Matthew Lickona noon, April 23
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Lazy Old Rocker Dude Goes To a Hip-Hop Open Mic
We get a lot of emails asking "Where's the Reader's hip-hop coverage?" Hopefully, readers have noticed increased coverage throughout the music section, including Blurt, Lists, Of Note, and Club Crawler. It wasn’t that we avoided hip-hop before – in my case, at least, I did and do talk to a lot of people involved in the local hip-hop scene.
Unfortunately, I don’t always find stories that fit what we look for at the Reader, which is topical, offbeat, backstage stuff.
With that in mind, I set out awhile back to check out a grass-roots hip-hop event in person.
Porter’s Pub, on the UCSD campus, was doing a Thursday night open mic hip-hop night, with an open invitation to area DJs, musicians, performance artists, lyricists, and spoken word poets (aka rappers). On the night I attended, three-quarters of the participants were white males.
Seven guys had co-opted tables and chairs throughout the room to set up and fiddle with their gear. A 20-something black guy wearing sunglasses was testing his Yamaha DX7 keyboard with sampled voice tracks loaded to play at his touch. I wasn’t aware that such a vintage instrument was good for laying down hip-hop tracks.
I mentioned this to the guy, and he introduced himself as “Kev-4Play” (at least that’s how he wrote it in my notebook).
In answer to my question, he said, “Yeah, but it weighs, like, a half pound, and it’s got mad beats…drum tracks, vocal snaps, orchestra hits, and everything I need. I just hook up my master blaster,” he said, indicating an Ampeg bass amp that’s at least 15 years old, ”with a mic,” whereupon he plugged his microphone in, “and I’m rollin’ out the rhymes.”
He launched into beat-backed rap that lasts ten seconds before he’s shushed by fellow contestants and patrons. Outside on the patio, I spotted a post-teen, Irish-looking guy with bushy red hair teased out to Carrot Top proportions. He had no gear, but he was reading to himself from a ream of handwritten papers scotch-taped together into one long toilet paper-like roll.
He looked like David Caruso in a wig.
I heard his solo a cappella rap later -- an amphetamine-paced verbal barrage that appeared to be about McDonalds, Iraq, the San Diego Police Department, something about Britney Spears’ panties (or lack thereof) and…Vikings? Hard to tell -- his enunciation was hampered by the way he inserted the microphone partway down his esophagus, as if trying to swallow it.
Is this really hip-hop, I wondered?
”Rap isn’t synonymous with hip-hop,” I’m told by DJ EVS (real name Evan McGinnis).
“I think KRS-One [a social/political rapper, co-founder of Boogie Down Productions] defined it best: ‘Rap is something you do, hip-hop is something you live.’ Rap is the style of how you compose your words, the rhyming and rhythm. Kind of like scat. Hip-hop is how you talk, how you wear your clothes, more of the lifestyle.”
It doesn’t surprise McGinnis that most people lump rap and hip-hop together. “I think people will see what they want to see. Since mainstream rap music is all about being a gangster and having shiny cars and watches, that’s all the people know, because it’s all over MTV and the radio.”
Public perception makes it hard to get local gigs because promoters, venue owners, and booking agents have the impression that rap and hip-hop shows are synonymous with violence. After a stabbing murder took place in the Coors VIP parking lot during an October 2002 Nelly concert, it was hard to downplay the concern.
”The best thing about the San Diego scene is that it still exists at all,” says rhyme master Eye Focus. He says he’s never seen anything unduly violent at a hip-hop show, but admits that things can get pretty wild. “We did a show at the Boars Cross’n Bar [in Carlsbad], and while I was doing my verse for ‘Champion Sound,’ some lady in her late ‘30s came up to the stage and handed me a drink. Then she just lifted up her dress, showed her jewels, and started wildin' out. She was so drunk.”
“All I know is that I looked up, and saw her ghostly flapping white -ss and her nasty mint green granny panties,” says DJ EVS. “I almost forgot what I was doing on stage.”
Twenty-seven-year-old John Cornett writes the content for sandiegoundaground.com, an online hip-hop e-zine. He admits the hip-hop nation hasn’t planted many longstanding flags in southern California soil.
“I would say about three or fours years ago, the local hip-hop scene was really in high speed, with a lot of local groups putting out albums and doing shows all over San Diego, and there were hip-hop functions being held every weekend. There was always something to do. Now, you really have to be involved in the scene to know what’s happening.”
When asked, Kev-4Play emails me a set of lyrics that directly address his experiences in the San Diego scene. “Slartibartfast” is one such cut (spelling and punctuation left intact, at his insistence):
”Spacey-O, Oreo, Wendy Whitebread on a niggah roll,
Workin the Trax, Brother gotcha Ace in the Hole
When ya bangbang, yinying, tippin the scales
While they be trippin with whales,
I can’t afford no f--k’n Sea World
Cuz I barely made my bail!”
Another one by Kev-4Play, called “Fo Zample”:
”Hip-hop’s something ya gotta feel in your soul,” volunteers Kev-4Play. ”And, I tell you what, you ain’t black, so you ain’t got the soul, you ain’t never gonna feel it. I mean, really, really feel it, you know what I’m sayin’?”
Pause. I’m guessing I was fairly expressionless, which seemed to challenge him for clarification.
“You say this clear so I don’t sound like some kinda f--kin’ racist, but the reason San Diego’s so-called hip-hop scene is so lame is because it’s soooo white.”
Another piece later e-mailed to me by Kev-4Play is entitled “You Lite Up My Pipe”:
”Lite the Pizzo, burn the pipe, aight, aight
Rocky rules the ghetto, dimebag Gepetto
Make you feel like REAL boyz
But they got serious toyz, get the lead out, ballzout, headzup
AK-47 spray the night.
Cha lite yer pipe and its all right,
Ya never even saw the sight or heard the fight or seen the blood
through the glass o yo pipe.”
Kev tells me in an email “San Diego, I mean, it’s expensive; a yuppie, yacht club, rich b-tch, paint-the-ghetto, psychedelic kind of city, right? So you’re gonna see a lot of white guys slangin hip-hop. That’s lamelop… the whole f--kin’ thing makes it too f--kin’ white, too f--kin’ Blondie…I call it turning gabba to Abba…”
”Gabba” is an extreme kind of hardcore, a fast 4/4 beat with the bass low so that walls rattle (along with your bones), and it sonicates your organs. It can run up to 400 or 500 BPM (beats per minute). “Abba,” I’m assuming, refers to the ‘70s pop band.
Kev-4Play also says ”You go to any other city, hip-hop is gonna be a black thing, at least on the performance side…white kids’ll listen…but the shot callers [top talent] dropping beats on the street, DJing, rapping, graffing [which he later tells me is ‘bombing and tagging,’ explaining precisely nothing], those’re gonna be brothers most o’ the time…”
I can see that there’s some truth to what he says, at least about San Diego having a honky hip-hop scene.
Bad Credit fits the bill, a local guitar/bass/drum hip-hop trio of middle-aged white guys who call their craft “financial rap.”
”It’s a different kind of hip-hop,” Dr. Cliff Mixtable told me awhile back. “It’s not about girls, unless the girl owes you money.”
The group’s lyrics are inspired by subjects like Wall Street Journal articles and personal bank statements, with song titles such as “Balance Your Checkbook” and “Bill Gates Owes Me Five Bucks.”
“Yo, I got the dough and I’ll spend it on a whim
’cause I got more cash than an ATM.
Don’t give me no check or no C.O.D.,
I want cold hard cash, show me the mo-ney!”
Listening to Bad Credit, I feel that at least I’ve discovered what hip-hop is NOT. I mention this to Kev-4Play.
”Yo,” he says disdainfully, “that’s what I’m telling ya…Gabba to Abba!”
(Yabba Dabba Do!)
Ten songs by local artists that define San Diego Hip-Hop. (Artist/Song/Album)
Young Mass f/Digital Underground - “Blue Skyy” (Young Mass)
Kayo - “Mill Sh-t” (One Hundred Percent Hustle)
Jayo Felony - “Whatcha Gonna Do?” (Whatcha Gonna Do?)
Mitchy Slick - “Drug Flippin” (Urban Survival Syndrome)
Mitchy Slick - “Regular Nigg’n” (Triggeration Station)
Cherry Chuck Gang - “Beer N Big” (Cherry Chuck Gang)
Smigg Dirtee f/C.G., & Dago Braves - “Push” (Forgotten City)
Play B. f/Young Mass, & Kayo - “Angel” (Unreleased)
Dido Brown/Bonafide Camp f/Domino -“California” (Independent Out The Trunk)
Tre "Tha Bizness" (The Real)