Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Treatments in Dub

The Latest Greatest, 4/24/12

Pleasantly surprised to see a new album from West Coast rap vet Dave Dub dropping soon.  "The Treatment" will be released May 29th to be exact, on CD and LP via none other than the giant taste-maker label Stones Throw Records.  I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't a very big fan of Dave Dub's last punk effort "Mind Police," but this new "Treatment" LP seems to be taking it back to the raw rap roots of Dave's music, or at least that's what the samples on Stones Throw's website seem to suggest.  In fact, it looks like Dave Dub's long-time production colleague Tape Masta Steph is producing the whole thing, which promises lots of lo-fi funky beats for Dave to sound sick over.  I also gotta say that it's great to see Dave Dub link up with Stones Throw to get that paper, dude is a nice guy and a slept on rapper who deserves a lot more exposure.  Here's hoping the Stones Throw emblem broadens his fanbase and gives Isolated Wax a little more shine.  Tracklisting below:

1. Superfly
2. The Treatment
3. Much Gratitude
4. Escaping My Voice
5. Upside Down Lineage
6. As They Worship
7. The Tribulation
8. Fire Laced Fragment
9. Space Nigga
10. Daring a Ruler
11. The Day of Reckoning
12. Planet Rhyme
13. Domination

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Oldominion at Ear Peace Records in Berkeley

View From the Front Row, 4/10/12

On Easter Sunday, I was lucky enough to bear witness to a damn near private performance from one of my favorite groups in all of underground hip hop, Oldominion. Granted, this show was just a handful of core members from the massive Seattle-based crew, but it was still a line-up that you don't see every day (or every decade) outside of Seattle. A booked spot at the Paid Dues festival in San Bernardino brought these dudes out to Cali, and their mini-tour back in the direction of Portland landed them at Ear Peace Records in the center of Berkeley. It was kind of surreal to see these guys kill it at such a tiny spot with only a few people in attendance, but they delivered a full set worthy of their reputation and had fun regardless of the minimal turnout.

The Oldominion line-up at this show consisted of Onry Ozzborn, JFK, Destro, Syndel, Bishop I and Mr. Hill. Sleep and Rob Castro were scheduled to be part of the line-up as well, but ended up taking a detour off to LA instead, snagging a bunch of clothing tour merch along with them. They ended up being the punchline of a number of well-timed jokes from the other members of the crew at this show, which was hilarious and not done in a mean-spirited way. The turn-out to the event was small to the point where it felt disheartening, with only about three or four fans in attendance, and I include myself in that round-up. The worst part about tiny crowds like this is that they tend to make fans feel self-conscious about getting involved with the music, and I was the only one there doing call-and-response stuff when the artists prompted it. Fortunately, the lack of a hype crowd did not impact the quality of the performance.

Oldominion started off their show with a series of solo sets from a bunch of the talented rappers in the crew. Bishop I went on first to perform a couple of numbers, and really impressed me with the vicious energy of his verses. I'd never seen him live before and wasn't familiar with much of the material he played, but I definitely dug his raw voice and style. JFK stepped up front to watch him play and started mean-mugging him, and Bishop I responded by improvising his verses to playfully diss him, which worked well and had people cracking up. Syndel went on after Bishop I, and switched gears a bit with a smoother and more soulful performance that showed off her relaxed style and confident delivery. She performed songs from her "Enchantress" album along with a couple of Siren's Echo verses, and it was great to watch her do her thing since she was constantly smiling and clearly having a good time rocking the mic for a select few. Destro went on after Syndel, and had the roughest of the three solo sets since his voice was a bit shot from Paid Dues. His boom bap call-and-response hooks felt a little out of place in such a tiny crowd, but he still killed some songs from his "Ill.ustrated" album, particularly "Rest When I'm Dead" which brought the best out of Destro's cadence and rock steady flow. All of these Oldominion solo sets felt like proper sets that you'd see at a concert, with each of the rappers in question delivering at least 5 songs and giving people a full performance of their work.

Onry Ozzborn and JFK teamed up for a set as Grayskul once the solo sets were done, and they really killed it with the best performance I've seen from them as a group to date. The last time I saw Grayskul play was probably opening for Atmosphere on one of the early Rhymesayers tours, and I remember being kind of unimpressed with their set back then. They've released a wealth of quality material since then, and that was reflected in the quality of their set at Ear Peace. Onry and JFK covered some newer songs and some older Grayskul tunes, alternating between performing solo numbers from their various side projects and group songs. Out of their Grayskul material, the songs they played from the Maker-produced "Graymaker" album worked exceptionally well live, with the grimy boom bap beats showcasing the strength of their voices and flows. They also did some serious justice to a couple of older Grayskul joints, including "Prom Quiz" and "Scarecrow," which both sounded great. I haven't always been impressed with Onry Ozzborn's solo stuff live, but he seemed animated and on-point at this show, occasionally throwing awesome head-nodder joints like "The O.O" and "No Hoax" into the mix. But JFK was the star of the set and of the show in general, boasting the best live stage presence and the rowdiest personality of any member of the crew. He was killing every track he touched with his wicked voice and flow, including solo jams like the unfuckwitable "Paranoid" or the poppy Jake One-produced "High School Sweetheart." He was also great at motivating his Oldominion fam to bring their A-game, as his funny dance moves and occasional mock stare-downs brought the best out of his rap brethren's verses. Grayskul finished their set with the track "Missing," where JFK flipped the hook at the end to include "Sleep" and "Rob" in the list of missing people, crooning about how they were off at Disneyland and getting a lot of laughs from the crowd.

But Grayskul's performance was not the end of the show. Everyone from Oldominion who was present came out to play a collective group set as the final act of the night, and they kicked a variety of collaborative numbers you'd rarely get to see outside of their hometurf. Most of the songs they played were improvised reinterpretations of solo tracks from different members of the crew, which each of the rappers took turns rocking verses over. The most memorable out of these cuts was a reworking of Onry Ozzborn's "That Good" that had everyone killing it over Sapient's ill instrumental. Near the beginning of this final group performance, SF resident Karim of Oldominion/Boom Bap Project showed up at Ear Peace to watch his homies play, and many bear-hugs were exchanged mid-set as he mingled with his crew. This added more fuel to Oldominion's fire, particularly for Destro who started killing his verses super hard, as if wanting to prove to his good friend and former partner in rhyme that he was still carrying the Boom Bap torch. JFK and Bishop I were ready to engage in a comic rap battle by the time the music stopped, but it was decided by the rest of the crew that they had rocked it long enough. Great set and show from Oldominion.

The extremely low turn-out to this event was a great injustice considering the awesome talent of this collective, but the fact that they gave a complete performance to the couple of fans in attendance speaks volumes about their integrity as artists. Hopefully, future Ear Peace Records in-stores will not be as criminally slept on. Check out Onry Ozzborn and JFK rocking the Graymaker song "Crazy Talk" below:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sole, Ceschi, Bleubird and Kirby Dominant at Elbo Room, SF

View From the Front Row, 4/4/12

A few nights ago, I went and caught the latest Fake Four North American Tour over at Elbo Room in San Francisco. On my way to the venue, I ran into several crazy hobo musicians on the street, including one who felt the need to beatbox all up in my face and another who was yowling and dancing crazily while going apeshit on his guitar. It was an appropriate prelude to a performance from a headlining act who could viewed as an insane Oakland hippy himself, with over a decade's worth of puzzling left-field rap music to prove it. Sole has put out a lot of albums that I've enjoyed over the years and has had a strong influence on my tastes in music growing up, but hasn't generally impressed me live and wasn't the main draw of this event for me. Ceschi and Bleubird were the two MCs that I was looking forward to seeing the most - Ceschi for his track record of amazing live shows, and Bleubird because I'd never seen him play on a proper stage before.

Another act that I was looking forward to seeing was Kirby Dominant, who kicked the night off with a super entertaining solo performance that conveyed his charismatic personality and got the crowd in a really good mood. Apparently Kirby was booked as an opener since he's so strongly associated with being a local Oakland part of the Fake Four roster, but he's been living in New York as of late and nearly forgot about the show, making the flight out to SF in the nick of time and barely reaching the venue as an opener. Equipped with only his iPod, a microphone, and a stiff drink from the bar, Kirby Dominant breezed through a number of songs from his recent Paranoid Castle album and a few of his older joints with his trademark humorous style. He comically addressed the crowd on songs like "D.U.I," "The Mature Life" and "Red Carpet," even poking fun at his own hooks and wylin' out on stage. He also offered up some hilarious banter between songs, begging one of the many nerdy white people in attendance to hook him up with a proper twitter feed. By the time Kirby was done, the crowd was all smiles. Excellent set.

Bleubird took the stage next, and continued the evening's trend of entertaining personalities with a killer performance that may very well have been the best set of the entire show. When I saw Bleubird play in his RV Van last year I became acquainted with his storytelling skills and charismatic ways of interacting with people, but on stage at Elbo Room he was a different beast entirely. The spacious stage gave Bleubird the freedom to turn the energy of his rapping up a couple notches, and he was in constant motion as he performed his numbers with an intensity that went unrivaled through the rest of the evening. Bleubird kicked an interesting variety of songs, keeping folks guessing by switching it up between quiet personal numbers like "Giehe 1977" and rowdy club affairs like the Chris Brown "Look at Me Now" flip of his song "Hand Holdin." He also did justice to his Swashbuckling Napoleans material with a killer performance of "One Lovely Bastard," and rocked a crazy rap rendition of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" over Lil' Wayne's "A Milli" beat. This left the crowd feeling very hype and appreciative. Like Kirby Dominant, Bleubird was also very skilled at entertaining the crowd with the occasional bit of witty banter between tracks, frequently addressing the dragon statues that Elbo Room had surrounding the stage and even building off of some of Kirby's lines with some improvised comedy. He brought Ceschi to the stage to finish his set with their collaborative song "Time 4Real," which was an amazing closer that had the crowd screaming the hook at the top of their lungs. Awesome set.

Ceschi got up to play next, and worked his way through a strong set of signature hip hop folk songs. Ceschi and the rest of the Fake Four tourers were all deep in the grips of some nasty San Francisco sickness, and he seemed tired when he first sat down to tune his guitar and get his laptop prepped. The lighting of the venue was bright, and he had the lighting people turn the lights off entirely for his set so that he could see the crowd better. This proved to be an awkward decision at first since the lack of lighting made it hard to see Ceschi do his thing on stage, and this is just me speaking from my spot in the front row. But on the plus side, the darkness did add to the intimacy of the set a bit, and Ceschi got into the crowd to perform a number of his tracks where people could see him up close and personal. Despite having a bit of a hoarse voice, Ceschi still performed his songs super well, covering numbers like "Bite Through Stone," "Count On It" and "No New York." He sat on a corner bench next to a bunch of people to perform "Black & White & Red All Over" without the use of a microphone, which sounded good, and he ended his set with a rowdy rendition of "Half Mast" that had him playfully tackling a bunch of his friends in attendance. Not the best set I've ever seen from Ceschi, but definitely a great performance that would have instantly converted me to a fan had I not seen him play before.

Sole was the final act to go on in the evening's line-up, and he once again failed to really impress me in a live setting. For the most part, the set felt like Sole was reaching to achieve the brilliance he caught on record with his verses, but wasn't quite hitting the mark on stage. His noisy and challenging choices of beats were a little overbearing at times, and there were points where the performance just sounded noisy and not that musical or impressive. Sole also tried his hand at witty banter between songs in the vein Bleubird or Kirby, but most of it was boring and it didn't really hold any of the crowd's attention. Having said this, the set did have a couple of major highlights, including an epic half-acapella performance of "I Think I'm Noam Chomsky" that really captured Sole's dense lyrical approach to rap music. He also killed it with a throwback to his song "Year of the $exxx $ymbol," which brought a huge smile to my face since I used to bump that song all the time and he really did it justice at this show. Sole brought Ceschi to the stage for a rendition of "We Will Not Be Moved" which was good, but the high point of the set was definitely when Bleubird joined Sole to play the track "Hustle Hard" from the "Nuclear Winter" mixtape series. That track was the rowdiest moment of the evening by far, and had the entire crowd jumping around and raving to the hook like mad. Overall though, Sole's set was fairly mediocre compared to the other exceptional acts of the show's line-up.

In the end, this was a very good show and another Fake Four event that I'm happy I attended. Another point that I'll definitely give in Sole's favor is that he draws a very odd and interesting crowd... I think about a third of the people at the Elbo Room were members of Sole's message board who were geeking about meeting up at the event, and it was a lot of fun chatting with some of'em and seeing their reactions to Sole's songs. Good times. I leave you with a video of one of my favorite moments of the night - Bleubird and Ceschi performing their collaborative track "Time 4Real" together: