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

الخميس، آذار ١٦، ٢٠٠٦

Lyrics Born: Fighting Without Martyrs

Story by Mike Conway
Flix by Bayeté Ross-Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

الجمعة، آذار ١٠، ٢٠٠٦

RJD2 and Aceyalone at the Independent

Review by Thomas Hynes

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

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

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

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

الخميس، آذار ٠٢، ٢٠٠٦

Jennifer Johns: Incubation in Fire

Interview by Bella Bakrania
Flick by Matt Reamer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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