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Garrett Wheeler stumbles onto hip-hop in Santa Cruz. And likes what he sees.


Rhyming Reason
In case you've ever wondered about the state of local hip-hop, the report is this: Santa Cruz rap is alive and well, thanks to a handful of talented MCs who pride themselves on nothing more than the music they make. Unlike their colleagues in say, Oakland or Compton, SC rappers don't fall back on hometown pride (though they've got plenty of it) and ghetto-fabulous street cred to lure in fans. Instead, local wordsmiths must rely on the more basic elements of hip-hop—those tangible pieces of musical persuasion that defy fad, fashion and Top-40 commercialism. In other words: the rhymes.

In all honesty, I couldn't avoid feeling skeptical as I set out for a hip-hop night at the Blue Lagoon last Friday. I mean, could our little city by the sea really be home to some, shall we say, dope tracks and ill beats? Besides the obvious trickle of the hip-hop cultural aesthetic seeping through town (oversized jerseys, shiny chrome rims, etc.), I seldom witnessed the musical side of this facet of urban expressionism.

But as soon as the show-opener, Slop Opera's Addamantium, hit the stage, all my doubts were put to rest. Spitting rhymes that covered everything from players (not the sporting kind) to politics, the local MC's solo performance was rock, or should I say rap, solid. If it takes balls to get up in front of a crowd by yourself, Addamantium must be equipped with cantaloupes, the way he swaggered through the set. His intensity on stage was backed by confidence and a tight lyrical style that was enough to earn those rhythmic head bobs from the crowd. "Yes," the audience seemed to say in unison, "we approve."

Complacent appreciation is good, but active engagement is better, and that's exactly what Richie Cunning and Cumulus, aka Q'M of the Rec League All-Stars, got when their turn came to rap & roll. Dropping beats hotter than a Beyoncé video, the two-man crew got the place bumpin' as they let loose a barrage of lyrical ground-fire. The duo's impressively unique styles blended well; Cumulus' baritone voice sounded vaguely like southern rapper Ludacris (I mean that in a good way), while Cunning rapped with an appealing old-school flavor. From start to finish, the duo had booties shaking and hands waving, which for a hip-hop performance can only mean one thing: mission accomplished.

OK, over-40 readership, sorry if I lost you back there. Here's a band you'll be interested in. It's called Cooper Street and it plays a stripped-down style of alternative rock influenced by bands like Wilco, Ryan Adams, and the Wallflowers. I'm pretty sure I heard some Neil Young in there too, even though he's not listed on the band's website. Led by the prolific songwriter Peter Goodman, Cooper Street's finely crafted melodies and heartfelt vocals seemed to reach out and touch the night's listeners, who sat transfixed by the sounds emanating from the Don Quixote's stage.

After the show, bassist Blake Cooper said a new drummer has given the band a breath of fresh air, and their performance last week certainly indicated good energy. Of course, a band like Cooper Street knows that artistic potency lies in the music itself, and like a rapper with no ghetto, the music must speak for itself.

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