Quannum Mechanics

The amazingly true tale of the Bay Area's greatest hip hop success story

Says Bess, "Live 105 is probably our greatest promotional success."


Two hours before show time at February's DNA Lounge event, Parker, Mosley, Daumont, and Bess are resting backstage. Parker is in a near-trance, nodding his head to the music of the opening DJ while he eyes the ceremonial pre-show joint. Daumont is trying to get some sleep and is curled up in a ball behind Mosley, his head tucked beneath a jacket. Watching the Quannum brain trust lounging around in this somnolent state, you'd never guess that these guys are on the brink of their biggest year yet.

Trying to further cross over into a rock audience, DJ Shadow recently remixed Top 40 rockers Keane. He's also set to release an as-yet-untitled full-length on Universal within the next year. Shimura is gearing up to put out a new album, Same !@#$ Different Day, in April, which Axelsen has already enthusiastically referred to as "so freaking good." Meanwhile, Blackalicious' The Craftis set to drop this fall, and Daumont and Mosley, operating as Maroons, have plans to put out a full-length follow-up to last year's critically acclaimed EP, Ambush. In addition, Shimura's wife, Joyo Velarde, who provided Later That Day with so many great hooks (including the one for "Calling Out"), is readying her Quannum debut for late 2005. The Lifesavas are also planning a follow-up, though a release date has not been set. As for spiritual godfather Jeff Chang, his recently published book, Can't Stop Won't Stop, has been hailed by The New Yorker as "one of the most urgent and passionate histories of popular music ever written." Chang remains close to the group, and the Quannum artists even recorded a mix tape to accompany the release of his book.

If there's one thing that hasn't changed since the days of UC Davis, it's the group's unwillingness to compromise its vision of what hip hop should be. This rare integrity has served as a beacon to other kindred spirits. "I remember being impressed with their courage to step outside what most indie rap was doing," remarks Peanut Butter Wolf, founder of acclaimed indie hip hop label Stones Throw. "It may have subconsciously had an effect on my willingness to do what I wanna do, rather than what people expect me to do, with my label."

Given Quannum's success, as well as its ever-growing potential, major labels have made numerous attempts throughout the years to bring it into the fold as an imprint. But, understanding the value of artistic and economic control, Quannum has repeatedly declined their offers. "When you combine Solesides and Quannum, it's one of the longest-running hip hop labels ever," Davis says. "And it's important that we never bowed down to major labels."

"There's a lot of folks that went out for the money or the fame or the power and glory," says Chang. "But for us, we began as a bunch of friends who went out to change the world. And in many ways, we succeeded. We did change the world in a small way, and we've remained great friends. So it's a happy ending."


Balance's Budget

In his 10 years on the scene, Bay Area rapper Balance has worked with virtually every major player in town. He recently completed a collaboration with hip hop's violent demigods G-Unit, and is currently fielding offers from major labels. Coming up in the game, he always wondered why the veterans never passed down advice. So, in an effort to provide the next generation with what he never had, he's revealed his top five keys to success for a Bay Area hip hop artist. -- S.C.

No. 1: Study. "Whenever you're interested in something, you need to study the history of it. We're in the third decade of rap music, and a lot of young artists only study the artists out now, but now ain't the best time for rap. 50 Cent ain't good enough."

No. 2: Write and practice on the daily. "The more that you're in front of the mike, the better you'll sound. Even if you're not the most talented, you'll sound a lot better after you practice. It took me 10 years to get where I am right now, and that's a lot of hard work."

No. 3: ReadAll You Need to Know About the Music Business by Donald Passman. "It tells you everything about the business, from how to deal with managers to the legalities of copyrights, publishing, royalties, and how to make your business legit. If you want to be a hip hop artist, you have to know about the business."

No. 4: Be self-sufficient. "Get a job and buy your own equipment. You don't want to be dependent on someone else. Own your own music, and don't let anyone else determine your future."

No. 5: Be prepared to give away your music. "If you have no fan base, how is anyone going to hear your music? If you walk up and down Berkeley and give away your music, you're going to get people listening. Master P used to give his CDs to the people in the neighborhood with the biggest car stereo systems. You have to be prepared to do a lot of stuff for free early in your career."

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