New Wave Thuggin'

Kirby Dominant brings together niggaz and white girlz

The skits on most hip-hop records are lame — the kind of things you listen to once and then delete from iTunes forever. Even someone as imaginative as Kanye West or Prince Paul couldn't come up with one worth a gnat's ass. Not so on Kirb and Chris' mix-CD Niggaz and White Girlz, which features hilariously scandalous skits about — you guessed it — niggaz and white girlz.

"The more we'd go out and say, 'We got a new record, it's called Niggaz and White Girls,' fools be bustin', saying we're ignorant and shit," says Kirb, aka Oakland MC/producer Kirby Dominant. "It's been such a taboo thing for people to think about that we decided to tackle that."

Tackle the subject they do. On one track, Kirb tries to get out of holding hands with his Caucasian lady friend when he runs into his African-American brothers; on another, the female host of a radio show tells the MCs that their dreads are going to fall out if they hang with white girls. On "What's the Big Deal?" a pale-faced nerd promises revenge, going after "the Nubian sisters" by bumping Usher and tricking out his Corolla. On "Fuck You and the White Bitches," Kirb attempts to explain to a black sista why he went to see Revenge of Sith with "Becky" instead of going to see "motherfucking Goapele."

"That's the only thing I can take those bitches to, that and R. Kelly, motherfucking Omarion," Dominant laughs. "I can barely get them to a house club. There's some [black girls into the same music as me], but for the most part they think I'm fucking weird, and I think they're regular."

Dominant wasn't always so fucking weird. He had a prototypical gangsta-rap background, growing up "in the streets" of Oakland and Stockton, landing in jail by age 16. (His first rap, oddly enough, was an anti-drug verse for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, when he was 10.) Upon being released into the care of his mother, who lived in a tiny, secluded town near San Bernardino, he started to get serious. "There wasn't shit to do — there weren't no gangs, certainly no drugs — so I was just reading and writing."

During high school in Oakland and Stockton, he took to schooling himself — on the ins and outs of hip hop. "I'm buying every motherfucking rap record that comes out, from Arrested Development to Big Mike," recalls Dominant. "Back then you could buy every rap record that came out, every album was in The Source."

When he began attending UC Berkeley in 1994, he hooked up with a whole slew of like-minded MCs. "I met the Mystik Journeymen, and they basically changed my whole shit up," says Dominant. "If it wasn't for Berkeley and those dudes, I wouldn't be an MC today. I'd be some kind of teacher or working at a nonprofit. ... They had songs about Vietnam veterans, and my songs were about nothing, killing MCs and shit. I didn't know you could really rhyme about somebody dying, and you missing them. There weren't songs like that."

In 1998 Dominant put out his first solo record, Rapitalism: The Philosophies of Dominant Pimpin', under the name Kirby D. Thus started a wave of collaborations for him — a Konceptual Dominance LP with Bay Area MC Koncepts Unlimited; a Dominant Mammals LP with Vancouver producer Moka Only; a Paranoid Castle disc with Canadian producer Factor — all of which mixed the jazzy, literate vibe of early-'90s rappers with the more experimental sounds of late-'90s underground acts.

That sound, however, is long gone, Dominant says. "I'm not really on that backpacker shit anymore. I'm a 30-year-old black man, and I want to make music for other 30-year-old black people. What I noticed is that when we started doing this shit, like with the Journeymen, there was black people there. There's no more black people at shows anymore. ... I want to make shit that's melodic, with adult subject matter that's not abstract, shit that can be electronic but there's gonna be some thuggery in there. It's the mix of music that maybe white folks can get, but it's the subject that black folks can relate to at the same time."

Matthew Africa, renowned hip-hop DJ at KALX-FM, notes, "I think that recently he's been trying to stretch out and try something different, probably as much for commercial as artistic reasons."

Dominant's forthcoming solo disc, STARR: The Contemplations of a Dominator(due Nov. 7 on his own Rapitalism label), attempts to reconcile his influences, from daisy-age rap groups Souls of Mischief and A Tribe Called Quest to electro-house producer Felix da Housecat and moody indie-rock band Pinback. Several songs — including the first single "Radio Shock" — feature the kind of smooth female backup vocals and slinky synths heard on KYLD-FM, with Dominant riding the beat in his trademark good-time flow, dropping lyrics that match (such as "Bodies wigglin'/ Everybody's gigglin'/ Then you see 'em/ Move aside when I'm enterin'" from "Dirty Dancin"). On "STARR," he marries a sultry, mid-tempo groove to the type of clever put-downs that old-school rappers used to lay down ("I'm big in your chest like the monster of Loch Ness"). But other tunes he plays me at his Lake Merritt apartment are far weirder, full of electro beats, bluesy piano riffs, and spaced-out trumpet via jazz artist Roy Hargrove.

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