Curtis Cartier finds out where the local hip-hop went.
By Curtis Cartier
Call it the forgotten sound. Hip-hop may be dominating the national charts with poppy club hits from T.I. and Kanye West, but in Santa Cruz, homegrown hip-hop has hit an all-time low. Besides the sporadic big names that stop through, the Tuesday hip-hop DJ night at the Blue Lagoon and the occasional live show at the Catalyst, hip-hop makes up a tiny fraction of the domestic music product exported by Santa Cruz County.
Who's to blame for the dwindling scene? For most of the few and proud local rappers, the answer is: the venues. Producers like Bobby Fischer, a.k.a. DJ Subz; rappers like Jake Student, a.k.a. Numerous and radio hosts like London Rossanolaidlaw of Freak Radio all point to misconceptions about rap music breeding violence that make promoters loathe to book hip-hop shows.
"It's more the clubs than anything that's keeping hip-hop behind," says Fischer. "If they knew what we were capable of, it would blow their mind."
Hip-hop, like all musical genres, spans multiple styles and covers both the sacred and the profane. But it's the conscious brand of hip-hop that resonates loudest with Santa Cruz listeners, the kind of peaceful-resistance, expand-your-awareness message that established acts like Talib Kweli and Immortal Technique champion and local groups like Numerous, Bomb Productions and Slop Opera emulate.
So in a city that places social consciousness and political activism on a colossal pedestal and books countless reggae and folk acts preaching a similar positive message, why does the term hip-hop being added on to an artist's description get him or her nearly blacklisted in Santa Cruz? It seems that although most local rappers stand for peace and knowledge, their promoting and club-owning counterparts are having a hard time differentiating them from the ones who rap about blunts, bling and bitches. For example, concert booker Bill Welch of Moe's Alley says rap shows are usually more trouble than they're worth.
"I mean, we had GZA a while back. To me, a bunch of guys bouncing around on stage drinking cognac from a bottle and being rude to people is not what we're about," says Welch. "Same with KRS-One. I don't care if I never see that guy again."
Fischer and three other local acts are hoping their "CDs for Free" show Nov. 20 at the Catalyst will prove that local hip-hop can not only draw a crowd but can also make them behave. The $5 cover charge and promise of free CDs for paying fans proves it's a hard sell when it comes to organizing an underground rap show. As the headlining act, Student (Numerous) speaks in Obama-esque terms about the music, calling it "a defining moment in hip-hop right now," and asking local rappers to "unite and bring back the scene in Santa Cruz."
"People don't know the difference between hip-hop and rap," says Student. "They think hip-hop is all gangster and that if you have a show, gangbangers will come in with guns and the place will never be the same. People just need to be educated."
CDS FOR FREE, featuring Numerous with the Soul Science Live Band, Against the Spread, Rawdiculous and the Outwitz, is Thursday, Nov. 20, at 8pm at Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz; 831.423.1336. Tickets $5; no gats, glocks or shanks permitted.
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