‘Gangsta’ in an Evening Gown

Atlanta’s iconoclastic Young Thug doesn’t give a fuck about what you think of his flow — or his cross-dressing.

SF Weekly

feature-youngthugOn 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)

Chicago Indie-Rockers Whitney Are Finding That it Pays to be Sincere

SF Weekly

feature7-whitney-17e964880ea23737For the last six months, the seven members of the Chicago band Whitney have been homeless — sort of.

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 Gets the Formula Right

SF Weekly

feature6-biggrams-8002cefe93f2c43cBig 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)

Music in Flux

Since 2007, Brooklyn Trio Yeasayer Has Crafted Diverse Albums That Range From One Extreme to Another

SF Weekly

music2-bcb699e3c706a9eeWhat do you do when your parents leave town? You throw a party — duh. That’s what Tom Cruise did in Risky Businessand what Kid ‘n Play did in House Party. When the parents of one of the members of the indie-pop trio Yeasayer left town in 2006, the band took over their Baltimore house, too.

But they didn’t throw a party.

Instead, they turned the living room into a makeshift recording studio. Using a Blue microphone borrowed from a friend, they “spent a week down there just experimenting and probably thinking we were a lot more professional and knowledgeable about recording than we were,” says bassist Ira Wolf Tuton.

Because the living room opened onto the kitchen, the “studio” was far from sound-proofed. The musicians had to repeatedly unplug the refrigerator because the mic they were using — “It was way too much for us to understand,” Tuton says — was so powerful it picked up the machine’s humming.

By the end of the week, the burgeoning group — who still worked side jobs while trying to make it in Brooklyn — had recorded four songs, including the drum-heavy polyrhythmic psychedelic-folk ballad “Sunrise,” which would eventually become the lead single on their 2007 debut album, All Hour Cymbals.

I first heard “Sunrise” in a trailer for a college-produced short film a friend appeared in. I wasn’t intrigued by the movie, but my ears perked up when I heard the song. I became a Yeasayer fan soon after that, devouring the band’s whimsical, ethnocentric debut with its myriad percussion instruments — cymbals, synthesizer, tribal drumming, hand clapping — falsetto cadences, and multi-part harmonies. (Click here to read more)

Stuck On You

Electronic-R&B Duo Lion Babe Will Forever Be Tied to its Breakout Single

SF Weekly

music2-f7cb8a056a60d902The song opens with a trickling keyboard melody, coated with a thick layer of analog fuzz that makes the tune sound old, and as if it were cascading through your speakers from a faraway place. Ten seconds in, a clapping effect emerges on the sonic landscape, followed by a bassline that pulsates like a heartbeat. In the distance, a deep, smoky voice coos the opening line, only to be echoed by a second voice — this one younger, sharper — a few seconds later. A pattern emerges as the voices trade lines, repeating one another four times until the entire chorus — “Treat me like / Fire/ Into the pain” / — has been sung.

So starts “Treat Me Like Fire,” the electronic-R&B duo Lion Babe’s first official release, which, to date, has been listened to almost 6 million times on Spotify. Lyrically simple, it’s an instrumentally dense song that somehow manages to be chill and dance-inducing at the same time. But don’t let that fool you. “Treat Me Like Fire” was less professional and premeditated than you’d think.

“If you asked either of us if we thought of having a bridge or a pre-chorus or whatever, we didn’t,” says Lion Babe’s singer Jillian Hervey, whose mother is actress Vanessa Williams. “We didn’t even know what those things were really.”

After six months of toiling on the track, the pair, which includes producer Lucas Goodman, uploaded “Treat Me Like Fire” in November 2012 to the internet, adding a music video to YouTube a month later. Hervey says they “didn’t have a plan or anything,” but they didn’t need one. It took a few weeks for the internet to catch on, and once World Star Hip-Hop reposted the music video in January, the song took off.

Emails with offers to manage the band flooded in, and blogs around the world penned posts about the song. Rapper Childish Gambino reached out to Hervey and Goodman, inviting them to open for him during his set at South By Southwest, and by the summer of 2013, they’d signed a deal with Polydor Records.

“It was crazy,” Hervey says. “We didn’t expect there to be so big of a reaction.” (Click here to read more)

Flume: From Hard Rock Cafe Waiter to International Sensation

Five years ago, Flume was a waiter at Hard Rock Cafe. Now, he’s an international sensation.

SF Weekly

music1-1-1Flume may be one month shy of turning 25, but he already “feels old.”

“Do I think I’ve matured?” the electronic musician asks from St. Louis, one of the many stops on his current seven-month-long worldwide tour. “One-hundred percent. This life and this job and this position that I’m put in, it forces you to grow up quick. I definitely got dropped in the deep end.”

But fame will do that to you, especially when your road to success has been as immediate and meteoric as Flume’s.

The self-described “guy who likes computers and loves music” first learned how to produce music at the age of 13 thanks to a box of Nutri-Grain cereal that contained a CD with “a crappy version of GarageBand.” Around the age of 20, the Sydney, Australia native began uploading his songs to SoundCloud while juggling a variety of random day jobs, such as waiting tables at Hard Rock Cafe, working the register at a magazine stand, and cleaning offices using a wearable, Ghostbusters-esque “backpack vacuum.”

His luck changed in 2011, when he submitted the tracks “Sleepless,” “Over You,” and “Paper Thin” to a competition thrown by the Australian record company Future Classic. They chose Flume as the winner, signed him to their label, and released his first EP soon thereafter.

Now, five years later, Flume, who, according to Spotify, is the 44th most listened-to artist “in the world,” has two full-length albums under his belt, is headlining slots at various international music festivals, and has a seven-digit yearly income, according to The New York Times. He’s topped Australia’s iTunes charts more than once, taken home nine awards, and produced a handful of records that have been certified gold, platinum, and double-platinum. One song, “Never Be Like You,” released in January, has even achieved quadruple-platinum status.

“It’s all happened very quickly,” Flume says of his success. “I didn’t expect it to quite pan out like this.” (Click here to read more)

With Is the Is Are, DIIV Frontman Zachary Cole Smith Finally Sees The Light at the End of the Tunnel

SF Weekly

feature2-diiv-d011868f8ff7e8a7Ever since Zachary Cole Smith catapulted onto the music scene in 2011 with his five-piece, guitar-driven rock band DIIV, he’s been in the public eye. But not for his music.

“It just kind of got glossed over,” the 31-year-old says. “There was this weird thirst for info.”

And for good reason. Though DIIV’s 2012 debut album Oshin made it on a number of year-end lists, the media was more interested in Smith’s girlfriend at the time, Sky Ferreira, and in his sordid, drug-riddled past.

As a teenager, Smith was expelled from multiple high schools, ultimately attending six institutions in five years. And after his freshman year at Hampton College in Massachusetts, he was expelled again. He spent his 20s living in New York, serving as guitarist for a number of bands — Beach Fossils, Soft Black, and Darwin Deez — all the while battling a heroin addiction. After forming DIIV in 2011, he began dating Ferreira, but it was in 2013 that shit really hit the fan.

First, Smith canceled the band’s European tour, then he sacked his manager. The band then traveled to San Francisco to hash out material for their second album with help from Chet “JR” White, the former bassist for Girls. But that was a failure, too.

“We ended up going into the TL and scoring drugs and then just going to the studio and falling asleep on the couch,” Smith says. “It was not good. Being there was horrible for my psyche, and I really did not do well.” (Click here to read more)

Have Faith in Eryn Allen Kane

The 26-year-old vocalist has come far in three years.

SF Weekly

music1-2“It sounds cliche,” singer-songwriter Eryn Allen Kane warns me over the phone while driving to a recording session in L.A. She’s explaining how she learned to sing, and credits the church on the east side of Detroit that she attended as a kid, as well as its choir, for introducing her to the art form and helping her hone her vocal chops.

I’m not surprised.

Listen to any song from either of Kane’s two EPs, Aviary: Act I and Aviary: Act II, and the gospel influences of her childhood are front and center. Harmonies, a cappella arrangements, syncopated rhythms, and veiled Bible references: They’re all there. And even though the 26-year-old’s lyrics are staunchly secular, her tracks have a sermon-like quality and spew life lessons and advice, like not letting social media hurt your confidence and the importance of staying positive.

“I try to stick to the roots of my singing,” says Kane, who is known not only for her hearty, versatile voice, but for her mammoth mound of curly brown hair. “I’m not going to make a song like Lady Gaga using 808s and Auto-Tune.”

Of all her songs, the gospel streak is strongest in the 2015 single, “Have Mercy,” a gentle acoustic track punctuated by finger snaps and choral arrangements from female vocalists. She penned and produced the ditty over the course of an afternoon in August 2014 after watching news segments on the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the murder of a little boy who had been beaten to death by his mother. (Click here to read more)

Another One Bites the Dust … Sorta

The Bay Area loses HBK rapper Iamsu! to Atlanta, but he promises he’ll be back.

SF Weekly

music1-1In the last few years, a hot topic of conversation has been the mass exodus of musicians leaving the Bay Area for other locales, thanks to increased living costs, a shrinking artist’s community, and the infiltration of tech. SF Weekly covered the epidemic in a 2014 cover story, John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall discussed their decision to leave San Francisco for Los Angeles with Pitchfork, and, earlier this year, SPIN published a tome about the creative greats who have left our region.

And now another Bay Area artist has decided to move on: the nouveau-hyphy rapper and HBK Gang founder, Iamsu!

When I reach the 6-foot 4-inch emcee (born Sudan Williams) by phone on a Wednesday afternoon, he tells me that he’s in the process of moving into his newly purchased, six-bedroom, five-bathroom, three-story house in Atlanta.

“I just got checked for termites, I got all my locks changed, and I set up my cable and my internet today,” he tells me. “I also talked to 2 Chainz, and he’s going to help me build a studio in my house.”

Only a few days prior, the multi-talented 27-year-old — who, in addition to rapping, also sings and produces — signed the papers for the house, which he purchased from his grandmother’s best friend after she decided to move when her husband died.

“Me and my mom talked about it,” he tells me, “and we thought it was a good idea.” (Click here to read more)

Inside the Mind of a Slumerican

Alabama rapper Yelawolf reveals his true feelings about women — or, as he calls them, “bitches.”

SF Weekly

music1-2Had Hillary Clinton won the election, this article would have been different. But she didn’t, and Donald Trump did — and now I can’t look at a number of things, including the Southern rapper Yelawolf, in the same way.

The 36-year-old Alabaman emerged onto the music scene around 2005, when he put out his first independent album, Creek Water, an electronic hip-hop record laced with Southern and psychedelic flourishes. At that point in his career, the now almost fully tattooed artist had but a few inkings on his skin, including the word “Slumerican” on the back of his calf, which he’d had done in 2002.

Today, Slumerican is far more than just a fading image on the rapper’s leg: It’s the URL for his website, the name of a song he collaborated on with Killer Mike, an Instagram handle, a Facebook page, an entry in Urban Dictionary, a Tumblr profile, a record label, a soon-to-be weed strain, and Yelawolf’s namesake.

“It started just as a play on words, to be an American from the slums, like mud tires on a big truck with a Dixie flag, with white boys from the backwoods — but they’re bumping Biggie Smalls,” he says, adding that pretty soon, there will be a Slumerican store, barbershop, and tattoo parlor.

If the word rubs you the wrong way, you’re not alone. Though Yelawolf claims it is “an all-inclusive culture and brand,” I can’t help but think of the people that it represents: namely, Trump supporters. After all, wasn’t it White, rural voters who helped The Donald on his road to victory? And wasn’t it Yelawolf — who last year defended the use and wearing of the Confederate flag on Facebook — who said in a 2011 interview with The Guardian, “I represent the people who are the core of America”? (Click here to read more)

The Metamorphosis of a Rapper

How Miami emcee Denzel Curry spent the better part of 2015 working on himself.

SF Weekly

music1-1For most of 2015, mum was the word for Miami rapper Denzel Curry. The 21-year-old emcee kept a low profile, only emerging once in June to release the double EP, 32 Zel/Planet Shrooms. Fans took notice of his absence, wondering what had happened to the ambitious young artist who has been churning out a steady stream of music since the age of 16. Had he retired from the music industry? Or was he taking a break?

The answer: neither. Instead, he was plotting his transformation.

Curry’s decision to tweak his image and sound came after a conversation he had with André 3000 — “my idol,” he says — at an art gallery in the Wynwood District of Miami at the tail end of 2014.

“I knew that if I was going to ask him something, I wasn’t just going to ask for a picture,” Curry says. “I was going to ask him something that was going to change my life, and really, that’s what happened.”

He ended up asking André 3000 a few questions, like “What do you do to stay relevant?” and “What keeps you going?” The former OutKast member’s answers were startlingly simple — “He was like, ‘Just don’t get bored. That’s how you succeed and have fun,’ ” Curry says — but it was enough to jumpstart the younger rapper’s ambitions to modify things in his own life and make the mundane less mundane. (Click here to read more)

Getting Trippy

Marielle V. Jakobson’s new album, Star Core, will make you feel like you’re on drugs.

SF Weekly

music1-2Last Saturday night at The Lab, roughly 50 people tripped — on music.

Around 10:30 p.m., after a number of failed attempts at setting up the projector, a petite, flaxen-haired woman by the name of Marielle V. Jakobsons took the stage, along with backing bassist Chuck Johnson. Conversations among audience members faded into silence as Jakobsons, robed in a white dress with red stitching, adjusted her position under the lone spotlight. A ray of light beamed from the projector, and psychedelic, abstract patterns fluttered in the background — the result of an instrument Jakobsons built that uses sound vibrations and light to create images in a small pool of water.

Things were already starting to get trippy, and the music hadn’t even started.

Holding a flute to her lips — the same flute that she played in her middle school band class — Jakobsons blew a long single note. Using her laptop to loop and distort it, the 34-year-old waited as the note replayed through the speakers, coated in feedback. Buzzy streaks of synthesizer that sounded like shots from a ray gun peeled through the air, followed by a weightless, tinkling piano melody that sounded like it could defy gravity. And then came the violin: hypnotic and flirtatious, with an exotic bent that could have been culled straight from the 1970s Alejandro Jodorowsky film Holy Mountain.

As blurry swathes of orange, pink, and purple morphed into indecipherable shapes on the screen, the crowd sunk into a stupor. In place of the sounds of whispers, clinking beer bottles, and creaking chairs that once filled the room, now all that could be heard was breathing. Calm, measured, and relaxed inhales and exhales from a room of people who hadn’t ingested drugs but were definitely off in a far away place. (Click here to read more)

Finding a Place in Homophobic Hip-Hop

Four Bay Area lesbians are rising stars in a genre that has long-shunned LGBT artists.

SF Weekly (Cover story)

screen_shot_2016-11-02_at_10-39-15_am-1It’s an unusually warm Sunday in October, and half a dozen women mill around the Chabot Space and Science Center in East Oakland, in a room designed to look like a Mission Control. Dressed in black latex, metallic fabrics, and colorful wigs, the women pound away on large, clunky keyboards, mouthing silent words into disconnected landline phones and scribbling gibberish into notebooks.

Suddenly, they stop what they’re doing and glance up, their eyes directed to the front of the room, where a 5-foot-4-inch woman stands. Except for her rainbow-tinted cyclops sunglasses, she’s dressed entirely in black and silver, and her short brown hair is woven into tight braids that hug her skull. Even though the silver gleams on her shoulders are actually drainage grates, and the “armor” on her elbows is rollerblading pads, her DIY outfit has done the trick.

JenRo looks like a futuristic astronaut from a faraway planet.

Arms straight at her sides, like a soldier, she clears her throat and begins her monologue: “Planet Earth, do you read me? Straight people, can you hear me? Animals, can you hear me? We’re calling all people, not just lesbians, who want to come to Planet Z. We’re coming back to collect our allies. Do not be afraid. You have not been left behind. You will not be left out of the party. Planet Z is here for you.”

They’re filming a music video for the lead single of JenRo’s album, Planet Z.The song tells the tale of a fictional future in which every nation sends its lesbians to the faraway world. It’s not clear why they’ve chosen to do so, but it’s ostensibly for homophobic reasons. And yet their plans backfire. Planet Z ends up becoming the place to be, where parties go on for days, and everyone has a grand old time. Pretty soon, people of all sexual orientations are boarding spaceships headed for Planet Z, deserting the now-dull Earth en masse. (Click here to read more)

The Hatching of Dirtybird

The story of how four friends turned a barbecue in Golden Gate Park into a dance music empire.

SF Weekly (Cover story)

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-2-14-59-pmI’m standing in the center of a party bus, clinging to a stripper pole. Deep, molecule-rearranging bass music vomits out of the speakers, drenching the packed bus in hypnotic melodies as it trundles toward our destination.

It’s a crisper-than-expected Saturday afternoon in the middle of August, and I’m about to attend a barbecue. But not just any barbecue: one thrown by Dirtybird, the tech-house collective and label that has become an international phenomenon since its modest beginnings in San Francisco 13 years ago.

The crowd gathered on the eastern edge of Treasure Island is young — in their early 20s to mid-30s — and dressed as if they’re at a Halloween carnival. I see zookeepers and dinosaurs, caped wizards and gray squirrels with inflatable tails. Two girls in white faux-fur coats wander about wearing matching rubber hamburger masks, while a man dressed as Jesus heaves a baseball at a tower of milk jugs. One guy with dreadlocks walks around tapping people on the shoulder and asking, “What’s up, Dirtybird?”

Scattered around the asphalt-covered, palm-tree-dotted space are a variety of white tents housing the party’s essentials: alcohol, merchandise, and barbecue courtesy of the SoMa-based eatery, Cat Head’s BBQ. But the real draw is the stage.

Claude VonStroke, the bearded father of Dirtybird, stands behind the red-and-white checkered DJ booth, his hands hovering over the mixing board, flipping switches and twisting knobs with studied nonchalance. The bulk of attendees are gathered here, their heads bobbing and arms flailing in time with the music, which is a blend of Detroit techno and ghetto house, with a piercing, energetic bassline. Buried beneath the monotonous soundtrack, so deep that it almost sounds subliminal, is a high-pitched voice intoning scandalous words and phrases, like “in the butt” and “dick, dick, dick.” (Click here to read more)

“Who Do You Love?”

The many ways in which rapper YG has left an indelible footprint on pop culture and why he’s “Still Brazy.”

SF Weekly

music1-4d7ea6acd1496211YG knows how to make headlines.

In 2013, the Compton rapper, born Keenon Jackson, inspired legions of high school students to ditch class and temporarily halted traffic on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles after inviting the public via Instagram to attend the filming of the music video for his song “Left, Right.” Another Instagram open call from the rapper led to an impromptu rally in April, when a rowdy crowd of more than one hundred people arrived for the filming of “Fuck Donald Trump,” a joint track with Crenshaw rapper Nipsey Hussle. (The shoot ended up being shut down by police.) Less than a month later, the Secret Service got in touch with YG’s label Def Jam to peruse the content of his upcoming album, Still Brazy, to see whether there was any other political material in it.

A former member of the Bloods street gang, multiple attempts have been made on his life: He was shot in the groin outside of a recording studio in 2015 — “I’m hard to kill,” he said later — and just last month, another music video shoot in Compton was canceled after it was interrupted by gunfire. (YG was briefly detained by police, who found shell casings at the scene from an AK-47 assault rifle and later declared the shooting “gang-related.”)

The 26-year-old, who will be performing at KMEL’s Summer Jam on Sunday, June 12, is also responsible for inspiring trends. His song “Toot It and Boot It” introduced the phrase into the public lexicon in 2010. (For those over the age of 30, it’s another way of saying “hit it and quit it.”) YG has also popularized swapping the first letters of words with a “b”: You can now buy hats on Etsy and cell phone cases on eBay that say “Bompton,” and the slogan “bickin’ back being bool” was de rigueur in certain circles for most of 2014.

(Click here to read more)

The Yogi and the DJ

Two brothers’ separate paths to music stardom.

SF Weekly (Cover Story)


On a Sunday evening in April, MC Yogi, a 37-year-old rapper and yoga teacher, bounded across the stage of The Independent, wearing a short-brimmed fedora and his trademark rectangular eyeglasses. It had been a long weekend. Early that morning, he had risen “at the butt crack of dawn” to host a New Age triathlon — a 5K run and a yoga class, followed by a meditation session, hosted by the music and yoga festival Wanderlust — for more than 4,000 people in Golden Gate Park. The day before, he’d done the same in Mexico City, snatching only a few hours’ sleep after his flight landed at SFO on Saturday night.

As images of lotus flowers and OM symbols flashed across a screen behind him, MC Yogi told stories of his childhood in Marin — where he was born Nick Giacomini — and how he met his wife, Amanda, in a yoga-teacher training course 16 years ago — before launching into the first song of the evening: the Indian-inspired electronic dance rap “Clear the Path.”

Throughout the night, he performed selections from all six of his albums, spitting positive, life-affirming messages like “Only love is real,” “Spiritualism above materialism,” and “Swallow your pride and you’ll become whole” over exotic beats. In the packed crowd, fans clad in yoga pants and prayer beads danced and struck a few impromptu yoga poses.

“People said it was like a TED talk on acid,” he said later.

Among the Namaste-ing crowd were a middle-aged couple — MC Yogi’s parents — and their youngest son, a 33-year-old dressed in a hoodie from his own clothing line.

(Click here to read more)

After Years of Busking and Touring, Fantastic Negrito Prepares to Release His First Full-Length Album

SF Weekly


“It’s a bit far because we’ve got to go all the way to the basement,” says Xavier Dphrepaulezz, as he heads down a carpeted flight of stairs into a downtown Oakland gallery and recording studio. As the 48-year-old, better known as the black-roots musician Fantastic Negrito, turns a corner and leads me down a concrete hallway, he lists his most vital health tips.

“Exercise is good for you, so I’m always walking,” he says. “I don’t drink sodas or eat fast food, either. I’ve got to stay healthy. I’m only two years away from 50.”

We head down a second flight of stairs, and a wave of cool subterranean air washes over us. The dim basement, which smells faintly of dust, is cluttered with building materials, tools, and broken furniture. Not too many people come down here, Dphrepaulezz says, and I can understand why.

Suddenly, he stops in front of an old wooden freight elevator. “So, this is it,” he says. “This is where we were that fateful night.”

He’s referencing the evening over a year-and-a-half ago when he, three other musicians, and their instruments (a guitar, an upright bass, and percussion) squeezed inside of the almost-100-year-old elevator to record “Lost In A Crowd,” the Southern-inspired blues ballad that won NPR’s 2015 Tiny Desk Contest.

(Click here to read more)

Five Bay Area Summer Camps for Grown-Ups

SF Weekly


If it weren’t for summer camp, I would have never learned how to make a daisy wreath or shoot a bow and arrow. Both surfing and sewing would be foreign to me, and I’d never have starred in Annie: The Musical either. But all of these things did happen — thanks in large part to my parents, who were too busy to watch my sister and me during the week, and dumped us off at summer camp instead — and I’m better for it.

If you missed out on creating your own fond memories of summer camp as a youth, here’s your chance to make up for it. There are a number of camps geared toward grown-ups hoping to recreate those halcyon days (and an estimated one million adults attend them each year, according to the American Camp Association).

Whether you’re craving a bit of nature, a bite of campfire-roasted s’mores, or a night’s rest in a bunk bed, there are plenty of opportunities around the Bay Area to let your inner kid out this summer. Here are our top five picks. (Click here to read more)


Why Hieroglyphics — and your other favorite artists — are making their own emoticons.

SF Weekly

music1-hieromoji-d14821d5bed5193cWhat do rapper The Game, girl trio Bleached, and Swedish death metal band Carnage have in common?


To date, almost two dozen artists and bands — including Future, Fetty Wap, Pia Mia, Pop Evil, The Chainsmokers, and DJ Snake — have released customized emoji packs. (An emoji pack, for the record, is different from emoji apps. While Kim Kardashian and Amber Rose have individual apps created for their emojis, most emojis for musicians are downloaded to your keyboard through third-party apps, like Emoji Fame and Moji Keyboard.).

Oakland rapper G-Eazy has his own emoji pack available through Moji Keyboard — including images of him eating a slice of pepperoni pizza, black Chelsea boots, and a mouth with a gold grill — as does former San Francisco resident Lil Dicky (whose most memorable emoji is that of a hairy scrotum with a tattoo on the left nut).

Download Emoji Fame and you’ll find another Bay Area legend with their own emoji pack: the eight man hip-hop crew Hieroglyphics. In December 2015, along with indie rappers Hopsin and Dizzy Wright, Hiero became one of the first musical acts to have custom emojis released through Emoji Fame.

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Flatbush Zombies

Subsisting on allergy medicine, LSD, and Thai food.

SF Weekly 

music2-flatbushzombies-0be981b069fab7c5Somewhere in Chicago is a tour bus containing the three members of the Brooklyn underground hip-hop crew, Flatbush Zombies. It’s been a week since they embarked on a nationwide tour in support of their debut studio album,3001: A Laced Odyssey, and they still have two more months of traveling and playing shows ahead of them.

Despite the cocktail of allergy medications he’s taken, Erick Elliott — the crew’s producer, as well as a vocalist, although all three members of Flatbush Zombies rap — sniffles and coughs in one of the rows. Meechy Darko, Flatbush’s dreadlocked vocalist, who has a penchant for rolling his eyes into the back of his head and hiding his irises from view, stretches out on the floor in the aisle. Meanwhile, Zombie Juice, identifiable by his triangular nose and cascading beard, searches on his phone for the nearest and greatest Thai restaurant.

“In every city we go to, I try to find the best Thai food in town,” he says, listing off pad kee mao and chicken pad thai as favorite dishes. In his opinion, Los Angeles, Denver, and New York have had the best Thai food in the States, and “Amsterdam had some fire, too.”

As far as I can tell, none of the guys is on drugs at the time of our interview — but you never know. The crew’s first official mixtape was called D.R.U.G.S., and Darko and Juice, who met when they were teenagers, have a reputation for experimenting with psychedelic drugs and performing while on acid.

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Hitsville High

The unlikely music factory at Pinole Valley High School

SF Weekly  (Cover Story)


The lunch bell rings at Pinole Valley High School, and hordes of teenagers swarm out of squat, rectangular bungalows.

Since the fall of 2013, Pinole Valley’s 1,200 students have been learning out of 83 portable buildings placed on what used to be a baseball diamond next to the school’s track. The old school, a one-story building dating from 1967, was torn down two years ago to make way for a substantially larger replacement, replete with palm tree-lined walkways and enough classrooms to house 400 additional students. The estimated opening date is 2019, which means three classes of Pinole Valley students will spend the entirety of high school at a campus that lacks an auditorium, cafeteria, gym — or buildings in general.

But on this Friday in March, aside from the facts that there are no lockers on campus nor hallways (other than the outdoor paths between bungalows), Pinole Valley could be any other suburban high school in California. In the central eating area — a collection of cement picnic tables partially covered by an awning, the main hang-out area for students — students dine on packed lunches or meals purchased from one of the two cafeteria kiosks. Seagulls hover nearby to swoop up stray bits of food as a delighted senior hugs a plush white teddy bear while telling a gaggle of girls how her boyfriend asked her to the prom.

A combination of pop and hip-hop songs play from a lone speaker connected to a cell phone carted out to the lunch area by the student government — a weekly tradition, Principal Kibby Kleiman says, that has rolled over from the old school.

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