& Henry Chalfant
Grand Wizard Theodore
DJ Cue and DJ Marz
Sacramento Rap History
Lesson by X-Raided
He's The King
of The Smut... On Two Turntables: The Porn / Turntablism Connection
Part 3 DJ Relm and DJ Streak Interview
Just Whatever Rocks:
The World Famous Beat Junkies
Wax: The Porn / Turntablism Connection Part 2 D-Styles
Thriftin' For a Scratch:
The Hella Broke-Ass
Style of DJ'ing
DJ Pone Reports
from the 2002 Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas
DJ Apollo Receives
"Hip Hop Slam Hall of Fame Award"
A Scratch Odyssey:
Year in Review
QBert Receives "Hip
Hop Slam Hall of Fame Award"
How to Manufacture
Your Own CD, Record, or Tape
Oakland's New Underground'
BEATS TO GO:
Filipino American DJs of the Bay Area
at the DMC American Battleground
This story originally
appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian in 1998.
The setting is one of several large East Oakland
warehouse spaces that houses an assortment of artists and musicians.
With a scattering of fanzines, Nintendo games, a fax machine,
musical accessories, posters, skateboards, ripped couches, and
an open kitchen area stacked with packs of Top Ramen and dirty
dishes, it has all the makings of a punk rock household. The nine
young men who share this humble live-in/work space are all struggling
artists passionately pursuing an underground music form that neither
parents nor commercial radio seem to understand. On a wall hangs
a poster from one of their shows. Its defiant bold type reads:
FUCK THE MAJORS.
It's gotta be punk rock, right? Not! It's underground
hip hop, Oakland 1990's style, and it's a far cry from the media-driven
image of all rappers being materialistic, gun-toting gangstas
with rolls of $100 bills stuffed in their pockets. Welcome to
the modest East 14th Street headquarters of Mystic Journeymen,
their indie label Outhouse Records, and their crew of struggling
musical cohorts, the multi-talented Murs, The Grouch, G.U. Senshi,
Gabe, and The Gypsies featuring Aesop, Eligh, & Khalil, all
of whom have their own independent projects and all of whom look
to the Journeymen as role models.
Through years of applying their punk-styled DIY
ethic the stubbornly independent and internationally successful
Journeymen duo, comprised of Tommy and Corey, have proven that
it's possible to control your own art, maintain your integrity,
and even make a living at it. Since forming in 1991 the tireless
two have earned their street credibility through such innovativeness
as organizing from scratch their own tours of Japan and Europe,
publishing the fanzine Unsigned & Hella Broke, releasing
numerous indie records & tapes, maintaining a web site, and
putting on a slew of concerts and showcases which have included
the afore-mentioned "Broke Ass Summer Jam II" [the David
& Goliath poke at KMEL's Summer Jam] and their infamous "UHBUnderground
Survivors"series. These underground parties took place during
a particularly "hella broke" period in the pair's career
when the funny-but-true price of admission was 99cents and a packet
of Top Ramen. The noodles fed them while the money paid off such
things as overdue PG&E bills.
Nowadays things seem a lot easier for the Journeymen.
The two, along with DJ G.U. Senshi and emcee/producer The Grouch
have just returned home from a successful month long tour of Europe
with change in their pockets. Shortly before returning from the
six-country trek Corey spoke by phone from Amsterdam. "I
was sitting in the sun on the French Riviera the other day just
kicking it. I never imagined that I could do this. It's coming
to the point where we can actually do this and survive without
worrying too much," he said impressing that everything they've
earned they've worked very hard for. "You've got to do it
all yourself. Fuck waiting around for muthafuckers to come along
and give something to you. It just won't happen. Do it yourself."
OAKLAND'S HIP HOP MOVEMENT
This diehard DIY, middle finger to the music industry
type attitude is shared by all of the warehouse's occupants. Along
with countless other Oakland rappers including such hip hop collectives
as the eight member Hobo Junction, including Saafir, The WhoRidas,
Eye Cue, Big Nous, Poke The Martian, Third Rail Vic, Mahassin,
& D.A. and the recently returned Hieroglyphics camp, including
Del, Casual, Souls of Mischief, Pep Love and J-Biz, these young
Oaklanders comprise a strong musical movement that is centered
in the East Bay. "There's a definite underground hip hop
scene. You've got folks like Mystik Journeymen and the Hobos out
on the corner everyday selling their tapes," commented Oliver
"O-DUB" Wang, a hip hop writer and DJ at UC Berkeley
radio station KALX.
On Telegraph Avenue, just a couple of blocks from
the radio station, on any given day you'll inevitably find such
artists as Aesop or Eye Cue "dirt hustlin" [selling]
their latest low-fi, home-recordings. Dirt Hustlin, Eye
Cue's latest tape is an autobiographical description of this grassroots
approach to street distribution, one that eliminates the middleman.
"Dirt hustlin is part of our life. We pick the spots to sell
tapes like Telegraph Avenue or wherever people into hip hop are.
I used to put it down at Bayfair Mall in San Lorenzo but then
security kicked me out," said Eye Cue who sells anywhere
from five to fifty tapes in a day, adding that, "If you've
got transportation and a constant supply of tapes you can make
a living." Earlier this month, outside the Hieroglyphics
show at the Maritime Hall, Aesop sold forty copies of his latest
tape, "Top Secret." At $8 a pop that's a lot of Top
Ramen. "That was a particularly good night. Sometimes I sell
hardly any," said the Fresno native a few mornings later
while kicking back on one of the warehouse's well-worn sofas.
Khalil, who was up late the night before playing around with some
jungle beats, has left to take AC Transit to the other side of
town. Murs, the house's reigning freestyle champ, is still asleep
in one of the overhead wooden loft spaces. Seated with headphones
at the non-soundproofed, simple but functional home studio, is
the dreaded Eligh, an LA transplant, busy producing some tasty
hip hop beats. The rest of the crew is out of town or still in
The 22-year old Aesop, who took his name from Aesop's
Fables, is more than happy to discuss his life's main passionhip
hop. "Rap is a thing you do. Hip hop is something you live,"
he said paraphrasing KRS-One and pausing to smoke on his beedie.
"Hip hop is truly life. It's the drive that keeps you doing
what you do. It keeps me making my tapes when I don't really have
food to eat," he said. Aesop, an avid skateboarder, who defines
hip hop as "a vibe more than anything," embraces all
aspects of hip hop culture from deejaying, graffiti and breaking
to emceeing. Naturally then he has a problem with people who call
themselves MC's but don't perform live: "I think that's retarded.
It's like driving a car without a steering wheel. An MC is a master
of ceremonies, that's what it means, so you have to perform live."
Giving major respect to a list of locals hip hoppers like the
Journeymen, Hobos, Hieros, Eclipse 427 from Fremont, Mic T and
the Cyto-P crew, Aesop demonstrates a strong solidarity that's
common among this new hip hop underground.
Oakland female rapper Toy, a.k.a. Combless Negro
Child, is similarly supportive of her struggling hip hop contemporaries.
Three years ago she put on her first in a series of "Underground
Payin' Dues," the "non-alcohol, all-bud" showcases,
with a dozen performers including Mystik Journeymen, The Derelicts,
Runaway Slaves, and B.L.A.C.K. "What we all have in common
is struggle, real talent cos you've got to sound original, and
no money," chuckled the tough-skinned 24 year old New Jersey
born rapper who can match any of her hip hop brethren when it
comes to dirt hustlin for her art form. Durling September's Gavin-sponsored
music seminar, "The Sessions" in Oakland she somehow
worked her way past security backstage to talk to and get a photo
taken with Jesse Jackson and Chuck D. If she hears of a hip hop
event, such as the recent Gavin seminar in New Orleans, she's
there. Another recent trip included going up to Vancouver with
Kofy Brown to perform at The Web. Most weekends you'll find her
dirt hustlin her latest CD at the Laney Flea market. "I set
up my table with my CDs, my African jewelry, and my paintings.
With the money I make, I feed hungry kids and smoke bomb,"
she laughed coughing on a freshly lit blunt. On how she originally
funded recording & pressing up her first 1,000 CDs, she explained,
"Last year I was working at the Oakland Tribune doing telemarketing,
In eight months I made $11,000. I used $4,000 of it just to live
and the rest for my music." She describes her music as, "Some
underground reality life shit... but it's all me. I don't have
a man or some other person writing my stuff for me and I don't
try to be mainstream." After ten struggling years of doing
this, she's long given up on the idea of some major label coming
knocking on her door.
FUCK THE MAJORS
"There's been a movement back to the underground
cos it's become evident that the kind of support systems from
majors have dried up. So folks are realizing that going independent
is the way to go," said writer/DJ Wang. More to the point
is Hobo Junction's Saafir who said, "Majors don't give a
fuck about the art form. They just want to make money. For example
I never knew a major label to throw a barbecue with an open mike
for hip hoppers." Saafir, who described his current deal
with Quest/Warner as "in hiatus stage," has just released
a single under the pseudonym of Mr. No-No on the Oakland collective's
tiny independent Hobo Records. Additionally he and the other Hobos
are busy planning a web site and a future fashion line. "Our
goal is to be self independent manufactured and distributed,"
Meanwhile the internationally acclaimed Del Tha
Funkee Homosapien, who recorded three albums for Elektra Records
(one of which was never released), is equally blunt about his
former major label deal as well as his current financial status.
"I'm broke as fuck right now. I ain't got a dollar to my
name. You know I ain't never seen no royalties from Dobalina,"
he said referring to his 1991 single "Mistadobolina"
which became a Top 40 pop hit in places as far away as Australia.
Regarding how Elektra finally dropped him, he bitterly recalled,
"I was calling and calling but they never even took my phone
calls. Then one day I finally got a one-sentence letter telling
me I was terminated, dropped. That's cold."
Fellow Hieroglyphics members Casual, Extra Prolific,
and Souls of Mischief each suffered a similar fate when Jive Records
in New York abruptly dropped all three acts. "I'm sour about
major labels but that's only cos my experience was bad,"
said Tajai of the Souls, adding that, "Actually I'm glad
that we're independent right now. It gives us more control. I
think that other rappers who've made it should be setting up their
own labels but doing it the right way. Not like Motown was or
the way Death Row is ripping off artists left and right,"
Domino, the Hiero's producer and manager, is also
happy with their newly forced state of independence. "It
gives you a lot of freedom. For example you can go in and record
a song today and release it next week; not like with a major,"
he said. And even though funds are tight he's already turned downed
several major deals. "We tell people point blank that we're
not interested now. If we gave in we'd be right back in the same
situation," he said noting that, "It's funny but artists
we know like KRS-One or De La Soul envy our situation. They say
you guys are really lucky because it's not often that an artist
is on a major label first, gains some success, and then gets off
the major still with some selling power. We're so lucky to be
able to be independent and still have people wanting us. And I
think if we gave that up just to get a hundred thousand up front
we wouldn't be too wise," he concluded.
In the past year the Hieros have been busy recording
together as a 'family' group. Their comeback show at the Maritime
on March 6th featured a group performance from Del, Casual, and
Souls featuring tracks such as "Oakland Blackouts" from
next month's anticipated indie Hiero-family release. Following
this joint effort throughout 1997 and into '98 will be individual
releases from each act. For right now however the broke Del plans
to go in the studio to rush-record a tape that he plans to hawk
on the Avenue to earn some immediate cash. Certain diehard fans
are shocked at the idea of this legendary hip hop figure 'dirt
hustlin.' "Niggas be tellin me 'Don't be on the street. You're
Del!' Yeah but Del's broke right now," he laughed loudly.
Luckily this financial situation is only temporary
since the forthcoming Hiero album is guaranteed to blow up based
on the collective's strong fan base, many of whom communicate
with the group through their web site, www.hieroglyphics.com.
"People from Minnesota came to the show at the Maritime cos
they saw it on the Internet. Also the Internet is like us owning
our own store where people from New Zealand or wherever can buy
stuff," said Tajai. It's "net hustlin'" if you
will. "We went to our PO box last week and we had 100 pre-orders
for the sampler tape that we were passing out as a promo. The
Net has us surviving cos we don't have a lot of other income besides
shows," noted Domino.
Ironically today's dirt hustlin' approach was pioneered
back in the early eighties by Oakland's Too $hort, the infamous
"player" who popularized the "biiiiiiiiiiiiiitch"
word with his notoriously misogynist raps in which he rhymed over
funk fueled bass tracks geared for listening to in one's ride.
While many of today's dirt hustlers may share $hort's early entrepreneurial
vision, their sound is a whole other matter. "A lot of people
define my sound as East Coast cos my beats don't have keyboards
in them and cos I'm not rhyming about dank all the time,"
said the Hobo's Eye Cue. Mystik Journeymen, Souls of Mischief,
and countless other more abstract sounding Bay Area hip hop acts
including the Solesides Crew, Twisted Mind Kids, Various Blends,
Rasco, 99th Demention, Sacred Hoop, Homeliss Derelix, Bored Stiff,
and 10 Bass T, have all received similar reactions since they
don't fulfill the stereotypical Bay Area gangsta/reality rap expectations.
Additionally there's Oakland groups like The Coup who, according
to rapper Boots, "are caught in between styles in a lot of
ways which makes our fan base quite diverse." Another label
casualty The Coup, who were dropped by New York's Wild Pitch Records,
plan to release the single "The Shipment" in June on
an as yet unknown label.
Meanwhile East Oakland rapper Slim says that on
his forthcoming debut he, "Tries to stay away from the 'nigga
this and nigga that' and the 'kill a hoe' type of rap. I really
think that rap fans are ready to listen to something new. It's
time that we progressed." College radio DJ and rapper Kasimu
Itep agrees. On his summer debut the Oaklander promises, "a
revolutionary metaphysical funk flow... radical in its perspective
with a spiritual undertone". Itep, who volunteers in the
non-profit Juvenile Hall program "EBO Village," blames
gangsta rap for many of today's social ills. "It's popularity,"
he says, "is cos it's a big money maker so those who don't
have the best interest of the hip hop community as an art grab
a hold of gangsta rap and exploit it. To an extent it's selling
drugs to the community. I don't care what anyone says. Music and
all forms of art affects the subconscious. It's advantageous to
the oppressors to push this kind of music."
Promoting a similar consciousness is Oakland's New
Upper Room, located at 1249 34th Street, near Fruitvale Bart station,
where events & booking manager Mustafa Adams says, "We're
not into any negative rap at all... the language and the whole
thing. Also we're non-alcohol and non-tobacco and that tends to
gear a certain type of crowd." The club's diverse program
includes poetry, hip hop, jazz, reggae, soca, and spoken word
sessions. Popular afternoon Q&A sessions have included De
La Soul and just recently KRS-One. Many within the local hip hop
community, especially in the aftermath of the deaths of Tupac
and Biggie Smalls, believe that the predominant Bay Area gangsta/reality
rap will start to wane in popularity, but that it will never fully
disappear. "People are starting to look towards something
more positive," observed Mystik Journeyman Corey. "The
problems are economic, not musical though," he said adding
that he believes the most important thing for any artist to do
is to carefully take control of his or her own destiny.