By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
Crown City Rockers
With this year's Earthtones, the Crown City Rockers went from being the best live hip hop band in the bay -- like the Roots, CCR employs live instrumentation -- to being one of the best hip hop acts period. Serving up a style that seamlessly skims from '70s blaxploitation soul to '80s boom-bap hip hop, Earthtones is fluid without losing focus. The album's discipline is admirable. There are very few, if any, throwaway tracks, and each of the band members' individual skills are nicely and oftentimes subtly highlighted. What's best, the record conveys the strong familial vibe of the players, MC Raashan Ahmad, producer Woodstock, keyboardist Kat Ouano, bassist/producer Headnodic, and drummer Max MacVeety. The sense of togetherness is reinforced by a steady guest procession of Bay Area stalwarts: David Boyce from the Broun Fellinis, DJ Zeph, and Gift of Gab of Blackalicious all lend their considerable talents.
Though Earthtones was a revelation, introducing the Crown City Rockers as studio performers to be reckoned with, the group's continued dominance of the local live scene is much less surprising. CCR's recent sold-out show with fellow SFWMA nominee Lyrics Born at the Independent was one of the most exciting and talked-about area hip hop events of the year. Whether taking turns soloing -- including an incredible a cappella freestyle from Ahmad -- or playing a raucous selection of nonalbum material, the Crown City Rockers moved the crowd with an impeccable blend of charm and substance. Lyrics Born
Hailing from the same UC Davis class that produced DJ Shadow, hip hop journalist extraordinaire Jeff Chang, and the rest of the Quannum Projects record label, Lyrics Born (aka Tom Shimura) is inching ever closer to mainstream recognition with a critically acclaimed album (last year's Later That Day), a blazing live show, and a Coca-Cola commercial that features his song "Calling Out." Formerly one half of Latyrx -- along with Lateef the Truth Speaker -- Lyrics Born has more or less owned the local underground hip hop scene for the past year and a half.
As the title suggests, Later That Day follows Lyrics Born through a typical day in his life. With its intricate, multicultural combination of traditional boom-bap, blues, funk, jazz, and classical music, the album is a distinctly Bay Area phenomenon -- one can't imagine it coming from the hardened, formerly rigid hip hop terrains of New York or Los Angeles. What truly distinguishes the album, though, is its big, juicy hooks, delivered primarily by Lyrics Born's classically trained fiancee (and fellow Quannum artist), Joyo Velarde. Indeed, while we wholeheartedly recognize Lyrics Born's strong grip on the local scene, we're also apt to suggest that -- should he win -- he break off a little piece of the statue for his girl.
The original gangsta, Too $hort single-handedly put Oaktown on the hip hop map back in the early '80s. With a trunk full of his harrowing funk, the MC revolutionized the industry with a street-learned hustle that subverted the recording industry in favor of self-released, completely uncensored albums, including classics such as '83's Don't Stop Rappin'and '86's Born to Mack, records that all but defined West Coast underground rap. After garnering the respect of the streets, Too $hort hit the mainstream in 1988 with the seminal Life Is...Too $hort. While the Moral Majority would claim that Too $hort's X-rated rhymes advocated misogyny and his street critics would claim that Too $hort was a phony, Life Is...Too $horthelped establish the West Coast funk/hip hop template and featured such timeless cuts as "Pimp the Ho" and the poignant anthem "City of Dope." The album went platinum and helped influence an entire generation of Bay Area playaz. Too $hort continued laying down X-rated yet melodic classics with 1990's Dog's in the House, 1992's Shorty the Pimp, and 1996's Gettin' It, his last album before his "retirement," which lasted a full three years. In 2003, Too $hort released Married to the Game, which found him working with longtime collaborator Ant Banks as well as the King of Crunk himself, Lil' Jon. Although Too $hort no longer resides full time in the bay, his influence continues to reverberate throughout the community.
For an area that boasts more than a few reggae DJ nights, as well as a weekly institution dedicated to reggae's echo-laden instrumental counterpart (DJ Sep's "Dub Mission"), it's surprising that San Francisco doesn't have more live groups delivering the hazy, bass-heavy sounds of dub. Guerilla Hi-Fi looks to change that with its jazzy, exploratory excursions into the genre. Initially formed as a studio project in 2000 by multi-instrumentalists/sound engineers John Finkbeiner and Eithen Fletcher, the outfit has evolved into a solid live aggregation dedicated to bringing the duo's spacious and spacey grooves to life. The band's first recording, Echo Springs, came together in a marathon session that found Finkbeiner and Fletcher putting dubbed-out meat on the skeletal sketches they'd brought to the studio with the help of accomplished musical friends avant-jazz drummer Gino Robair, bassist/guitarist Myles Boisen (avant-guitarist for Splatter Trio, Mark Growden, Club Foot Orchestra), bassist Eli Crews (Beulah, Spezza Rotto, Roofies), and trumpet player Gavin DiStasi (Mingus Amungus).