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Parchman Farm

"We sound like two Californians and two Canadians trying to make funky rock music," says Parchman Farm guitarist Allyson Baker, who in 2000 moved to San Francisco from Toronto dreaming of starting a rock 'n' roll band. Baker jammed with various musicians, but nothing permanent materialized until 2002 when her high school buddy and bassist Carson Binx also relocated to the Bay Area from Toronto (where he blew sax for the "garagey" outfit the Deadly Snakes). Not too long after Binx's arrival, Baker (while participating in a "round-robin jam session") met San Diego-bred drummer Chris LaBreche. Apparently, Baker and he were the last two still jamming, so LaBreche joined the fray. As for vocalist (and longtime Bay Area denizen) Eric Shea, Baker didn't even know he was available for assignment, believing Shea's country-rock band Mover was still active. But, when Baker phoned Shea asking him if he knew of any decent vocalists, he said, "Yeah, me. My band just broke up." From the get-go, the newly christened Parchman Farm earned a reputation as one of the city's best live acts. After the band's second-ever performance, Nick Tangborn (founder of the indie imprint Jackpine Social Club) offered to release P-Farm's debut record, which resulted in 2004's self-titled five-song EP. Since then, Parchman Farm has toured with indie-metal heroes the Fucking Champs and has gradually developed a style of heavy music filled with grooves and tight, soul-shouting harmonies. It's a sound that sits halfway between the Allman Brothers Band and Eric B. & Rakim -- funky, indeed.

Hip Hop

EA-Ski

Oakland native Shon Adams is best known as producer/rapper EA-Ski, a moniker that stands for his "excellent ability to stay on top," as deft skiers do when navigating tricky mountain territory. The propulsive, synth-heavy club songs that he raps over himself (such as "Ride" and "My Bad") and those he composes for his Richmond-based protégés Frontline ("What Is It," "Bang It") have dominated Bay Area radio for the past two years, making EA-Ski one of the most popular names in the contemporary local scene. But thanks to 20 years in the hip hop game, his credentials run far deeper than his significant recent achievements. A pioneer of the West Coast gangsta rap sound, EA-Ski is often seen as a best-kept secret and is frequently overlooked in favor of more famous talents like Dr. Dre, who nevertheless, and along with people like Ice Cube, Ice-T, and Naughty by Nature, have hired the Oaklander and his production partner, CMT, to craft songs for them. EA-Ski has been a life force for Bay Area hip hop, producing for stars such as Spice-1, E-40, B-Legit, and even Master P, whose multimillion-dollar No Limit Records empire began in Richmond before moving to New Orleans. In total, EA-Ski has produced songs for albums, including soundtracks for hip hop film classics like Friday and Menace II Society, that have collectively sold over 15 million copies. He recently released the single "The Résumé," featuring legendary Bay Area rapper Too $hort, and is preparing his long-awaited solo album, Apply Pressure, for a release in 2006 on his own label, IMG (Infrared Music Group).

Gold Chains and Sue Cie

In recent years, Gold Chains, aka MC/ beat-maker Topher Lafata, has become an international rump-shaking sensation by blending hip hop with abstract electronica and indie-rocker irony. Granted, it's tough stuff to figure out, a brash juxtaposition of old-school hip hop, socially conscious punk, and dirty disco -- but somehow the gravel-voiced, tech-punk white boy makes it work. Raised in Reading, Penn., Lafata split his time between skateboarding, listening to punk, and playing in hardcore bands. He kept on performing while at college in Connecticut (a part of the country that has proved to be fertile ground for burgeoning live hip hop performers), which is where he picked up the holy trinity of gear -- four-track, sampler, drum machine -- and started cutting his own tracks. One of his first homespun efforts was a tape called Gold Chains: Music for a Higher Society, from which he took his stage name when he started performing in San Francisco. Soon, our man fell in with local label Tigerbeat6, and after touring Europe with Oakland laptop whiz Kid606, he released his first self-titled EP on Orthlorng Musork in 2001, a record full of sometimes-silly, sometimes-slaying foulmouthed tirades set to hard-hitting electro beats. His second EP, Straight From Your Radio, was another brilliant manifesto of tongue-in-cheek party music and industrial grinding. By the time he released 2003's Young Miss America and 2004's When the World Was Our Friend, the latter produced alongside newly minted partner in crime Sue Cie, it seemed as if Gold Chains had given birth to the most hyphenated genre in history. Look for him in the record store under "sweat-soaked-electro-dance-punk-shake-your-fucking-ass-off-party-jams."

Zion I

The Oakland hip hop duo Zion I is made up of producer/instrumentalist Amp Live and MC Zion, who met as kids in Atlanta and started performing socially conscious, spiritual hip hop out of the Bay Area five years ago. Their music has found a perfect home here, bearing the distinct thumb print of the East Bay's independent hip hop scene with its thoughtful rhymes, intricately layered grooves, and lyrics that strive for a little more than your standard bling-bling platitudes. After a couple of indie singles, the duo slowly made it to bigger stages with its solid live show, eventually snagging opening gigs with perennial hip hop faves such as De La Soul, Rakim, and Run-D.M.C. By the time Zion I released its debut album, Mind Over Matter, in May 2000, the act was already one of the brightest new stars of the scene. That record features collaborations with fellow Bay Area rappers Rasco, Planet Asia, and the Grouch, and mostly deals in straight hip hop grooves and the spacey elements of trip hop. Between that release and now, Amp and Zion have been defiantly prolific, putting out a slew of new records, including Politicks and Deep Water Slag 2.0, whose sounds have only gotten richer as the two explore the worlds of soul, drum 'n' bass, and reggae. Their most recent, True & Livin', finds them working alongside Talib Kweli, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Aesop Rock, and Gift of Gab, and its message can be heard loud and clear: Thoughtful, forward-minded hip hop is alive and well.

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