Anything you have going on in America, or society is going to be reflected in hip-hop. Hip-hop is always going to reflect that.

Do you see hip hop merging with jazz or other genres today?
Music is really music. Some people do this specific type of music. And others see that everything mixes in with everything else. It’s just music. As long as it’s done with vision and talent, it doesn’t really matter. It’s only seven notes, you know what I mean.

What would you like to see more of in hip hop?
Individuality.

Ladybug, Doodlebug, Butterfly. Is there any significance to insects?
Definitely. It’s community. Insects work together toward the same project.

What are you listening to right now?
Mars Volta, Kanye West, Luda. I listen to thousands of cds man. Thousands. I’m always listening to something.

Lunar Heights: Ital Style



Interview by Jeremy Tanner
Flix by Scott Anderson

Lunar Heights named their last release Crescent Moon (2004) because it suggests the motion from partial to full. The progress to fullness is life itself, and can only be realized with help from the Most High. For this trio of young men, to know Him is to know that fullness.

SHOUT: I was looking through the back of your album and you guys give much love to Jah and reference Rastafarianism. Would you consider yourselves Rastafarian’s?
Sizwe: Yea, it’s not like a strategy to make money, like folks is part-time Rastafarians. We’re trying to bring something pure to the people. We’re trying to touch people’s spirits, touch people’s everything.
Jern Eye: It’s not being a part of it, it’s life, rastafari is life. Jah is the creator, the most high is a creator. So us being children of the most high makes us creators too. Our creativity is music, the heartbeat, the drum—hip-hop. Because to me that’s what hip-hop is; it derives from the drum.
Khai: And in a world like this, so chaotic with things changing every second, Jah is that one thing that’s stable and positive, that you can look to that can inspire you to do something, I think that’s where we can bring hip-hop music to a new level.

And when you listen to other rap songs can you tell if it’s pure?
Jern: You can tell if they feel it, you know when it comes from a good source. When it comes from the heart you can tell.

How can you tell when it doesn’t?
Khai: You listen to it and everything just feels strange. You gotta humble up to speak from the heart. If you’re not humble in your heart when you’re speaking, you can’t speak from the heart—you speak from your alter-ego and that’s some shit that even you don’t believe.

What elements in day-to-day life try to keep you guys from making your music?
Khai: Law-enforcement, 9-to-5’s, having to get the constant paycheck and not being able to focus on your art.
Sizwe: I think having a family. Being responsible for a family kinda slows me down, makes me think wisely about it. I can’t just go overseas on some bullshit, I have to have it together. I can’t just do a show for $50 with a four-man crew.

There’s a lot out there that’s trying to slow you down, what keeps you guys going?
Sizwe: Spirit, man! It’s that person that will wake up and still keep their body in shape, still write a rhyme, go to the studio and lay it down in 30 minutes. It’s that kind of determination; because when you’re working in a collective you’re only as good as the next man.

When you’re not making music, what are you guys doing? Not the job, forget the job, what do you like to do?
Jern: Just hanging out with my girl, watching movies or whatever. I just do the things any regular dude does.
Sizwe: It’s just about being around good people, eating good food, just real-life focusing on real things. Seeing birds, forests, trees. Also training, staying fit. That’s what I like to do in my spare time, be a positive light, organize youth programs.
Khai: There’s families, health care, baby mamas, drugs in the family, a lot of things. So for me, I’m just always trying to be that solid rock that people can look to and be that solid rock for myself to stand firm on.

As far as Lunar Heights goes, you guys are pushing right now. Where do you want to find yourselves in five years?
Jern: We’re universal artists, we’re not just the Bay. We see ourselves in Japan, France, East Coast, West Coast. We want to make that kind of impact musically and still be consistent as artists.
Sizwe: I want to be like, “Damn Khai, are we going on tour again? We about to hit Australia?” But still modest and humble. By the end of those five years we’ll be like okay, word. Khai will probably have like three kids by that time! (laughter)

Azeem: Always Facing East




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.

DJ Premier: That Motherfucker!



Interview by Thomas Hynes and Mike Conway
Flick by Matthew Reamer

At 5pm., Mike and I finished a couple drinks and set out to Mighty to see if we could meet the legendary DJ Premier. We were just gonna run up on the club and ask him a few questions. It would only take a minute…. Instead we waited ten hours. When finally, at 3am, as the freshly-rocked crowd started milling home, we got our interview with one of hip-hop’s original super-producers and a true innovator...

SHOUT: Can we ask you a few questions?
PRIMO: Better make it quick.

Hynes: With a proper kit costing upwards of $1,000, has deejaying gotten too expensive for young kids to get into?
No, because, what we do is a professional thing, so the equipment is gonna cost us some money. But that just means that the quality of the product is gonna enhance the deejay doing his thing.

Conway: You have one of the tightest tattoos I’ve ever seen on your forearm. When did you decide to get that?
Reputation? When I was on tour with Rage Against the Machine, their tattoo artist had done two tattoos for me, already. His name is Gary Cosmo. It’s a dedication to my relatives that were involved in my getting into music. And I put my mama on my other forearm. I was reading this book, The 48 Rules of Power on the plane when we were going back home from the Rage Against the Machine tour. It was their last show at the Staples Center. Ice T came on stage, M.O.P., Tommy Lee from Motley Crue, Fred Durst and everything. Everybody was hanging out and it was just crazy that night.

Hynes: What are you listening to right now?
Jill Scott’s new album. I’m listening to The Game. The Game shit is hot, that’s a real solid album. I’m listening to R.A. the Rugged Man. I’m listening to Nas, Street’s Disciple. And I’m listening to the Van Hunt, too.

With all respect to Public Enemy and Apocalypse 91, do you think Flavor Flav has lost his mind?
(Laughter) That’s the thing, Flavor Flav has always been bugged out like that. You know, I watch the shit just to see what’s next and how they treat him and all that. But Flavor’s not a dumb dude. That dude know a lot. He’s a very intelligent dude.

You’ve been at this for over 15 years, and you’ve seen hip-hop come a long way in becoming assimilated into our culture. Do you think we’ll ever see the days of a 50 Cent lunch box or a Nate Dogg Xmas album?
You mean like Sccoby Doo and all that shit? That’s very possible. Shit, I think I’m gonna start one of those.

Tapes, 8-tracks, cds have come and gone, even cds are about to become obsolete. Why has vinyl endured?
It’s the foundation of our format. Before any cds, before 8-tracks, there was always vinyl. There was 78s and all that, and 10” records and 7” records. And again, this format stretches out even longer, you know. When they cut vinyl out of rock and roll albums and country albums, hip-hop albums were still putting vinyl out. So that means, you still go to a record store and they got a 12” rack. It’s meant to be.

If there were a deejay you could battle, who would it be?
But I’m not a battle deejay. I’m a rhythm deejay. I’m good with rhythmic scratches. I can do a couple little things. But I ain’t on the level of Jazzy Jeff and Aladdin and DJ Scratch from EPMD and Roc Raida and all of them. Them dudes are sick. I would sit there and be like, what the fuck are y’all doin?” I’m still open like that. But with the rhythms, I’m that motherfucker. With the scratch hooks, I’m that motherfucker. Making beats, I’m that motherfucker.

Balance Weighs in on the Hustle



Flix by Bayeté Ross-Smith
Story by Folklore

The Bay Area is used to being overcast in a vaporous solitude, shrouding its populace within its own hip-hop microcosm. The only problem with a micro-economy is it’s inherently small. With independent business comes the need for independent funding and the necessity to hustle without Daddy Warner-bucks’ bankroll.

This has been a mixed blessing for artists like Balance, though.  While attempting to infiltrate the industry cigar party, Balance and his team of entrepreneurs have developed an innovative marketing strategy that has brought them not only media exposure but also a renewed sense of Bay Area pride.

In 1999, Balance noticed the success of East Coast mixtapes as a means of gathering an audience in the Bay. DJs T-Ski (Mad Idiot) and Vlad the Butcher gave him recurring guest-spots on their mixtapes, and he began producing and distributing his own.

The “Bay Area Mixtape King” moniker came courtesy of DJ Mind Motion when he heard Balance had logged four hundred mixtape appearances.  It’s also the title of his most recent mixtape.

In 2002, he earned another title on Sway and King Tech’s legendary “Wake Up Show”, when Balance and Locksmith (of The Frontline) were anointed by Sway to spearhead a new Bay Area movement, thus knighting them the “New Bay”. Along with The Frontline, Federation, Turf Talk, Mistah Fab, The Team and others throughout the Bay, Balance parlayed the title into a tour de force that’s put the hip-hop world on notice.

“There’s always more strength in numbers,” reaffirms Balance.  “I mean I’ll tell you straight up, when I first started, The Team, Frontline, Mistah Fab, all these artists, we all benefited from being together and calling ourselves the ‘New Bay.’  There’s no way a new artist would get in a magazine by themselves… but when you have a collective of new artists and you have a name for these new artists like ‘New Bay,’ then shit, that’s something to write about.”

The title “New Bay” has the literal “new artist from the Bay” translation, but to Balance it’s symbolic of a movement, without disrespecting anything that might be considered “Old Bay”.

“Whenever you say ‘the Bay Area,’ people automatically have this idea of the past.  There’s nothing wrong with the past because if it wasn’t for the Bay Area there’d be none of these CEOs running their own labels and shit. I feel like ‘New Bay’ is a great term because it brings some new life to the term Bay Area. The whole hustle mentality comes from the Bay Area: E40, Too Short, JT. I think ‘New Bay’ just means [we’re] reinventing ourselves, understanding that, appreciating that, and then being like, ‘Fuck it, we gonna come with some heat now.’

“At first we really didn’t understand how big it was—to us it meant we were just new artists from the Bay Area,” explains Balance. “But, it actually meant a lot more than that, and today I feel that ‘New Bay’ means -– it’s basically like our Harlem Renaissance.”

Balance put himself on a strict promotional regimen, handing out CDs at venues the old fashioned way, as those before him had. “I give out free CDs all the time,” says Balance. “Nobody’s gonna buy your CD if they don’t know who you are.  One of the ways I do it is the old idea of letting somebody hear the product for free and then hopefully when they come back around they’ll buy the shit.”

Just as mixtapes evolved from the hiss of a cassette to the clarity of a CD, Balance adapted the old analog tape hustle to the digital grind of cyberspace.

“[It’s the] same principle: getting your music directly to the people. We’re in a new generation and a lot of kids are on the internet,” explains Balance. “So for me, the internet and mixtapes were my outlet, and I can actually say these were new things that I was tryin’.  Four years ago, everybody was like, ‘What the fuck are you rappin’ on all these mixtapes for, dude?’  ‘Cause it never really had been done like that before.”

With cameos from Royce Da 5’9”, E40, Zion I, The Game, Chamillionaire, amongst others, his mixtapes have been moving steadily and building up to a full-length release.  Balance has been approached by labels such as Rap-A-Lot for said debut album, but has yet to settle with one. His self-titled debut album will feature The Frontline and Houston’s Chamillionaire on vocals, and E-A-Ski, Jake One, J. Wells, Shonuff, and Trackademics on production. Following the one-off deal of his first formal release, Balance plans to release a concept album called The Day Cali Died.

The general public has heard some recent tight West Coast shit from the likes of JT the Bigga Figga’s former protégé, The Game, but Balance and the New Bay also intend to uplift the Bay to the status in which it’s people hold it.

Shouldering a responsibility of that magnitude is no saunter down candycane
lane.  Maintaining ambition in a weathering environment is no joyride either.

“I ain’t gonna sit here and lie. Every week I be wantin’ to quit this shit,” admits Balance, laughing. “[But] there’ll always be something that’ll make me want to stay with it.  That one thing could be a fan that’ll be like, ‘Yo, Balance, when’s your album coming out?  I’m waitin’ for that shit.

Whether or not ‘05 Bay Area hip-hop will bear enough brilliance to bring us within legitimate analogy range to 1925 Harlem is yet to be seen.  What’s being heard from Balance’s New Bay—and a multitude of other independent Bay Area artists spanning hip-hop’s diameter—is both creating it’s own geographically-distinct industry and attracting due attention from monolithic labels who wonder where their share is.

Revolution is the product of discontent, and Balance flipped his discontent into a relentless mixtape and internet campaign. He’s seen substantial independent success and media exposure, but the significance of New Bay is larger than the sum of its emcees. It’s a re-affirmation for Bay Area hip-hop heads who know our thang is going on.

Hip Hop's Dirty Little Secret



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-ron, blunts, chewies, woolies... Drugs are as much a part of the hip-hop lexicon as rims or baby-mammas.

Recently, steroids have come into the spotlight—in sports. Should it come as a surprise that hip-hop has also 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."

Would hip-hop stars go the length some athletes have by poisoning themselves in order to achieve that jacked, yolked look? "The bottom line," according to Annette Allen, personal trainer to the stars, "is that steroids work. If a person wants to get bulked up and build muscle as fast as they can, steroids do work and quickly." Even with side effects that include permanently shrunken testicles, aggressive behavior, "backne," and man-boobs, people are going to continue to use. Because Allen says, "like plastic surgery, it might be a superficial alternative, but it does work. The bottom line is that steroids are for people who can't wait."

Hip-hop scholars concur. Adisa Banjoko, author of Lyrical Swords: Hip-Hop and Politics in the Mix, image is everything in hip-hop right now. He says "there is no hip-hop without image. KRS ONE was the first to talk about how music videos hurt hip-hop because people became distracted by the images and stopped paying attention to the nature of the art. As hip-hop grew in the age of video, it definitely changed the way that it was viewed."

The image movement really took hold once LL Cool J took his shirt off. "LL began working out and along with other emcees to register that they were tough. Toughness was [and is] a part of hip-hop. And if you wanted respect in hip-hop you not only had to be raw on the mic, you also had to let people know physically you were a threat."

This started to accelerate. And recently, hip-hop has not done much to get away from "image" and back on message. "Let's face it, tough is sexy." Adisa adds, "hip-hop cats are definitely using 'roids. Because if you look at the lives they live in general, [these] are not clean lifestyles; steroids make it so you could have a body like that, running round drinking 40s."

Musician or otherwise, being tough will always be a part of the urban lifestyle, and hip-hop will always be connected to that. But what will the extremes be? While being yolked is hyped everywhere in hip-hop, being healthy is not. And consider who this message translates to the youth. "Lots of kids," according to Adisa, "are going to do what they have to. Kids been taking steroids for years." But as Adisa likes to point out: steroids do not get you pro: talent, patience and dedication do.

الجمعة، أيلول 09، 2005

Hurricane Media and the Press Disaster


image AFP/Getty Images/Joe Raedle

Hurricane Katrina has been one of the most intense and tragic of all real-life dramas. Ironically, from a mass culture obsessed with "realityTV," the true realities of this disaster were largely hidden or poorly presented in the media. It's emblematic of the wider dissonance between the people and the press. Yet, there were a few shining examples of what journalism is all about that deserve some props. Here's a few:

NPR's "All Things Considered" broadcasted this hard-news gem.

Jeff Chang is right on point, and has been, calling out the politics of abandonment. It's a dead-on denouncement of the Bush administration's legacy of criminal negligence—a variation of one of the themes he articulates in his book Can't Stop Won't Stop.

Or better yet, I think a Bush speaks best of how outrageously ignorant the Bush is.

And finally, —my personal favorite: —leave it to The Onion to level this dis on what has typified the deplorable biases revealed in language usage by the news:

White Foragers Report Threat Of Black Looters
NEW ORLEANS: —Throughout the Gulf Coast, Caucasian suburbanites attempting to gather food and drink in the shattered wreckage of shopping districts have reported seeing African Americans "looting snacks and beer from damaged businesses." "I was in the abandoned Wal-Mart gathering an air mattress so I could float out the potato chips, beef jerky, and Budweiser I'd managed to find," said white survivor Lars Wrightson, who had carefully selected foodstuffs whose salt and alcohol content provide protection against contamination. "Then I look up, and I see a whole family of [African-Americans] going straight for the booze. Hell, you could see they had already looted a fortune in diapers." Radio stations still in operation are advising store owners and white people in the affected areas to locate firearms in sporting-goods stores in order to protect themselves against marauding blacks looting gun shops.


And in a parting positive note, I just got back from Red Cross training today, where I am working to get deployed to the affected areas. There, it struck me; the people in that room with me, all rarin to go and help, that is America. While our government prefers to show its true colors in the rockets red glare from bombs blazing half a world away, this true America -- the America of its people -- is found in countless rooms like these: where ever people come together to give time out of their own lives for the aid of total strangers that have lost everything. Yes, this is the worst disaster in a century; and yes, this is by far the most colossal example of a for-profit government fosaking its constituents. But there is also a great, mounting concern among Americans, of a magnitude no less potent than of the tragedy itself. That is the America I defended as a Marine, and it is that one I hope to serve through the Red Cross.