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)

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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

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“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

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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)

Hieromoji

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?

Emoji.

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.

(Click here to read more)

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.

(Click here to read more)

Hitsville High

The unlikely music factory at Pinole Valley High School

SF Weekly  (Cover Story)

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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.

(Click here to read more)

Mo’ Buttons, Mo’ Remixes

RJD2 and his inventive, wearable music-making technology.

SF Weekly

music1-rjd2-9b50c819e8b0057a-1RJD2 is a fiddler. Whether it’s music or contraptions, RJD2 — the DJ and producer born Ramble Jon Krohn — has a knack for taking things apart and then putting them back together in an unrecognizable way. Reached at his Philadelphia studio on a recent Wednesday afternoon, he was busy cutting yet another remix of another artist’s song.

Remix offers are common for RJD2, who enjoys tinkering with other artists’ songs when he has the time. Just because he’s offered the chance to remix a song though, doesn’t mean he’ll take it. He won’t “blindly commit to a remix based on who the artist is,” and has been known to turn down remix offers “because I’ve thought the song was perfectly fine in its incarnation and there was nowhere to go with it.”

Remixing a song, he says, is more a matter of deciding what he’ll cut from a song and what he can do with what’s left. “I need to have a path forward,” he says. “I need to feel confident that I can come off well doing my thing on a remix.”

In addition to tinkering with songs, RJD2 is also a big fan of tinkering with contraptions. In 2006, while on tour with Soul Position, his side project with rapper Blueprint, he designed a harness to strap a 20-pound Music Production Center (MPC) sampler/sequencer to his chest so that he could make beats live, while walking around the stage. He called the device “Mo’ Buttons.” “I wanted to take the nerdiness out of the whole dude standing behind a table staring downwards motif,” he says.

(Click here to read more)

Dancing To Wait

Tinashe on her upcoming world tour, her hard-earned dance moves, and her continually-delayed sophomore album

SF Weekly

It’s not easy being a pop star. Just ask Tinashe.music2-tinashe-2dcf6a39629a8435

On a February morning, a week before the 23-year-old singer’s three month international tour begins, she’s prepping for a photo shoot. By 10 a.m., she’s already been up for hours getting her hair and makeup done.

After the photos, she’ll join dancers from her upcoming tour at a studio in North Hollywood for roughly 12 hours of rehearsal. Though that sounds like a lot of work — and it is; their rehearsals typically end around midnight — it’s absolutely necessary.

“The majority of the numbers in the show have movement, so there’s a lot to do and a lot to put together,” Tinashe says. “We waited until a week before the tour to start rehearsing.”

Practicing 12 hours a day for an upcoming tour is not the norm for most musicians. But then again, most musicians are not Tinashe. A dancer since the age of 3 who turned her childhood bedroom into a home studio, Tinashe has long been known as a hard worker. She wrote, recorded, and produced her first three mixtapes herself, and directed and co-wrote her early music videos. And though spending copious hours on dance routines might not be “necessary because the majority of artists nowadays don’t dance,” being the rare singer-dancer is precisely why she feels the need to incorporate dance into her show.

(Click here to read more)

Who Is Joanna Newsom?

Demystifying Northern California’s enigmatic harpist

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In 19 minutes and 53 seconds, I tried to crack Joanna Newsom. I wanted to figure out who she was, because Newsom, a 34-year-old singer and harpist raised in Nevada City, is an equation that doesn’t add up.

Since Newsom emerged on the scene in 2004 with her debut studio album, The Milk-Eyed Mender, fans and journalists alike have been trying to figure her out. (She’s even had problems with stalkers.) With her long, flaxen hair, whimsical song titles, poetic lyrics, and ethereal, polyrhythmic song structures, there’s something otherworldly about her. (Tolkienesque terms like “Elfin princess” and “wood nymph” are frequently used to describe her.)

In her music, Newsom is haunting and cryptic. Though her sound is firmly rooted in folk, it’s not the happy, cutesy folk of Simon and Garfunkel or Peter, Paul, and Mary. Instead, she sings about loneliness, loss, regret, and misunderstanding — that is, if you can understand any of her lyrics in the first place. Newsom’s voice is high-pitched and quivering, and her lyrics are couched in metaphors and symbolism — so much so that one fan has created a website devoted entirely to deciphering her lyrics. (In “The Things I Say,” Newsom even sings a few lines backwards.)

(Click here to read more)

Metal 101

Gary Holt, The Guitarist For Legendary Thrash Metal Band Slayer, Explains The Genre to a Novice

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Last month, I went to see Metallica perform at AT&T Park the day before the Super Bowl. It was the first metal show I’d ever attended — and it was terrible.

The music was loud and clamorous, the vocals were sinister and throaty-in-an-evil-way, and the overall experience was much darker and ominous than I’d expected. I spent three hours with my mouth agape in horror, resisting an urge to cover my ears.

But as I looked around the audience, I saw 40,000 people were vibing to the music. Cacophonous, raucous, and scary though it was, these people — normal-looking, not-dressed-in-black people — were digging it. Like, really digging it. The guy next to me stood up for the entirety of the show, and the guys in front of me couldn’t contain themselves from throwing up devil horn hand symbols every few minutes. It was clear something was afoot. But what?

I needed help. I would never be converted, but I needed to understand why people listen to metal. And who better to explain metal than Slayer, another legendary metal band of the 1980s?

From a hotel room in Wisconsin, Slayer guitarist Gary Holt took the time to explain the genre to me and provide some insight into why people are drawn to it. I still don’t get metal, but I at least now sort of understand the genre from a metal lover’s standpoint. (Click here to read more)

Verses From The Cubicle

Rapper Enon Gaines Splits His Time Between Tech Work and Music

SF Weekly

music1Twenty-eight-year-old Enon Gaines is sitting behind a white desk in a peach-colored cubicle at the San Rafael headquarters of software firm SafetyChain. Eleven other cubicles dot the room, which Gaines refers to as “a mini cube farm,” and light reflecting off a manmade lake outside glimmers through the windows.

It’s a Wednesday afternoon and, like millions of other people, Gaines is at work. This April marks his one-year anniversary as a project manager for the “food safety and quality operations” company, and his seventh year working in the tech industry as a whole. (Before SafetyChain, Gaines worked at a teacher accountability company in San Francisco.)

After the one-hour commute from his home in Vallejo, Gaines usually arrives at the office around 6 a.m. At 3 p.m., he heads home, where he transforms from techie to musician.

“I live a double life,” says Gaines, who raps and sings under the name PhenomENON. “Once I’m done with work, I spend the rest of the day writing songs, listening to beats, rehearsing, and playing the guitar.”

(Click here to read more)

Reduce, Reuse, Record

Howard Remixes Themselves in New EP Please Recycle

SF Weekly

music2So you form a band, hole up in a studio, and record your debut album. It’s released to rave reviews and accolades from fans and critics alike. You play some shows, maybe even go on tour. Then you head back to the studio to start working on your next record.

But rather than start from scratch, you decide to listen to that first record again for inspiration. “Damn, it’s good,” you think to yourself. “But I wonder what it would sound like if I took this out and added this in?” You start toying around with the stems of the song. You remix the separate recordings of each individual instrument, placing the rhythm guitar here and the hi-hats there, and the bass in the background.

Before you know it, you’ve created an entirely new song using bits and pieces from the old record. “What a brilliant, economical idea!” you think to yourself. “Perhaps I should make more songs like this? Or maybe even an entire EP?”

This is what fans of the Brooklyn-based quartet Howard will hear on the band’s upcoming EP, to be released on March 25. Called (appropriately enough) Please Recycle, the concept album was crafted entirely from the stems of the band’s debut album, Religion. And the two sound nothing alike.

Religion is a folksy indie-rock record replete with acoustic guitar strumming, tinkly keyboards, glitchy electronic melodies, and plaintive vocals. Singer/songwriter and band founder Howard Feibusch says he was largely inspired by Fleet Foxes and Other Lives while writing and recording the album, which he describes as “folktronica.” (Click here to read more)

Will Wiesenfeld of Baths Keeps It Weird

SF Weekly

music1-baths-89b3c94aa4c88b7aIt’s the middle of the day in the middle of the week, and 26-year-old Will Wiesenfeld is sitting in his West Los Angeles apartment, staring at his computer. His cat, Pluton — a domestic short hair with dark lines around his eyes — lies on the desk next to the humming machine. As his master roves Hot Wire for a hotel room to stay in during an upcoming tour, Pluton appears to roll his eyeliner-lined cat eyes.

Master and cat post up at this desk on the regular. This is where Wiesenfeld, who performs under the name Baths, concocts his music. This is where the magic happens. Or rather, this is where the weird and different happens.

“A lot of the time, I’ll make a song that I’m super stoked on and end up hearing something that sounds really similar to it and be really disappointed and have to start something new,” Wiesenfeld says. “That’s my end goal with making music: To make what I don’t tend to hear in pop music.” (Click here to read more)

A Different Stream

Zoë Keating Wants to Disrupt The Music Industry — In Artists’ Favor

SF Weekly (Cover Story)feature-1-44cc1d7ed8801999

It was springtime 2015, and Zoë Keating was staring at rabbits.

Through the curved window of the Georgian house outside of London, Keating, a critically acclaimed independent cellist, and Imogen Heap, a Grammy-nominated singer, watched the animals on the lawn. The house belonged to Heap, who grew up there and later purchased it from her parents. Although it was surrounded by all the tropes of the English countryside — rolling hills, bluebells, and the wild rabbits — it was only a few miles outside of London in a government-protected swath of wilderness. If they looked closely enough, the women could see the city in the distance.

It was Keating’s second day as Heap’s guest. Or maybe it was her third. Ever since her husband’s death two months earlier, she had trouble keeping track of time. “It was all a blur,” she recalled months later. (Click here to read more)

Autograf Shares Tips on How to Craft a Killer Remix

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The Chicago electronic trio Autograf formed a few years ago when three friends (Jake Carpenter, Louis Kha, and Mikul Wing) decided to start an art group of sorts. They built pop art-inspired creations, such as an 8-foot-tall can of soup, threw parties, and eventually turned to making music.

But rather than craft original pieces of work, Autograf chose to make remixes.

“When you put out your very first song, that’s almost the hardest one because it’s hard to get people to listen to it,” Kha says. “That’s why remixes are helpful, because you’re working with something recognizable that people already know.”

The first remix, released in 2014, was a reinvention of rapper 50 Cent’s club banger “Magic Stick” into a hazy, glitched-out, deep house jam. Then followed riffs on artists such as Amtrac, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Pharrell, to name just a few. It wasn’t until last May that Autograf dropped their first original creation, “Dream.”

(Click here to read more)

Electronic Musician, Slow Magic, Is Inseparable From His Mask

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Slow Magic, an artist who plays drums and makes electronic music, won’t tell me his real name. Or his age. Or where he’s from. He won’t even tell me where he is as we talk on the phone and, since I’m a journalist, not a CIA agent, I can’t track his phone and find out for myself. The only things I know about him are that he’s a dude, he sounds rather young, and he wears a mask. So I ask him about the mask and I (finally) start to get some answers.

Slow Magic’s mask is striped, rainbow-colored, and outfitted with L.E.D. lights that change color with the music during his shows. It has almond-shaped eye holes, two ears, and looks sort of like a zebra-fox-wolf on acid. “It’s open to interpretation on what kind of animal it is,” says Slow Magic. “And I think that’s the essence of the whole project: It’s imaginary, so anyone can interpret it how they want to and they’re right.” (In that case, I’ll call it a zebra).

Slow Magic has worn a mask since his first show in 2012 because he’s a firm believer that “it’s more exciting to focus on the identity of the music than on the identity of me.” The original design, created by his “friend who is an artist,” has stayed the same over the years, just with a few improvements. Today’s iteration is sturdier, made of plastic and wood, and is “to an extent, pretty sweat proof.”

(Click here to read more)

Singer/Producer Natasha Kmeto is an Electronic Music Unicorn

SF Weeklymusic1

When you coming back, baby? When you coming back? / I will love you down, baby / When you’re coming back.

So starts the first track of electronic singer-producer Natasha Kmeto’s sophomore album, Inevitable. Though the lyrics are indefatigably simple, they reveal a fair amount about the musician, much more than she let on in her 2013 debut,Crisis. Listeners might pick up on Kmeto’s penchant for singing about love and relationships. Astute listeners might even figure out that Kmeto is queer.

No song on the album is more upfront about this than “I Thought You Had a Boyfriend.” In this cavernous deep-house track, Kmeto picks up on clues that a girl might be into her and questions her intentions. Though some of her listeners don’t understand — “I occasionally glance across audiences and I’ll see a couple dudes that look at me like, ‘What is she saying?'” she says, laughing — it is her most blatant and revealing song to date.

Kmeto, who lives in Portland with her partner of four years, “officially” came out six years ago. She says that after experimenting with women and questioning whether she was bisexual or gay, she came out to herself first, before letting her family members know one by one.

(Click here to read more)

East Bay Rapper Azure’s New Album, Leap Year, Has Been A Long Time Coming

SF Weekly

 

It’s 1 p.m. on a Wednesday, and Azure is in his L.A. apartment watching the new Spike Lee film, Chi-Raq. Although he’s lived here since September, the apartment has a sparseness to it that is less a reflection of Azure’s interior design aesthetic than an indicator of his busy schedule.

Since the fall, the 27-year-old rapper, born Justin Park in Pinole, Calif., has been on the road quite a bit, either touring with Bay Area rapper (and HBK Gang founder) Iamsu!, for whom he DJs, or driving back and forth between the Bay and L.A. to record music with his recently formed rap crew, Down 2 Earth. And though he enjoys staying occupied, all of the traveling has taken a toll. “It just eats up so much time,” says the MC, who has planned for the last year to drop his fourth album, Leap Year.

On the SoundCloud page for Leap Year, which was released on Jan. 12 (and was premiered worldwide by SF Weekly), Azure issued an apology to his fans. “2 my listeners from the early days, I know I took a few extra moments to deliver this project to your ears,” he wrote. “I didn’t want to give you something rushed so I took my sweet time widit.”

(Click here to read more)

Singer and Bassist Jennie Vee Is On Her Way to Becoming The Next Courtney Love

SF Weekly

It’s Thanksgiving Day and singer Jennie Vee could care less.

“I’m the most anti-holiday person ever,” says the 32-year-old from Canada, who headlines Oakland’s Stork Club on Friday, Dec. 4. “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve not really enjoyed holidays. I can’t wait for them to be over.”

Vee’s blasé attitude is right in line with the punk rock ethos that has always guided both her life and music. Though she grew up in a “strict Catholic household,” Vee became a Goth, dyed her hair “every color of the rainbow,” and went vegetarian — and later, vegan — at a young age. She taught herself how to play guitar simply by listening to albums from Hole, The Cure, and Jane’s Addiction, and to this day, cannot read music. As a teenager, she dropped out of high school and moved to England because that’s where “all [her] favorite bands were from.” When she returned to Canada in her late teens, she formed a rock band called Tuuli and recorded a full-length album and EP. Over the next few years, through her own hustling and hard work, she wrote songs for a Comedy Central series and got a handful of tracks used on a Canadian cartoon show, as well as the hit teen drama television series, Degrassi: The Next Generation.

(Click here to read more)

L.A.’s Smallest Radio Station, 97.5 KBU, Broadcasts Out Of A Malibu Bedroom

LA Weekly

Hans Laetz and his "KBU" car

Hans Laetz and his “KBU” car

The KBUU-FM radio studio is in a ranch-style tract house, on a cul de sac on one of Malibu’s few suburban-style streets. In what used to be Emily Laetz’s bedroom, the detritus of a recently moved-out kid is everywhere. Puka shell necklaces hang near the door and a stack of Malibu High School yearbooks is piled on the desk, along with an LP (The Doors’ Greatest Hits) and a wadded up clump of bathing suit. On the wall are a tide calendar from 2011 and a homemade a poster that says “Big Dume September 2007.”

In the middle of the room are two racks of gear, diodes lit and blinking, volume meters flashing, data lines flickering. At a white desk surrounded by computer screens, speakers and a 20-year-old radio console sits Emily’s dad, Hans Laetz. A greying 58-year-old of average height, with a thick slab of mustache and a wardrobe of Hawaiian shirts, Laetz is the guy behind “Radio Malibu,” 97.5 KBU. (He was also formerly this writer’s editor at another publication.)

He perches on a stool and leans into an Electro-Voice RE320 mic to record his PSAs and newscasts. He attempts six different voices — “I don’t always want to sound like me” — and launches into a promo using what he fancies to be his “sexy FM voice.” He reserves the “KNX news voice” for the newscasts between 6:45 and 9:15 a.m., and the “Irwindale Dragway” voice for PSAs. (Click here to read more)

Son Of A Cocaine Dealer, Rapper Bricc Baby Lives Up To His Name

LA Weekly 

MPA_Shitro_Karte 2_001 It helps to have friends in high places. Just ask Bricc Baby, an underground L.A. rapper who came out with his second mixtape (Nasty Dealer) in April.

Bricc grew up in South L.A., where he befriended a young Kid Ink and Casey Veggies. Later, he moved to Atlanta where he met Future, Young Thug, Young Scooter and Peewee Longway. The Atlanta gang taught him how to freestyle, and he was Casey Veggies’ driver for his first tour. He formed Batgang with Kid Ink, who also helped the young rapper choose his name (he was formerly MPA Shitro, Shitty Montana and Bricc Baby Shitro) and took him on tour in both Europe and the United States.

“Yeah, I’m pretty lucky,” says the 27-year-old MC. “I’m blessed to be in a position where I run into people that are real heavy in the game.”

(Click here to read more)

HOW AN L.A. BLOCK BECAME ANALOG ALLEY, A DESTINATION FOR ALL THINGS RETRO

LA Weekly

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Most of the time, when people talk about Sawtelle Boulevard, they mention the Japanophile stretch near Olympic, known as Little Osaka, where you can buy authentic red bean mochi, Sanrio knickknacks and mouthwatering ramen. (The general area around the stretch is now technically known as Sawtelle Japantown). But if you walk a few blocks north of that stretch, toward Santa Monica Boulevard, you’ll discover Analog Alley.

It’s where the eight-decade-old Nuart Theatre shows indie and cult films and where you can rent videos from one of the last independently owned video stores in the city. You’ll find a record store with a hammock hanging out front and a used bookstore with a tintype photography studio. Down the side street of Idaho Avenue, there’s another used bookstore, this one filled with gewgaws and doo-dads from yore. If you want a slice of the past, this is where you go.

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Two or three years ago, recalls Sebastian Mathews, the owner of Touch Vinyl and Cinefile Video, “there’s these little obsolete businesses around and we were all starting to feel that analog needs to come to the forefront.” As a result, local shopkeepers decided to brand the area Analog Alley, and since then, foot traffic and business in general have improved. (Click here to read more)

Tokimonsta Mixes Hip-Hop and EDM For The EDC Masses

LA Weekly

tokimonsta_marcotorres_5It’s a little past 11 o’clock on Friday and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway is pulsing with sound, lights and bodies. Polyester jellyfish and gigantic LED mushrooms hover above the crowd; the smell of funnel cakes and body odor wafts through the 100-degree air on this first night of EDC Las Vegas. Dust and dirt coalesce into one invisible mass, infiltrating the throats and nasal passages of thousands of ravers, their plastic beaded bracelets click-clacking as they record videos with their smartphones and chug Powerades and syrupy cocktails. A never-ending torrent of synths and molecule-rearranging bass tumble from myriad speakers throughout the 2.5-mile-long complex.

At each stage, a different gradation of EDM plays, as artists and DJs spin melodies, adjust volumes, and tweak tempos. The beat drops, building into an explosive climax at one stage, while a steady wave of trance hypnotizes the crowd at another. Elsewhere, a percussive house jam segues into a drum solo. And over there, to the north, a tinkle of bells unfurls into an Indian-laced flute melody and the crowd goes wild as they recognize the beat to Nas’s “Oochie Wally.”

This is not what they were expecting. This is hip-hop, not EDM. But wait. Don’t you hear the bass? The electro tinge? Isn’t what you’re doing with your feet called dancing? And isn’t that, by virtue of its various qualities, the very definition of electronic dance music?

You nod your head “yes” and wave your bangled arms in the air. This is EDM, you decide. And that blue-haired DJ on the stage knows what she’s doing, you realize. She’s blurring the lines between genres. She’s breaking the rules. She’s pioneering a new sound. (Click here to read more)

I Wore Pasties At EDC And It Wasn’t That Bad

LA Weekly

It’s easy to make friends when you wear pasties at EDC. I would know. I did it last night.

I didn’t plan for this to happen. When I packed for the festival, I chose regular clothes—shorts, tank tops, a sundress. You see, I’m not a raver and I’d never been to a rave before, so I had no idea what to expect. Actually, that’s not true. I once saw a gaggle of girls dressed in tutus and furry boots leaving a hotel in downtown L.A., apparently on their way to a rave. So I knew enough about rave culture to recognize the tropes: the boots, the bracelets, the drugs, the glow sticks. I just had no idea what to expect once I got there.

I barfed and went home early on my first night at EDC. I’d drunk too little water and inhaled too much dust. I was also completely and utterly overwhelmed. The last time I’d gone to a large-scale musical event was back in 1999 to see The Spice Girls at the Forum. (I must admit, even though I am a music journalist, I’ve never been to a music festival — not even Coachella.) Needless to say, I was wholly unprepared for the sheer size, scale and volume of the event.

And then there were the outfits — or rather, lack thereof. Girls were wearing panties and bras and thongs like it was the most normal thing in the world. Of course, it was over 100 degrees outside, and I sure as hell am no Mormon. But still, I was shocked. One girl wore a unitard made entirely of (thin) black duct tape. Others seemed to have given up on clothes all together. (Click here to read more)

Lil Debbie’s New EP, Home Grown, Is An Ode To Weed

LA Weekly

IMG_3210 It’s Friday night, a little after 10:30, and I’m hoofing it through Hollywood to a spot called Las Palmas where Lil Debbie is premiering her new EP, Home Grown. There are stragglers hanging out front and they’re all young, definitely not over the age of 25, some of them probably not even over 21, which I assume is why they are hanging outside to begin with. Because that’s the thing about rap and hip-hop shows: They’re always mired with youngins.

The last — and only — time I saw Lil Debbie was back in 2013 at a place called Venue in downtown Oakland. The Venue is one of those multi-use spaces with a stage and a bar and lots of floor space, and I remember being impressed with the size of the room when I got there. Impressed because I didn’t know much about Lil Debbie, other than the fact that she was in the White Girl Mob, and impressed because I hadn’t been to a rap show since high school.

V-Nasty was there, and probably Kreayshawn, too, but all I can remember is Lil Debbie strutting across the stage in a pair of silk boxer shorts, gesticulating and waving the mic around. Her tiny, 5’2″ frame was a mere wisp compared to V-Nasty, and yet she was just as fierce, just as tough. The rest of the night is a blur — let’s be honest, I probably drank one too many glasses of Moscato — but I remember watching her perform as if it were yesterday.

(Click here to read more)

Southern Hospitality is LA’s Coolest Rap Party…And It’s Free

LA Weekly

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If you want to hear rap and hip-hop on a weekend night in the City of Angels, your options are limited. If you’re willing to dress up, pay a cover and order bottle service, you can head to the clubs in Hollywood. If you’d prefer something more laid-back, you could choose a hipster dive bar, but be prepared for a track list of overplayed, run-of-the-mill, old-school jams. Or you could opt for a warehouse party filled with kids half your age.

“There seems to be no middle ground in the rap club scene,” says British DJ and promoter David Sadeghi, better known in the hip-hop scene as Davey Boy Smith. Luckily for hip-hop heads, Sadeghi has a solution to this problem in the form of a monthly rap dance party called Southern Hospitality at Los Globos.

The event, which has been held in London in various forms and iterations since 2004, is the antithesis of what one would normally expect from a rap party. It’s not scene-y or gaudy, but laid-back and welcoming. The dance floor is huge and if you want to twerk sans smirks and Miley Cyrus references, this is the place to do it (there’s even mirrors on the walls so you can watch your performance).

(Click here to read more)

Gangsta Boo’s Guide to Soul Food in Los Angeles

The Memphis-bred Three 6 Mafia MC’s got you covered when it comes to turkey chops, butter cake, and a taste of southern living.

Complex

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It’s a Friday afternoon when rapper Gangsta Boo pulls into the parking lot of a soul food restaurant in Inglewood. The Tennessee-raised MC—who was the first (and only) female member of Three 6 Mafia—is wearing jean overalls, an Eazy-E t-shirt, and a snap back hat with the words “Rap Fan” emblazoned on the front. Her boyfriend Emmett, a Playa Del Rey native, is in tow, she explains, because today’s his birthday, and she didn’t want to leave him alone. Besides, it was Emmett who introduced her to this very spot, bringing her one step closer to finding comfort thousands of miles away from Memphis.

Boo and her boyfriend walk into the restaurant and choose a booth in the corner next to a wall plastered with photographs. “I normally don’t eat soul food this early,” says Boo. But as she picks up the dense 12-page menu and starts flipping through it, she confesses that she’s actually rather hungry.

And for good reason. Soul food is, after all, the thread that ties Gangsta Boo to her time spent growing up in the South. “My mom, my friends’ moms, everybody cooks soul food in Memphis,” she explains. “You go to Grandma’s house on Sunday and she’d have soul food. It’s just a way of life over there.” (Click here to read more)

Low End Theory

Straight Outta DTLA

L.A. Downtowner

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Nestled in the heart of the Arts District is the alternative music label and distributor, known as Alpha Pup. Co-founded in 2004 by renowned promoter/producer Kevin Moo (a.k.a. Daddy Kev), it is one of the most daring and innovative labels in LA, as well as one of the few labels to be based in Downtown. After a decade of producing and engineering albums, as well as throwing nightclub parties throughout LA, Moo decided to start his own label. Alpha Pup was not only a way for him to release music and promote new and up-and-coming artists, but it allowed him to pioneer trends and craft new sounds in the local music scene.

In addition to the numerous artist-run divisions that it sponsors, like Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, the independent label is also beloved for its weekly club night called Low End Theory, which has been held at The Airliner since 2006. On any given Wednesday, you’ll hear a congruence of rhythms and melodies at the event, where leading tastemakers in the underground music scene, as well as newbies and unknowns, take the stage. Though Low End Theory defies genres, “We were able to kind of maneuver around that,” said Moo, “which I think is a testament to the DJs we have and the variety of music they play.” You’ll hear a heady mix of rap, electronic, trap, dub-step, and maybe even a little jazz, as well as a whole lot of drum and bass. The music is not trendy or throwback, but rather so new that it’s a few years ahead of the curve.

“I met a whole bunch of other people who were interested in making the same kind of music as me,” said TOKiMONSTA, an electronic/hip-hop producer signed to Alpha Pup’s roster who got her start by spinning at Low End Theory. “We were just a bunch of kids who made beats and [Low End Theory] was a place where we could experiment and play the kind of music we wanted.” (Click here to read more)

Here’s How One Writer Spent Way Too Long Deciding The Best Rap Song Every Year From 1979 to 2014

Noisey/VICE

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Oh, Shea Serrano. It seems like just yesterday the beloved music writer was an 8th grade science teacher, moonlighting some of his first writing gigs for Noisey and dropping sage hip-hop knowledge and witticisms in pieces like his review of a middle school talent show and that profile on Houston rapper Maxo Kream. Well, Shea’s all grown up now, having found his way to a staff writer gig at Grantland. He’s even got a couple books to his name now. If you consider a “coloring and activity book” a real book, pssshhh. (Just kidding, we think it’s awesome.)

Serrano’s latest, The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Reconstructed, hasn’t even come out yet—it drops October 13—and it’s already the number one best-selling book in three of Amazon’s categories (rap, history and criticism, and popular humor and entertainment). The publishers have even already ordered a second printing of it. We’re so proud!

And anyway, with a foreword written by Ice-T, there’s no way the fully-illustrated, 36-chapter year-by-year analysis of rap’s most important songs will suck. Of course, you might disagree with some of Serrano’s choices—was “Still Tippin’” really more important than “Drop It Like It’s Hot” in 2004?—but that’s life, bro.

Given our excitement for what just might be one of the most important rap tomes in the history of rap tomes, we gave Serrano a call at his home in Houston to find out more about the book, blowing his deadline, and predicting Kanye’s bid for presidency. (Click here to read more)

Pop Duo XYLO Haven’t Played A Show Yet, But They’re Already An Internet Sensation

LA Weekly

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The Internet is a peculiar thing. Especially when it comes to releasing and disseminating music. Take, for example, the brother-sister indie pop band, XYLØ. Even though they’ve never had their own show, haven’t recorded an album, and have only released four songs, their music is everywhere.

One of their songs, “Afterlife,” premiered on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 radio station. Another song, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” played in the background of a KTLA newscast. Two of their songs have been listened to over one million times on both Spotify and SoundCloud, and they have fans hailing from as far away as Malaysia, Israel and Russia. And they’ve only been around for a little over a year.

“That’s what’s blowing my mind,” says Chase Duddy, the band’s producer. “With technology, you can just put your music out there and anything can happen.”

He and his 21-year-old sister Paige made their first song, “America,” in spring of 2014. “Most people think since we’re brother and sister that we’re in a family band and that we performed for our parents after dinner in front of the fireplace,” says Chase, who is 10 years older than his sister. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”

They recorded one song for their parents and grandparents back when Paige, the band’s vocalist, was only 13. But that was just for fun; the idea of forming a band and taking music seriously never entered their minds. Not only was there a huge age gap that made working together difficult (while Paige was in middle school and high school, Chase was already pursuing his career), but the pair were geographically isolated from one another. Chase spent the bulk of his twenties living in Hollywood and Los Feliz, while Paige remained in Westlake Village, where they both live today. (Click here to read more)

Skeme Stays True to his Inglewood Roots — Except When He’s Ghostwriting Other People’s Hits

LA Weekly

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At Time for a Cut Barber Shop in Inglewood, Lonnie Kimble, known to rap fans as Skeme, sits slouched in a faux leather chair, his dreads pulled back in a ponytail and his knees peeking out of holes in his distressed Yves St. Laurent jeans. A bootlegged version of Straight Outta Compton, with Chinese subtitles, plays on the TV, while the shop’s lone barber, Marlon, shaves the head of one of Skeme’s “brothers.”

It’s a sizzling Friday afternoon in September and some of the guys in the shop have wet towels draped over their heads. The rest of Skeme’s crew is camped out in the back of the room, sitting in a semi-circle around the shop’s lone floor fan.

As his friends joke and gossip, Skeme looks on with a smile. These men — his crew and the other customers — are the people he makes music for, releasing all nine of his mixtapes for free. Though he has been offered deals with labels such as Top Dawg Entertainment, he has remained unsigned. He hasn’t upgraded his lifestyle by relocating to Hollywood or the Valley, instead remaining a constant fixture in the neighborhood he grew up in and still calls home.

His music, he says, is tailored specifically for the streets, with themes of drugs, death and money. “These songs were made for Inglewood niggas,” Skeme says, his voice raspy from years of smoking clove cigarettes. “I speak with their tongue. I say the shit that they’re going through.”

(Click here to read more)

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