Tag Archives: culture

A Bonus Cut Feature: An Interview With Ess Be and Sareem Poems

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By: Gus Navarro

Photo Credit: Carla Hernandez

Whether you’re talking sports, music or some other scenario, there is nothing quite like the tandem between a veteran and a rookie. Bringing past experiences to the table, the veteran can share knowledge and insight gained through the years. As a relative newcomer, the rookie has a lot to learn but is also an invaluable asset, equipped with a fresh perspective and new ideas. On their new EP, Beautiful Noise, Sareem Poems and Ess Be harness this dynamic to the fullest. Originally from Los Angeles, Sareem Poems has been rapping and making music with his group, LA Symphony, for over a decade. In short, he’s been around the block a few times. On the other hand, Lansing native Ess Be is still a relative newcomer to the world of hip-hop. Ess Be may be “new” to the game, but his summer EP, Bag Fries, demonstrates his versatility.

Beautiful Noise finds both artists at different points in their lives. Despite that, it is the commonalities that bring them together. Representing the Lansing based AOTA hip-hop collective, they see this project as a step towards making music full time. For Sareem, it’s about returning to that. For Ess Be, it’s about stepping into that arena for the first time. Released via Illect Recordings, Beautiful Noise features Ess Be’s production and incorporates live instrumentation, adding depth and energy to an already strong project. Thematically, Beautiful Noise is driven by messages of perseverance and of working to redefine the ways in which we think about personal wealth. In speaking with them on the development of Beautiful Noise, it is clear they learned a lot from each other and about themselves. It is never too late to grow as individuals and to change your perceptions of the world around us. On Beautiful Noise, Sareem Poems and Ess Be remind us of this

Bonus Cut (BC): How did Beautiful Noise come to be?

Ess Be (EB): When I met Sareem I actually didn’t tell him I made music. Eventually, one of my boys mentioned it. At that point I’d been workin’ on making music for awhile but was actually thinking about stopping. Once I started talking to Sareem a bit more he asked me to send him some beats. I sent him some joints, he let me know how he felt about them and asked me to do an EP with him.

Sareem Poems (SP): There’s a difference between beatmakers and producers, and a lot times people lump them together. When I first heard Ess Be’s beats, I thought they were dope. But he also showed me what he’s produced. For example, he’s got EDM under his belt. That proved to me that he has more than just boom-bap or straight forward hip-hop tracks. When I heard the spectrum of what he can do, I knew it was going to be a great project to work on. 

Bonus Cut: How does the veteran and rookie dynamic play out between the two of you?

SP: My whole goal behind doing the EP with Ess Be was to give him a chance to fully use what he’s capable of in one project. His versatility shows throughout the project. His style and how good he is. All I did was bring my ability of song writing to the table and he produced the tracks.

EB:  Being an up and coming producer, it was weird that a veteran MC would want to work with someone who really doesn’t have a catalogue. I had never done a full project, so Sareem played a huge part in pushing me to complete the EP. Just to have someone believe in me and show me some things about creating a project has been amazing. I’m very appreciative for Sareem for the knowledge, wisdom and encouragement he’s given me.

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BC:  What have you learned from the whole process of making Beautiful Noise?

SP:  Throughout this process, I’ve learned that no matter how long you feel that you’ve been doing something, there’s always something new that you can learn. From Ess Be, I’ve learned to look at music as an outsider instead of being an artist. Ess Be is a fan of a lot of different types of music and I had to work on just getting back to appreciating music. I got back to giving things a full listen and becoming a fan again.

EB: Throughout this process I’ve learned about not just making songs, but making music. Anybody can have a song, but not everyone can make music. It stretched me during the creation process. There would be nights where I’d just be up late, ti’l two or three in the morning, tryin’ to figure out what needed to be added or taken away from each song. It’s different when you’re making music for somebody else versus just a beat for yourself. It was a growing experience because it stretched me to think outside the box and to push my personal work ethic.

SP: Yes. Makin’ a project is harder than most people think! It sounds cliche, but hard work and diligence pays off. Especially because neither of us are full time artists.

BC: Right, and you both have other jobs and commitments.

SP:  That’s right. I’ve got a full time gig and a son. If you put that on top of the music stuff, it’s tough sometimes. At the end of the day, you want the music you make to come out and have a big impact, but you also don’t want to take away from your normal life. Making music isn’t my everyday right now, but I want to get back to a point where it is.

BC:  And for you Sareem, Beautiful Noise is the first step to getting back to making music full time. For Ess Be, the project is moving you in the direction of becoming a full time artist.

SP:  Absolutely.

EB:  Yes, exactly!

SP:  That’s the goal, man. I took a long break. January of 2015 will officially be four years since I’ve put anything out. It’s been a minute, but it was a good, much needed break. There needed to be a recalibration in my approach to music. I needed to figure out how I can have an impact without trying to fit into any particular mode.

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BC:  Can you speak a little on your relationship with the record label?

SP:  We’re putting the project out via Illect Recordings. They’ve worked with Theory Hazit, Scribbling Idiots, Imperial, Sivion and some other cats. They’re making moves in a very good direction and I’m proud to be a part of the team. Shout out to Josh Niemyjsk who runs the label! His work ethic it out of control and inspires me, man. He’s puttin’ in work all the time.

BC:  What would both of you say are some of the major themes in the record?

EB: I feel like the common theme in the project is perseverance. The record is mad encouraging. Not to speak ill of some of the cats in music right now, but it’s definitely time for something different to be heard. Something that’s encouraging, uplifting and motivating. Just hearing the same stuff, time after time, after time, can start to desensitize people. We want this music to push people forward through pain from the past, and to help them understand their self-worth. We’re hoping we do it in a way that everyone can relate to and connect with. I hope that with the music I was a part of making, people will hear it and be able to travel to a different place mentally.

SP: For me, a lot of it has to be do with not staying stagnant. They call it the past for a reason, know what I mean? We’re living in the present, but at the same time, you gotta have a medium. You can’t let the future be the driving force because it ain’t here yet. If you’re chasin’ the future, and you don’t fully know what the future is going to be, you’re just going to keep chasing random things. A lot of the songs on the EP are about moving forward and climbing to a higher state of being. Whatever that is for you. A lot of people in society are obsessed with material things. The main thing for me is about being rich with time. I had to redefine what wealth was for me. You can have all the money in the world, but if I’m able to live and not worry then I don’t need millions. That’s a goal for me and you’ll hear that in the music.

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Hip-Hop Theory: Why It’s Important to Understand Drill (Part One)

via Consequence of Sound

Chief Keef via Consequence of Sound

By: Daniel Hodgman

Chief Keef (Keith Cozart) burst onto the scene in 2012 as one of Chicago hip-hop’s premier figures conspicuously driven by a new emerging sound. At the time, Keef was an Internet sensation from the Englewood neighborhood and a product of hip-hop’s swelling and congealing drill scene. Defined by dark nihilistic trap-influenced production and auto-tuned verses recapping the daily on Chicago’s streets, Chief Keef and the drill scene as a whole not only took the Southside of Chicago by storm, but hip-hop as well. By 2013, Keef was part of XXL’s Freshman Class, signed to Gucci Mane’s 1017 Brick Squad Records, and on his 18th birthday he released the highly anticipated Bang, Pt. 2 mixtape, further pushing his name and influence around the spectrum. Other artists from this scene such as Fredo Santana, Lil Herb, Lil Durk, Lil Reese, King Louie, and Young Chop, have walked similar paths, and as of 2015, drill still stands as a major Chicago staple that has attracted the likes of Kanye West, Common, and Drake, while major labels continue to poach these Windy City artists for contracts.

With everything drill brings, there’s a lot of controversy behind the sub-genre, and it isn’t all that complicated. The scene itself is greatly defined by rough and raw lyricism that casts a dark and violent shadow on the listener. The subject matter stretches from hitting enemies in the streets to rapping about “bitches” and “thots” to glorifying murder and living a gritty lifestyle. The production that backs these artists takes from the new-wave trap-scene that made artists like Gucci Mane and T.I. successful. And although drill beats are usually slower in tempo, playing almost like a sub-genre to trap itself, there are 808s and southern sounds there as well to draw a clear relation. Mix this with the deadpan and auto-tuned lyricism of these artists and you now have a unique mixture on your hands, something that not everyone stands for. Local Chicago rapper Rhymefest was quoted as saying, drill is “the theme music to murder.”

On “’Til I Meet Selena,” King Louie raps about “riding around like Rambo”:

“Niggas ain’t nothing/ They just talking shit up/ Catch ‘em while he walking/ Now they chalking shit up/ Get your ass a motherfucking candle, memorial/ Put ‘em on that motherfucking table, cut em open, autopsy/ T-shirt R.I.P.”

If you look at hip-hop’s recent past, it’s clear that it has gravitated away from the gangsta rap characteristics that legends N.W.A. and Scarface grasped and relayed to the public so well. With Chicago’s drill scene, we now have this new-age gangsta rap sub-genre, with a completely different sound somehow trying to have the same takeaway as hip-hop’s past. With that you have to ask: does Chicago’s drill scene merely reinforce negative hip-hop stereotypes? Or does it reflect the voices of these neighborhoods and accurately portray America’s ongoing problem with segregation, social, and political injustice?

A couple of years ago (2012), Chicago rapper Joseph “Lil Jojo” Coleman, who was only 18, was shot and killed in Chicago. He was a drill artist, but also one that was feuding with Chief Keef. After the news of Lil Jojo’s death, Keef took to twitter in a joking manner: “Its Sad Cuz Dat Nigga Jojo Wanted To Be Jus Like Us #LMAO.”

This event prompted even more heads to turn, and the drill backlash was gaining steam. Hip-hop critic Henry Adaso went as far as to call Keef “garbage wrapped in human skin,” and there were police investigations linking Keef and his crew to Lil Jojo’s death. Compounded on all of this was the name association game, which quickly spread. With mentions of Chief Keef, drill, or even Chicago hip-hop, people from around the hip-hop world looked at this with anger, often ignoring the genre altogether. But with all of this, people missed the bigger picture.

It’s not that hard to look at drill and raise your hand, object, and walk away. In fact, as a hip-hop head still growing up and learning the whole enchilada, this is what I initially did myself. If you look at drill’s deadpan, often mumbled bars of violence and hatred without metaphor, you could deduce that the repetitive nature of such music is careless and without meaning. To the casual listener, you could throw on a down-tempo trap beat and some lyrics that spray about “pistol toting” (“I Don’t Like” –Chief Keef) and dismiss it. In fact, that would be the easy and normal thing to do. But past the surface it’s important for not just detractors, but all of hip-hop, to look at drill from an introspective standpoint, and where it comes from, because there is a direct correlation between drill music and where Chicago stands in the hot bed of America.

As with any city, Chicago takes pride in identity and self-worth. It’s strong here though, and just like cities such as Detroit and Oakland, Chicago manifests itself in a “power to the people” attitude. Of the thousands of labels, record heads, Kanye West’s, and big wigs crawling back to Chicago to pick up and sign Chief Keef or Lil Herb, none of them were loyal to the artists before the local Chicagoans. This included a mixture of children relaying the lyrics in the halls of Chicago Public Schools, to the kids on the corner, hoping one day to brand themselves like their idols and escape a plight they never asked for. In the neighborhoods where drill originated (Southlawn, Englewood, Gresham) and the neighborhoods under similar circumstances, drill isn’t so much an anthem for murder, but rather an anthem for their communities. Tremaine “Tree” Johnson is a rapper from Englewood, and although he isn’t directly tied to the drill scene, he takes note of its popularity, especially when talking about Chief Keef.

“He looks like us, he sounds like us, and his lingo is what we say and how we talk.”

It’s with this swelling appreciation and connectedness to identity that has Southside teenagers gravitating towards drill, but is that enough to justify its position in hip-hop?

The imagery and content for one is still a standalone case for shutting the genre down in its entirety. But if you look at the actual artists coming from this scene, they’re simply figureheads resonating with a growing population of Chicago suffering from the city’s social and political issues that continue to keep these certain communities down and out. If you look at why school kids in Englewood are blasting Lil Durk, wouldn’t it be safe to assume that to them Lil Durk is simply one of them, someone who has and is still suffering from the growing systemic issues surrounding this city?

The counterpoint to this would be that drill helps influence the city’s violence. Many have even considered drill to be the main proponent. And although drill has pushed the term “Chiraq,” there’s a reason to look past this. First, Chicago’s history of violence stands long before drill was even a thought. If you want to count statistics, just look at Chicago’s murder rate now compared to the 90s. When Chief Keef was born in 1995, Chicago accounted for 828 murders. In 2014, the rate was at 432 (what’s hidden behind these statistics is that the homicides in Chicago are happening more frequently within certain neighborhoods, which is becoming more of a problem). The open-and-shut case however is this: before the emergence of Chief Keef and drill, Chicago’s murder rates were for the most part ignored by outsiders and the city’s dwellers alike. However, with the rise of these artists from the drill scene, people are taking notice. It may not be in the brightest sense that drill is being the target for this, but without it, there would never have been a spike in national awareness regarding Chicago’s ongoing problem with violence.

On Lil Herb’s “4 Minutes Of Hell, Part 4,” we can see how drill’s artists resonate with something bigger than just the music. With a tone that bombards louder than the usual drill artist, over a beat that supplements more than just an 808 kick, Lil Herb goes off:

“I’m from the jungle, lions apes and gorillas, lions the police/ Nigga we the apes and gorillas, go ape and gorilla/ Boy, don’t turn your face on a killer/ Fuck the system man, we going back to racism nigga/ Look, the department suffer from fake-ism nigga/ Black police try not to notice, like they ain’t killing niggas and hate killing niggas/ Seen a million bodies, I done shed a thousand tears/ Niggas just turn thousandaires, been selling rocks a thousand years.”

With thunderous force, Lil Herb continues, reflecting on where he is (“posted on that curb, boy”), what could come of him and his surroundings (“it’s a lot of times when I know I coulda been threw in a hearse”), and his direct response to the situation he’s been put in (“so I’m dropping 4s in my soda everytime I’m through with a verse”).

More than most, “4 Minutes Of Hell, Part 4” is drill’s shove-it to the critics and outsiders. It’s no more a throwaway track than it is a window to the looking glass on some of Chicago’s ignored neighborhoods. “And I won’t let that finish me,” Herb catches on the aforementioned track. “Cause I got too much energy.”

Whether you condone the violent and volatile nature of drill, or look at it from a lens that dismisses the very notion of it, there’s no denying the genre’s identity and place within Chicago and its ongoing evolution in the hip-hop sphere. What may be “garbage wrapped in human skin” to some is the daily life and grind for others, a small testament to those who don’t have a chance to share it over the airwaves. And despite drill’s push on negative stereotypes, such as the term “Chiraq” and gang violence, at the very core its music is a representation of those alienated and ignored by this country. Whereas news outlets would rather report about these neighborhoods from outside city lines, drill artists are there living it, and their music is the prompt.

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Bonus Cut Poetry: “Digby, 1” by Abby Conklin

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Digby, 1
By: Abby Conklin 

In my dream,
we are racing along the side
of a dark green edge
of the basin, past where
the scrawny salmon fisheries
have left their rubber crowns,
drifting,
on the salt surface.
The ferry comes through the gut
from the Fundy, between
rocks’ steep gray scales.
Quiet is different, here- only
the ship’s moan of the horn hangs
in the air. As if here, there is never
too much space for the not human.
While the United States exerts
every measurable force against
the wiles of nature, the Canadian
government,
people,
its very national flesh,
have calmly consented to being
cowed by the Earth.
“Don’t mind us,” say the standard-shift
cars, as they bend between swells
of lands carved, in turn, by glacier,
wind,
and time. Erosion,
in its purist form, without pollution
or loggings’ getting involved.
No, here, it makes sense
that water, coupled with sharp
winter air, would rinse layer after layer
from the skeleton that is the land,
until it is nakedly shivering
against its own flat self, as the ferry
slips between, and we run on
towards home.

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The Starting Five – Our J Dilla Favorites

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In honor of the late great J Dilla’s birthday (February 7th), we wanted to share our favorite Dilla cuts.

Gus’ Picks

Daniel’s Picks

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Album of the Week: “Section.80” by Kendrick Lamar

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Daniel’s Thought

There was a manuscript I wrote to a friend about four months ago that documented Kendrick Lamar and how Section.80 is his superior record. Much to the chagrin of those good kid, m.A.A.d. city reps–and let’s be honest, it’s a near flawless record–I wanted to compare the two records on two characteristics: concept and writing. While gkmc weaves unmistakable perfection with regards to storytelling, fueled intensely by production that’s just as poetic as the lyrics K-Dot so effortless swings, Section.80 is the arc where we as outsiders can see where gkmc got all of its swag. This isn’t to say that gkmc isn’t original, but it’s very clear that the record is an evolved form of its counterpart. Where do you think Kobe Bryant learned his patented fadeaway? Why Michael Jordan of course. Basketball analogies aside, looking at Kendrick’s two powerful albums–although let’s not forget Overly Dedicated stands the test of time as well–good kid, m.A.A.d. city sits on the conceptual throne of storytelling, but there’s no denying that Kendrick took that from Section.80, a record that offers the best writing in his repertoire.

On “Ronald Reagan Era,” a track that paints the setting of Compton after the 80s crack epidemic, we can see Kendrick lather his lines with free expression that lacked in spots on gkmc. Because conceptual themes can sometimes limit what comes out on a page, the writing of gkmc doesn’t see ALL of Kendrick Lamar. On the flipside, what Section.80 lacks in a clear-cut thematic skeleton, it more than makes up for it in the writing. In the first verse we see K-Dot curve his metaphors to a T, without sacrificing detail and imagery:

“You ain’t heard nothin’ harder since Daddy Kane/ Take it in vain Vicodins couldn’t ease the pain/ Lightning bolts hit your body, you thought it rained/ Not a cloud in sight, just the shit that I write/ Strong enough to stand in front of a travellin’ freight train, are you trained?”

Towards the lower torso of the song, Kendrick continues with this delivery, more so now reflecting the song’s overall theme with the same interwoven writing style he presents in the first verse:

“I’m driving on E with no license or registration/ Heart racin’, racin’ past Johnny because he’s racist/ 1987, the children of Ronald Reagan/ Raked the leaves off your front porch with a machine blowtorch/ He blowin’ on stress, hopin’ to ease the stress/ He copping some blow, hopin’ that it can stretch.”

Over a calming beat that lays out to feature the lyricism, “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain),” is a difficult narrative that comments on prostitution, the women behind the industry, and the damage it does to these women. More than anything, “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)” helps show why people have to do such things: “And Lord knows she’s beautiful/ Lord knows the usuals, leaving her body sore/ She take little change she make to fix her nail cuticles/ Lipstick is suitable to make you fiend for more/ She play Mr. Shakur, that’s her favorite rapper/ Bumping “Brenda’s Got a Baby” while a pervert yelling at her/ And she capture features of a woman, but only 17/ The 7 cars start honking, she start running like Flo-Jo/ Don’t care if they Joe Blow/ If they got money to blow a blow job is a sure go/ And sure enough don’t see a dime of dirty dollars/ She give all to her daddy but she don’t know her father, that’s ironic.”

While Section.80 follows the story of Keisha and Tammy and the children of the 80s, its overarching themes of urban decay, the War on Drugs, death, the new-age Civil Rights Movement, and innocence lost dominate the record. Compared to gkmc, Section.80’s conceptual timeline isn’t quite as solid, but the writing is more commandeering, something that is important in the long run. Take Section.80 for a wider view of where Kendrick Lamar is coming from, and if you can see that, then you can appreciate everything that Section.80 has to offer and more.

Gus’ Thoughts

Over the past five years, Kendrick Lamar has been a front-runner in hip-hop. While the latest trends seemingly dominate the “mainstream,” the Compton native has created his own lane while still enjoying commercial success. The beats he rhymes over are banging, and he’s a superb storyteller. Amongst his contemporaries, few can match Kenrick’s mastery of the concept album. This is true of good kid, m.A.A.d city, his 2012 effort that truly put him on the map. We’re hearing this again on his two recent cuts, “i” and “The Blacker The Berry,” that seem to be leading up to a new record in 2015. With all of this in mind, revisiting his studio album debut, Section.80, reminds us where Kendrick was when he first came onto the scene and that his success is not a fluke.

Using the story of two girls, Keisha and Tammy, Section.80 is a vivid narrative that follows the life-arc of those born in the late 80’s, before the internet was readily available. Now those babies are twenty-somethings, engrossed in a technological world. Kendrick’s debut is not a celebration. Instead, Section.80 is a dark reflection on race, death, rape, drug abuse and being young. “A.D.H.D.” is about instant gratification and the use of prescription narcotics to get high. “Ronald Reagan Era” is about the lingering effects of the crack epidemic during the 80’s. “Kush & Corinthians” blurs the lines between morality and justice. The gut-wrenching “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain),” takes us into Keisha’s life as a prostitute, the sexual abuse she suffered as a young child and her untimely death. To close out the album is the undeniably powerful “HiiiPower,” that is fueled by the lasting influence of the Civil Rights Movement, and how millennials are making sense of it.

With production and guest appearances from Willie B, J. Cole, Terrace Martin, Wyldfyer, BJ The Chicago Kid, Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q, Section.80 delivers musically as well as thematically. When an artist is topping the charts, it usually involves that artist giving up a certain amount of creative control. From the outside looking in, it seems as though Kendrick Lamar has yet to do that. This is definitely true of Section.80, an album with a powerful story and a lot to say. When you listen to a record such as Section.80, it’s very hard to be surprised at any of the success Kendrick Lamar has enjoyed over his career thus far.

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Bonus Cut Poetry: “Snake Eyes” by Daniel Hodgman

Photo Credit: ipoll.com

Photo Credit: ipoll.com

This is Bonus Cut Poetry, a series that features original poems by Bonus Cut staff, artists and YOU! In this series, our mission is to bring people together in poetry, share stories and display wonderful artistic pieces. If you would like to have your poems in the next Bonus Cut Poetry installment, just email us at bonuscut@gmail.com

This installment features Bonus Cut’s
own Daniel Hodgman.

Snake Eyes
By: Daniel Hodgman

Gleaming hat in one hand and cream in the other
How many pieces must I drain to build my hotels?
Your cold metallic cars rust
On a belt no longer worthy of any man’s attention.
Your iron
Firmly brims with confidence
But it doesn’t hold to my boot
Pressed on your throat.
Your dogs howl
While rats scavenge
On the lost souls frozen over by my intoxicating winds.
Your shoes tread
Laceless
With material better suited to hang those
South of the loop.
And the freighters in the distance
Further prove
Your ship has long sailed away.

I charge for parking
Because nothing in life is free
And don’t bet your bottom dollar I’ll provide a community chest.
Give me all the railroads.
We’re in Chicago aren’t we?
You kick and scream
But I won’t hear it over the roll of my dye
While my eyes gleam as green
As the turbulent waters in March.
I’m the player, the banker, and a Parker Brother in jest.
I am the cyclical system
And you traverse my square.
I make you watch your back
So long as no one protects your front.
I beckon you over
Watching
As you fall off the boardwalk.

 

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Album of the Week: “Beauty and the Beast” by Rapsody

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Daniel’s Thought

On “Who I Am,” the second track off of her Beauty and the Beast EP, Rapsody feeds us with the truth. “They know who I am,” she relays. “Everyday I wake up lacing my Jordan, they know who I wake up being every morning.”

Though we all know who Rapsody is, Beauty and the Beast is very much a self-reflective record that inspects the inner-workings of this intelligent MC from her point of view. For much of the EP’s run, Rapsody runs with the idea that experiences and retrospective outpouring is needed to better understand yourself and the bustling world around you. Some of this is showcased on a logical straightforward in-your-face light, like the stretching mood setter “Waiting On It (Baby Girl)” and its rhythmic trot (“I rose like your face to make up for shit that you do/ Bust Smith & Wessons, I’m a weapon to those wept on you”). However, most of this thematic lead is portrayed through tracks that are scarred and wounded by life’s experiences. The 9th Wonder produced “Hard to Choose” grounds itself in specific detail, which leads to a bigger idealistic theme: “Cause I love all races but we gotta raise ‘em/ Cause I know the scale tipped ain’t in no black girl’s favor/ Hey yall we all outcasts, these black girls favor/ The blonde Barbie and scars, we all gotta save ‘em.”

Beauty and the Beast is a worthwhile and collectable record because it sheds light on personal experience while retaining replay value, booming hip-hop variation and the Rapsody effect, the theory that states that everything Rapsody produces is an experience within itself. As she states on the aforementioned “Who I Am,” we can all see where Rapsody is coming from, but it’s not until this record where we get to see that she’s finding and feeding through this herself: “We can’t change like dyes/ So make music like this so you don’t forget/ And always remember and recognize who you are.”

Gus’ Thought

You are either familiar with Rapsody because of her work with Kooley High, her solo projects or a combination of both. Either way, there is one constant that goes with the North Carolina MC: she always brings it. This is most definitely true of her recent EP, Beauty and the Beast. Without guest appearances, Rapsody delves into more serious topics, but also reminds us that she can rap for the sake of rapping. With production from Khrysis, Eric G, Nottz and 9th Wonder, Beauty and the Beast hits heavy and sets up Rapsody to do what she does best.

The first track, “Feel It,” moves slow with crescendoing horns and bass kicks that are full of syncopation. Here, Rapsody’s wordplay moves from one boastful example of her skills to the next. It is, however, in good taste. “Leaders lead/ Followers trail/ I never looked back/ When you this good, you never get lapped/ Widen the gap like plus-size way in the back/ I’m too big for your britches/ Ain’t never been slapped.” Later on in the project, 9th Wonder’s fly beat on “Godzilla” lends itself to more of Rapsody’s braggadocious rhymes. It just sounds like Rapsody had a blast rapping over the beat, making it even more fun to nod your head to.

While Rapsody shows us she can boast with the best of them, other tracks demonstrate how she makes sense of the world around her. “Hard To Choose” finds Rapsody speaking on the difficulty of making decisions. Over soulful production, she emphasizes that who she is, where her career has gone and what she raps about, is a result of her choices. “No love lost for whites, Latinos or the Asians/ Loyal to all, but when I look at these black girl’s faces/ I understand why I chose to be better, not basic.” The last track, “Forgive Me,” is a much-needed, high-voltage close to the project. Complete with never-ending drum fills and soaring piano chords, Rapsody is at her best.

With multiple references to the death of Michael Brown, racism in America, on-point social commentary and moments of witty boastfulness, Rapsody’s Beauty and the Beast is an EP worth everyone’s time. In more ways than one, the project is a representation of what life should be. There is time to have fun and chill, but it must be supplemented with an ability to think critically about what is happening in the world. Beauty and the Beast is a collection of hard-hitting beats that showcases Rapsody’s wide-range of talents. Turn it all the way up.

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Bonus Cut Presents: An Interview With Bambu

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By: Gus Navarro

I want to start where Bambu de Pistola ended his show. Drenched in sweat after ripping up the stage for a solid forty-five minutes, he spoke to the crowd. With Dead Prez’s “It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop” thumping behind him, he stressed to us that while artists such as Dead Prez, Immortal Technique and himself make music from a radical perspective, it doesn’t start and end with the music. He explained that if you’re simply into the music, you’re just a fan. There is nothing wrong with being a fan, but in order to demand change, people need to go out and take it. Communities have to organize and come together around the issues that are important to them. Hip-hop is absolutely a powerful manifestation of this, but it can’t end when your favorite album reaches the outro.

Representing Los Angeles and currently residing in Oakland, Bambu walks and talks the life he raps about. Whether it’s on his 2012 release, …one rifle per family., or his recent album, Party Worker, you will find an MC that reps his Filipino-American heritage to the fullest and is unafraid to tell it like it is with politically charged, and at times, humorous lyricism. Following the show, we sat down and chopped it up over the creation of his new his record, his work as a community organizer, raising a child and some of the albums that were most influential to him. Being on tour can be hectic, so I appreciate his willingness to sit down and speak with me following his performance.

Bonus Cut (BC):  Based on your experiences, what has hip-hop meant to you?

Bambu:  It’s been positive. I grew up around hip-hop so it was just always a part of my life in some form or fashion before we even labeled it hip-hop. It was just always around. It’s difficult to figure out where it fits in because it runs parallel with all the significant moments in my life. It’s a difficult question to answer, but I think the bottom line is that it’s been a positive experience for me. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s saved my life, but it’s given my life direction.

BC:  Do you want to talk about your time in the military?

Bambu:  I mean there’s not much to say. It was a strong suggestion I was given. I had been getting in trouble, a lot. I got locked up for armed robbery. I was let off house arrest and on probation and upon my release from house arrest I moved in with my adopted family. Then joined the military. I started to become politicized only because I was starting to see things from within. I went to East Timor, and saw people that looked just like me. I heard what people said about them, and came home with a different fervor. And you know, George Bush was in office so it was pretty easy to put a critical eye on things.

BC:  I work with youth in underprivileged communities and the military is presented as a viable option as far as getting out of the hood. For me to even say that is just wrong.

Bambu:  Yeah I mean it’s calculated. It’s marketed that way to us. And they specifically target low-income, marginalized communities. I was talking to a security guard yesterday, a young kid who had just turned eighteen. He was working security at the venue we were at last night, and he was going to boot camp in a few days. We were talking about what he was going to experience and go through. He was telling me how they just brought the ASVAB test to him. They make recruiting so easy.

BC:  And this is something we see throughout history.

Bambu:  Right. It’s the school-to-prison pipeline system, but also the school-to-military system as well. It’s one or the other.

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BC:  As you’ve already said, hip-hop is a positive thing, and was for you specifically. That being said, is there a side of it that isn’t positive?

Bambu:  I mean there’s a lot of lying in hip-hop. That’s something I don’t need to speak on that much. I think anyone with intelligence knows that half of these cats out there are lying. I’m hoping we don’t believe it. Yeah, it can influence kids. But I don’t think it influences kids more than what’s actually going on in their communities. It’s their life. The problem is that somebody else is getting paid from exploiting them. That is the negative side, and that usually comes with the business side of hip-hop. All of this is very calculated. I don’t think it’s an accident that record labels put money behind and push certain kinds of music.

BC:  As a community organizer, what is the work that you’re involved in?

Bambu:  As of recently, I’ve been working a lot on my music. I did youth and student organizing. I started working for a non-profit that I love dearly called People’s CORE, People’s Community Organization for Reform Empowerment, where we would go out to the community and try to create small people’s organizations and help facilitate that. We would try and find communities that needed us. We’d go in and try to identify issues. The last campaign I worked on with them was a smoke-free multi-unit housing project. We taught about the tobacco industry, how they work, their marketing ploys and things like that. While I’m in Oakland, I’m a full time dad, a “domestic engineer” if you will. My partner, Rocky Rivera, she does a lot of the community organizing. There was one year while I was doing it, and now she’s doing it. We just try and balance it out with being at home with our son. It’s too tough to have two community organizers going full time with a kid. 

BC:  Things must change when you have a child.

Bambu:  Yeah, it definitely puts things into perspective. Even to your ideology and political work.

BC:  How so?

Bambu:  Ideology wise, you start to realize that you gave a shit before. Now that you have a child, you really give a shit now. This means something to you. Not that it didn’t before. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve had a child. You see your child, and you start to genuinely care about what happens in the future. For that reason alone, the way I thought ten years ago compared to now isn’t necessarily different, but it’s more mature.

BC:  What are some of the books that influenced your thinking and that you really learned from?

Bambu:  The first book I ever sat and read, front to back, was in the day room of the Los Padrinos Detention Center. You had the option to either go outside and play basketball or stay inside a read books. I stayed in there and read The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley. Wonderful book. I felt like it related to me. This was before even all the hype around the nation (of Islam) through hip-hop and what not. That book made me feel powerful. For a long time I just felt worthless and stupid and dumb. Here was a guy who came from worse conditions and he managed to transform that same energy, not change, but mature that attitude and that energy into something that was structured and uplifting. That was beautiful to me. That’s where little things started to spark in my mind. What I will say is that along the way, hip-hop influenced a lot of my life. Ice Cube’s Death Certificate is an album I praise like some people praise the Bible. I pull verses from it, you know? I wrote a whole song about it on …one rifle per family. It was powerful for me and forced me to read books. It forced me to read Native Son because I was searching, I was looking and that really opened the door for me. Without them, I wouldn’t have even read those books and I’d rather talk about that.

BC:  What are some of those albums?

Bambu:  Kam’s Neva Again blew my mind the first time I heard it. The Coup’s first album, Kill My Landlord, love that album front to back. Let’s Get Free by Dead Prez. As a youth, I would hear what they were rappin’ about, and I’d want to take that bar or line and research it. Where does this come from? Why is it this way? I learned so much before I even traveled the country. I already knew about some of the cultures. I had a sense about the mid-west, northwest and east coast, all because of hip-hop. I understood that there was a different language, but our struggles were the same. Jeru the Damaja’s first album, The Sun Rises in the East, developed my sound so much. I come from a time, in the Freestyle Fellowship era, where rap was a lot of giant words for no reason. I say no reason because I sucked at it. Those brothas, Freestyle Fellowship and Project Blowed did that to the utmost. We were mimicking it, we thought we just had to use giant words just to mimic them. That’s where I came from. Then I listened to things like Mobb Deep’s The Infamous. Prodigy was saying such powerful things with such a short amount of words. He wasn’t killing you with all these bars, just throwin’ em at your face. He would say, “My gun shots’ll make you levitate.” That’s it. That’s all that I needed to know! That was poetic in just one bar. We gotta stop there or I’ll just keep going…

BC:  What was some of the music that was in your house growing up?

Bambu:  Carlos Santana was in my house a lot. My dad was a huge Santana fan. I remember a Tower of Power LP. My mom listened to horrible shit like Doris Day. My mom was corny with that whole music thing.

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BC:  Speaking of family and heritage, can you speak on some of the history of American colonization and how that has affected Filipino-Americans living in the United States but also in the Philippines?

Bambu:  Yeah so the Phillipines was a colonized territory, a strategic launching point, militarily and tradewise. Everyone wanted to be on those set of islands, it was a gateway to the Orient. The United States came in, put their puppet in play and did what they do best; colonize. All this began during the late 1800’s, but the U.S. still has a very strong influence on the islands, monetarily and even through the government. Militarily, the Philippines are very dependent on the United States. Land is getting exploited by companies that stem from the United States. For example, Nestle. All these companies come and what happens is that you force people to leave their homes. There’s nothing there for them anymore, the land is depleted. What you pay them is not enough to survive and the wealth is owned, just like here (the United States), by a very few. So then there’s this move to migrate. The way that it’s connected is that a lot of the money that is being recycled within the Philippines, especially on the neighborhood level, comes from the United States. Now there’s this huge push for tourism in the Philippines, which is just going to fuck the country up. You’re going to allow the Hiltons, which Paris Hilton already has a club there, and the Trumps to build on this land and ultimately push people out and force people into the service industry, and then they won’t have any self-sufficiency.

BC:  Have you been to the Philippines before?

Bambu:  Yeah and I’m going back this December. I try and go once or twice a year.

BC:  That’s cool. What’s it like there?

Bambu:  It’s beautiful. I have kind of a different experience when I go there. Usually when I go home it’s in a performance capacity. What’s great about that is that I have access to a different world while I also have one foot in the organizing community, and I have one foot with the masa, with the people. I can go and see that side, do the work there, and then go to this club in a nicer part of town and perform. I’m privileged to see both worlds. The corrupt, the shitty and you know, the people on the ground.

BC:   Do you see your new album, Party Worker, as a continuation of your previous record, …One rifle per family.?

Bambu:  No, no. If you look at my album catalogue, and this is calculated, I always have ellipses that go with my titles. So if you notice, One Rifle Per Family has a period at the end (…One Rifle Per Family.) because that series of albums is done. I felt like One Rifle was it for me. It didn’t come as naturally to me as it does for a (Brother) Ali or somebody else who’s done this for a while. Making this kind of music took me a long time. To figure out my path, I had to be in a group called Native Guns. I had to learn a lot of things before I could do an album like …One Rifle Per Family. I did it and I was like, “Dope. I said what I wanted to say. That Bambu is done.” Party Worker is a whole new venture. I wrote three versions of this album. The first version I wrote was a party record. It was a lot of party music on stupid ass beats. It was dumb. I had received all of this money from a kickstarter campaign I did. The label (Beat Rock Music) has always taken care of me, so this was the first time money like that was in my account. I was like, “Oh shit, party time!” So I’m writin’ this party music and it was shit. Then I decided to throw the party outside the window and go with the worker. So then I wrote this really pro-union, socialist record that was heavily influenced by punk. And I didn’t like that either. Not that it was a bad record, the party version was horrible, but this worker one wasn’t what I wanted to project. Then I put the two together and realized a rapper is essentially a “party worker.” The DJ is the party and what we do is help them along. Then I said, “What if rappers had a grassroots people’s organization, what would that sound like? What would that meeting sound like?” And that’s all I did.

BC: I totally got that vibe when I listened to it. Some of my favorite moments of the album are the interludes because you really do feel as if you’re sitting and participating in this meeting.

Bambu:  Thank you, man! That’s exactly what I was going for. Conceptually, Party Worker is similar to Barrel Men, the Native Guns album we did. It starts with a kid getting jumped into a gang, and the gang was the Native Guns. He gets jumped into it throughout the album. It goes from this really hard stuff to this more cultural stuff. Party Worker kind of mirrors that through the meeting interludes. I’m very proud of it and I got to work with Phatty, man! I always wanted to work with DJ Phatrick. If you like the album, half of it is all him. I entrusted that album to him. We wrote and we recorded in this hotel. We shut down this hotel floor and we had rooms for recording. My boy Roy Choi hooked it up! He gave us two rooms and we built up this studio in there. I slept, woke up, wrote and recorded there for four days. We had guests come in, we put them on album and it was great.

BC:  So it kind of was like a meeting.

Bambu: It was, it was. And then when I was done with that, I left it in Phatty’s hands and went on tour. The record was really put together by Phatty. I wrote it and he did what I wanted him to do. It was beautiful and I’m very, very proud of that of that record. I’m never doing a kickstarter again, though. Never. That shit was tough. I still haven’t talked to the IRS about it. I can’t wait for that conversation.

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