Mosi Reeves

Thank you later


YEAR IN MUSIC The past year brought dozens of excellent albums, and hip-hop sounds topped the list. This wasn’t inevitable. Please recall 2009, when critics cited precious little rap in their favorites, save for Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx … Part 2 and Mos Def’s The Ecstatic. But in 2010, both rockists and heads reserved space for Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Big Boi’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: Son of Chico Dusty, the Roots’ How I Got Over, Drake’s Thank Me Later, and Flying Lotus’ Cosmogramma. And let’s not forget minor but important recordings such as Curren$y’s Pilot Talk and Yelawolf’s Trunk Muzik 0-60.

This winning slate confirmed that major label-backed rap is undergoing a renaissance. Nearly every artist made an impact by keeping their eye on the mainstream, from security guard-turned-bad actor Rick Ross recruiting Erykah Badu and Cee-Lo Green for his Teflon Don, to Bun B allowing Canadian teen idol Drake to call himself an “honorary member of UGK” on the former’s Trill O.G. Some complained that these rappers focused too much on claiming the hearts of soccer mama grizzlies and teens raised on Bratz dolls. But after years of boorish thugs peddling D-boy anthems and R&B gimmicks, this new pop sensibility sounded refreshing. (The sole exception may be Ludacris, who found success with Battle of the Sexes by offering a slick and familiar mix of strip club anthems and babymaker suites.)

B.o.B’s The Adventures of Bobby Ray was the most extreme product of these pop mirages. The Atlanta rapper scored two No. 1 hits (“Nothin’ but You” and “Airplanes”), but divided critics and fans by recruiting emo-rock burnout Rivers Cuomo and Hot Topic heroine Hayley Williams for his collection of gooey ballads. At its best, The Adventures of Bobby Ray had a charming innocence; at worst, it sounded like pandering. But at least it offered well-written tunes. In contrast, Nicki Minaj’s grating Pink Friday mashed bad 1980s John Hughes-approved synth-pop and soaring Rihanna choruses into a barely coherent mess. It proved that despite Nicki’s talent for ear-catching stunts, from her star turn as the bisexual chick who’ll do you and your man on Usher’s “Lil’ Freak” to her cipher-destroying rhymes on Kanye West’s “Monster” and Ludacris’ “My Chick Bad,” she was still a disappointingly underdeveloped songwriter.

Lost in the intense debate over the rap major domo was the demise of Definitive Jux. Once the mighty inheritor to the Fondle ‘Em tradition of B-boy nonconformity, and the source of key early-2000s works by Cannibal Ox, Aesop Rock, and Mr. Lif, it sagged under the weight of subpar and underpromoted releases before label head El-P mercifully pulled the plug last February. The news lit up the Internet for a day or two and then was seemingly forgotten. When Noz from asked Yelawolf if he was “heartbroken” over Definitive Jux’s demise, the Alabama rapper answered: “I didn’t even know it ended. Well … I’m not heartbroken about it.” How ironic that Yelawolf was once a lyrical-minded backpacker too, before switching to gritty tales of deep South meth dealers.

There were other disturbing signs that Definitive Jux’s indie-rap scene was no longer ground zero for fledging MCs, from conscious rap advocates Little Brother breaking up, to Minneapolis freestyle ace Michael “Eyedea” Larsen dying at the tragically young age of 28. “Underground rap is dead,” noted Sean Fennessey in a Pitchfork essay hyping Los Angeles collective Odd Future. “In its stead, a different brand of homespun rappers have taken hold. Consider Lil B and Soulja Boy, who have been prolifically working the Web … to achieve their own kind of teenage heroism.”

Underground rap is not dead. It thrives with Bay Area imprints such as Interdependent Media (Truthlive’s Patience) and national players such as Duck Down Records (Skyzoo & Illmind’s Live from the Tape Deck) and Alpha Pup Records (Nocando’s Jimmy The Lock). Some of these labels subsist on scattershot independent distribution. Others recruit majors to achieve wider market penetration, including Stones Throw and EMI Label Services (Guilty Simpson’s OJ Simpson and Aloe Blacc’s retro-soul gem Good Things), and Decon and E1 Music (Black Milk’s Album of the Year). And who can blame them? These days, labels need all the help they can get. However, the principal philosophy of economic and artistic independence as an end unto itself has been forgotten.

In Robin D.G. Kelley’s 2002 book Freedom Dreams, a rapturous appreciation of 20th century black intellectualism, he writes, “Unfortunately, too often our standards for evaluating social movements pivot around whether or not they ‘succeeded’ in realizing their visions rather than on the merits or power of the visions themselves. … And yet it is precisely these alternative visions and dreams that inspire new generations.” Kelley could have referred to the many critics that marked Little Brother as hopelessly elitist for insisting that hip-hop should address more than the spoils of drug wars; dismissed the late Eyedea, Sage Francis, and others as silly white boys for addressing suburban middle-class concerns; and buried Definitive Jux as a repository of uncool, impossibly dense super-scientific lyricism.

By many measures, the indie-rap scene has been a failure. Unlike the network of homespun labels built by punks in the 1980s, the indie-rap scene didn’t create a thriving community without considerable financing from youth-targeting corporations, lifestyle brands, and advertising firms. And perhaps its denizens wrongly castigated dirty South rappers as ignorant, claimed that mainstream superstars like Jay-Z and Diddy were sell-outs, and turned the underground movement into a kind of purity test — all past conflicts that continue to bedevil it today. Yet these dreamers courageously imagined hip-hop culture as not only a way to entertain people and make money, but as a transformative experience that can help instill positive growth and change lives. They built a culture that holds key lessons for future rap generations.

The blog-rap generation doesn’t hold any illusions of being alternative, unless it’s manufacturing limp blasphemy like Odd Future’s use of Nazi imagery. (As Anti-Defamation League spokesman Abraham Foxman told The New York Times in a story on the Holocaust documentary Shoah, “To most kids growing up today, Hitler could be Genghis Khan.”) They’ll use any trope to be successful, from falsely claiming that they’re coke barons to bragging about their limited-edition sneaker collection and how much weed they smoke. There’s a gleeful egalitarianism in their digital miscellany. The beats bang but are same-y and indistinct, and the voices are barely distinguishable. As Wiz Khalifa simply said on his breakout single, “Black & Yellow”: “You can do it big.”

Some critics separated wheat from chaff with technical criteria such as internal rhyme schemes and double-time flow, as if MCs were ice skaters or guitar wankers. But the best artists simply illuminated their money hunger by any means necessary, effortlessly adding interesting twists to tired rap clichés. When Drake crooned on Thank Me Later, “I want this shit forever, man,” he evoked a poor man’s Nat King Cole. And when Curren$y ranted, “A gee is what I am, a jet is what I be” like a Southern Popeye on Pilot Talk II, he was insistent enough that you almost believed him.

And then there was Kanye West and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He created a spectacle out of an hour-long justification for his obnoxiousness, invited the genre’s biggest stars to support his meanderings on chauvinism and virility (or “my black balls”) and, most provocatively, continued a public call-and-response with Gil Scott-Heron. The conversation began with West’s sampling of Scott-Heron’s melancholy “Home Is Where the Hatred Is” for his 2005 album Graduation. Then Scott-Heron replied by using West’s “Flashing Lights” melody for “On Coming from a Broken Home,” the bittersweet coming-of age tale from Scott-Heron’s valiant yet muddled comeback, I’m New Here.

West ended Fantasy by sampling a large section from Scott-Heron’s 1970 spoken-word performance “Comment #1,” and retitling it “Who Will Survive in America?” The poem originally captured the COINTELPRO era and the U.S. government’s eradication of black radicals, but West seemed to use it for a different point. Perhaps he’s saying that fame serves as a protective armor against systemic racism and how “at the airport they check all through my bag and tell me that it’s random.” Or maybe he’s making a wry comment on celebrity culture as the only way to survive in America. Fantasy‘s cryptic epilogue perfectly summarized this year’s rap dreamers, lost in the pop Matrix.

45 sessions


If you type “Myron and E” into the search engine on, you’ll likely find a simple video clip of a record player with one of the duo’s 7-inch singles on the turntable. Play the video clip, and the turntable’s needle will descend on the vinyl. And then some of the most wonderfully sweet grooves will pipe through your speakers.

Ba-ba-ba’s fill the air, and the backbeat pops along like a Holland-Dozier-Holland gem, perhaps the Supremes’ “Back in My Arms Again.” The voice of Myron is ragged yet soulful and insistent. “This old heart of mine can’t take much more of what it’s been given,” he sings, as E contributes “shoo-bee-doo-wah” ad libs. “And you showed no shame breaking my heart.” The entire performance lasts just under three minutes, just like they used to make ’em.

The song, “It’s A Shame,” was released on Helsinki, Finland, imprint Timmion Records in January. It’s one of four singles Myron & E has recorded with The Soul Investigators, a Finnish soul band whose members run Timmion. (L.A.-based major-indie powerhouse Stones Throw Records has licensed two of the singles, “Cold Game” and “It’s A Shame,” for U.S. distribution.) All of the singles sound like a lark, but that’s part of their charm.

“It just came together,” says Myron Glasper, snapping his fingers to illustrate, during an interview at Eric Cooke’s apartment in the Lower Haight. Cooke, better known as DJ and producer E Da Boss, cohosts a club night at Oakland spot the Layover on Saturdays called “The 45 Session.” His bedroom is filled with boxes of 7-inch records, including mint copies of Myron & E’s latest jam with the Soul Investigators, “The Pot Club.” As an ode to “Oaksterdam” and California’s burgeoning cannabis industry, complete with midnight-hour “rapp” vocals from Myron, it’s the duo’s most contemporary-sounding effort to date. A full-length album, Going in Circles, is due for imminent release. E Da Boss thinks it’ll drop by December, but early 2011 appears more likely.

The Myron & E thing happened by accident. A few years ago, E Da Boss was on a European tour with local producer Nick Andre; as E Da Boss and Nick Andre, the duo has released projects such as 2010’s Robot Practice EP. Traveling through Helsinki, they met the Soul Investigators and sparked an impromptu jam session. E Da Boss grabbed a microphone and began singing. “They kept telling me, ‘You sound good, you must sing.’ I didn’t really pay attention to it,” he remembers. Later in 2008, E Da Boss was assembling a solo production showcase for Om Records, and reached out to The Soul Investigators for sounds he could chop up into hip-hop beats. (He says Om Records dismantled its hip-hop division before the album could drop. All that came from it was a 2007 single, “Go Left.”)

When E Da Boss contacted The Soul Investigators, the group made a counter-offer: if they sent him some music, would he sing on it? E Da Boss thought of Myron; the two have been friends since touring around the world as part of Blackalicious’ backing band. “When they sent the beat over, I called Myron and said, ‘These guys want me to sing on some stuff. Come over here and help me write a song.'” Within an hour, they wrote an endearingly classic tune called “Cold Game.”

Perhaps Myron and E Da Boss’ years of experience in the music industry accounts for their effortless throwback soul. Originally from Los Angeles, Myron has worked as a dancer (he made a few appearances on the classic hip-hop sketch comedy In Living Color), an R&B singer (he has recorded sessions with Sir Jinx, Foster & McElroy and Dwayne Wiggins), and a backup vocalist (for CeCe Peniston, the Coup, and Lyrics Born). When gigs are few, he even drives a big-rig truck. “Real talk, I will jump in the rig if there ain’t no work. Yeah, cuddy! Rrrr-rrr!” Myron says, eliciting peals of laughter as he trills a few lines from Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.”

Myron & E’s first four singles have made an impact among soul fans and bloggers in the States, but the two say they’ve had far more success in Europe. Last summer, they performed for thousands at Helsinki’s Pori Jazz Festival. Myron opines that audiences there are more accepting of all forms of music. “They can go from gangsta rap to Norah Jones,” he says. Suffice to say that U.S. audiences don’t want Snoop Dogg at a Norah Jones concert.

And then there’s the question of the “retro-soul” resurgence itself. It can hardly be called a trend anymore since it’s been more than a decade since Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings recorded its first singles for the now-defunct Desco imprint, arguably marking the scene’s evolution from acid jazz revivalism to full-on deep funk aesthetics. Much of the genre’s creative energy hasn’t come from the black community, though, but from discerning record collectors inspired by a musical world that disappeared long ago. That has made for some uncomfortable conversations about appropriation — E Da Boss compares it to the way British rockers adopted Southern folk blues idioms in the 1960s.

“If I went up to the homies in the hood and said, ‘Let’s do this music,’ it probably won’t happen because it’s all about the R&B and neo-soul, the Chris Browns, and the R. Kellys,” Myron says. Some notable black artists like Raphael Saddiq, Cee-Lo Green, and Solange Knowles have begun using a “retro-soul” sound, particularly as the style has grown popular. Still, Myron & E know their efforts, however great, can’t compare to the soul legends of Motown and Stax. As Myron says, “It’s easy to make something that already exists better.”


Backed by Hot Pocket; with Kings Go Forth, The Selector DJ Kirk

Fri/19, 10 p.m.; $10–$13

Elbo Room

647 Valencia, SF

(415) 552-7788

Don’t stop this crazy thing


Coldcut used to brag that it was “Ahead of Our Time.” In the late 1980s, they slapped the phrase onto a host of groundbreaking forays into cut-and-past sound mathematics like “Beats + Pieces,” “Doctorin’ the House,” and “Stop This Crazy Thing,” freewheeling tunes that treated the history of sound as an enormous candy shop, copyright laws be damned.

And now? Coldcut’s long-running company Ninja Tune reflects the musical times in all its heterogeneous subgenres and variations on familiar themes. When Matt Black and Jonathan More launched Ninja Tune in 1990, it was to create an outlet for the group’s abiding passion in instrumental beats (which the British press would soon garnish with colorful nicknames like “trip-hop” and “sampledelia”). It was built on Coldcut-related productions like DJ Food’s Jazz Brakes series and Bogus Order’s Zen Brakes. Over time, the label flowered into a major indie with two sublabels (Counter and Big Dada) and dozens of artists passing through its doors, from Amon Tobin and Roots Manuva to Antibalas and Mr. Scruff. Today, it releases iconoclastic statements from the L.A. beat scene (Daedelus), the Baltimore indie/electro scene (Spank Rock and the Death Set), and London’s grime and bass worlds (the Bug).

During a phone interview from London, Coldcut’s Black says, “All the artists on the label have their own character. It’s like a collection of audibles, really. There’s a consistency in the fact that we’re all quite out there.” He adds that Ninja Tune is more “advanced” than it was in its first decade, when most of the roster — including production units like the Herbaliser and Funki Porcini — fit under the “trip-hop” rubric. “I felt that some of the early releases interpreted the Coldcut blueprint too literally, just getting some funky loops and sounds and stringing it out for a bit.” Part of this is due to maturity. The Herbaliser, for example, began making beat “loops” for discerning headz but has since grown into a full-fledged band. Even DJ Food, which now solely consists of producer Strictly Kev, has become a purveyor of soundtrack music inspired as much by David Axelrod as Marley Marl.

The mutating Ninja Tune amoeba is being chronicled through a series of 20th anniversary promotions. The deluxe box set Ninja Tune XX includes a hardcover book, six CDs, and six 7-inch vinyl records. The book, Ninja Tune: 20 Years of Beats & Pieces (Black Dog Publishing, 1992 pages, $29.95), is also available separately as a paperback. “If you look at the arrangements and the musicality on the music on the XX set, it’s a lot more advanced than it was a few years ago,” says Black, pointing to San Francisco’s Brendan “Eskmo” Angelides as an example.

Eskmo isn’t the first Bay Area artist to record for Ninja Tune; that honor belongs to rap experimentalist cLOUDDEAD, which released the U.K. edition of its 2001 self-titled album through Big Dada. However, he gives Ninja Tune a foothold in the thriving bass and organic electronic music scene through the symphonic boom of tracks like “Hypercolor.” Eskmo says that signing with Ninja Tune, which just released his self-titled debut, has been “really inspirational,” adding, “It’s a unique thing in this day and age for an independent to be flourishing and still put out creative stuff.”

According to Stevie Chick’s book 20 Years of Beats & Pieces, Ninja Tune emerged in the wake of the music industry’s brief yet disillusioning courtship of Coldcut, who dazzled with a game-changing remix of Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid In Full” (the classic “Seven Minutes of Madness” mix) and U.K. pop hits like Yazz’ “The Only Way Is Up” and Queen Latifah’s “Find a Way.” The label began as Coldcut’s middle finger to demands that they become another group of pop-dance hacks like Stock Aitken Waterman. “We really liked making instrumental hip-hop, fucking around, not having to make another ‘pop’ track,” Black tells author Chick. On albums such as 1997’s Let Us Play, Coldcut found an equilibrium between advocating the wonders of cutting-edge technology and vinyl consumption and promoting anticapitalist themes.

An inevitable byproduct of Ninja Tune’s success (as well as that of its great rival, Warp Records) is that its fashion-forward yet radical communal lifestyle seems more myth than reality. In 2005, the label released Amon Tobin’s soundtrack for the Ubisoft video game Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. Last year, Speech Debelle won the U.K. Mercury Prize for her Speech Therapy debut. A few months later, the British rapper announced that she wanted off the Big Dada label because it didn’t promote her work enough. Meanwhile, several roster artists have scored popular car commercials, from Mr. Scruff’s “Get a Move On” for the Lincoln Navigator to the Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now?” for KIA Sorento minivans.

“We’ve adapted our game,” Black explains. “We’ve got a company called Sync, Inc. and they specialize in getting sync licenses or getting our music placed in films, TV, video games, and adverts. That’s become an important part of our business.” When asked if that contradicts Coldcut’s earlier independent philosophy, he answers, “We give our artists a lot of freedom. If an artist wants to license a track to Coca-Cola, we wouldn’t necessarily block them. Coldcut has turned down a lot of syncs, particularly car ads, ever since we did one for Ford and realized that was a terrible idea.” Ironically, the song used was “Timber,” an instrumental decrying the eradication of rain forests. Even though Coldcut gave half of the licensing money to Greenpeace, says Black, “We didn’t feel comfortable with it.”

Two decades on, Ninja Tune continues to weather the rapid changes of the music industry while sustaining Coldcut’s dream of an independent haven for progressive artists. But the future ain’t free. “I believe the corporations are the Nazis of our age,” Black says. “But you sometimes have to talk to the Nazis because they’re a reality.”


With Amon Tobin, Kid Koala, DJ Food and DK, Toddla T and Serocee, Dj Kentaro, Eskmo, Ghostbeard, An-Ten-Nae, Motion Potion

Fri/29, 9 p.m.-4 a.m.; free with rsvp

1015 Folsom

103 Harriet, SF



High on arrival


MUSIC If hip-hop is jazz, then Curren$y can be described as a traditionalist. His debut album, Pilot Talk (DD172/Def Jam), is pure braggadocio, with rhymes about fancy cars and free-flowing liquor and free-loving women. The music, lovingly produced and arranged by Ski Beatz, sounds like an update of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, all the way down to the New York session musicians recruited to crank out mellow grooves. It’s as if Curren$y has reinterpreted the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” for the new millennium.

In the world of jazz, the traditionalists famously waged war against the free jazz nuts who wanted to strip the form of tonality, and then against the fusionists who sought to infect it with slovenly rock and roll. With help from Dixieland revivalists and Ken Burns’s Jazz documentary, they succeeded. In contrast, rap nerds have always viewed avant-garde experimentation with suspicion at best, and complete ignorance at worst. The furthest we’ll go, it seems, is the high-tech funk of Big Boi’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: Son of Chico Dusty, or Madlib’s Medicine Show of gutbucket blues and crusty soul-jazz loops.

If fitted with John Coltrane’s sheets of sound or Ornette Coleman’s harmolodics, Pilot Talk would be a strangely awesome experience. As is, it’s soothing yet enlightening, like an animated chop session after smoking a joint or two with a friend. Curren$y clearly made it on blunted terms: the album artwork depicts a lone airplane flying over a landscape of lush green marijuana foliage.

So Pilot Talk is like weed talk, with several narratives hidden underneath the stoner blather. On “Example,” Curren$y claims “reimbursement for paid dues,” then states, “I am an example of what can happen when you quit being afraid to gamble.” On “Seat Change,” he mocks a girl who wants to “ride with a G,” concluding that “somewhere along the line she fucked up and realized she lost her seat.” His lines are pimp slick but thankfully shorn of delusion. When he flips a bevy of yeyo metaphors for “Audio Dope,” he clearly does it in service of the concept, not to build a farcical image of himself as a drug kingpin. The image is of a neighborhood (or, more accurately, Internet) baller.

Curren$y’s persistence comes from years spent toiling for various rap crews, hip-hop’s version of the mailroom. As a young scrapper from New Orleans’s Uptown neighborhood, he rolled with C-Murder’s TRU family before C-Murder infamously caught a life bid for murder, then transferred to Master P’s No Limit label. Then he landed at Lil Wayne’s fledgling Young Money Entertainment, dropping burner verses for Weezy’s The Carter II and Dedication mixtapes, before landing under the aegis of reformed hip-hop mandarin Damon Dash, whose DD172 label released Pilot Talk in July. It’s ironic that since Curren$y’s departure, Weezy has decided to transform Young Money into an overpublicized pop star boot camp for teen idols like Nicki Minaj and Drake. Then again, the fact that even Curren$y sounds alternative when posited against mainstream rap’s scions demonstrates how rigid the culture has truly become.

However, Curren$y also benefits from marketing, albeit of a viral nature. Pilot Talk boasts the cream of the blog rap crop, including Mikey Rocks from the Cool Kids, Big K.R.I.T., and Jay Electronica (who sharply compares Flavor Flav’s signature bow tie to the Nation of Islam’s attire). Even much-beloved weed rapper Devin the Dude drops a verse for “Chilled Coughphee.” A writer friend of mine, Christopher Weingarten, remarked to me that when Devin the Dude jumps in with sly wit like “I can fuck a bum up quick / But that’s some tenth grade shit,” it only underscores Curren$y’s relative lack of vocal presence.

Other critics have theorized that Pilot Talk‘s artistic triumph is largely due to Ski Beatz’s memorable accompaniment. An NY vet whose catalog ranges from membership in early-’90s woulda-beens Original Flavor to credits on Jay-Z’s 1996 classic Reasonable Doubt and Camp Lo’s “Luchini AKA (This Is It),” Ski Beatz initially produced Pilot Talk‘s tracks himself and then hired talented unknowns like bassist Brady Watt to transform them into instrumental gems. True, any rapper would sound incredible against the majestic sunshine funk of “Address.” But give Curren$y credit for lodging its hook in your brain — “Still nothing changed but the address.”


With C-Plus and NPire Da Great, J-Billion and P-Funk, DJ ANT-1

Wed/29, 9 p.m., $16–$20

330 Ritch

330 Ritch, SF

(415) 541-9574


I, in the sky


There’s a moment during You Think You Really Know Me, the 2005 documentary on 1970s Midwest cult artist Gary Wilson, when the filmmakers acknowledge that their subject is not necessarily as weird as his music. “I thought he would be a little bit more,” says Christina Bates, coowner of the defunct Motel Records, which reissued Wilson’s 1977 jazz-rock curio You Think You Really Know Me to much acclaim. Bates’ voice trails off. “He’s really in complete control of his image.”

The same could be said of Ariel “Pink” Rosenberg. The Los Angeles musician follows a long tradition of outsiders whose recordings invite speculation on their mental stability, from enigmatic recluses such as Wilson to the late (and rumored schizophrenic) Syd Barrett. But, as Ariel Pink summarizes during a phone conversation, “I’ve never been in the closet, by myself or reclusive like everyone says. That’s a myth.”

Ariel Pink’s releases — which he began recording and issuing as CD-Rs in the late ’90s, moving to Animal Colllective’s Paw Tracks imprint with 2003’s The Doldrums — sound like a melting brain. Heartbreakingly melodic keyboard tones float around like smoke from burning embers. The songs — including “For Kate I Wait” from Doldrums, which became a college radio novelty hit — barely hang onto verse-chorus structure, and Pink’s muttered ramblings unveil feelings of warped alienation and deep melancholy.

Often issued under the “Haunted Graffiti” rubric, Pink’s aberrant synth-pop has proved influential on younger musicians, many of whom have been lumped under the semi-mocking hipster term “chillwave.” But while Neon Indian and Toro y Moi tap into the cultural zeitgeist via krushed grooves and distorted vocals, their overall tone is cool and distant, suggesting a familiar kind of postadolescent anomie. In contrast, Ariel Pink guffaws, grunts, lilts in a cooing voice reminiscent of a whining dog, and shouts nonsense lyrics, all in pursuit of a song’s emotional center. “I’m a necro-romantic! I’ll be suckin’ your blood!” he riffs on “Fright Night (Nevermore),” a track from his recent, excellent Before Today, evoking dewy memories of richly ambiguous ’80s horror flicks and John Carpenter soundtracks.

Perhaps music fans and critics occasionally call Ariel Pink a savant because he’s unafraid to look foolish. His interviews have teased and strained against that perception. “I have something to do with it, too,” he admits. “I open my mouth and say things, and certain things make it to posterity, and make it to Wikipedia, and people think they’re doing their research when they read Wikipedia. So a lot of misconceptions get repeated.”

During the interview, Pink strikes a professional tone, saying that he’s grateful to be signed to 4AD (a subsidiary of major indie conglomerate Beggars Group) after years of struggling as an indie artist. 4AD booked him on an international tour for Before Today, which reached stores in June; and he calls from Plano B, a nightclub in Porto, Portugal where he and his backing band, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, are setting up to perform. The long-distance connection leads to frequent shouts of “Huh? I can’t hear you, dude.”

Before Today marks a new, post-bedroom phase for Ariel Pink. Recorded with his band, songs like “L’estat (acc. to the widow’s maid)” and “Bright Lit Blue Skies” benefit from the type of sharply navigated time changes and vivid instrumental colors that can’t be realized through bedroom production techniques. Meanwhile, “Reminiscences,” an easygoing lounge number, draws inspiration from Ethiopian singer Yeshimebet Dubale. “Arguably the most famous type of song form in Ethiopia is tizita, the song of nostalgia and remembrances,” Pink explains.

Ariel Pink admits that past live performances were often chaotic and uninspired affairs where “I didn’t care about anything and just thought about me. That didn’t get me very far.” Musicians shuffled in and out of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, adding to the instability. He’s cautiously optimistic about the prospects for his current lineup, which features Tim Koh, Kenny Gilmore, Joe Kennedy, and Aaron Sperske. “I don’t know how long the current incarnation will be around for — we’ve only been together two weeks,” he says, noting that Kennedy just joined the group. “I’m always trying to get a bunch of guys to stay with me.”

After years spent mostly working alone, Pink welcomes the challenge of learning to perform with — and lead — others. “Ultimately it’s more fulfilling for me. It’s no fun doing it alone! Seriously, it’s boring as fuck.”


With Magic Kids, Pearl Harbour

Sat/10, 9 p.m., $15

Bimbo’s 365 Club

1025 Columbus, SF

(877) 4FL-YTIX

The residue


MUSIC “Drug boys steady shooting. The streets don’t give a damn. They’re filled with such pollution,” sings B.o.B on “Kids,” an interpolation of the coda from Vampire Weekend’s self-titled indie-pop gem. “The kids don’t stand a chance.”

But does B.o.B stand a chance? The Adventures of Bobby Ray (Atlantic) is pop, pop and more pop, embracing the current electro-pop-with-a-hip-hop-attitude zeitgeist with a smothering squeeze. If Kid Cudi took notes from Kanye’s 808 and Heartbreak on his intermittently fascinating Man on the Moon: End of Day; then B.o.B seems to channel Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool, with a dollop of Gym Class Heroes and Fall Out Boy thrown in.

B.o.B’s hip-pop excursion flies right into a raging debate over presence in hip-hop music, and whether there’s any left. The mainstream vanguard belongs to those willing to embrace rock and R&B clichés, whether it’s Lil Wayne fake-strumming a guitar on “Prom Queen” or, more nobly, Phonte Coleman crooning on Foreign Exchange’s “Daykeeper.” The hardcore underground belongs to growlers who can spit “16 hot bars” for days over “hit” beats lifted like Just Blaze’s “Exhibit C.” (For the uninitiated: a “bar” is a stanza in a verse.) Each camp seems to disappear into its chosen musical backdrop, driving the beat with narratives and themes, yet rarely emerging with an MC’s distinctly authoritative voice.

The recent death of Keith “Guru” Elam, who passed away April 20 after years spent battling cancer-related illnesses, underscores the stakes. On his work with Gang Starr, Guru not only excelled at storytelling, but at delivering classic lines that burned in your memory. Everyone knows “DWYCK” and “Lemonade is a popular drink and it still is/ I get more props and stunts than Bruce Willis.” Or how about this one (my personal favorite) from “The ? Remains”: “As the world revolves, wack crews lick my balls.”

Peace to one of the best to ever do it. And to be fair, Lil Wayne, DOOM, Mos Def, and a handful of others still deliver those prized “hip-hop quotables.” As for B.o.B? This may seem like a heavy burden for a 21 year-old kid who just released his first official album after years spent hyping himself with mixtapes like The Future and Hi! My Name is B.o.B. Once a hip-hop artist makes a best-seller, he becomes fodder for cruelly dismissive rap addicts clogging up chat boards, snarky rock critics penning capsule reviews for magazine slicks, and old-head journalists who slum down the media mountain to judge the latest craze against their idealized B-boy childhood. Each side will argue noisily and violently whether The Adventures of Bobby Ray spells the death or rebirth of hip-hop.

The turning point is “Nothin’ on You,” a shaggy-dog ballad that reached the summit of the Billboard singles chart. B.o.B leaves the hook to cowriter Bruno Mars, whose production crew the Smeezingtons (Flo Rida’s “Right Round,” K’naan’s “Wavin’ Flag”) aims to be the new-school version of the Neptunes. “Beautiful girls, all over the world/ I could be chasin’ but my time would be wasted/ They got nothin’ on you, baby,” sings Mars in a creamily soft voice.

In conversation, B.o.B is a likeable guy who doesn’t have much to say about the artistic process. Some musicians are erudite Questloves who can philosophize on any and every studio session, while others are Ghostface Killahs who just do it and let the historians sort out the details. B.o.B acknowledges that The Adventures of Bobby Ray is a sharp departure from his early mixtape material.

“I treated the early mixtapes like albums, but I was always holding back. I was holding back the alternative side,” he says, adding that rock bands like Coldplay are an influence. “I don’t want to be in one genre because doing that would be limiting me as an artist, if I was only being exposed to the pop crowd, or just to the urban crowd.”

Growing up Bobby Ray Simmons in Decatur, Ga., he was first discovered at 16 while performing at Club Crucial, a nightclub in Atlanta’s rough Bankhead neighborhood. As he subsequently signed deals with producer Jim Jonsin (Cypress Hill’s “Armada Latina”) and his Rebel Rock imprint, and then T.I.’s Grand Hustle camp, B.o.B toyed with idioms. His breakthrough single, the regional hit “Haterz Everywhere,” matched ATL bravado with a memorable hook. On The Future, he playfully riffed over a loop of Sam Cooke’s “Only Sixteen.” During appearances on the 2008 Rock the Bells tour, he interrupted his brief sets by bringing out a guitar and strumming an acoustic version of his marijuana ode, “Cloud 9.”

By B.o.B vs. Bobby Ray, he graduated to writing full-fledged pop songs, though none were as good as those found on The Adventures of Bobby Ray. Throughout his mixtapes, which were kind of a woodshedding process, B.o.B presented himself as an alien, a prodigal kid who doesn’t quite fit in with the teacher’s pets or the playground thugs. He frequently noted skipping high school to smoke weed and hang out on the streets. On “My Story,” he rapped, “Rebellion is just a side effect. Homicidal? Maybe. Suicidal? Yes.”

Today, B.o.B says, “It’s not as dark as it was. There’s still the residue there; the residue is on all my memories. It makes me who I am. It’s the strikes and blows that carve me as a person.” Finding success with a passion he nurtured since the third grade has undoubtedly helped. And career demands keep him out of trouble. “As I become more successful, it requires me to work more. I’ve got to be on my p’s and q’s. I gotta go to bed earlier. I can’t stay up as late as I used to. Sometimes I do party, but I’m like, alright, I gotta wake up in the morning.”

B.o.B may have grown out of his depression, but the ADD-manic energy remains. On The Adventures of Bobby Ray, the mixtape hiss and “down South” hood raps have been buffed away, leaving charismatic emotion and arena-ready entreaties like “Ghost in the Machine,” “Fame,” and “Airplanes.” A chorus line of high-profile guests, from Rivers Cuomo of Weezer and Hayley Williams of Paramore to Eminem and Lupe Fiasco, appear to ease the transition.

“Everyone listens to everything. Whatever’s going on in the hip-hop community, the pop people can see, and vice versa,” B.o.B says. When everything’s mixed up and genre lines blur, he adds, “Change is inevitable.” *


with Lupe Fiasco

Tues/4, 8 p.m. $34.50


982 Market, SF

(415) 345-0900

Keep the faith


MUSIC My original topic for this article was how indie-rock artists exploit modern R&B and soul music for their nefarious gains. I planned to center my rage at Village Voice “Pazz & Jop” doofuses who ignore future soul overachievers like Sa-Ra Creative Partners; random idiots who bop around to the likes of Trey Songz and T-Pain in ironic, condescending fashion; rock-crit gatekeepers like Pitchfork’s Scott Plagenhoef, who claimed on that “I think your best bet is to turn music crit readers into R&B fans, not R&B fans into music crit readers,” as if R&B fans (re: black people?) aren’t smart enough to develop critical philosophy; recidivists who shill for mercury-laden masterpieces like Iggy Pop’s Funhouse and Weezer’s Pinkerton while shunning slickly produced wonders like Aretha Franklin’s Sparkle and Mary J. Blige’s My Life; and any dumbass who wails about how great Motown and Stax 45s are but stubbornly blocks them from the all-important Great Rock Albums canon, arguing that soul artists make classic singles, but not classic albums (in other words, sit in the back of the bus).

The turning point for my paranoid hipster conspiracy would be Little Dragon, who will conveniently return to San Francisco on April 14 for a gig at the Independent. Hailing from Sweden, Little Dragon fuses neo-soul and R&B with the whimsicality of electronic pop. So, for several minutes, I asked lead singer Yukimi Nagano to pick apart Little Dragon’s sound. It seemed silly in retrospect, and not just because Little Dragon already does that on its Web site. Nagano exudes a cool serenity that tames you like Pixar movies temper sugar-addled children and grownups. Focusing on her influences feels like analyzing the computers Pixar uses — worthwhile from a factual standpoint, but ultimately missing the point.

“My favorites were Faith Evans and Brandy, then also a lot of classics like Prince. I love Erykah Badu and a bunch of different stuff,” Nagano said. She and her bandmates — Erik Bodin, Frederik Wallin, and Hakan Wirenstrand — write songs in the classic pop format, blending in “electronic sounds and electronic music because you can experiment so much with it. We have so many different influences, everything from South African house music to soul, R&B, hip-hop and whatever. All the guys produce, and everyone has their own character in writing, so that also gives our albums a lift. It’s not just one person making everything.” Nagano’s character, so to speak, “is that I try to be free in my writing. And people can hear the soul influences in my vocals, I guess.”

Little Dragon’s 2007 self-titled debut was full of slow-burning ballads that owed as much to modern R&B, with its singers’ penchant for subdued melisma and jazzy inflections, as to the synthesized blue tones of 1980s New Wave. “No love left in here/No love in this room/No love in my soul left for you,” she sang on “No Love,” her dourness seeping through the downbeat track. A poetic writer, she used her bandmates’ atmospheric melancholia to coin strangely elliptical lines: “Walking down the stairs, anonymous detached, on the corner I turn, I turn, I turn left.” Not surprisingly, there is homage of sorts to Billie Holiday in “Stormy Weather,” although the lyrics concern something else.

Last year’s Machine Dreams also had lollygaggers wandering aimlessly about, but the music was fuller and more vibrant. Instead of ballads with sad little keyboard riffs, there were panoplies of sounds, from the percussion titters of “A New” to the dense yet airy washes of “Fortune.” Much of the album is kookily uptempo, with clockwork rhythms reminiscent of Howard Jones and Thomas Dolby (in a good way). “Playing live [during the tour for the first album] made us want to pick up the tempo,” Nagano said. “We really love playing dance music. There’s nothing as great as seeing people dancing.”

As Little Dragon pushes in a new direction, the R&B sounds that once inspired them drift into the past. The band is listening to different stuff now, like Depeche Mode, DJ Cleo, and Gui Buratto. “Obviously the first album was written a long time ago, and it’s been a few years. Those songs were written even before 2007. They were already old for us then. Time has passed and you change.”

Machine Dreams is a qualitative leap from the debut album, which Nagano dismisses as “demos” that the group’s label, Peacefrog Records, released without their permission. (She was pleasantly surprised when audiences responded so well to it.) And if Little Dragon is better equipped to harness its current Kraftwerk obsession than the R&B passions of the past, then so be it. Regardless, the results don’t sound like anything else.

“I love music so much, and the guys do as well,” Nagano said. “You know how you get that kick from something you haven’t heard, and get inspired? It’s a great kick to have in your life. We want to find that as often as we can.” That seems painfully obvious to me. *


With VV Brown, HOTTUB

Tues/13–Wed/14, 9 p.m., $20 ($30 for two days)


628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421

Endless hookup


MUSIC Where are the turntablist masters of yore? They’ve gone missing, replaced by the likes of the Hood Internet.

It’s true. The art of the hip-hop mix, once protected by the Skratch Piklz and the X-Men (a.k.a. X-ecutioners) and the Beat Junkies and Triple Threat, has returned to the province of the sound editors, just like in the early 1980s. The problem was the turntable itself. A painful lesson of the ugly aughts was to never trust technology. Hardware emerges, changes, and is destroyed according to consumerist tastes. The alchemical idea may be subject to manipulation by the likes of Steve Jobs, Rupert Murdoch, and Eric Schmidt, but it is eternal in its adaptability to any mechanical form.

So while scratch DJs take to message boards and cry over Panasonic allegedly discontinuing its Technics 1200 line (which turned out be a false rumor), rockists and electronic heads open their laptops, launch Serato and Reason software, and get to mixing. It’s not like those turntable masters aren’t missed, though. While they spun and cut soul, funk, and hip-hop with finely nuanced techniques, like 16th century woodblock cutters, the new editors and mashup artists skip stones across genres, leaving small ripples of pop delight that quickly dissipate.

It’s a different aesthetic, that’s for sure. The Hood Internet consists of Chicago-based musicians Aaron Brink and Steve Reidell. Both moved there after finishing college — Brink at the University of Michigan and Reidell at University of Wisconsin, Madison. Initially they formed May or May Not, a “noisy pop band,” as Reidell called it, and made beats on the side for rappers “you would have never have heard of” until producers like Girl Talk and Them Jeans inspired them to create the Hood Internet Web site in 2007. Using Acid Pro and Ableton Live, they flooded the Web with smart, imaginative mashups of the Shins vs. Crime Mob, and Jim Jones vs. Daft Punk. It was a hobby: Reidell was an art director for Smart Bar, and the site’s array of cheeky collages is testament to his superior design skills. Brink is a clinical psychologist. They’ve performed around town and occasionally landed spot gigs on the weekend, but this spring marks their first extended national tour.

“I left my job earlier this year to be able to focus on the Hood Internet,” Reidell says. He’s calling from a video set in Chicago, and the resulting clip will be for “Chicago 3016,” a new single the Hood Internet produced with local MC Kid Static. It’s a reference to Chicago’s failed bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. “There’s a great hip-hop scene here right now, from Kid Static to the Cool Kids and Kidz in the Hall. Freddie Gibbs, he’s from Gary, Indiana, but he’s basically Chicago since we’re such close neighbors.”

Unless they’re showing some hometown love — they recently mashed together buzzing Chi-town newcomers Bin Laden Blowin’ Up’s “Chi Don’t Dance” with Broken Bells’ “Citizen” — the Hood Internet tends to use radio hits, flipping recognizable raps over rock and dance tracks. Hence, The Hood Internet Mixtape Vol. 4 includes “Bring the Tabloid Sores,” where Chuck D.’s stentorian boom from “Bring the Noise” rides over Nosaj Thing’s eerie electronic remix of Health’s “Tabloid Sores.” Less brilliantly, it also includes “Swaggin’ Out,” which pairs Soulja Boy’s muttering boast from “Turn My Swag On” with Joe Jackson’s smooth jazz-pop “Steppin’ Out.” “There’s a handful of irony in what we do. The mashup itself is an ironic form of music,” Reidell says. “We live in an age where anyone can do it if you’ve got Garageband and download some a cappellas.”

The Hood Internet operates in a pop context. It isn’t simply plundering black music for source material and reshaping it for white hipsters. Collected into the ongoing Hood Internet Mixtape series, these sounds represent how much of the audience, black and white, consumes music today. To the duo’s credit, their approach is more innovative than the hordes of mixtape DJs that artlessly smack Lil Wayne “exclusives” together with little care for flow or context, or even the old-school jocks who scratch and blend like it was still the ’90s. But these tracks also demonstrate how hip-hop has been reduced by much of its audience into a series of sugary sensations — again, the skipping stones analogy. It’s music for partying, getting laid, and working out at the gym, not for intellectual exploration. You can’t blame the Hood Internet’s clever and innovative response for the current pop miasma, though.

“In recent months I’ve digested the new Freeway & Jake One album, Pill’s 4180 mixtape and Freddie Gibbs’ mixtapes as intensely as the CFCF and Caribou album,” Reidell answers when asked if he takes hip-hop seriously. “That said, a lot of pop music — and a lot of hip-hop falls into that being that it’s popular — is disposable. It’s not because it’s hip-hop, it’s because a lot of pop music is disposable. The Hood Internet mixes a lot of that stuff. But while we might mix Gucci Mane one day, we’ll mix a really thoughtful Anti-Pop Consortium track the next day.

“I think there’s some value to it because it’s introducing people to things they might not otherwise have heard,” he continues. “It’s time-stamped to a certain degree, and it’s for partying. But there’s value to that, too. People like to have a good time.”


With Tobacco (of Black Moth Super Rainbow) and the New Slave

Sat/27, 10 p.m., $12

Bottom of the Hill

1233 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455

New New Orleans


MUSIC Galactic’s provocative new album, Ya-Ka-May (Anti-), is the sound of new New Orleans. It’s named after yaka mein (which is alternately spelled ya ka mein, yaca-meat, et cetera), a type of Asian noodle stew. Its clash of jazz, bounce, and R&B is hot and sweat-inducing, with so many voices that you can’t tell if it’s a great party or a riot breaking out. “No more dreams, this is reality!” shouts “sissy” performer Big Freedia on the bounce track “Double It.” “You gotta shake, baby!”

“I’m a wild man,” chants funk Indian Big Chief Bo Dollis from the Wild Magnolias. “I’m a wild man, oh y’all!”

At its center is a “Liquor Pang,” a derelict’s screed from Josh Charles and Ryan Scully (formerly of N’awlins funk band the Morning 40 Federation). “I’m making bad decisions with the money I earn,” slurs Charles. “Ain’t no shame like a pang for some liquor, man.” Meanwhile, Scully screams, “Yeah! I’m shutting it down!” “Liquor Pang” is supposed to sound like an oncoming hangover, but it feels like an alarm — a reminder of how dark and unhinged the Ya-Ka-May party becomes.

The album itself seems like a happy accident. For years, Galactic was best known as part of a sprawling jam scene, one of dozens of bands that traveled through earthy festivals and small theaters like wandering minstrels. The band’s early albums, including the 2003 Sanctuary release Ruckus (which featured production by Dan the Automator) hewed to the funky, organic side of downtempo — like flagship artists Medeski, Martin & Wood and Thievery Corporation — with long instrumental passages and wah-wah workouts punctuated by former member Theryl DeClouet’s gritty vocals.

“Some of our early success on the road was due to that scene embracing us,” says Galactic guitarist Jeff Raines during a phone interview. Like many associated with the jam scene, he dislikes that phrase, calling it a “label created by the press.” He seems to prefer “taper community,” although jam fans probably don’t use cassette recorders anymore. “Our band started in a grassroots way — we got in a van and literally drove around America. The way we approached our business originally was in the jam band style of grassroots, do it yourself.”

The turning point was 2007’s From the Corner to the Block (Anti-). Inspired by Brand New Heavies’ Heavy Rhyme Experience Vol. 1 (Delicious Vinyl), where the acid jazz pioneers recorded with golden age hip-hoppers like Kool G Rap and the Pharcyde. Galactic worked with indie-rappers like Gift of Gab, Lateef and Lyrics Born from the Quannum crew, pioneering 1990s bounce artist (and subsequent “Back Dat Azz Up” superstar) Juvenile, and DJ Z-Trip. Vibrant and energizing, From the Corner to the Block was the first Galactic album that didn’t seem like a byproduct of its neverending tours.

To hear Raines tell it, there wasn’t any grand ambition fueling Ya-Ka-May. “Our intent was not to create a dark, disturbing type of record,” he says. “We were really trying to work with some of our favorite artists and do a snapshot of what the current music is there, and maybe isn’t that well known outside of New Orleans.”

Much of Ya-Ka-May features Katey Redd, Sissy Nobby, and Big Freedia from New Orleans’ “sissy” bounce culture. It’s one of the few queer rap scenes in the country that isn’t divided from the mainstream since, as Raines puts it, they perform at clubs throughout the city. “These are bounce rappers that happen to be gay,” says Raines.

A local DJ, Jay “Rusty Lazer” Pennington, served as a liaison for the bounce rappers. Other guests like “supafunkrock” player “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and the world-famous Rebirth Brass Band are longtime acquaintances of the band. “It’s a small town. Everyone knows each other.”

With so many shouting and signifying, Ya-Ka-May can wear you out like a daylong community festival with 100 performers on the bill. The specter of Hurricane Katrina lingers above it all. Perhaps that’s where all the wondrous and sometimes-bizarre mania comes from.

“For years, you couldn’t walk out of your door without thinking about the storm or interacting with some aspect of it,” he says. “But there’s life there, and there’s art being made. It’s a really fascinating city to live in, to watch an American city go through something so traumatic.

“To some degree, everything in New Orleans now revolves around that event. But Ya-Ka-May isn’t about Hurricane Katrina. It’s about the contemporary scene in New Orleans as it exists today.”


Fri/5, 9 p.m.

The Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

(415) 346-6000

Welcome to violence


MUSIC Late last year, Stones Throw Records announced it would release a full-length album of tunes by its veritable resident producer, Madlib, in 2010 … every month. Dubbed Madlib Medicine Show, the 12-part series sounds like a rap nerd fantasy.

Ever since his critically-lionized Quasimoto adventure, 2000’s The Unseen (Stones Throw), when he adopted a helium voice and crafted adult cartoons straight out of Fritz the Cat (1972) and Le Planete Sauvage (1973), Madlib has defined an idiom of crackling sampled loops, slightly buggered raps, and thick clouds of weed smoke. Over 15 years deep into a career that kicked off with a cameo on the Alkaholiks’ 1993 debut 21 and Over (Loud), the L.A. musician’s enigmatic vision perseveres, even as the idealistic underground scene he once occupied — remember back in the ’90s when his old group the Lootpack chastised wannabe gangsta rappers on “The Antidote”? — has turned cynical, becoming obsessed with the same “mainstream” guns-drugs-porn-money quadrangle it once criticized

Meanwhile, onetime critics who complained that Madlib produces too many records have been hushed by a rapacious Internet age, where weekly emissions of tracks and mixtapes are de rigueur. For example, L.A. indie rapper Blu, a promising inheritor of the West Coast hip-hop tradition, has been on “hiatus” for well over a year as he crafts his major label debut, yet still manages to upload several albums’ worth of free online “demos.” Madlib’s dozens of aliases (Yesterday’s New Quintet, DJ Rels, take your pick) and chaotic forays into post-bop, free jazz, soul-jazz broken beat, Brazilian tropicalia, and deep funk might seem quaint in comparison.

Smartly, Madlib doesn’t give his music away for free. The Madlib Medicine Show may resemble those Internet “loosies” and “street albums” you downloaded last night, but he makes you pay for the privilege of hearing his work. (Or at least he tries to; no one is immune to the Web’s torrential bootlegging.)

The first installment, No. 1: Before the Verdict, is particularly pointed in its message of commerce as a soul-destroying, mind-blowing shit-stem. The cover depicts a charred $1 bill (with a weed leaf embedded in a corner), an industrial plant spewing toxic waste, and the World Trade Center being bombed by an airplane. The interior features photos of strangely voodoo-fied Africans — one has a hand protruding from her mouth — and the cryptic message: “There were only three witnesses. Two are dead. The other isn’t talking.”

Before the Verdict’s 17 tracks consist of remixes of Guilty Simpson’s 2007 album Ode to the Ghetto, and a few previews of a forthcoming collaboration tentatively titled OJ Simpson. (Again, just like those damned Internet “street albums.”) Guilty is a decent if ornery thug rapper, but he’s clearly no match for Madlib’s symphony of ’70s soul “rapps,” funky howls, vinyl hiss, DJ cuts, burps and farts, pungent jokes culled from ’60s comedy albums (Redd Foxx and Millie Jackson!), and police scanner snippets. The Detroit rapper’s litanies about “Gettin’ Bitches” and “Robbery” are vocal anchors drowned by the Madlib Invazion’s furiously funky creativity.

Remember when that Quasimoto album intoned at the very beginning, “Welcome to violence”? These days, Madlib doesn’t just promise it. In rave terms, he has entered his hardcore phase. No longer positive and consciousness-expanding, the blessed weed smoke is fuel for a crank personality. The transformation is compelling, hilarious, and frightening. As the rap world’s version of “reality” narrows into a handful of masculine fantasies, Madlib has become the era’s pamphleteer, printing out screaming headlines like a crazed prophet of doom.

Not all of his current work sounds like a ghetto dystopia. On his 2008 homage to his late friend James “J Dilla” Yancey, Beat Konducta Vol. 5-6: A Tribute To …(Stones Throw), Madlib employed the same collagist techniques with melancholy, loving care. And then there’s the other album Madlib produced this month, Strong Arm Steady’s In Search of Stoney Jackson (Stones Throw). The L.A. group fares somewhat better than Guilty Simpson. Madlib lets their hard-rock rhymes breathe a little, before snuffing them with musical ether


with DJ Shortkut

Fri/29, 10 p.m., $20


119 Utah, SF.

Gone, here


MUSIC No one has ever heard the real Sa-Ra, declares Shafiq Husayn during an evening phone interview. And I believe him.

Formed in 2001 between L.A. musicians Om’mas Keith, Taz Arnold, and Husayn (a former rapper/producer in Ice-T’s Rhyme Syndicate crew), Sa-Ra Creative Partners is more powerful as a myth than an actual group. It emerged in 2004 as part of Kanye West’s ill-fated G.O.O.D. Music venture with Columbia, fomenting buzz for its never-released debut, Black Fuzz. After the group left the label, many fans falsely speculated that Sa-Ra had broken up, dissipating like a midnight dream.

Since then, Sa-Ra Creative Partners has issued two collections of songs, 2007’s The Hollywood Recordings (Babygrande) and this year’s Nuclear Evolution: The Age of Love (Ubiquity) The latter, a magnificent and powerful foray into drug and sex addiction, redemptive spirituality and love as a circadian rhythm, incorporates dozens of musicians both famous (Erykah Badu) and memorably eccentric (Rozzi Daime). Nuclear Evolution, patched together from songs recorded over the past several years, triumphs in spite of its sporadic assembly.

But Husayn, who sometimes refers to himself and Sa-Ra as third-person entities, says he doesn’t consider Nuclear Evolution a cohesive body of work. "Sa-Ra as a group has not released a debut album yet," he explains, perhaps perpetuating that myth himself. After all, wouldn’t a "Sa-Ra" album be the same as "Sa-Ra Creative Partners"? "We’re waiting for the right [distribution] situation to put it out. People are still sluggish, and not understanding." He adds, "What else do we have to do to show people that Sa-Ra is for real?"

So consider Husayn’s recent Shafiq ‘En A-Free-Kah a statement from a man in exile. He’s grateful to work with Plug Research, an L.A. indie best known for developing new artists. He’s also realistic about the small label’s ability to promote his music. "A lot of fans don’t even know that we have albums out," he rues.

Unlike the Sa-Ra Creative Partners collections, Husayn considers his solo debut a full-fledged philosophical treatise.

"’Kah’ in the ancient Kemetic language means spirit. So to be in the spirit of the Most High is infinite, it can’t be circumscribed by anything dealing with time and space. Thoughts originate in the spirit realm. They don’t originate on Earth," he explains. "So ‘en a-free-kah’ is a demonstration of using your higher self as a natural law. Or, as it is on Earth, shall it be in heaven, or as above shall be law, the unification of soul and mind, body and soul, all becoming one in a format of music. This is an album for the free nationals, meaning all in the international community who are not slaves, and when I say slaves, I mean not slaves in the mind, the ones that are open for a difference, for change. It is dedicated to the spirit of freedom."

It’s to Husayn’s credit that Shafiq ‘En A-Free-Kah sounds more fun than a history lesson. It sparkles with allusions to Loft-era disco and French coos ("Le’Star") and bass-bottom blues modernized with clipped electronic edits ("Lil’ Girl"). Protests against nuclear war ("Major Heavy") and fearless activism ("Rebel Soldier") play out against a fusillade of deep soul homage.

Sa-Ra may be the soul equivalent of DFA. While the home of LCD Soundsystem and Hercules and Love Affair rips off old Bohannon disco and Inner City techno tracks, Sa-Ra shamelessly references Sly & the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Going On (1971, Epic). These reinventions soar through canny production tricks and fidelity toward the original’s bright futurism, editing out any postmodern commentary. Husayn’s "Changes," for example, revisits the same synthesized optimism elements as Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book (1972, Tamla/Motown).

But while DFA rules the indie-dance world through a distribution deal with international entertainment conglomerate EMI, Sa-Ra languishes, forced to license projects with modest albeit sympathetic companies. Husayn explains that his group is waiting to partner with a powerful company (ostensibly a major label) before it presents the full Sa-Ra experience.

"Any time Sa-Ra puts some music out, it should be a big deal," he says. "But you can’t know if it’s a big deal if you don’t even know it’s available." Well, now you know.

The sky is his


Call it revenge of the G-funk era.

Yes, the sound that sparked a bicoastal beef and led to the murder of two rap superstars has made a roaring comeback. It invited mimicry (Kriss Kross’ 1992 "Jump" and the Notorious B.I.G.’s 1994 "Big Poppa"); scorn ("It’s the money," DJ Shadow noted with dripping sarcasm as he queued up that bleating keyboard line once more on "Why Hip Hop Sucks in ’96"); and eventually got played-out like flannel shirts and Doc Martens. But now, it has returned. British music fans, always keen on a good nickname, call it "boogie-funk," referencing an additional presence: the early 1980s computer-funk of heroes like George Clinton and Dirty Mind-era Prince. The two scenes and sounds — 1980s post-disco funksters in their outrageously gussied-up costumes and processed hair, and 1990s West Coast hoo-bangers paying homage to their childhood with P-Funk and Isley Brothers samples — seem entirely dissimilar. But Damon Riddick, known as Dam-Funk, bridges the gap.

"I’m not a fad," says Dam-Funk. "I didn’t discover this six months ago. I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s real and sincere. It’s not fake."

With his straightened windswept hair and imposing mustached visage, Dam-Funk looks like a funk lord from the early ’80s — a potential target for Dave Chappelle. But he’s not being ironic. On his new album Toeachiszown (Stones Throw), as synthesized melodies waft about angelically, when he sings the title words of "The Sky is Ours" in a slight falsetto, his emotional sincerity is palpable.

Dam-Funk is both badass L.A. dude and sensitive soul. He misses the "boogie-funk" era, and the svelte keyboard-and-bass-bottom of Mtume’s 1982 "Juicy Fruit" and the Dazz Band’s 1983 "Joystick." It briefly flourished in early-’80s black communities before other forms like hip-hop, house music, smooth jazz, and New Jack Swing buried it. Mostly forgotten by scholars or inaccurately mixed up with disco or house, the "boogie-funk" period rarely drew serious attention until recently.

"What I’m trying to do is further the love of groups like Slave, Aura, One Way, Mtume," says Dam-Funk. "When Run-DMC dropped with "It’s Like That" [in 1983], it was over. Everything went hard, masculine, balls-out, throw your fists in the air, that kind of thing. Now that we got [past] the giddy excitement over that aspect of hip-hop, people are discovering the beautiful chords. It’s okay to do chords that feel good inside."

Dam-Funk’s hip-hop edge comes from playing keyboards for Allfromthai, Mack 10, and other G-funk artists in the late-1990s. His most memorable session was playing on Westside Connection’s 1998 "Let It Reign." "It was crazy to walk in the studio with [Ice] Cube on one end, Mack 10 on the other end with the red shoelaces, WC over at the other end, and there’s about 20 other dudes in the studio, with the weed guy showing up," he laughs. "And cats were so respectful, man. Nobody was really tripping. Everyone looks at those guys like they were hoodlums. But they weren’t. They were just really into music."

Earlier that decade, the man then known as Damon Riddick apprenticed as a teenager with Leon Sylvers, the super-producer behind the Sylvers (1975’s "Boogie People") and black radio hits like Shalamar’s 1979 "The Second Time Around" and the Whispers’ "It’s A Love Thing" (1981). He recorded a few demos with Sylvers. "It didn’t turn into anything, but I still kept in touch with him," Dam-Funk says. "He taught me a lot about production technique."

Dam-Funk’s L.A. swagger pops up in his song titles ("Hood Pass Intact" and "Killdat a.k.a. Killdatmuthafucka") and his postmodern (or post-boogie) approach to early-’80s computer funk. He weaves dense instrumentals that sprawl for up to eight minutes, but tosses in enough slight chord changes to maintain interest. And unlike his boogie-funk predecessors, who maddeningly flitted between brilliant dance floor ragers and sappy slow dance ballads, he sticks to a certain tempo and mines it.

At two-and-a-half-hours and two CDs long, Toeachizown is remarkably inventive. Its spacey, bedazzled vibe rarely changes, but it doesn’t bore, either; it’s like a lovely waltz. On "Keep Lookin’ 2 The Sky," Dam-Funk uses audioprocessing to chant over ascendant synth lines, creating visions of a computer-manned rocketship. "10 West," like so many of the tracks, is quiet and balletic, drawing inspiration from electronic fusion pioneers like Paul Hardcastle.

If G-funk launched Dam-Funk’s career, then Toeachizown launches him into the heavens. "The sounds [are] progressive, hood, fantasy, all those things mixed up," he explains. "1982-slash-2022."


Nov. 24, 9 p.m., $22-25

With Warren G, U-N-I

The Independent

628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421


Collective growth


MUSIC Last December, Anticon celebrated its 10th anniversary with a concert at the Knitting Factory in New York. It was an emotional reunion. Many fans flew from around the world to see a hip-hop collective that hadn’t performed together since a 2002 concert at Slim’s in San Francisco. Peter Agoston, the event’s promoter, says it took a year to pull it together.

This was a far cry from 1999, when most of the original Anticon seven (along with more than a few couch-surfers) lived communally in an East Oakland warehouse. Tim "Sole" Holland, Adam "Dose One" Drucker, Yoni "WHY?" Wolf, Brendon "Alias" Whitney, Jeffrey "Jel" Logan, David "Odd Nosdam" Madson and James Brandon "the Pedestrian" Best sought to revolutionize hip-hop, injecting the art form with absurdist humor and beatnik poetry. Every month, they held court at Rico’s Loft in San Francisco, performing college radio hits like "It’s Them" and "Rainmen" as throngs of Bay Area backpackers shouted along. Doseone, Anticon’s madcap poet, says, "We were crew, posse, label, brotherhood, and boys-club."

A decade later, Anticon has become a brand and a myth. Baillie Parker, who faithfully attended those Rico’s Loft showcases, became an eighth member, label manager, and co-owner in 2001. Slowly (and sometimes painfully), he steered the label toward solvency, streamlining the collective’s unpredictable adventures into a small business. Then he ceded day-to-day responsibilities to his former intern Shaun Koplow, a student at UC Berkeley. After Koplow graduated, he moved back to his native Los Angeles, and now runs the label there.

Today, Anticon Records is surprisingly durable and stylistically varied. Recent albums include melancholy rock (Anathallo’s Canopy Glow, 2008), wintry indietronica (Son Lux’s At War With Walls and Mazes, 2008) and punchy, synthesized instrumental beats (Tobacco’s Fucked Up Friends, 2008).

Meanwhile, the collective that founded the label has splintered and scattered across the country. Some remained in the Bay Area (Dose One, Jel, Odd Nosdam, and Parker) while others moved elsewhere (Sole in Denver, Colorado; Alias in Portland, Maine; and the Pedestrian in Los Angeles; Yoni Wolf is currently "homeless" while he embarks on a months-long tour). They still own the label and make major decisions together. However, each pursues his individual career. Some collaborate, others do not.

What does it all mean? It doesn’t take a Rashomon-like investigation to figure it out. "We all send each other friendly [e-mail] messages every few months, but we’re not like this cult. And I think that’s good," says Sole. "When we tried to be a cult, we realized that none of us made very good cult members."


Anticon’s symbol is an ant, designed by Aaron Horkey of Burlesque Design. Ant-icon. The name comes from the Pedestrian, a Los Angeles native, and Sole, who grew up in Portland, Maine. The two met in 1992 on a Prodigy message board for cassette trading. Both were avid tape collectors, the lingua franca for music dispersion before the Napster era. They bonded over a love for the Los Angeles scene, where Freestyle Fellowship and the Shapeshifters pioneered speed-rapping and obtuse, free-associative rhymes; early Midwest battle-rap crews like Atmosphere and 1200 Hobos; and obscure Canadian groups like the Sebutones.

Anticon coalesced around a series of fortuitous happenings. Alias and Sole met when both lived in Portland; there was the 1997 Scribble Jam, famous in rap circles for its battle between Dose One and a pre-Slim Shady Eminem; Doseone’s frenzied networking skills brought him in touch with Jel, and then Sole; and Dose One made fast friends with WHY? and Odd Nosdam when he lived in Cincinnati in the late 1990s.

After Sole and the Pedestrian came up with the Anticon concept in 1998, Sole moved to Oakland to work for The rest of the crew eventually followed him there. "I was making $50,000 a year during the dot-com rush," he says. "I didn’t have any expenses, so I just put all the money into starting the label."

Anticon’s first release, 1999’s Music for the Advanced Hip Hop Listener EP was an invitation and a challenge, with Alias’ "Divine Disappointment," which imagines an argument between father and son, and "Holy Shit," a posse track marked by precociously off-kilter rap flows. A compilation, Music for the Advancement of Hip-Hop, followed later that year. "For me, it was about representing these underground aesthetic movements," says the Pedestrian.

But the only song anyone remembers from those records was Sole’s missive "Dear Elpee." On the surface, it was a battle record directed at El Producto, the incredibly talented rapper/producer whose group Company Flow recorded the 1997 opus Funcrusher Plus. El-P memorably coined the term "independent as fuck" to distance himself from mainstream rap, then lost in the throes of Puff Daddy’s hyper-commercial "jiggy" era. But Sole saw hypocrisy in East Coast tastemakers such as Rawkus Records, which distributed Company Flow’s records. He felt they excluded anyone who didn’t live in New York City, and was disgusted at how they extolled "independent" virtues while launching sophisticated marketing campaigns to promote themselves.

"Dear Elpee" wasn’t just a dis against a popular rapper, it was a distillation of Anticon’s scrappy, outsider stance. "Underground hip-hop is a mentality. It’s not supposed to be commercial. You’re supposed to spit an 80-bar verse and people are going to love it," says Sole. "I felt like [hip-hop] needed a little chin check."

On his subsequent two solo albums, 1999’s Bottle of Humans and 2001’s Selling Live Water, Sole honed his sarcastic and brutally honest persona. He criticized himself and attacked his unnamed enemies, exposing thoughts of paranoia and depression. With songs like the brilliantly melancholy title track, he sowed the seeds of what would later become known as "emo rap."

Meanwhile, Jel and Odd Nosdam (along with other producers such as Alias and DJ Mayonnaise) drew from a wide breadth of influences, from orchestral rock like Radiohead and Flying Saucer Attack to electronic acts like Boards of Canada. They made tracks using rudimentary equipment, including 4-track and 8-track recorders and SP-1200 sampling keyboards, resulting in songs that expounded a murky and intimate low-fi aesthetic.

Anticon’s recordings were imbued with a childlike playfulness. In 1998, Sole, Doseone, and Alias collaborated with Minneapolis rapper Slug [from Rhymesayers group Atmosphere] under the name Deep Puddle Dynamics. Alias explains the concept: "[The group name is] in reference to puddles … because of how they form, you sometimes can’t tell how deep they are until you stand in them or observe them really closely."

Deep Puddle Dynamics’ 1999 album, The Taste of Rain … Why Kneel (a title inspired by Jack Kerouac’s poem "Some Western Haiku"), mixed wide-eyed abstraction with introspective thoughts. On the yearning "June 26, 1998," they trade lines until their voices became a kind of Greek chorus. "What is the meaning of life?" they chant. "Fortune, health, knowledge, success / Woman, man, trust, progress / Culture, faith, healing, destiny / Endurance, family, science, society."

"It was so inspiring to be around those cats and see how they operate," says Alias of those recording sessions. His shy New England demeanor contrasted sharply with Doseone and Sole’s bravado. "It’s weird to go back and listen to it now. … It shows its age, and it shows its awkwardness."

However, Anticon’s precocious search for deeper truths through hip-hop, a genre often maligned for its lack of intellectual discourse, endeared them to listeners around the world. The collective helped spark a cottage industry of aspiring rappers, a sensibility built around tweaked flows and five-minute soliloquies, and nourished a brief, exhilarating moment of hip-hop experimentalism in the early 2000s.

Alias says, "I’ve been at shows and had kids come up and tell me how much my music has meant to them. They’ll tell me stories like when their father passed away, all they did was listen to ‘Watching Water’ [from The Other Side of the Looking Glass, 2002] for a week. Then they’ll show me that they have these Anticon-related tattoos or something. It’s crazy. It makes me feel embarrassed."


If Sole is the blustery visionary who led Anticon into war, then Doseone is the eccentric who personifies its unfettered creativity. His catalog, issued via several record labels, ranges from the bleak tone poems of Circle, his 2000 album with producer Boom Bip; to Subtle, a band formed with Jel and keyboardist Dax Pierson. Over the course of three albums (including 2008’s Exiting Arm), Subtle molded rap, electronics, rock, jazz-fusion and whatever else they could find into a searing and dense whirlwind of word and sound.

"We were artists’ artists without a doubt. Still are," says Doseone. "It was DIY … and you could hear the flaws, the sensitivities, the trying-something-new, even when it was over the top or egregious."

Doseone’s strangely disembodied, half-sung raps epitomized Anticon’s greatness as an offbeat take on hip-hop culture. It should have made a bigger impact on the rap industry, and there are several reasons why it didn’t. First, Sole’s battle with the iconic El-P, whose music was just as experimental and groundbreaking as anything Anticon made, turned many people against him. And yes, Anticon was undoubtedly too weird for a generation raised on 2Pac and Jay-Z.

Most damaging were assumptions that Anticon was full of rich, ego-driven art-school snobs who made hip-hop for white people.

Those accusations struck Jel as funny. The Midwest native has been devoted to hip-hop for most of his life, and his placid, straightforward demeanor results from a staunchly lower-middle-class background. "All the shit that came out of nowhere about us not paying dues all comes from the racism that was involved," he says.

The Pedestrian admits that part of the problem was attitude. "When we were doing that whole pretentious ‘Music for the Advancement of Hip-Hop’ shit, for me it was about representing these underground aesthetic movements," he says. "I didn’t imagine we would look as white as we did. It really surprised the shit out of me. And in retrospect, we should have done things differently.

"In those early years, the crowd was pretty fucking white," he continued. "I know there was definitely a consciousness about it — we were thinking about it. But we were fucking kids. We didn’t know how to deal with these really difficult situations."

By the summer of 2002, when Anticon held a series of come-to-Jesus meetings to determine the label’s future, all of its members realized they weren’t a hive-mind group of crazy MCs à la Wu-Tang Clan (with Sole as the RZA), but eight very different people. Wolf, whose esoteric music masks a highly disciplined songwriting approach, felt those aspirations were "unrealistic." "There was almost a utopian idea about record-making, that it could almost be a socialist affair," he says.

As Anticon evolved from a movement into a traditional company, it meandered creatively and financially. Some released material that paled in comparison to past efforts (Sole’s Live from Rome, 2005). New signings, such as indie-pop multi-instrumentalist Dosh (self-titled, 2003) struggled to gain recognition for music that had nothing to do with hip-hop. Eventually, though, Anticon Records learned how to promote releases by its onetime collective as well as its growing indie-rock and electronic roster.

"The way it’s perceived by artists, particularly rock artists, I think they see it as a natural progression," says Sole of Anticon Records’ development. "All the outside-of-hip-hop-world friends we’ve made over the years see it as a natural evolution because what we’ve done has always been pretty melodic and rock and musical anyway."

Some of the onetime "cult" members who felt overshadowed during those early years forged individual identities. Alias, who always felt "awkward" when he rapped, moved back to Maine with his wife and focused on production instead. His efforts yielded 2007’s Brooklyn/Oaklyn, an evocative collaboration with Brooklyn singer Rona "Tarsier" Rapadas.

After a somewhat uneven solo debut (2003’s Oaklandazulasylum), Wolf formed a trio under his old WHY? moniker. Their next two albums (Elephant Eyelash, 2005; Alopecia, 2008) impressively blended Wolf’s prior talent for harmonies, loquacious wordplay, and poetic imagery with the band’s newly-minted melodic rock arrangements. By scoring rapturous national press, he epitomized Anticon Records’ new status as a fast-rising independent label.

WHY? just released its fourth album, Eskimo Snow, which consists of unused material from the Alopecia sessions. Wolf still does a fair amount of rapping, or rhyming in rhythm, even if the results can no longer be classified as strictly hip-hop. "I’ve incorporated it into my pantheon of musical styles," he says, adding that "the next record could be a disco record, for all I know."


Anticon hasn’t abandoned hip-hop. Doseone and Jel just released their third album as the cryptically-named Themselves; their 2000 debut was notable for producing the indie-rap classic "It’s Them." With CrownsDown, Doseone returns to the arena he once flourished in. "There’s purity to the construction and presentation of this record that is derived from Guru and Premier," Doseone says, referring to the classic rap duo Gang Starr.

This year has also brought Chicago duo Serengeti & Polyphonic’s Terradactyl; and Bike for Three!, a collaboration between Buck 65 (formerly of Sebutones) and Belgian electronic musician Greetings from Tuskan. The difference between now and 10 years ago is that these albums aren’t the latest missives from Anticon the collective. They just enhance the label’s reputation for honest, lyrically-driven, complex music.

Amid all this activity, Anticon’s original theorists seem like the odd men out. Back in the day, the Pedestrian was the crew’s sardonic (and sometimes arrogant) prankster, sending out eloquent and confrontational press releases inspired by Dadaism and Situational Ethics. By 2002, however, the former high-school dropout went back to school, enrolling in Laney College. He transferred to UC Berkeley, earned a degree in literature, then enrolled at the University of Southern California, where he’s working on a PhD in ethnic studies.

"There was once an aesthetic collective. And now we’re a record label whose brand name has some lingering connection to that aesthetic," says the Pedestrian, who still treats hip-hop as a hobby and elaborate game theory. "But what we decide to put out and the music we all make is infused with those early years of collaboration. Those were important, foundational years for all of us."

Sole lives in Denver with his wife, and works as an IT technician for Denver Open Media, a public-access station. "It’s not my label anymore. I’m just one voice in it, and I try to contribute as meaningfully as I can to it," he says, adding that he wishes Anticon had a traditional rap profile. So for his new album, Plastique, he decided to work with Fake Four Inc., home to underground artists like Awol One and Mikah 9 (from Freestyle Fellowship).

With Plastique, he focuses on a wide-ranging critique of political injustice, capitalism, and Western hegemony, fed by radical works like Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. Sometimes, Sole fits the American lone wolf profile, railing about the world’s troubles.
"Do I wish it was still a crew? Yeah. I miss that. To me, that’s what it’s all about," he says. "But when you’re married, you don’t want to be hanging out all the time. You want to be home, making a stew and watching Heroes."

With Mount Eerie, Au, Serengetti and Polyphonic
Sat/17, 9 p.m. (doors 8 p.m.), $16
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
(415) 885-0750

With Astronautalis, Sahib
Sat/17, 10 p.m. (doors 9 p.m.), $10-12
Uptown Nightclub
1928 Telegraph, Oakl
(510) 451-8100

De La Soul is alive


CHECK ONE Last night, I played De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising (Tommy Boy/Warner Bros., 1989) for the first time in years. I couldn’t stop laughing.

It was a surprise, even though I always knew that much of De La Soul’s early appeal rested on its humor. Kelvin “Posdnous” Mercer spelled “soundsop” backwards; Dave “Trugoy the Dove” Jolicoeur loved yogurt. (He’s pictured eating yogurt in the album’s liner notes.) They complained about style biters who dug “Potholes in My Lawn”; and called their loopy, circuitous jams “Plug Tunin’.” There were references to soap, water, and Luden’s cough drops. In the first of several “game show” skits that bookended the album, Trugoy remarked that his favorite film was the 1976 sex-and-torture spectacle Bloodsucking Freaks. Twenty years later, De La Soul’s private language — or, to be accurate, “DA Inner Sound Y’all (D.A.I.S.Y. Age)” — still sounds fresh and crazily absurd.

Mainstream rock critics, suspicious of all that hippity-hop stuff, welcomed 3 Feet with restrained praise at first: Rolling Stone, in one of its historic blunders, only gave the album three stars while acknowledging it as “one of the most original rap albums ever.” The yellow-and-turquoise-daisies album art and MTV hype obscured De La Soul’s sharply intelligent sendups of go-go (“Do As De La Does”) and rap clichés (“Take It Off,” which parodied the then-ubiquitous “Funky Drummer” loop). Today, irony is so entrenched in the Generation X-Y-and-Zero lexicon that we forget how pleasurable it is when it’s done right.

Unfortunately, the good vibes quickly turned sour. Shortly after the album’s release, De La Soul ended an Arsenio Hall appearance with “Ain’t Hip to Be Labeled a Hippie,” a refrain first voiced on “Me, Myself and I.” The 1991 follow-up De La Soul is Dead offered a smashed flowerpot and tales of how the crew nearly got kicked off LL Cool J’s tour for fighting, just to prove that, hey, they ain’t no punks. Goofy odes to weed-smoking jostled uneasily with cautionary tales of child abuse and murder. The playful spirit of hip-hop’s so-called golden age was gone, another casualty in the oncoming storm of street realism and gangster aesthetics. (Mosi Reeves)

CHECK TWO I’d dug “Plug Tunin'” when I chanced across it on a mixtape from somewhere. This flow — this new style of speak — was shrouded in slang, occulted, and backed by a sound collage that seemed conjured from a basement where a rusty Victrola played the memories of an old man nodding off in his Lay-Z-Boy.

My boys hated that song. I loved it, but I didn’t “get it.” Armed with more fashion-sense than any of us knew what to do with, Marlon looked over at me and said, “You really like these Oklahoma muthafuckas?” Yes I did. Brothers was dope. From Strong Island, and dope. Rakim dope.

One Sunday, I was cleaning up my place to 3 Feet High and Rising and ran across a roach in an ashtray. Sprawled out on the couch watching the sun stream through my dirty windows, I “got” De La Soul. Every word was deciphered. It felt as if I’d learned a new language, or remembered an old one.

Things changed after that.

The 20th anniversary of De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising is a cause for celebration. Anyone else feeling vindicated?

Kelvin “Posdnous” Mercer, David “Trugoy the Dove” Jolicoeur, and Vincent “PA Mase” Mason have chronicled the last 20 years through nine studio albums and countless production credits (Camp Lo, Gorillaz and MF DOOM among them). Prince Paul produced them, and in turn their popularity produced Prince Paul. They introduced a sleeping world to the black gale known as Mos Def.

De La is coming back to San Francisco. Witness genius at work. (D. Scot Miller)


With Kenan Bell

Thurs/23, 9 p.m., $29.50

The Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

(415) 346-6000

Stoned love



PROFILE "It’s a new wave, and a new positive light," says Kid Cudi of rap’s vaunted new generation. "It’s a different time now. [Jay-Z] was raised in the ’80s when shit was bad. And we grew up when times were much better."

Kid Cudi explains this while riding in a car from Manhattan to upstate New York. Earlier that morning, he appeared on MTV’s talk show It’s On with Alexa Chung, and now he’s en route to Camp Bisco, a three-day camping and music festival in Mariaville, N.Y. The next day, he’ll return to the road and "the Great Hangover," a national tour alongside Asher Roth, Pacific Division, B.O.B. and other purveyors of rap’s fresh optimism.

"Day ‘N’ Nite," Kid Cudi’s laconic ode to smoked-out surrealism, pipes out of car radios everywhere. "The lonely stoner seems to free his mind at night," he sings with the chopped, slightly off-tune delivery of a rapper on holiday as producer Dot Da Genius’ spacey electronic beat blips and bloops. Harmonizing rappers isn’t a recent trend, of course, but by focusing on his weed-induced daydreams, Kid Cudi blazes uncharted territory. He tickles the intellect with "dat new new." Radio stations usually censor the word "stoner," but it’s the only element that fits within pop radio’s Babylon of hormonal sexploitation and sophomoric debauchery.

Leaked to Websites and blogs in the fall of 2007 and officially issued by Fool’s Gold Records in early 2008, "Day ‘N’ Nite" took over a year to float into the Top 5 of Billboard‘s singles chart. It’s the best proof yet that the "leaders of the new school" phenomenon isn’t a blog-concocted fantasy. For the past year, such superlatives have followed a wave of fresh-faced emcees and producers flooding the Web with unauthorized "remixes" of pop hits, freestyles, hastily-recorded demos, and periodic mixtapes to collect it all. Until now, with the recent success of "Day ‘N’ Nite," Drake’s "Best I Ever Had" and Roth’s "I Love College," it sometimes seemed like meaningless ephemera, just content for blogs and Web sites (and even some traditional magazines) that demonstrate their marketing skills to win ad dollars.

At the center of it is Scott Mescudi, a Cleveland-raised, Brooklyn-based 25-year-old who professes crippling shyness. "I’ve always been a loner. I always felt like I needed to be alone sometimes to think and meditate a lot," he says. "I know a lot of people feel the same thing. It’s important to address these issues on record because you don’t hear other rappers speaking on behalf of people like that."

Sorry, but these revelations aren’t a Guardian "exclusive." Cudi has repeated this in numerous interviews and in posts on his frequently updated blog, It’s part reality, part image-building. His societal alienation dominates the 2008 mixtape A Kid Named Cudi. "Embrace the Martian," he harmonizes." "I come in peace, but I need you rocking with me." His quest for fame and fortune alternates as a path of redemption, a triumph over the haters and ex-girlfriends who doubted him. "I just kill a bitch with success," he crows on "Save My Soul (The Cudi Anthem)." "While she at home stressed out eating ice cream, I’m at the Grammy’s, living out a nice dream."

Cudi says he’s a child of urban pop who grew up with a steady diet of mainstream hip hop and R&B. "I was influenced by my older siblings and what they listened to," says Cudi, who is the youngest of four. "I was able to get into R&B because my sister was into New Edition and Al B. Sure. My oldest brother was into the Pharcyde and a Tribe Called Quest. My middle brother was into UGK, No Limit, Snoop Dogg, and NWA."

Cudi admittedly slept on the indie scene of the late ’90s that paved the trail for today’s alternative up-and-comers. Unlike Mos Def, he didn’t press up 12-inches and sell them to record stores on consignment. Instead he hooked up with a former Def Jam executive (current manager Patrick "Plain" Reynolds) and launched his A Kid Named Cudi mixtape across the Web’s biggest music sites.

Currently slated for Sept. 15 release, Cudi’s Man on the Moon: The End of Day (Mtown), probably won’t disprove the notion that he’s a suburban rapper who has experienced little struggle. But maybe that’s the point. By not pretending to be a ghetto Horatio Alger, he’s free to expand our view of blackness, and hip-hop in particular. The harmonizing vocals, the introspective rhymes, and the hormonally driven R&B (rap & blues) add up to someone who explores hip-hop as a state of mind rather than an inconvertible, street-anchored style. "My whole thing is expressing yourself in any way possible."


With B.O.B., 88 Keys

Fri/24, 8 p.m., $27.50

Regency Ballroom

1300 Van Ness, SF

(415) 673-5716

Kode 9, Spaceape


PREVIEW "The mainstream of dubstep is becoming such an abortion," Kode 9 complained to electronic music advocate (and former Bay Area writer) Philip Sherburne in an interview. It’s a curious statement from someone who is being marketed (along with Burial, Skream, Benga, and a handful of others) as leaders of the dubstep incursion, a hybridization of 2-step garage, jungle breaks at half-speed and good ol’ ragga. (It’s the amalgamation of "dub" and "step.") Only two years after Burial’s Untrue (Hyperdub) brought pop’s cool-hunters to this bastard genre, it seems, dubstep is already eating itself.

U.K. electronic music (and its Anglophile offshoot) is herded by theorists, and Steve "Kode 9" Goodman is one of them. He has a doctorate in philosophy, and recently received a commission from the New Museum of Contemporary Art’s Rhizome technology initiative for a forthcoming documentary, Unsound Systems, that explores the use of sound as psychological weapon. His record label, Hyperdub, started out as a Web site spotlighting futurists like Kodwo Eshun and was responsible for the aforementioned Untrue as well as Zomby’s recent spin on ’90s ‘ardkore dynamics, Where Were You in ’92? (Werk).

Kode 9’s first collection, 2006’s Memories of the Future, pairs bleak echoing tones with pummeling bass thuds. One popular track, "Sine," finds vocalist Spaceape reinterpreting Prince’s "Sign O’ The Times" as dread intonation: "Sign o’ the times mess with your mind, hurry before it’s too late."

Declaring that a scene is "over" just as the great unwashed embraces it — recent dubstep parties in San Francisco have packed dance floors — seems particularly snotty and perverse. But by disappearing into thicker brush, Kode 9 stays ahead of pop mediocrity. His new singles, particularly "Black Sun / 2 Far Gone," add melancholic melodies and popping bass, retracing a path back to 2-step. Accordingly, U.K. critics have made it an example of a silly new subgenre called "funky." (George Clinton would laugh at that one.)

All this ideological shoegazing shouldn’t distract you from enjoying Kode 9’s tunes. But it should tell you that U.K. electronic music has traveled very far up its own arse. "I think U.K. electronic music is a bit of a mess right now and very microsegmented, to be honest," said Kode 9 in the eMusic interview. "But there are some lines of intersection that are promising."

THE FUTURE: KODE 9, SPACEAPE, THE FLYING SKULLS Fri/10, 10 p.m., $10 (advance). 103 Harriet, 103 Harriet, SF. (415) 431-8609.

Kingston nights



Everybody loves bounce. It persists as a state of mind, an epiphany of sexual exhibitionism and physical delirium: Baltimore club and San Francisco’s hyphy movement; Rio de Janeiro’s baile funk to Puerto Rican reggaeton; and London grime and dubstep to Berliners’ dub.

Philadelphia label owner, producer, filmmaker, and occasional journalist Wesley "Diplo" Pentz has probably done more than any other American DJ to popularize the notion of club music as an international phenomenon with common roots and regionally distinct varieties. Last year, Paste magazine claimed he "has updated the template set by 20th century song hunter Alan Lomax." Much like Lomax, Diplo has brought "undiscovered talent" to Western ears, from his early championing of Atlanta crunk as one-half of the pioneering DJ duo Hollertronix to his support of Brazilian rappers Bonde Do Role. However, just because he brings those artists to hipsters’ attention doesn’t mean they aren’t successful within their Third World communities.

Yet even if some myths of cross-cultural exchange persist, they aren’t fraught with as much racial tension as in Lomax’s day. This leads us to Diplo’s latest project, Major Lazer, with U.K. producer Dave "Switch" Loveys. The two traveled to Kingston, Jamaica, last year, recording with dancehall and reggae stars such as Turbulence, Mr. Vegas, Vybz Kartel, and Prince Zimboo at the Marley family’s legendary Tuff Gong Studios. The resulting Guns Don’t Kill People … Lazers Do (Downtown) is a wildly libidinous dance party, a hymn to club nights where pussies pop and guns blaze.

"We both concluded that there’s a lot of talent in Jamaica that isn’t really being exposed at the moment," Switch says from New York City. Many of Major Lazer’s Jamaican collaborators — including T.O.K., author of the infamous gay-bashing anthem "Chi Chi Man" — have had U.S. deals in the past. However, with the music industry’s continuing decline, U.K. label Greensleeves’ meltdown and purchase by equally troubled imprint VP Records, and the cyclical nature of Jamaican music’s popularity, they haven’t received as much attention as in the recent past. "All we’ve tried to do is expose the talent … on a more global scale than just in Jamaica," Switch says.

Switch is the lesser-known of the Major Lazer squad. He first drew recognition in West London for producing garage house tracks. He called his work "fidget house," and the term stuck: the English love their nomenclature. A U.S. trip to work with Spank Rock and Amanda Blank inadvertently led to credits on Santogold’s "Creator," a major hit that, coupled with his widely-acclaimed contributions to M.I.A.’s Arular (Interscope, 2005), helped fuel the Major Lazer project. "Now when we approach things, people are more willing to trust us when we want to make it a little bit more quirky," Switch says.

Both producers have traveled to Jamaica before. Diplo has released material by JA artists like Ms. Thing on his Mad Decent label, while Switch announces his love for the hot Kingston street party Passa Passa. After the two returned to the U.S. to assemble Major Lazer’s debut "in little bits" between other DJ and production gigs, word of the project leaked out to their American friends. "As soon as they heard we were putting it together seriously, they were, like, if you need any help, let us know," Switch says.

Perhaps the best parts of Guns Don’t Kill People … Lazers Do come when their American friends nestle against their Jamaican counterparts: Amanda Blank answers slack rapper Einstein with an equally filthy rhyme on "What U Like"; Brooklyn singer Jah Dan kicks a conscious flow on "Cash Flow"; and criminally underrated harmony sisters Nina Sky sing coquettishly on "Keep It Goin’." Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate our bouncement artists until you hear them hold their own with their Jamaican counterparts, like when Santogold chants a hook for Mr. Lexx’s gruff war chant on "Hold the Line." It’s then that you realize that club music’s lingua franca — swagger, sex, and having fun — has no borders.

Meanwhile, the cover art for Guns Don’t Kill People … Lazers Do pays homage to the comic art found on the back covers of old Jamaican albums like Scientist Meets the Space Invaders (Greensleeves, 1981) and the Upsetters’ Super Ape (Mob Entertainment, 2006). "Major Lazer is basically a fictional character we dreamt up to give this whole project we did down in Jamaica an identity, rather than it just being me and Wes — two white guys going down to Jamaica and trying to make a record," Switch says. "We tried to make it a little more fun."


Fri/26, 9 p.m., $26

Regency Ballroom

1300 Van Ness, SF

(415) 673-5716

Musical, political, alchemical



Quick, name a magus of the female persuasion, a black sorceress who wields sound like a talisman. The first image we have of Erykah Badu is her calmly walking on stage during the summer of 1997, lighting a series of candles to begin the ceremony. She would summon ghosts: Billie Holliday, the Nation of the Gods and the Earths, scruffy B-boys on a street corner. Her band — on her debut Baduizm (Kedar/Universal Motown, 1997), it is often neo-soul locus the Roots — played balletic grooves at a languid pace. She was a strangely beautiful apparition, a high priestess of soul.

Ever since, Badu has embraced and chafed at her mystical reputation. In 1998 she appeared in the mediocre coming-of-age flick The Cider House Rules as — guess what? — a voodun priestess. Meanwhile her romances with Andre 3000, Common, and, lately, Texas rap prospect Jay Electronica (with whom she recently had a child) have occasionally made her a target of the hip-hop paparazzi. She’s bragged in interviews of her prowess as a mackstress; other times, she’s refused to comment on her private life.

On last year’s Universal/Motown release New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), Badu finally seems at peace with her eccentricities. Past albums exhausted her former glories for fresh inspiration: 2003’s Worldwide Underground (Motown) included "Danger," which opens with a refrain from Baduizm‘s second single, "Otherside of the Game." Its intro track "World Keeps Turnin’" returns to the "on and on" lullaby of "On & On," Baduizm‘s Five Percenter-quoting breakout single ("And on and on and on, my cipher keeps moving like a rolling stone"). New Amerykah doesn’t look backward. Its starkly illustrated theme — a woman standing strong amid a world roiling in war and chaos — uneasily imagines the future present.

"This year I turn 36," Badu sings on the elegiac "Me." "Damn it seems it came so quick, my ass and legs have gotten thick. It’s all me." Thankfully Badu hasn’t settled into an adult contemporary middle-age, singing baby-making ballads for grown-ups. Few of her 1990s peers kept pace: last year, Spin magazine noted that D’Angelo, Maxwell, Lauryn Hill, and others from the neo-soul generation have mostly disappeared from view. But while Maxwell is drawing SRO audiences as he tours the country in preparation for BLACKsummers’night‘s July 7 release, and D’Angelo plans a similar comeback in the fall, it’s doubtful either will match Badu’s fiercely creative restlessness.

For New Amerykah, she turns to her artistic sons and daughters, musicians who used her blazing example to reinvigorate underground soul. The L.A. music collective Sa-Ra Creative Partners helm several tracks and 9th Wonder produces "Honey," a luscious love song that closes New Amerykah on an optimistic note. Wiggy soul-jazz aesthete Georgia Anne Muldrow appears on "Master Teacher," a heartbreaking yearning for positive influences in the black community. "A beautiful world is hard to find," sings Muldrow. "What if there was no niggas, only master teachers? I’d stay woke."

"Master Teacher" has been viewed as a tribute to Dr. Malachi Z. York, an esoteric philosopher whose mix of Egyptology, Islam and other pan-African ideas influenced Badu and other hip hop and R&B artists in the 1990s. (He was arrested and convicted for child molestation in 2004, and is currently serving a life sentence.) But without blunting the song’s original intent — many of "Master Teacher" York’s supporters believe he’s the target of a government conspiracy — it seems clear that Badu is the master teacher. Throughout her career, Badu has demonstrated a knack for communicating hardcore black ideologies in universal terms, educating and subverting her mainstream audience. She has always worked in alchemical ways. But with the arrival of New Amerykah, she finally turned the focus away from herself.

"Humdililah, Allah, Jehovah, Yaweh, Dios, Maat, Jah, Ras Tafari, fire, dance sex music, hip hop," Badu sings on "The Healer." "It’s bigger than religion, hip hop. This one is for Dilla."


Sat/6 9 p.m., $60

Warfield Theatre

982 Market, SF

(800) 745-3000

Ding dong, Wicked Witch is alive


AFRO-SURREAL What was black music like before hip-hop took over? On Chaos: 1978-86 (EM), a compilation of private press recordings by the obscure machine funk guitarist Wicked Witch, it resembles squelching synthesizers riffed like rock guitars and deep, rumbling bass stomps. Unevenly tuned fretboard licks mash with splashing, polyphonic drum patterns as a mysterious leading man uncomfortably murmurs lyrics like "I just can’t hang out, too much time is lost."

As a young guitarist hooked on Cream, Sun Ra, and Weather Report who mostly played for family and friends in southeast Washington, D.C., Wicked Witch’s Richard Simms didn’t achieve local fame, much less a national audience. But his subterranean woodshedding reverberates with tremors from an industry in upheaval. Musicians adopted electronic equipment en masse, supplanting the flowery string arrangements of 1970s disco with keyboards and drum programming. It wasn’t just black musicians transitioning to the computer age: early-1980s rock offers contrasts between lush new romanticism (Human League, Duran Duran) and crass arena sounds (Foreigner, REO Speedwagon). While the latter is celebrated via redundant VH-1 retrospectives and football stadium soundtracks, early-1980s black music and its heroes (the System, Imagination) remain unexplored.

Nelson George describes the period in 1988’s authoritative history The Death of Rhythm & Blues. "Synthesizers of every description, drum machines, and plain old electric keyboards began making MFSB and other human rhythm sections nonessential to the recording process," he writes, somewhat overstating his case. "There were so many … with all the personality and warmth of a microwave."

George’s "microwave music" condemnation still resonates, and this crucial period of black music — just before the hip-hop, R&B and quiet storm era — has largely escaped serious critical attention, save for disco aficionados who cherry-pick proto-house music stars like D-Train and Larry Levan. Meanwhile, Wicked Witch’s unintended documentation of the black new wave — meshing machine gun funk with spacey keyboard ambience on "Fancy Dancer," giving a shambolic twist to Mahavishnu Orchestra-style jazz fusion on "Vera’s Back" — has reemerged on the collector’s market. Simms’ private press singles, which include two 7-inches and a 12-inch long player, have been bootlegged. Original copies trade for $100. This probably led EM, a Japanese specialty label, to contact Simms and assemble Chaos.

"It wasn’t commercial," Simms said during a recent phone conversation. Forced Exposure, the Boston distributor handling Chaos, had passed on his information, but it took more than two weeks to finally reach him. Though pleasantly surprised by the novelty of an interview, he’s somewhat suspicious of the affair. When asked how many copies he pressed up, he shoots back, "Why are you inquiring about that?" as if this writer, armed with a copy of Goldmine magazine, wants to corner the market on Wicked Witch collectibles. And how did Simms come up with the name Wicked Witch anyway? "I’m stumped on that one," he says. "I think I wanted something dramatic, like theater."

Simms remembers forming his first band, Paradiagm with teenage friends "on an original-type kick" from around the area. The group recorded the track "Vera’s Back" before going their separate ways. "We were trying to do an original act, but people didn’t really accept it," he says. Chuck Brown’s ingenious go-go style, an amalgamation of James Brown’s call-and-response breaks and N’awlins marching band jazz, reigned as D.C.’s unofficial soundtrack. And since Paradiagm wasn’t a go-go band and didn’t play covers of radio hits, they couldn’t get bookings: "It was too hard to break new material." Simms managed to reach the manager of Return to Forever, Chick Corea’s jazz fusion superstar collective. But he says, mysteriously, "We did vocals, and they weren’t doing no vocals."

After that came Wicked Witch, which Simms describes as a "studio thing" where he worked out his musical ideas and recorded them. Yet even that was relatively short-lived. "My background is jazz fusion," Simms says. For Wicked Witch, he tried to merge fusion and funk, resulting in tracks with cryptic time signatures and spaced-out melodies. "If it was more funky, I think it would have been it. But it wasn’t funky enough. But I still dig it."

By the mid-1980s, the leather-clad hero of "Fancy Dancer" disappeared in the Chocolate City, just as the hip-hop era had begun. "Kids, a job, other things you gotta do … all of the above got put on top of the music. And then the music became close to nothing," Simms says. Before that happened, however, he pressed up those now-collectible records for himself. "Nobody was doing it for me, so I might as well do something on my own, right?"

More meaner, more cleaner


› a&

"We’re not elitists," asserts Nick Catchdubs, co-founder of Brooklyn dance label Fool’s Gold. In a conference call with business partner A-Trak, he describes Fool’s Gold fans as a sea of hip-hop dudes, skinny-jeans-electro kids, super DJ nerds and Urban Outfitters girls. "The tempos and the beats-per-minute are the only governing factor," adds A-Trak.

You could say that Fool’s Gold is fomenting a cultural moment. After years of dismissing it as cheesy and "gay," rap fans have finally, tentatively, learned to accept dance music. Kanye West landed a number one hit with "Stronger" by remixing Daft Punk’s 2001 "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger." A-Trak, the other co-founder of Fool’s Gold, is Kanye’s tour DJ. And Washington, DC rapper Wale drove the Internet nuts with his remix of Justice’s "D.A.N.C.E." Catchdubs mixed 100 Miles and Running, the Wale mixtape which featured that viral hit.

Fool’s Gold works with many of the era’s players: Kid Sister, who scored the label’s first successes with clever pop-raps "Damn Girl" and "Pro Nails" (and is A-Trak’s girlfriend); Trackademicks, the Yay Area electro-funk producer-rapper who celebrated the release of the single "Enjoy What You Do" at SF nightspot Vessel last month; and Treasure Fingers, the Atlanta DJ who scored a disco-house smash last year with "Cross The Dancefloor." Its biggest hit to date, though, has been Kid Cudi’s "Day ‘N’ Nite," a lonely-stoner gem that mixes Cudi’s off-key harmonizing against winsome electro melancholy. A-Trak doesn’t have exact figures, but he places digital sales at around 100,000, which he rightly describes as "cool for an indie like us."

Kid Cudi was the first Fool’s Gold artist to win over difficult-to-please hip-hop blogs, which sometimes ridiculed Kid Sister as too fluffy and trendy (perhaps in part because she’s a woman). During Kid Sister’s run of singles in 2007, which eventually landed her a major label deal with Downtown Records, skeptics didn’t know what to make of her or Fool’s Gold — was she some kind of hipster rapper, and was Fool’s Gold just a goofy imprint for fashion-challenged scenesters?

"When we first started the label, we would do all these weird interviews, like, ‘Talk about the hipster rap movement.’ Just bizarre interviews where people would talk about your jeans and sneakers and shit," says A-Trak. "One year later, we hardly ever get those questions. It takes a minute for stuff to assimilate. I think people know that some stuff is trendy and is going to float away like all trends do. But a lot of times it’s just culture at work: ideas coming out and getting assimilated, and then people move on to the next shit."

Fool’s Gold’s greatest ambassador may be A-Trak. A DJ star since the age of 15, when he shocked the then-thriving turntablist world by winning the 1997 DMC World Championships, A-Trak has grown into an influential artist. In the next two months he’ll release DJ mixes for two reputed dance labels, Thrive (Infinity +1, due March 31) and Fabric (Fabriclive.31, set for May 5). His transition from scratch-happy hip-hop head to genre-blurring tastemaker is one that Fool’s Gold might follow.

"The whole aesthetic of Fool’s Gold is based on what Nick and I play in our DJ sets," says A-Trak. "What we put out is really varied, but it all kind of makes sense."


with Trackademics, Vin Sol

Sat/21, 9pm, $13

Paradise Lounge

1501 Folsom St, SF