Photograph by Garrett Wheeler
We're all stars here: From left to right, Proe, Richie Cunning, Nick 'Cumulus' Nobriga and Rob Rush of the Rec League All-Stars rest up between games.
The Rec League All-Stars are putting Santa Cruz hip-hop on the map.
By Garrett Wheeler
The city of Santa Cruz is internationally recognized for several reasons, but hip-hop is not one of them. Progressive politics, world-class surf and even the Mystery Spot are better known to outsiders than the local rap scene. But to the four members that make up the nucleus of hip-hop collective Rec League All-Stars, Santa Cruz is the perfect place to call home.
"The scene is bigger than people think," says Nick "Cumulus" Nobriga. "There are a bunch of groups, it's just that somebody needs to break to really put Santa Cruz on the map."
Whether or not that somebody is the Rec League crew is tough to tell, but certainly the group seems headed in the right direction. A recent gig opening for legendary hip-hop outfit Wu-Tang Clan at San Francisco's Ruby Skye Nightclub was more than a pat on the back for the Rec League--it was a chance for the band to prove itself to a live audience of unprecedented size.
"We've had some big shows, but that was definitely the biggest we've done, and we got a good response from the crowd," says Nobriga. And to play moments before one of the biggest names in hip-hop? "Surreal," Nobriga says. "It was so nice, it was like we weren't supposed to be there."
But there they were, a young crop of talent from the Central Coast, pumping up an audience of nearly 2,000 people, and for Wu-Tang, no less. Earning such a coveted opening slot didn't happen overnight, of course. Five years ago, the group formed from a loosely connected network of friends and began work building the Rec Center studio in Santa Cruz. The first album recorded there was Rob Rush's Childhood Hero, and soon the group had put together a mixtape of their collaborative recordings. As for a record label, the All-Stars started their own, Rec League Records. "But let's just say we're not against signing to a bigger label," adds Nobriga with a chuckle.
Though no offers have been made at this point, the Rec League's growing fan base now extends well past Santa Cruz city limits, due in part to ambitious tours of California, Texas and even Canada. In addition to the rigorous road schedule, the group's frequently updated website provides new fans with a view of the Rec League world. The website (www.routinefly.com) boasts a vast range of content, including free MP3 downloads, an online store and even a daily news blog. "The Internet is everything now," says Rec Leaguer Rob Rush. "I used to work in a record shop, and believe me, nobody goes to the store to buy music anymore. Now to be successful you need to be on iTunes and have a good website."
But Internet marketing is only part of the strategy; live shows are still, and will always be, invaluable. Unfortunately for the All-Stars, the once-healthy status of the Santa Cruz rap game has deteriorated, thanks to a number of recently closed venues. The E3 Playhouse and Palookaville are among the local hip-hop-friendly clubs that have shut their doors; both venues were frequent hosts to the Rec League. "Shows were sold out, things were poppin'," says Nobriga. "But we roll with it. Everywhere needs to know about us, I don't care if it's King City or Lodi, we need to establish ourselves everywhere."
With a new album out next month, (Cumulus' Happy Hour), a remix of the theme song to Semi-Pro ("Disneyland," on Myspace video) and more projects in the works, the Rec League All-Stars are doing all they can to become Santa Cruz's first blip on the world's hip-hop radar.
THE REC LEAGUE ALL-STARS open for Living Legends Thursday, March 6, at 8pm at the Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15 adv/ $19 door; 831.423.1338.
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