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[whitespace] Blackstar Shines Bright

Underground rappers steal the show from a galaxy of pop and hip-hop stars at the Civic for anti-Prop. 21 rally

By David Espinoza

PERHAPS THE INTERTWINING of music and activism so characteristic of the '60s began this same way. College- and high school-aged people working together to protest assaults on their rights through music, dance, and art; musicians whom most of the older generation never heard of or cared to comprehend donating their talents to benefit shows that receive scant attention from mainstream media but sell out regardless. That was the scene March 3 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium where thousands came out to support the campaign to defeat Proposition 21, as well as see the bands that represent the voice of this next generation of activists.

Despite the impressive lineup of artists, which included underground hip-hop messiahs Mos Def and Talib Kweli, soul/funk/jazz diva Me'Shell Ndegéocello, and Santa Cruz's favorite L.A. homeboys, Ozomatli, the "Schools Not Jails" benefit was clearly more than just a musical event. It was the culmination of a week's worth of teach-ins and rallies against Proposition 21 with student organizers speaking in between the bands' sets, leading chants such as, "The youth are organizing today! Win or lose, still we rise!"--a fitting statement for a most momentous occasion. For those who didn't fathom the message, it meant that even if the so-called anti-youth initiative passes (which, at this writing, polls suggest it will) the efforts of the concert organizers, audience, and performers would not be in vain. This is only the beginning of a larger movement.

Add another point for Santa Cruz. Of all the places where an event like this could have happened (granted, Oakland did have a number of smaller benefits), it happened here--a town not exactly known for its hip-hop scene. On the other hand, Santa Cruz is known for its cultural and social radicalism, which is probably what helped draw Mos Def and Talib Kweli of Blackstar all the way from New York to play here for free--their only West Coast appearance.

With only a single turntablist on stage and no big banners or spectacular lighting, Def and Kweli worked the audience confidently, strutting about and getting everyone to sing along to their un-hits, like "Definition" and "K.O.S. Determination." Mos Def is an artist that brings to mind a hip-hop version of Bob Marley. From the points where he closed his eyes, tossed his head back and yodeled, to the genuine smile as he dropped insightful lyrics on the status of hip-hop, Def's got a message that is both thoughtful and inspiring.

This is not to say Def doesn't get in your face. He just does it with a sense of humor. On one of his more recent songs, Def sings, "Elvis Presely ain't got no soul, Bo Diddley is rock & roll," and goes on to slam dunk Limp Bizkit and Korn for co-opting rap. The track eventually spirals into a hardcore punk tune (all done on turntables mind you) with Def snarling like he was one of the Sex Pistols.

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From the March 8-15, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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