Sunday, July 1, 2012


In 1999, in-between classes and digging for records, I was fortunate enough to be writing for a cool Chico rag called The Synthesis [still waiting for Dick Steele’s column to be published in book form!] I was even more fortunate to have the illest editor in the game –Max Sidman - listen to and accept my proposed ideas for stories, except for one which involved investigating the eating habits of a fat-girl sorority, which in hindsight was better left on the concept table. An article I always wanted to revisit was on the subject of “10 albums from the 90’s you slept on”, and while I don’t remember the list exactly, it mainly consisted of hip hop artists like Yaggfu Front and Boogiemonsters, who were signed to major labels but didn’t get the promotional push to get their music to the masses. So why revisit this subject? I guess an updated list for the first 10 years of the new millennium was in order. Musically, it’s much slimmer pickins in the rap game compared with the 1990’s (or 80’s for that) for my particular tastes, although there have definitely been some slept on gems – but that’s nothing new.

Not long after Prince’s pre-millennium party anthem became obsolete, the rap game realized the rules done changed. Pioneering mid and late 90’s independent labels like Fondle ‘Em, Rawkus and Hieroglyphics Imperium showed that artists could go for delf and get paid. The hustle was harder, but getting out from under the creatively-stifling major labels thumb breathed fresh air into artists being pushed in the P. Diddy direction of simplified lyrics, key-boredom beats and the overall corporate drag of imagination. The internet allowed the artist to take self promotion to the next level while new and old fans could connect to the music in a whole new way via websites and message boards. Kick Youtube and Facebook (Myspace was the spot for music in its day) into the mix and an artist or their publicist can create a buzz with minimum effort, as long as the base material remains high on the fresh-o-meter. If you think I missed something on this list, I’m sure I did – that’s the beautiful curse of the modern world – the massive volume of music, film and art which are being produced makes it difficult to keep up. Even the most diligent digital digger will have trouble nowadays considering the web has removed the sometimes at one time constraining boundaries of an independent artist’s regionalism. I purposely left out independent artists who have made bigger splashes in the game (such as Edan, Count Bass D, J-Zone, Emanon, J-Live, PUTS, Insight, etc, etc, etc & etc) because you should’ve been checking for them already. You can still find many of these albums in stores, online or directly from the artists themselves, if you like the music, support them!

Typical Cats

Typical Cats

Galapagos 4 [2001]

From listening to this album and their subsequent releases, I bet Qwel, Qwazaar and Ditizen Kane are the type of cats who have loose leaf after loose leaf (after loose leaf) along with bar napkins, ripped open cereal boxes and just about any other writing surface penned with lyrics. I remember buying this from Shane’s “Below the Surface” spot in Burlingame on a trip up with my man Age and Rich aka Manshead, both of who gave the album high recommendations. It didn’t disappoint one ounce. The production, courtesy of DJ Natural, relies on simplicity in composition which contradicts yet compliments the complexity of word play set out by the three emcees who casually spit fire with the equivalency and intensity of an enraged southern preacher whose daughter was just impregnated by a satan-worshiping hippie atheist. Yeah.

Ricci Rucker & Mike Boo

Scetchbook – An Introduction To Scratch Music

Epitome of Fresh [2002]

If I’ve hung out with you for any length of time, I’m sure this album has come up somewhere in conversation or has been played and bugged-out over. I interviewed Ricci Rucker two years after this album came out (about the same time as his very forward-thinking album Fuga was released) and he was definitely one of the most chilled people to speak to and very humble about his obvious skills of turntable manipulation and composition. His partner in crime is none other than Mike Boo(gie) whom I had seen at scratch functions around the Yay and his skills are definitely on par with the best in the game (check out his super-cooled out Dunhill Drone Committee album.) The combination of their talents on Scetchbook takes scratch-made “sketches” to the next level. The idea of a sketch is one of the evolutionary directions that scratch music has taken where focus is more on constructing tightly-woven compositions while less is on scratching in the front. One of the many refreshing facets of Scetchbook is that a wide variety of sample sources and styles are explored by the artists. Apart from having some tracks dedicated to straight up and down boom bap, influences from electronica, classic and hard rock, funk and jazz are all present on the album.

Howard Lloyd

The Quickie EP

Wretched Of The Earth Records [2007]

I’m a weird cat, so accordingly my listening habits usually sway to elements which pique an interest of the more under-represented aspects of sound and style in general. This includes raw skill, which is so lacking in mainstream rap that to my ears, it sounds like a poorly-written rhyming dictionary was coupled with a two-note Walmart-purchased keyboard whose output was then sprinkled with some glitter. Naturally, digging into the independent scene finds more thoroughly worked out lyrics and production by artists who care about their craft, although there is still plenty of garbage to sift through. Howard Lloyd and this ep came to my attention on the DWG forum, which has become a beacon of sorts for vinyl enthusiasts in that it and associated labels unleash unreleased material from the golden era of rap as well as new projects from artists with older-schooled mentalities – that being they have a healthy appreciation for the treasures found within dusty records and are skilled in the trade of that old boom bap. Really fresh short player here which packs an overall punch harder than most long placebos. No messing about here, raw lyrics and dope beats.

Live Human


Hip Hop Slam/C.O.D. Records [2002]

Live Human is the most relative modern example of the trio, combining elements from all the schools of ill. Their initial offering in 1997’s self-titled release stands as one of my favorite albums of all time. Raw was the sound, inspired were the compositions and experi(mental) was the mood. Fast forward five years with the release of Live on Billy Jam’s superb Hip Hop Slam label and the trio pushes the fore mentioned sounds, compositions and moods further up the rope of dope. As the album title suggests, this was recorded live at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco in 2001. The trio consists of Andrew Kushin on bass, Albert Mathias on drums and the incomparable and unfadable DJ Quest on the wheels of steelaco. Having witnessed the trio on a number of occasions, no two shows are alike, but always have unexpected twists and turns. Whether some guest emcees are added to the bill or Quest brings an array of samplers into play, there is an unquestioned guarantee of aural pleasure with Live Human buzzing in your ears.

Superstar Quamallah

Invisible Man

Brick Records [2009]

Son of the legendary “Big” John Patton, one of soul jazz’s Hammond B-3 heroes of the 1960’s and 70’s (and a personal favorite of mine), it’s safe to say that musical greatness runs in Quamallah’s blood. I first heard Quamallah in the late 90’s when he dropped a 12” on ABB Records which was putting out a great amount of heat (Dilated Peoples, Defari, etc.) Quamallah is a certified Brooklynite relocated to the west coast and most recently teaching at UC Berkeley. On Invisible Man (and the recently released Talkin’ All That Jazz [2011]), he cohesively merges the intensely witty word play reminiscent of early nineties New York with very chilled-out production which is befitting of his left coast environs. Very dope material.

Third Sight

Symbionese Liberation Album

Disgruntled Records [2006]

It’s a rare occurrence when the prevalence of twisted dementia in a group is so profound that a listener senses the madness, feels the grime and can’t help but to smile psychotically with a head-nod. Roughneck Jihad’s skill of oration is matched by D-Styles’ absolute mastery in sample selection and precision on the cut. Their first album, 1998’s The Golden Shower Hour, had production duties split between D-Styles and Du-Funk, while Symionese Liberation has a wider range of guest producers, DJ’s and emcees (including a guest spot by one of my favorites, Insomniac.) The eight years in-between the albums saw the release of a single and an ep which only whet the appetite to hear more, which they delivered as a 17-track feast for the starving masses. Even more recently, the group has released a digital only album [Chillin’ With Dead Bodies in a B-Boy Stance] which will hopefully see a vinyl release soon. Everyone should really check out Insomniac’s Polygonal Planet [Soothsay Records, 2005] as well, he is such a dope and severely slept-on lyricist whose language assaults the audio canvas laid down by many of the same producers featured on Symbionese Liberation Album. Also highly recommended is D-Styles’ Phantazmagorea [Beat Junkie Sound, 2002], an absolute masterpiece combining superb excavation from the furthest corners of obscure crateism with top-notch slicing and dicing of spherical wax discs on directly-driven audio sewing machines.

Jazz Addixx

Oxygen / Oxygen Refreshed

Listen Vision [2005]/ Domination Recordings [2007]

This album came to my attention when it was re-released in 2007 on D.J. Fisher’s excellent Domination Recordings label. I was even more hyped when the Japanese label Goon Trax released a limited wax EP of material off the album which satisfied my jones for vinyl. The production is on a very relaxed vibe and the MC of the crew, Mudd, definitely compliments with his approach on vocals. The three protagonists hail from three very different cities (Sacramento, Chicago & New York), each boasting different flavors which add to the overall Addixx sound. As can be imagined, jazz is incorporated heavily into the production and the crew are some of the few who pull off sampling jazz (and funk, soul etc) in a way which compliments the source sample, rather than just laying drums over a loop.

Z-Man & G-Pek

Don’t Forget to Brag

Gurp City [2004]

The dynamically def duo of Z-Man and G-Pek have frequently collaborated on tracks with an always dope result. Ignore the title of the album though, their first full-length project together is something they should brag about. Recorded at the infamous Thug E. Fresh compound in Oakland, the low budget reality of the albums construction in no way reflects the priceless gem which evolved out of G-Pek’s MPC and record collection and Z-Man’s highly underrated gift of spit. Built around the time-tested attitude of not giving a damn, this is one of those projects which reinforces that an artist’s talent and spirit is evidence enough that putting out truly enjoyable music comes natural to them. I’ve heard recently that a sequel album is in the works which will hopefully continue where the dusty loops, obscure movie samples and general debauchery of this album left off. Brag away.


Blues People


Living overseas has denied me my regular thrift and record store habits, but it hasn’t stopped the discovery of music via some great blogs. Aquil’s debut album was released for free in low-quality format around the blog-o-sphere. I’m sure some of the links are still around, but I would suggest you buy the high quality format he is offering at his bandcamp page ( for just $5 and check out his other projects too! Outta Philly, Aquil’s Blues People caught me off guard. I guess I have become quite cynical when it comes to new hip hop, but with the amount of garbage which is out there, it’s hard to keep a straight face when approaching the “new ish.” I try to keep an open mind with most releases, but the severe disappointment which usually follows is comparable to an emo kid finding out The Gap is discontinuing extra-tight jeans or a hippie finding out that the world’s supply of patchouli has been extinguished.

Grand Invincible

Ask the Dust


Luke Sick is one of my all-time favorite emcees. One third of Palo Alto’s own Sacred Hoop alongside super producer Vrse Murphy, Luke’s resume on the mic is quite diverse, but always dope. Luke gets extra dap after I witnessed one of his many shows in Chico, where he then rocked an after party, after which we ventured to an all-night rave in the Sierra Nevada mountains where he snatched a blanket from some zonked-out sleeping hippie raver, wrapped it around his waist and went back to partying – post script to that, DJ Marz and DJ Badrok took over the turntables at the rave with some heavy doses of scratch. Anyways, when I first heard he was hooking up with DJ Eons on a new project, I was intrigued. I had actually met Eons (I think) when I was invited to DJ at a house party somewhere on the peninsula (or East Bay?) in 2003 or 2004. There were like five DJ’s scheduled to go off at house full of skaters (they were rocking a half pipe in the backyard.) I remember Eons playing some really funky 45’s. I didn’t end up playing that night, as the police shut it down and actually got into fisticuffs with one of the guys living in the house. Anyways, this merging resulted in Grand Invincible, a name which the duo embody to the fullest.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

R.I.P. Keith Elam aka Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal

It’s been one year since the untimely passing of one of hip hop's great voices. At only 48 years of age, Guru's death caught me off guard as I'm sure it did many others around the world. I had read that he had fallen ill in February, immediately followed by reports that he had lapsed into a coma. When the news spread of his death in April 2010, hazy stories were spread online which didn't add up. The shady actions of his business partner, producer and supposed friend at the time [Solar] added to the dread that not all was right in his passing [see] His death is a tragedy on multiple levels, for his family and friends to his legions of fans worldwide. His unique voice, delivery and intensity will be remembered and replayed, but never reproduced.

Looking back on his musical output, there are four albums which I feel a personal connection with as they are somehow connected with my history. The beauty of music to transport us back to certain times in our lives, igniting memories, is an amazing thing. I was introduced to a lot of music via a close friend in the early nineties in the form of dub tapes. Ian "Senor" Berry was always hooking up dubs of the latest and greatest hip-hop from the late eighties into the early nineties. In 1991 he introduced me to Gang Starr's sophomore release Step In the Arena. Now, at the time I was definitely listening to a lot of music from the Native Tongues collective, 3rd Bass & KMD, Public Enemy, E.P.M.D. and of course west coasters Ice Cube, Del, Too Short, DJ Quik and so on ... so the album hit a cord immediately as it reinforced a lot of what was heard from other groups coming out of New York and the east coast. You have to keep in mind the amount of [amazing] material which was being released in this time frame. Although it would be a year or two before I sniffed out and listened to Gang Starr's initial effort, No More Mr. Nice Guy [1989], DJ Premier's production on Step In the Arena cemented him as part of the production elite in the ever-emerging hip-hop scene. As well, Guru's strong and distinctive voice meshed with the music on so many levels - lyrically conscious, streetwise and scathing. A year later though, I had a new dub which would blow my mind.

Daily Operation stands as my favorite Gang Starr album. I'm sure I wore the dub out with the amount of play it got throughout the summer of 1992. DJ Premier laced the album hard and Guru in turn put a lyrical effort to match the audio canvas laid out for him. The production jumped in all sorts of directions, incorporating jazz, funk, soul and solidifying Premier's now distinctive style and sound. Spawning classics such as “B.Y.S.”, “Flip the Script”, “Take It Personal”, “Ex to the Next Girl”, “No Shame In My Game” and “I'm The Man”, the album is chalk full of anthems which have reverberated throughout the years. Just check a sample of the rhymes from the track “2 Deep” –

I'm too deep and yes much too complicated
my lines when stated are quite often underrated
so consider it a privilege to hear this
those weak minded opinions could never come near this
for my outlook on life is a profound view
while the suckers act down thinking that they sound new...

Before Youtube came along, CMC (that’s California Music Channel, not country folks!) was the only place a non-MTV household could watch current videos in the Bay Area, many of which I also use to dub. It was also the medium I was actually introduced to a lot of groups visually. I can’t remember if it was the first video I saw from them, but the one which I remember –“Take It Personal.”

When 1993 rolled around, there were all kinds of great albums dropping. The bay area’s independent scene was going crazy, Del and Souls of Mischief released their best albums (ever), A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders provided the right medicine for the winter months and Wu Tang dropped a bombshell which gave birth to successful careers and fortified a whole new track in hip hop. By this time I had started buying albums [cassette tapes] and had even started buying some originals of my dub back-catalogue. Coincidently, my dub source’s interest in hip hop weaned starting in 1993/1994. We did share a very high opinion of Guru’s first solo project outside of Gang Starr. Jazzmatazz was a concept album merging sampling and real jazz performers, which provided Guru a totally new soundscape to get loose on. As you can imagine, Jazzmatazz was indeed that. Featuring jazz luminaries such as Donald Byrd, Lonnie Liston Smith, Ronny Jordan and Roy Ayers, Guru was also accompanied by France’s MC Solaar (not to be confused with his future producer Solar), N’Dea Davenport and D.C. Lee. The album was an introduction into a whole other realm – sometimes seedy, always soulful, downbeat and downtrodden, upbeat and heartfelt – it hits on so many levels! Guru was there throughout – narrating, romanticizing, loungin!

1994 brought in a lot of amazing albums – Illmatic, Do You Want More, Ready to Die, Boxcar Sessions, The Main Ingredient, Roxbury 02119, etc, etc. Gang Starr, always up to par, released their fourth album, Hard to Earn. The album didn’t deviate so much from earlier formulas, but rather the duo kept tightening up and honing their respective skills. Premier continued to amaze with his selection, chopping, arranging, drums and the ever-present, yet always dope, chopped-up choruses. Featuring Foundation members Jeru the Damaja, Lil Dap (Group Home) and Big Shug, the album also had an appearance from Nice and Smooth on “DWYCK” (which was actually released in 1992 as a 12”.) Again, classics rang out – “Mass Appeal”, “Suckas Need Bodyguards”, “Code of the Streets”, “Speak Ya Clout”, “Now You’re Mine” – it’s funny to see titles like this in a list, knowing they all came from the same album. What I mean is that the quality control, artistic aptitude and actual vibe has been missing from a majority of albums for a long time. You’re lucky to get two or three quality tracks on a release.

Gang Starr was consistent to the core through their next two releases – 1998’s Moment of Truth and 2003’s The Ownerz. Both still get heavy enough rotation, although not as much as the ones I’ve detailed above. I also enjoyed the Jazzmatazz albums (Volume One was the best, followed by Volume Two and so forth as the series came out) and to a certain extent, Guru’s solo album after the breakup of Gang Starr – 2005’s Version 7.0: The Street Scriptures. In lamenting Guru, I do feel privileged to have seen Gang Starr perform live twice. I feel sorry for those who didn’t have the chance to see the energy which Guru exuded, the power of his delivery and experience the impact of his presence. It's only apporpriate to end this with a Guru line from the Gang Starr song "I’m the Man” – PEACE GURU!!

Bust one round in the air for this here
cuz this year, suckers are going nowhere
cuz my street style and intelligence level
makes me much more than just an angry rebel
I'm Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal
emcee's that ain't equipped get flipped in my circle.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Coming Soon: Age-Notes From The Laundry Room EP

A new production project/concept based on records found in a laundry room. Date TBA