Sonic ReducerBy Kimberly Chun
Straight outta Fairfield?
LOVE THOSE BAY Guardian writers, part two ("Fairfield, the next Compton?"): Jeff Chang is on the phone from his Berkeley home, raving over the fact that piping-hot Bay hip-hoppers Federation are from the intersuburb "dead lands" of Fairfield of all damn places. "So they're getting hyphy in Fairfield like, 'What!?' Yeah, it's really interesting. It's kind of like Richmond in the '80s, the place you moved to to get out of the noise of the city, but at the same time, it had a lot of the problems of the city anyways."
Ah, for the days when I could badger Chang to write about Federation this or Trojan comp that; now I have to get in line with my demands everyone wants Chang. It's a recent Monday night, he's glowing from the multiple-interview fever induced by his fierce but accessible, meticulously researched yet compassionate upcoming book, Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation (St. Martin's Press), the new Frontline record is pumping out of his player, and he's prepping for a trip to New York City and his national book tour.
The tome which has already won raves in general-interest pubs, like Entertainment Weekly, and among heads who know, like DJ Shadow and City of Quartz author Mike Davis ("Jeff Chang is hip-hop's John Reed") kicks off with the racial tensions tearing at Reggie Jackson and his Yankee teammates during the 1977 World Series; charts the pre-rap rumblings of roots rock rebels in Jamaica; exposes the heretofore largely oral history of the South Bronx gang wars of the late '60s and early '70s involving the Ghetto Brothers, the Savage Skulls, and the Roman Kings; and shines a light on the evolution of Bronx style from live performance to studio re-creation, as well as prime movers such as Afrika Bambaataa and provocative primary texts like Ice Cube's Death Certificate. Throughout, Chang manages to locate the truth, pulse, and, most important, conscience in a genre that onetime advocates such as Greg Tate recently dissed and dumped on in the pages of hip-hop's hometown weekly, the Village Voice.
Chang has gone from growing up in Hawaii to agitating at UC Berkeley, where he got involved simultaneously in the antiapartheid movement and KALX-FM, where he shared the boards with KMEL-FM's Davey D, KPFA-FM DJ and Funk author Ricky Vincent, and writer Billy Jam, among other legends. After graduation, he hunkered down to work at the state legislature for John Vasconcellos and the governmental organization committee, "which was really fun and weird and strange because it was all about horse-racing law and fortifying wines it was pure juice politics."
DJing at KDVS-FM, the UC Davis radio station, was Chang's only relief from the crush of state politics and there he met and bonded with listeners like DJ Shadow (Josh Davis), MTV News's Jazzbo (Joseph Patel), Lyrics Born (Tom Shimura), and Blackalicious's Chief Xcel (Xavier Mosley), his future partners in the Solesides label. "These guys were the hardest hip-hop heads of the hip-hop heads they knew every single track, and they knew it just as good or better than me," Chang remembers.
"All these cats would come in and hang out during the show, and they'd go into the records because KDVS had a really good library. They'd go into the listening booths and hide in there, and you'd open the door and they'd be, like, covering up the turntables so you couldn't see what they were playing!" Chang adds with a hoot. "Everybody was on this huge chase to harvest the library of the fattest beats not empty it, but to discover it all. They were on this huge archaeological quest, and they were kind of competitive with each other, and I'd be like, 'Yo, you guys are being stupid we should all just join forces.' "
The book came to life one day in 1996 when Chang plowed into the back of a pickup truck on the way to Tahoe to meet with the rest of the Solesides collective and close the label (which eventually morphed into Quannum). An idea to look closely at the controversial Death Certificate; a term in NYC covering politics, the 2000 election, and hip-hop activists for Russell Simon's 360 Hip-Hop site; and the experience of living the music's NYC roots firsthand and meeting its originators led to the final proposal.
Part of his motivation hinged on his "won't stop" resistance to the myths of his boomer mentors, he confesses. "Folks just don't give young folks or folks of my generation enough props for what they do. It was always just like, 'Oh your shit was never as good as ours' or 'You guys had a Million Man March well, we had two million men marching,' " he says with a chuckle. "Part of the impulse for the book was to say, 'Hey, things are different now, and this is the way I saw us going through this.' "
The other mover for the volume was that Chang wanted to get his root down into hip-hop as a local phenom as distinctive as a fingerprint or a Bronx shout-out to the hero in the hood or the street where you lived. "If you think about it," he muses, "it was one of the most dramatic examples of the butterfly effect, that you could have the weird, quirky kind of dances and musical obsessions and clothing choices of a handful of kids in an abandoned area of New York City become this culture that would take hold all around the world, and allow kids in abandoned areas all around the world to be able to express themselves and their own little quirks and strange clothing choices and bizarre idiosyncratic musical obsessions."
Plowshares or ... guitars? Triple-threat Spearhead and Hunters Point homeboy Michael Franti was tapped to perform and to screen his documentary of his travels in Iraq, I Know I'm Not Alone, at the Slamdance Film Festival recently. Tired of "hearing generals and politicians speaking on the political and economic cost of war without speaking of the human cost of war," Franti embarked on a trip to Iraq last summer, accompanied by a few friends and equipped with an acoustic guitar and a video camera. There he attempted to share his music and learn about the everyday people the families, doctors, musicians, and soldiers in the war zone and in occupied Palestinian territories and other parts of the Middle East. "Having a guitar with me wherever I went really opened doors," he says from Park City, Utah. "We'd be in a neighborhood in Baghdad, and it was not really safe everyone carries a gun, and there's a lot of tension and hostility, especially toward outsiders and Americans but when you have a guitar and sing songs, they realize you came there to see them, and they were astonished, and they really opened up on camera," he says. "It's a war for the hearts and minds of Iraqi people, and it won't be won with an Apache helicopter." After Slamdance, he hopes to get a theatrical release of the doc and plans to complete an album, titled Love Kamikaze, of all the love songs he has written in the past decade that have gotten shoved to the side during these trying times.
Uncovering a camera, recovering regulars
Goddamn good Hidden Camera's Joel Gibb produced a small, silky masterpiece
with his 2004 album, Mississauga Goddam, but who knew he was so inspired
by punkier artists like the Dead Kennedys. On his way to S.F. and Cali for the
first time, he claims that he "started writing over algebra in high school,
actually," and that he found his title in the odd disjunction between the
Mississauga native Canadian tribe and the new, faceless suburb named after it....
Present and former Bottom of the Hill staffers have been hit hard by health calamities
of late: Anthony Bonet (former leader of A Night of Serious Drinking, among other
bands, and the longtime associate booker at the club, as well as a veteran KALX
DJ and the man behind Sound Safe) has been paralyzed by an aneurysm a benefit
for him, featuring Red Meat, Hammerdown Turpentine, and Jeffrey Luck Lucas, takes
place Feb. 4 at Bottom of the Hill. Meanwhile "Mr. Nancy" Kravitz, ex-bassist
for Fabulous Disaster, suffered from a ruptured massive ovarian cyst, which was
misdiagnosed and led to a severe case of peritonitis. In addition to catching
pneumonia in the hospital, she went through one major surgery, along with four
minor procedures, during her month in the hospital, with no insurance. Following
a benefit with the Avengers Jan. 30 at the Eagle Tavern, Dirty Power, Western
Addiction, Smash Up Derby (Blue Period's Adrienne's new live mash-up band), and
Slender play for Nance at Bottom of the Hill Feb. 10. "She died on the table
twice," friend Ed Cagnacci says in an e-mail. "She's a tough cookie,
but she's still pretty weak, and now one of the sutures has come loose and she
has a hernia which needs to be addressed ASAP. She'll be out of work for at least
two more months. At least she's quit smoking ..."