Leading the chorus was a 6-foot-3 man with chest-length dreadlocks flecked with gold beads, dressed in an unassuming blue anorak and a solid yellow baseball cap. His name is Rexx Life Raj and he alternated between singing the chorus and rapping the verses to the song, called “Father Figure.” The warehouse gathering and the dad-declaring crowd was in celebration of Raj’s debut album — also called Father Figure — which came out June 23.
Raj, 26, writes all his own material, and occasionally mixes and produces his tracks as well. But what he really has a knack for is coining catchphrases and stick-in-your-head hooks.
Each song he performs has at least one line the audience belted out like an anthem, such as “I think I might have a mother-fucking problem / Crushing Adderall and marijuana!” or “Bitch, I’m a dad now!” (A “dad,” in Raj’s parlance, is someone who is “a boss,” not a literal father.)
Calls for “more!” and “again!” rang out when he finished “Shit N’ Floss,” what was supposed to be the last song of the night. Raj obliged, signaling the DJ to play the track one more time. Everything about this night had been a long time coming for him and he was willing to prolong it for as long as possible. (Click here to read more)
A.C. Newman of the New Pornographers has considered moving back to Canada, but he’ll never quit the band.
A.C. Newman lives in a “funky,” one-story house in Woodstock, N.Y., that has seen numerous renovations and additions in the eight years since he and his wife bought it. Even though the tiny cabin — which Newman describes as “not a mansion” — was a fixer-upper when they bought it, Newman was drawn to it from the moment he saw it.
“It’s a weird thing when you go to a house and it’s filled with portent somehow,” he says. “You’re like, ‘This is the one.’ ”
But on the Wednesday morning in March when I call him, Newman confesses that he and his wife are contemplating moving back to Vancouver, Canada, where Newman emigrated from 10 years earlier. The reason? Trump, of course.
“We’ve started asking ourselves, ‘Should we make a preemptive move?’ ” he says. “This country isn’t crushing us yet, but maybe we should get out before it does.”
Newman is particularly concerned about the Republicans’ recent plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which, at the time of our interview, was still a strong possibility.
“This is the first time in my life where I find myself in a place where I would be legitimately sad to leave,” Newman says. (Click here to read more)
U.K. producer Jax Jones is now more famous than the artist who helped launch his career.
Jax Jones’ parents really didn’t want him to pursue music.
“My parents are super-traditional,” says the British house producer, best-known for his 2016, island-inspired dance-pop single, “U Don’t Know Me.” “To them, any career in the arts — they just wouldn’t have it.”
With an Atari, Jones started making beats at the age of 14, but he says his dad still held out hope that he’d become a doctor, and that his mom always pushed for a career in investment banking.
“I could have done it,” the 29-year-old says. “I was pretty smart in school in terms of grades and stuff. I just got the bug to do music.”
Relations between Jones and his folks finally hit a boiling point when the musician tried to return home after graduating from college. Though his parents agreed to let him move back in, there was a stipulation: If Jones wanted to live there, he couldn’t come home later than 10 p.m.
As a burgeoning DJ trying to break into London’s nightlife scene, Jones knew that the ultimatum would be a death knell for his career. (Click here to read more)
Oakland hip-hop crew Down 2 Earth channels ’90s rap and laidback vibes in its new album.
Filled with obscure jazz and funk samples, internal rhyme schemes, and live bass, ’93 ‘til Infinity stood in stark contrast to the G-funk, gangsta-dominated, “gin and juice” era of hip-hop that was then sweeping through the West Coast. Mellow, chillout rap caught on like wildfire, and Souls of Mischief’s democratic style of trading bars so that each member got his share of the limelight became a common method for other acts.
It’s now been 20 years since the Oakland crew released its debut album, but Souls of Mischief’s impact is still reverberating — and you can hear their influence in the Oakland group Down 2 Earth.
“I think our formula is very similar to Souls of Mischief’s, even though that was 20 years ago,” says Down 2 Earth rapper Azure. “We’re very much a lyricist lounge type of act, and you can hear the similarities through little nuances, like making the drums extra-heavy.” (Click here to read more)
The Third Eye Blind frontman dishes on the band’s next album, trolling Republicans, and becoming ‘a whole person.’
Interviewing Stephan Jenkins is like herding cats or trying to get my very untrained dog Mischa to do a trick. He evades questions, changes the subject, gets easily distracted, and takes minutes to finish sentences, often using as many as a dozen adjectives to describe one thing.
“This isn’t really an interview,” Jenkins tells me shortly after we meet up. “We’re just chit-chatting.”
It’s a little after 5 p.m. in the middle of the week, and we’re sitting on the patio at Zeitgeist, a metal bar in the Mission, because that’s where the Third Eye Blind frontman suggested we go.
For more than two hours we sit there, facing each other while seated on the same bench — because the din from the crowd and the live thrash band is so loud that our knees have to be touching for us to hear one another.
“I feel self-conscious,” Jenkins complains, after I ask him to hold my recorder closer to his mouth so that it picks up what he’s saying. “I feel like, ‘Is this really what my voice sounds like?’ Fuck!” (Click here to read more)
In his debut album, Eldorado, fast-rising R&B singer Ro James showcases his many personas.
In some tracks, like the stripped-down, acoustic guitar number “Everything,” the 31-year-old comes across as the perfect man, cooing lines like, “everything’s about you, baby” and “you got me so weak like I need you.”
James reveals another side to himself in “Burn Slow,” a simmered down, cavernous track about convincing a paramour to “call in sick” and “call in favors” so that she can spend the day in bed with him.
By the time “A.D.I.D.A.S.” rolls around, James has dropped any semblance of subtlety, opting for a more straightforward, if not lewd, approach, intoning statements like, “Craving your body” and “All day I dream of sexing you.” (And yes, “A.D.I.D.A.S.” stands for what you think it stands for.)
Other songs, like “GA$” and “Permission,” promulgate this same devious, bad boy behavior, with James purring lyrics about his sexual prowess (“You ain’t never had it like this before”), favorite extra-curricular activities (“I wanna spend the whole night sipping on you”), and the things that are most vital to him (“Pussy, money, weed”). (Click here to read more)
Thank Clams Casino.
In 2011, Michael Volpe was a 23-year-old physical therapy student who lived in the historic township of Nutley, N.J., with his mom and her two dachshunds. In his spare time, Volpe produced beats under the name Clams Casino and used MySpace to pitch his glitchy, chillwave creations to other up-and-coming artists.
By the time graduation rolled around in May, he’d released his first mixtape, Instrumentals (which Pitchfork would later name the 17th top album of 2011), produced songs for the likes of Lil B, Soulja Boy, Mac Miller, Main Attrakionz, and Havoc of Mobb Deep, and had a record in the works with the then up-and-coming emcee, A$AP Rocky.
With one foot in two worlds, Volpe, who will be performing at Mezzanine on Thursday, Sept. 15, realized he had a decision to make post-graduation: He could either pursue music full-time or use his degree to get a job in physical therapy. With little hesitation, Volpe chose the former.
“I was just like, ‘I’m going to see how far I can take my music over the summer,’ ” he says. ” ‘And, if it works out and I can start making some money off of it, then I’ll just keep going with it.’ ” (Click here to read more)
Austen Afridi of Viceroy can heat up a dancefloor with his tropical house tunes.
“We had a very real winter,” says Afridi, who helms the San Francisco tropical house act Viceroy. “In fact, I got Seasonal Affective Disorder these last few months.”
Unluckily for him, The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts more rain for the Bay Area and temperatures no higher than 60 degrees for the next two months. But now that summer is around the corner, Afridi is confident he can hang, even if the impending season turns out to be as cold and dreary as the last.
“You’re absolutely right, it’s not always sunny here,” Afridi says of San Francisco. “But I love it. I love it for a million reasons other than that.” (Click here to read more)
Beach Goth 2016 was a fiasco and City Club sounds too polished, but The Growlers don’t give a shit.
“I do the whole ‘I’m not talking to anybody anymore’ thing a lot,” the frontman says. “Even at this stage, I get people interviewing me who don’t know my music, who’ve never heard The Growlers.”
In fact, as recently as “like, two weeks ago,” Nielsen wasn’t taking calls from journalists. But I’ve caught him at a good time: The Growlers, all three of whom are from Dana Point in Orange County, are home for a week and have some time to spare. It’s a rare occurrence for the garage-rock band that has spent an average of seven months a year on the road since releasing its debut, Are You In or Out, in 2009.
“We didn’t know that we were touring more than anybody else,” Nielsen says of the band’s early years. “We didn’t know how much we were supposed to be touring.” (Click here to read more)
A lot has happened in the 12 years between Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s debut and their fifth album.
On the one hand, there’s a lot of pressure to contend with — be it self-imposed or from others — and making an album that is both flawless and attention-grabbing is no easy task.
On the other hand, a debut can be viewed as a blank canvas. As a newcomer, you have no expectations to meet and plenty of leeway to do and try whatever you like. For Alec Ounsworth, frontman of the indie rock group Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, it was the latter.
In 2005, when the Brooklyn band, then a quintet, was recording its self-titled debut, the sky was the limit because there was “nobody looking over our shoulders,” Ounsworth says. The group had ample creative freedom to be as weird and experimental as they wanted — so they were. In album opener “Clap Your Hands!” eerie carnival music comingles with distorted and harmonized vocals, and throughout the entire record, Ounsworth morphs his creaky, nasally voice into whinnies, wails, and yelps.
“We didn’t really have any expectations for the album,” he says. “It wasn’t any grand statement, but simply a first album.” (Click here to read more)
The history of San Francisco’s most iconic music venues
SF Weekly (Cover Story)
From techno warehouses to indie-rock taverns, San Francisco has no shortage of music venues. We’re especially lucky to have a few that are over a century old, having weathered fires, multiple owners, and at least one earthquake.
But if you’ve visited any of these spaces, a few questions have probably popped up (aside from “How much are the drinks?” and “When does the headliner come on?”). You might have wondered why The Fillmore gives away free apples or why there’s a window behind the stage at Bottom of the Hill. Perhaps you wanted to know why there’s a balcony above the stage at Great American Music Hall that never gets used. Or maybe you were curious about Social Hall, the music venue below the Regency Ballroom that looks like a mid-century school auditorium. (Click here to read more)
How DJ Jazzy Jeff and 20 others spent a week creating an album.
If there’s one thing you should know about DJ Jazzy Jeff, it’s that even though he lives in the woods outside of Philadelphia, there’s almost always a few people at his house. In fact, it’s for this very reason that he was 30 minutes late to our phone interview.
“I’m sorry,” he tells me when I finally reach him. “I had some family members stop by.”
For someone who averages 160 shows a year and always seems to have his hands in a new project or two, you’d think the constant deluge of visitors to Jeff’s home would be distracting, not to mention unwanted. But he insists it’s not.
“There’s always someone here, but it’s not a bad thing,” the 52-year-old says. “I’m trying to create a creative safe haven for people.”
In fact, Jeff — who most people associate with Will Smith, a longtime friend with whom he formed the two-time Grammy Award-winning hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince in the mid-’80s — thrives on collaboration and teamwork. It is for this reason that he has hosted biannual workshops and sessions — called the PLAYlist Retreat — for producers, DJs, and songwriters at his house for the last three years.
“It’s like a camp atmosphere,” Jeff says. “We get about 18 to 25 trailers and line them all up outside.” (Click here to read more)
Popping our collars with Juicy J.
One of the co-founders of the legendary Memphis rap crew Three 6 Mafia — the same group that gave us the Academy Award-winning single “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp” from the film Hustle and Flow — Juicy J has spent the last half-decade pursuing a solo career, collaborating with the likes of Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, and Katy Perry on a multitude of projects, including his forthcoming studio album, Rubba Band Business.
And though his sound has definitely diverged from the gritty gangsta rap style he perfected while in Three 6 Mafia, the rubbery-voiced emcee, who now makes upbeat, bouncy party jams, is still every bit the crunkmeister.
From a treadmill in his Beverly Hills home gym, the 41-year-old regaled us with stories about reading books on music at the age of 13, his lifelong commitment to health and fitness, and what it’s like being an OG in the industry. (Click here to read more)
The millennium is still alive and bumpin’ in San Francisco DJ and producer Miguel Migs’ soulful, deep house jams.
“That was a magical time,” says the 44-year-old who will be playing at Audio on Saturday, Jan. 28. “There were these amazing warehouse parties that had the greatest music.”
In fact, it was the music scene that brought the then-underage Migs to S.F. in the first place. Though he lived in Santa Cruz at the time, Migs and his friends made a habit of driving up on weekend nights to attend the city’s numerous parties and raves.
“We would draw on hand stamps or have fake IDs,” he recalls. “You know, whatever it took to get in.”
Today, the dance music scene in San Francisco is totally different. Though Migs says there are still underground warehouse parties that occur on the weekends, they’re few and far between, and San Francisco is far from the electronic music mecca it once was. Nowadays, if you want to hear dance, house, or techno, you’re better off just going to a club. (Click here to read more)
The Seattle producer and beatmaker wants to elevate his craft to superstar status.
“It’s kind of popular now,” Seattle producer Sango tells me over the phone. He’s talking about beatmaking — loosely defined as the art of making hip-hop sans words — and it’s something the 25-year-old, who has produced songs for the likes of Tinashe, Casey Veggies, and Denzel Curry, has been pursuing since the age of 12.
“Everyone’s a bedroom producer these days,” he continues. “All you have to do is release a track on SoundCloud, and even if it’s just beats, people will go crazy over it.”
It wasn’t always this way. Sure, there were beat pioneers — like Flying Lotus, J Dilla, Madlib, Gaslamp Killer, and Daedelus — who paved the way for future generations. And chances are they had a lot harder time convincing people to listen to their lyricless music than Sango did.
Still, in the beginning, he struggled to grow his audience until a series of fortuitous events in 2009, including a particular round of the video game Call of Duty, got him interested in Brazil and led him to discover baile funk (or “funk carioca” as it’s called in Brazil). (Click here to read more)
Compton rapper Problem reps all of California (and the L.A. Rams) in his music.
“One of my friends called me one day and was like, ‘We’re gonna call you Chachi,’” Compton rapper Problem tells me. He’s talking about Chachi Arcola, Scott Baio’s character in Happy Days, the younger cousin and sidekick of Henry Winkler’s Fonzie. Toward the end of Happy Days’ 11-season run, Baio co-starred in the show’s spinoff, Joanie Loves Chachi, then got his first chance to be sole lead on the ’80s sitcom Charles in Charge.
“So that’s kind of how my career went,” continues the 31-year-old, who’s using the nickname in the title of his next record, Chachiville. “First I was writing for people, then I started being a featured artist on stuff, and then I had my own thing.”
It’s Sunday morning and we’re in San Bruno, a sleepy suburb south of San Francisco, having breakfast next door to a taekwondo studio and a Weight Watchers. The goatee’d emcee, whose most famous track is the 2013 single “Like Whaaat,” has brought along his manager, Melissa Keklak, and nephew-turned-DJ Kyle aka DJ Kai, who, though only 15 years old, has already joined the rapper for one national tour.
Problem grew up in Compton in the ’90s and considers himself lucky, because his musical awakening came around the same time many of the West Coast’s second generation of rappers were coming up. He says he used to run into Nipsey Hussle while pasting promotional posters around South Central and recalls meeting Ty Dolla $ign back when he “looked like D’Angelo, sitting in his mama’s house, just playing the fucking piano and shit.” Problem credits Inglewood rapper Skeme for helping him get on the radio the first time, and says that Schoolboy Q was once his roommate for six months. (Click here to read more)
The groudbreaking Bay Area trio is using music to connect global cultures.
SF Weekly (Cover Story)
I’m standing in the pit of the Fox Theater in Oakland on a Saturday night in December, waiting for the electronic world-fusion band Beats Antique to take the stage. The venue, with a capacity of 2,800, is packed with people wearing yoga pants, utility belts, sombreros, and crystal necklaces. Whiffs of weed, patchouli, and peppermint are everywhere.
It’s the kind of crowd where random high-fives are doled out, and I overhear clips of conversations about Renaissance Faire-themed weddings, the best stretches to do in the morning, and whether or not “these are drugs or just pills.” In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d think I was at a Burning Man party.
The guy to my right, a techie from S.F. who’s wearing a zip-up fleece jacket, tells me he rode BART in to see the band, which he’s never before seen live but has been listening to since 2012. Earlier, I met a throng of women clad in flared pants and adhesive gold tattoos who had flown in from Boston just for the show.
“They’re my favorite band of all time,” one of them tells me, before being interrupted by a friend who brags about liking Beats Antique “since high school.”
Eventually, the lights dim and a hush falls over the crowd as a woman with long, dark hair, smeared eyeliner, and a gold bra with tassels on the nipples takes the stage. She’s Zoe Jakes, Beats Antique’s principal dancer, and she’s carrying a glowing golden ball of twine, just as she does on the cover of their most recent album, Shadowbox. The ball of light casts shadows across Jakes’ face as she dances in the darkness, and the beginnings of an Indian raga, created by the other two members of Beats Antique — Tommy Cappel and David Satori — peal throughout the room.
Ten minutes in, and Jakes is still performing, her gestures and movements mirroring the song’s changing tempos. As strobes of red light beam down from the rafters, the bass picks up, careening into a full-fledged gallop, and Jakes starts spinning in circles, the ball extended horizontally in front of her.
When the bass dies down, Jakes stops spinning and slips backstage while Satori addresses the audience.
“It’s good to be home,” the bespectacled musician says, picking up the violin. “We love you, Oakland.” (Click here to read more)
Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s frontman Ruban Nielson couldn’t stop himself from writing about the love triangle he and his wife had with another woman, and now he’s dealing with the consequences.
Ruban Nielson, frontman of the indie-rock quartet Unknown Mortal Orchestra, does not like Thanksgiving. In fact, he hates it so much he took his wife and two children to a remote log cabin in Oregon this year to escape the festivities.
“I wanted to get away from Portland so that nobody would ask me and my family to do Thanksgiving,” says Nielson, who joked on Twitter that he was “Thankful I don’t have to eat any of the shitty food your family made today.”
But it’s not likely Nielson has had to endure many atrocious Thanksgiving meals himself. Both he and his wife are from New Zealand, and they only moved to Portland about four years ago.
“We don’t have any personal connection with Thanksgiving,” he tells me in early December. “And even if we did, I have no interest in celebrating it at all. It seems like a farce.”
As I chat with the 36-year-old over the phone from his home in Portland, he sounds energetic and alert, which is not what I’d expected from the self-proclaimed lifelong insomniac. It turns out that because the cabin lacked a studio, Nielson had little to do to occupy his mind late at night and ended up managing to (finally) catch some shut-eye.
Though he still feels rested, now that he’s returned home, his sleeping patterns have started getting fucked up again, thanks to his habit of whittling away his evenings working on music in his basement studio. But he’s cool with this.
“I don’t really like sleeping,” he admits. “It sucks because you miss out on life.”
Coming from Nielson, who has been known to mine past experiences for his music, this makes sense. In fact, Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s third album, 2015’s Multi-Love, revolves entirely around real-life events, most notably Nielson and his wife’s past relationship with a younger woman. (Click here to read more)
Atlanta’s iconoclastic Young Thug doesn’t give a fuck about what you think of his flow — or his cross-dressing.
On Sept. 14, 2015, Young Thug unveiled a new track titled “Best Friend” on YouTube. “That’s my best friend, that’s my best friend,” the lanky 25-year-old performer croons over the platinum-certified single’s trickly piano melody. Based on the title and hook alone, it’s clear Thug is rapping about friendship and loyalty, which is admittedly nothing new in hip-hop. Compton rapper YG took home a BET Hip-Hop award in 2014 for his buzzy, boom-bap hit “My Nigga,” and almost 20 years before that, Coolio made the concept of “rolling with [your] homies” so cool that even the Beverly Hills high schoolers in Clueless knew the lyrics.
But with “Best Friend,” and its accompanying video (which has been viewed more than 150 million times), it’s clear that Thug is trying to shake up the typical buddy-song paradigm. Instead of cameos of his real-life friends or group shots of his entourage, facsimiles of Thug proliferate throughout. We see him walking in on two of his doppelgangers, who are hooking up in a bedroom, and we watch as two versions of himself hang out and try on outfits in a bathroom. A suited-up carbon copy of the MC chauffeurs his white-pleather-outfitted counterpart, and at the end, an ashen Thug prepares to dine on a platter of his own head.
Like most things Thug, “Best Friend” is weird and artsy and confusing. But perhaps more than anything, with its message of being your own best friend, it’s also cocky as fuck. And you know what? That’s OK.
One of 11 children, Thug grew up in Section 8 housing in Atlanta, dropping out of high school and fathering the first of six children at the age of 17. One of his early managers, whom he met in the mid-aughts, recalls that at the time, the burgeoning rapper who now glitters with diamonds and models for Calvin Klein, had next to nothing. All he had was a few shirts, a pair of shoes, and rotted, discolored teeth that he’d cover with his hand when talking. (Click here to read more)
Though they’ve been living out of suitcases and backpacks, they haven’t necessarily been sleeping on the streets. Instead, they’ve been touring — first across Europe, then through North America — staying in hotels, at fans’ houses, and, occasionally, in a 10-person tent, if they happen to be near a national park.
“We’ve pretty much given up our entire settled lives to go on the road and support this dream,” says guitarist Max Kakacek.
The only constant in their lives has been their van: a powder blue 15-passenger 1997 Dodge Ram with “Grace Baptist Church” emblazoned on its sides. The septet bought the clunker in February from a church in “the middle of Indiana” that they found through Craigslist. In the seven months they’ve had it, they’ve racked up more than 30,000 miles thanks to their relentless gigging. (Case in point: Their upcoming performance at Outside Lands on Friday will mark the band’s second visit to San Francisco in less than four months.)
Though its AC is busted, there are perks to driving a former church van, Kakacek says. Thinking they’re a religious group, hotels will sometimes give them discounts, and occasionally, when the car is parked, people will drop donations through the open windows.
“It’s really weird,” Kakacek says. “I feel like [society] commiserates more with religious people.” (Click here to read more)
Big Grams might not sound familiar, but surely the names of the individual artists who make up the eclectic hip-hop trio do. Consisting of rapper Big Boi (André 3000’s other half in OutKast) and Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel of the electronic rock duo Phantogram, Big Grams — does the name make sense now? — combines Carter’s spacey, inventive productions with Barthel’s crystalline vocals and Big Boi’s laidback Southern drawl.
You could say the band is an experiment in opposites, a merging of disparate genres and musical styles into one coherent sound, but that’s only part of its appeal. Collaborative acts made up of artists from other bands are, in fact, de rigueur at the moment. There’s the duo Banks and Steelz, consisting of rapper RZA from Wu-Tang Clan and Interpol leadman Paul Banks; El Vy, the side project of singer Matt Berninger of The National and Brent Knopf of Menomena; and Broken Bells, the indie rock duo made up of The Shins vocalist James Mercer and Gnarles Barkley producer Danger Mouse.
But what differentiates Big Grams from these other acts is its ethos. The point of the band is not to make money or churn out albums, but rather to have fun.
“We have good times, man,” Big Boi tells SF Weekly. “This was organically created. We were just kind of hanging out as strangers from two different places, but when we got in the same room together, we just couldn’t stop laughing and cracking jokes and all kinds of shit. We had a natural chemistry.”
The harmony between each member’s zodiac sign also plays a role, or so says Big Boi. “Sarah and Josh are Aquariuses and Geminis, just like me and André 3000 were. So you end up having two Aquariuses and a Gemini in a room together, and there’s a lot of positive results.” (Click here to read more)