Tag Archives: los angeles

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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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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Album of the Week: “You’re Dead!” by Flying Lotus

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Daniel’s Thoughts

Flying Lotus is now six studio albums deep–one of them was his Captain Murphy project Duality–and the first thing that comes to mind is where You’re Dead! stacks up against the rest. Almost incomparable are Los Angeles and Cosmogramma, near flawless works of art that are drowned in reckless counts of harp strings, manic synthetic rushes and liberating progressions of artsy jazz-hop. Somewhere swelling underneath these works stands You’re Dead!, perhaps FlyLo’s most exotic work, and definitely the most guest-heavy.

Penetrating deep into the stereo, You’re Dead! leads with quick-hitting intro tracks that paint a rushing mural of jazz highlights and rapid snare licks, where just the sound of each note feels like it’s living and breathing inside of the listener’s head. There’s “Turkey Dog Coma,” a song that sprints from the very get-go under anxious drum scats and Thundercat’s rumbling bass. “Ready err Not” on the other hand slows down, playing soundtrack to an imaginary video game that takes place in a dark creepy castle. And then there’s the Kendrick Lamar feature called “Never Catch Me.” You’d be hard-pressed to find another MC that can effortlessly spit over a FlyLo beat, but K-Dot is one of them. “Ain’t no blood pumpin’ no fear,” Lamar spits over a rushing trip beat and a flowing piano melody. “I got hope inside of my bones.”

You’re Dead!, like all of Flying Lotus’ records, paints this impossible picture of hip-hop, jazz, trip-hop, rock, electro, and blues intertwining in a cauldron of goodness. It’s a steady improvement over Until the Quiet Comes, with full-fledged themes constructed over the entire piece, and throughout you’ll get hints of Cosmogramma, Los Angeles and 1983 hiding like Waldo on the beach. If you want an “Album of the Year” candidate, look no further.

Gus’ Thoughts

Sometimes I think about dying, or rather, if anything happens after death. I don’t necessarily mean in a religious sense, although that’s part of it. Generally, it’s more about the mind. Where do people’s thoughts go? Do we actually just cease to exist? Surely there must be something following what we, in society, refer to as death. Considering this, Flying Lotus’ new record, You’re Dead!, may just be the musical manifestation to some of these ideas. Released on October 7th, 2014, You’re Dead! is a frantic, yet clearly intentional, compilation of hard-hitting beats, jazz melodies and rhymes that is driven by these thoughts. In some ways, the music is much like the Lotus we all know and love. However, as opposed to some of his other albums, which are packed to the brim with off-kilter percussion and spaced out synth, You’re Dead! is propelled by a very specific concept.

The beginning of the album has the feel of a long intro as the first four tracks, “Theme,” “Tesla,” “Cold Dead” and “Fkn Dead,” flow into each other, picking up speed and intensity with heavy guitars, bright keyboard notes and vivid saxophone. Just as we reach what seems to be a climax of sorts, piano cuts in and “Never Catch Me” begins. Easily one of the best songs of 2014, “Never Catch Me” features Kendrick Lamar, whose words add to the concept. Featuring Snoop Dogg on “Dead Man’s Tetris” and Flying Lotus rapping as Captain Murphy, the lyrics on these tracks push the theme forward. However, as one should expect from a Flying Lotus record, the music dominates the canvas in the best way.

With help from the piano man himself, Herbie Hancock, Thundercat on bass and soundtrack specialist Ennio Morricone, You’re Dead! is an on-point combination of more aggressive styles of jazz that fit perfectly with hand claps, syncopated kick drums, fast-moving horn and bass lines. With his sixth studio album, Flying Lotus has delivered a wonderfully furious combination of musical styles that moves together seamlessly, creating a journey through space, time and what the afterlife might just sound like.

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Album of the Week: Blaq Tongue Society Self-Titled

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Blaq Tongue Society
Blaq Tongue Society
Sickocell Recordz, 2013

Daniel’s Thought

The first thing that comes to mind when listening to Blaq Tongue Society’s self-titled debut album is that there are many influences resonating on the surface. “Age of the Pyramidz” has the same attitude, flow and fleshed-out production as any Army of the Pharaohs cut; “8 Octogramz Of Shinigami” starts off with the same sort of kung-fu b-movie sample you’d expect on a RZA track; “Panthion” absorbs the harmonious sounds and funky flow of underground legends Kool Keith and Del tha Funkee Homosapien; and “Terraform” locks onto the gritty underground movement of the late 90s and the futuristic sound El-P introduced with The Cold Vein.

With that being said, Blaq Tongue Society flawlessly takes their debut album and folds it into something they can call their own. While this album is mostly a contingent of underground sounds, it’s hard to ignore the weird paradoxes. “Code of Hamurabi” propels like a tribute to faith but at the same time haunts with dizzying horns and offsetting vocal tones; and “Sinister S.E.V.E.N.” remains minimalistic in nature, but packs a powerful punch from open to close. Elsewhere, cannibalistic flow dominates “Butcherz Of Babylon” over haunting production that backs a horrorcore-like sound. If “Butcherz Of Babylon” isn’t going to move you with its ill lyricism (“Slash you in the jugular, Tibetan book of death”), then the production will. The percussion sounds like something Mola Ram would compose in The Temple of Doom, and I get the feeling this is everything Tyler, The Creator’s “French” wanted to accomplish but failed to fully reach.

It’s amazing how much Blaq Tongue Society covers, and with 19 tracks this may seem like a stupid thought, but when you really delve into this record it comes full force. The styles and varying flow from this group and all their guests (including: Rakaa Iriscience of Dilated Peoples and Self Jupiter of Freestyle Fellowship) make this a lengthy project without the bore or drone. Fans of artists like Hieroglyphics and Formula Abstract will thoroughly enjoy this record, but for those wanting to explore hip-hop’s distinct ability to branch out, this is a must.

Gus’ Thought

As the 21st century moves forward, the advancements in technology have made it possible for anyone and everyone to try their hand at making music. This is truly a blessing and a curse. Anybody can write a rhyme, make a beat and put it up on the Internet for the world to hear. Because of this, there is a sea of music, new artists and albums every single day. It can be extremely difficult to find the new, profound sound with the overload of new stuff. However, when you find the sound that is meaningful and worth a listen, it soars above the rest.

The Los Angeles based group, Blaq Tongue Society, does just this with their in your face style, hardcore production and revolutionary lyrics. In May they released their self-titled debut album, entering the world of hip-hop with an original, untamed sound, showcasing many MCs and producers in the underground scene of LA. Their music harnesses the raw energy of artists such as Public Enemy, N.W.A., Dead Prez, Immortal Technique and Pharoahe Monch. These MCs aren’t afraid of honesty and refuse to sugarcoat the content of their music. There are times when hip-hop artists are needed to deliver content that is raw and in your face. In an industry that is obsessed with the top 40 and the next hit, this approach to hip-hop feels a like cool breeze on a blisteringly hot, 90-degree day. The method of Blaq Tongue Society delivers in this exact way.

With lines such as, “Gushin’ pores is whatcha in for / Brothers of another smothered mother, ex-lover / Government cover-up, agent Smith last he’s one of em’” from “Terraform” the group is establishes their lyrical brilliance and originality in a genre that is often saturated with snare hits and hooks. Blaq Tongue Society also stands out with the production from the likes of those that manage to create a sinister atmosphere that is perfect for the meta-physical and socio-political lyricism spit by each MC. Blaq Tongue Society is worth the listen because of their radical sound, powerful lyricism and shadowy style of production. Clearly, the underground scene in LA is alive and well.

Must-Listens

“Butcherz Of Babylon”

“Panthion”

“Terraform”

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Film Review: Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap

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By: Gus Navarro 

Within the first five minutes of Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap, the 2012 film by Ice-T, the importance of hip-hop is unmistakable. As Ice-T explains, “I really felt that I had to do this movie because rap music saved my life.” Ice-T, the MC, actor and personality from New Jersey and L.A. doesn’t try to hide anything about his film. Here, Ice-T focuses on what being an MC is all about: it is about the craft of writing verses and the skill it takes to deliver them in the studio and in front of a crowd. What emerges is the artistry contained within the music, the power of writing and an important history lesson about the origins of hip-hop and how it has evolved over time. Ice-T puts this into words, “This movie isn’t about the money, the cars, the jewelry, the girls; this film is about the craft.” In order to educate people on the craft, Ice-T sits down and talks with legends of hip-hop.

Mixed with artistic overhead shots of New York, Detroit and Los Angeles, this film contains interviews from the various legends that transformed rap music. Ice-T sits down with MCs and producers such as Grandmaster Caz, Afrika Bambaata, Rakim, Nas, DJ Premier, Chuck D, Ice Cube, KRS-One, Dr. Dre, Royce da 5’9”, Eminem, Immortal Technique, Yasiin Bey, Big Daddy Kane, Raekwon and Melle Mel, and talks to them about their favorite artists and verses of all time, their writing process and what hip-hop means to them. With this movie you get the feeling that Ice-T decided to be generous and allow you to sit in and get a glimpse at the lives of rap royalty. It’s amazing to hear Rakim talk about growing up, inspired by listening to the jazz his mother would play. With The Art Of Rap, Ice-T makes it possible to know more about the MCs behind the verses we know and love. Not only that, we also get the privilege of seeing almost every MC in the movie do an a cappella verse where they showcase their talent with words. It is a sight to behold as Nas, Immortal Technique, Yasiin Bey and Eminem drop rhyme after rhyme straight from the dome. The best part of this film is learning about the writing process of each MC.

For example, Dana Dane, the MC from New York, talks about how he writes verses:

“The way I write rhymes is kind of crazy too, because I write the story first.  Not even as a rhyme, I just write the story-I guess it’s from school-and I write the introduction, I write the body, and the conclusion.  I always write the conclusion first, I always know where my story is going to end before I even start writing it.”

Dana Dane is engaged in the practice of literacy and makes it possible to get a glimpse into the amount of work it takes to write a truly masterful verse. Grandmaster Caz, an extremely influential MC, is shown working on a verse multiple times. Between hits from a blunt, he is seen writing on a notepad, whispering the words to himself. It may seem that MCs always have the words–in some cases they do–but it also takes a lot of effort to write high-quality rhymes. In the film, every MC has a different writing process and a different opinion on hip-hop. However, what surfaces across the board is the social context from which hip-hop originated.

The first interviewee is Lord Jamar from Brand Nubian. In this interview he describes where hip-hop came from:

“We created something from nothing with hip-hop. With the whole spirit of what hip-hop is. It was at a time when they were taking instruments and shit out of the schools and all of that type of shit. See, black people used to be pretty musical back in the day. It wasn’t unusual for a motherfucker to know how to play the piano or guitar or some sort of horn or some shit like that. At some point, all of that shit was removed from us. Through economics, cutting things outta schools and all that. So they try to take the music from us when we had created an original American music, which was jazz. So what did we do? We had no fucking instruments, no horns, no drums, we’re living in the fucking city and all this, we ain’t got room for that shit anywhere up in the projects or wherever the fuck you’re huddled in at. So what did we do? We took the fucking record player, the only thing that’s playing music in our fucking crib and turned it into an instrument.”

Hip-hop happened because it had to, because it was a way to resist the continued racial oppression that people of color faced following the Civil Rights Era. Similar to today, the funds for the fine arts are being removed from places that need it most. Hip-hop won’t die because it is an art form of resistance. As long as oppression and injustice remain, hip-hop will as well. Hip-hop is a means of agency and self-determination and Ice-T’s film embodies this spirit.

If you are looking to learn more about hip-hop culture and its impact on society, Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap is worth watching. Containing countless interviews with renowned artists, Ice-T’s film highlights the skill needed to be an MC, the history of hip-hop and how it is a form of resistance. Ice Cube refers to his style of hip-hop as “Street Knowledge.” Street knowledge is about, “Letting the streets know what the politicians is trying to do to them. And then, letting the politicians know what the streets think of them, if they listening.” This is an essential point to make in that it grounds hip-hop within the political, social and economic contexts of our communities. This takes hip-hop to another place in that it is directly influenced by the living conditions of the artists and their communities. Ultimately, Ice-T’s film is about the craft of rapping, for which he makes this very clear.  However, it is also a testament to the worldview that is hip-hop.

Check out the trailer for Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap below!

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Album of the Week: “I Wish My Brother George Was Here” by Del tha Funkee Homosapien

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Del tha Funkee Homosapien
I Wish My Brother George Was Here
Elektra Entertainment, 1991

Daniel’s Thought 

“Hey yo Del”
“What?”
“What the fuck is a funkee homosapien?”
“It’s a human being fool, a funkee human being.”

On the opening track to Del tha Funkee Homosapien’s debut album I Wish My Brother George Was Here, we enter a realm where we in question ask: what exactly is a funkee homosapien? As Del gives us an immediate response while “What Is A Booty” slowly fades into the second track, the full answer isn’t laid out until the completion of the album.

I Wish My Brother George Was Here is more than just a representation of Del and his first-person narrative and perception on life. In fact, it’s a culmination of varying factors that eventually builds up to this. For one, Brother George is a strict ode to George Clinton and his bands Parliament and Funkadelic. Riddled with samples from Parliament, Funkadelic, James Brown and The Meters, Brother George takes the influence of funk and warps it into danceable hip-hop. The album also, almost unconsciously, bridges the gap between East and West Coast hip-hop: the hard-hitting breakbeats are often accompanied with silky p-funk grooves and live instrumentation creating an ominous West Coast style (something that should be credited to executive producer Ice Cube, Del’s cousin), while Del’s lyrics and rhyme drawl mask that of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest.

What’s most important to note however is Del’s approach on his debut album. Brother George scans and scours the everyday lifestyle, whether it’s about his frustration towards the city bus system (“The Whacky World Of Rapid Transit”) or explaining his morning routine (“Sunny Meadowz”). Moreover, it’s not just that he covers life on a grounded plateau, it’s that he re-directs the focus from harder artists like his cousin Ice Cube and shows us that he’s someone we can easily relate to.

This isn’t the only tune Del marches to however, because some of the best songs on Brother George are the ones that delve into societal issues. “Mistadobalina” takes shots at those who misrepresent themselves to fit into a stereotype (“The little two timer resembles Aun Jemima / With jeans and a dirty white hoodie”). And on “Ahonetwo, Ahonetwo,” Del attacks social norms and his ability to be his own creative self (“And I giggle when I see ya liver prune / I’m a funky human being not a monkey or a coon” and “I plan to grow dreads but first a nappy fro / The longer the hair, the easier to scare a foe”).

At 18, Del tha Funkee Homosapien unleashed a record that mixes tributes to funk legend George Clinton, stances against social and political issues and the notion that hip-hop can also be enjoyed when it covers the everyday grandeur of life, instead of the exponentially singular themes that more concise concept albums possess. It also helped bridge the gap between East Coast and West Coast rap, during a time when hip-hop was unaware of what was going to happen in the near future. Brother George is good for any debut artist, let alone Del tha Funkee Homosapien, and its this eclectic mix of subject matter that really pushes it to the top. It’s a calming voice of reason with a stab of realness, and it’s a constructed piece of social matter with varying calm-me-down songs. In essence, Brother George is what hip-hop is and always will be.

Gus’ Thought

When the 1991 release I Wish My Brother George Was Here by Del tha Funkee Homosapien was released, it came in accordance amongst the racism, turmoil and oppression of California in the early 1990’s. This was a post Civil Rights Vietnam era that was still reeling from the crack cocaine epidemic and the annihilation of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Additionally, this album debuted after N.W.A. released Straight Outta Compton in 1988, only months after the Rodney King beating and just before the L.A. riots in April, 1992. This was a time when hip-hop was just being indoctrinated into the commercialization that is popular culture. Needless to say, there was a lot of subject material for MCs to discuss in their music.

Beyond the social, political and economic context of the early 90’s, it is immediately clear that I Wish My Brother George Was Here is a musical masterpiece. Drawing from legendary funk groups such as Parliament, Funkadelic, the Meters, the Monkees and James Brown, this album pays homage to a time where Funk and P-Funk would have been heard blasting from record players. For example, “Same Ol’ Thing” is constructed entirely of Meters classics, including “Cissy Strut” and “Hand Clapping Song.” A sample of the Parliament classic, “P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)” can be heard on the 10th song, “Sunny Meadowz.” What’s more, the “George” referred to in the title is none other than the funk architect himself, George Clinton. Produced by The Boogie Men, Ice Cube and Del himself, I Wish My Brother George Was Here is a production masterpiece that perfectly balances the art of making a good record with pointing out the dire situations that were a result of generations of racial discrimination in Los Angeles and Oakland specifically.

Perhaps the best part of Del’s lyricism is the fact that he raps about what he knows, what he has experienced, and how it effects his community. In “Hoodz Come In Dozens,” he describes the mercilessness of gang violence. “Hoodz come in dozens, read it in the papers / Seems like everyone caught a little vapors / You can’t escape em’, so don’t even plan it / Gangsta Boogie fever has taken over Planet Earth / Now your life is worth a pair of Jordan’s?” And again, on “Dark Skin Girls” where in the hook Del proclaims, “Dark skin girls are better than light skin / Light skin girls ain’t better than dark skin.” On this song, Del is deconstructing the socially created notion of attractiveness and is challenging the concept of beauty. It’s an important thing to rap about, especially in the wake of 15 year old Latasha Harlins’ murder  in March, 1991.

As you listen to I Wish My Brother George Was Here, the funkiness jumps right out at you in the best kind of way. So many of the classic hip-hop songs feature jazz samples, but how many utilize the grooviness that was Funk and P-Funk? The brilliance of this album lies in the fact that many of these songs and their funk samples make you want to get out of your seat and dance. And yet, the lyricism of Del takes you right back to the struggle against oppression and generational fight for true racial equality in 1990’s California. This was a serious time in the cities of Los Angeles and Oakland, and Del tha Funkee Homosapien harnesses this significance and juxtaposes it with a brilliantly produced record that pays respect to the revolutionary music that existed before hip-hop. George Clinton’s music was great because it was groovy, and also revolutionary. Del tha Funkee Homosapien is able to harness the energy of funk and a revolutionary spirit to make people dance and think just like Parliament, Funkadelic, and James Brown.

Must-Listens:
“Pissin’ On Your Steps”

“Hoodz Come In Dozens”

“Mistadobalina”

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