Broken but not broke

Pub date December 10, 2008
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

Replife, a.k.a, Daniel Gray Kontar, leads a well-balanced life. How else can one describe a man who in one breath casually mentions that he’s a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley’s School of Education and in the next brags that the parties at his pad in the North Berkeley Hills "are off the meat rack"? The Cleveland transplant has a lot going on, including a new album for London label Futuristica, The Unclosed Mind, which includes tracks produced by the cream of the broken beat crop, from New York’s Arch-Typ to New Zealand’s Mark De Clive-Lowe.

Like many rappers, Kontar got his start in a breakdancing crew where he evolved into an MC for local DJs and beatmakers. From there he stretched his lyrical talents beyond music, stepping into the realm of the written word, where he wrote for Cleveland newspapers and edited and published the underground monthly magazine Urban Dialect, and wrote poetry, climbing through the spoken word ranks until he was National Poetry Slam co-champion in 1994.

Almost 15 years later, Kontar is excited, yet a little bemused, by the release of his first album, which boasts production by the likes of Dego and Kaidi Taitham, of 4 Hero and Bugz in the Attic fame. "It was a case of being in the right place at the right time," Kontar recalled when asked how he lined up such in-demand producers. After he recorded some raps at a minute’s notice for Mark De Clive-Lowe on his Politik project, De Clive-Lowe suggested he ring up Dego, who lived around the way. "When you record with Mark de Clive-Lowe and Dego in the span of two days," he said, "things just kind of happen after that, y’know?" The favors have been returned, with the piano-and-cymbal bursts of the De Clive-Lowe-produced "Emerald City" and the robotic synth stutter of Dego and Taitham’s "Spirit," slotting in nicely next to tracks crafted by lesser-known artists.

From the bossa sway of "Pangea" to the sultry slap of "Put It Down," The Unclosed Mind shows an MC exploring the limits of broken beat, and Kontar said that, unlike some pundits, he doesn’t see the scene dying off, due in part to a recent wave of emigration. "Daz-i-Kue is in Atlanta; Mark de Clive-Lowe is in Los Angeles; and Dego is in Brooklyn. So I think that having these kinds of folks who are the foundation of the movement now in the states is going to increase people’s knowledge of the broken philosophy," he explained. "I call it the broken philosophy because it’s not necessarily a style of music as much as a state of mind or a feeling." (Peter Nicholson)
With Replife, Blaktroniks-, Jaswho?, and Douglas Pagan
Dec. 20, 9 p.m., $5
The Dark Room at Club Six
60 Sixth St., SF
(415) 863-1221